By Yay Padua-Olmedo

In his book “American Story,” former TV journalist Bob Dotsom hails those “who are practically invisible… who change our lives but don’t take the time to tweet and tell us about it.”

They don’t necessarily seek media mileage but manage to warm our hearts anyway through their courage and simple acts of kindness.

Just like Joel and Heidi Monsalud, our new-found Victory Church (San Diego) friends.

“Have a bag of cherries. Baka lang po gusto nyo,” they messaged early Monday morning. Just when I typed “yes” and our house address to guide their GPS, Joel was at the door, bag of fully-ripened berries on hand. What, a virtual freeway?

I go gaga over cherries, so a plump purplish berry immediately found its way into my belly, side-stepping my ritual caffeine fix. It started with a light chika before church worship last Sunday. Our conversation turned to arthritis and how cherries help relieve its symptoms.

We’ve not known Joel and Heidi that long but from the very start, their heart for volunteerism surfaced:  Always the first to come on Sunday mornings to set up a container-full of equipment needed for worship service in a rented school gymnasium. Greeting attendees and directing traffic at the parking lot. Freezing our wacky poses into complimentary Fathers’ Day photo souvenirs. Even caring for others’ babies.

They clearly model Christ’s attitude of servanthood and humility.

But there’s more to this couple than meets the eye. Joel’s life is cinderella-esque.

hovercraft-63181_1280This Pinoy of modest beginnings (Olongapo City, Zambales) is a hovercraft pilot with 23 years of service with the US navy. At this writing, he awaits confirmation of his retirement―ceremony slated at the historic Midway aircraft carrier, now a museum, permanently docked in San Diego.

Always keeping in mind God’s promises—his favorite being Romans 8:37 “… we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” Joel considers himself blessed to have passed (out of thousands of applicants) the US Navy’s rigorous requirements when it recruited Pinoys for service.

Though he was a college graduate (BS Psychology), he didn’t mind starting as a mechanic, later becoming maintenance man, then as hovercraft pilot—expertise he acquired through hands-on and bits of formal training.

“It’s all about God’s grace,” he admits, that he and his team, Assault Craft Unit 5, has conducted successful missions, some of them so life-threatening they miraculously escaped death. He recalls their most dangerous—the 2003 Iraq invasion, and their subsequent retrieval of Navy Seals when his hovercraft’s engine died, its propeller lost, as scud missiles flew above.

Joel gives us a glimpse of the Navy’s role: “Whenever we sail off, everything—military tanks, ambulances, war equipment, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, etc.—comes along.”

The hovercraft is the fastest of all military sea-going crafts. It runs through land, water, mud, ice and other surfaces. A hybrid US navy-marine first responder unit, the hovercraft team is always the first on the scene, either to deliver tanks and personnel, supplies or relief goods in typhoon-ravaged sites.

“We come right in the eye of the storm,” says Joel.

Jesus’ apostles experienced being in the eye of the storm too. They feared for their lives. But in one instance, Peter volunteered, (Matthew 14:28) “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And he walked on water.

Joel must have taken Jesus’ words (v 27) to heart: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

He may not have walked on water like Peter, but Joel’s faith has nonetheless emboldened him to look the storm squarely in the eye and believe, “I can do this!”

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13.

Lord, give me a servant’s heart, esteeming others higher than myself. Holy Spirit, guide me, protect me and teach me not to fear even in the face of danger. My life is in your hand. There will I find rest.