Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

 
James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning


In Hindsight, A Wonderful Life

Gerry Monasterial


When I was first asked to share my story in a book, I wasn’t sure whether or nor I should participate, and if so, what I should write. But I’ve decided that God has touched my life in many special ways and I would love to share them all with you. In hindsight, my life has been wonderful. All the many paths that God has walked me down have truly blessed me. Some of those paths were not so wonderful at the time, but I am who I am today because I have allowed God to teach me something from every experience in my life.

My name is Gerry Monasterial and I was born in the Philippines. My birth name is Gerlon and I am the son of Evelyn Monasterial. I remember the Philippines vaguely; that is, I remember my relatives and the house I lived in. I also remember the day my mom brought home my new little brother, Joe. I was so excited that I yelled at her to take him back to K-Mart. Thank goodness, K-Mart is not as lenient on their refund policy as Wal-Mart. My youngest brother, Thomas, was also born in the Philippines, but I guess I was more prepared for his arrival.

My stepfather, Tom, was in the Air Force, so my birthplace would be the first of several places I would have to say good-bye to. We left when I was 7 and stayed in California for a little while, then after driving through the beautiful North, we settled in Maryland. This was my home for four years. I made new friends and learned how to play almost every American sport there is. I still remember the first time I played football. My best friend, Steve, asked me to hold this weird-looking ball, then...BAM! I learned what tackle football was all about real quick. After my four friends peeled me off the ground, they decided to tell me the rules of the game. I also learned baseball, basketball and many other sports.

There were other things to learn as well. I had to totally quit speaking my Philippine language to make better grades in school. English was very hard for me at first, but soon became my best and favorite subject. Besides sports and school subjects, I began learning some hard childhood lessons. I learned that my stepfather did not care much for having to bring me with him to the states. I’m not really sure when it struck me that I was not going to receive much love from him, but it was a scar he put in my soul forever. I learned to hate Tom quickly; it made it easier for me to accept his despising me. He had hit me before, but it took one single day for me to know what my future with him would be like.

It was my 9th birthday and my mom took my two little brothers to shop for my gift and run other errands. Tom and I were home by ourselves. He gave me a list of chores I needed to do. One of them was to do the laundry. I had never done laundry before so I had no idea how to work the washer and dryer, but I was afraid to ask him, so I just guessed. I ended up doing it wrong. I think I shrunk his shirts or something like that. He got very angry and beat me. He then made me run the stairs. In our two-story house, there was a flight of stairs with about 25 steps and a windowsill half-way up. He would sit in the windowsill with a belt and whip me every time I started slowing down. I think that was the first day I hated him. He eventually used this as a regular form of punishment for Joe and me. He was turned in several times by my mom, friends or even the hospital personnel who treated me for severe beatings, but the worst thing that happened to him was that he lost some military stripes.

We moved to Mississippi for seven months, then to Oklahoma when I was 11, and by that time, Tom was abusing my brothers, also. I can’t really explain my feelings toward him at the time. I hated him even more for beating my brothers because I wanted to protect them and I couldn’t. My brothers and I grew up with a really tight bond, but I was separated from them for most of our childhood.

It was right before Thanksgiving and it was turning cold outside. I remember the leaves changing colors. I had gotten into trouble in class for talking too much and later that night, my teachers called my parents. Tom took me into the garage and told my mom and brothers to stay in the house. He grabbed a baseball bat and tried to hand it to me. He said that his father used to beat him also, and he hated his father. He then told me that his father once gave him the chance to kill him and that was what he was giving me. He told me that I could have the bat and try to kill him, but if he got the bat from me, that he would do the same thing. If I didn’t take the bat, then he would beat me. It was the scariest second of my whole life. Being 11 years old and smart enough to know that I could not do a thing with that bat, I refused his challenge.

  • Continued...

    After that night, I stayed with another family during Thanksgiving and for a few weeks after. When I got home, my mom told me Tom would never hit me with a bat again. But I wasn’t that lucky. In January, I got into trouble at school again. To this day, I don’t know what I did, but a teacher called. My mom asked Tom if he wanted to take care of it and he said no. My mom spent the next half-hour using all her energy taking care of it. After she was finished, I laid in my bed with the lights off. About an hour later, I heard Tom yelling in the other room. Someone from work had just griped him out on the phone. Then I heard him ask where I was. At the sound of my name, I wanted to die. He came in my room and flipped on the lights. He told me I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet. He had the bat in his hand. I don’t remember anything after that except my mom running into the room and fighting him to try to get the bat. I started yelling at my mom just to let him go, because I knew he would hit her, too. I’m not really sure what happened, but the police came and we spent the night in the hospital.

    After that event, I was placed in the care of Boy’s Ranch Town (BRT) in Edmond. It was like heaven to me. I never again had to worry about being hit or being called bad names. My houseparents were Mark and Margaret Myers and I loved them and still do. I was always encouraged and made to feel like I could take on the world. The only problem was that I would have to live away from my brothers and mom. It hurt me to only see them about once a month. I had to learn to become very independent. I lived at BRT for about six months before meeting the family that changed my life forever.  

    I met Joe and LaVon Burnett for the first time at Waterloo Road Baptist Church. They were so nice and loving. After a few visits to their home, I was asked if I wanted to move in with them. There was Kristin, Andy, David and Sabra. Their oldest daughter, Kim, lived with her biological dad. How could I resist? Well, I couldn’t. I jumped at the idea. I had two families now. I loved the Burnetts greatly, but I also hurt for my brothers, Joe and Thomas, because they still lived with Tom. I vowed to myself that someday I would do everything I could to take care of them.

    I lived a very normal teenage life, if there really is such a thing. I got involved in sports, friends and girls. When I was 14, I went to a Carmen concert and asked Jesus into my life. The Burnetts went to church every time the doors were open and I really got close to Christ. Joe and LaVon were wonderful Christian examples and regularly encouraged me to think about God. Kristin and a friend named Brandt also talked to me often about being saved. I was very lucky to have this new family to guide me to Jesus. Unfortunately, because of my independent and stubborn nature, I eventually lived my teenage life for everything but God. I have many scars today from the things I did as a teenager. I wish I knew then how all of those things were going to affect me in the future. I got very involved in alcohol and girls. I spent much of my high-school years trying to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was something special. I know now that I am very special, but it has nothing to do with what Tom or anyone else thinks of me. I am special because God Himself loves me.

    I eventually graduated from Edmond Memorial High School in 1992. I worked for Cocina de Mino and moved my way up the ladder rather quickly. I learned how to work with other people, how to be patient, and how to work hard to achieve my goals. But this experience wouldn’t be a match for what happened soon after graduation.

    I received full custody and responsibility of my little brother, Joe. Wow! This would be one of the greatest challenges, yet one of the biggest blessings I would ever receive. My dream had come true, I would have a chance to help Joe find his path in life. At first, I treated Joe like a roommate with no boundaries or rules to live by. That was a disaster. He started having big problems in school and also started imitating my high-school days. I then became more like a father to Joe, which was incredibly hard considering I was only three years older. Nonetheless, I treated him like a son in my home. It was really difficult overseeing him because I was also striving to take care of both of us financially by working three different jobs around the clock. After many months of juggling work and fatherhood, I decided to keep just one job with Cocina de Mino. This enabled me to be there for Joe. It couldn’t have been a better time, because I realized for the first time my little brother was slowly becoming an alcoholic and losing his desire to finish school.

    We had many fights about who was in charge, but one particular night, he really woke me up. I listened to Joe as he yelled at me and told me he hated his life and just wanted to die because he was worthless. I saw myself in Joe that night. I had had that same flood of thoughts race through my mind many times. (It was incredibly hard not to believe what you had been told as a child so many times. I don’t remember Tom ever telling my brothers or me anything good about ourselves.) Joe was sinking deep and quick. After hours of tears and shouts, Joe and I decided to straighten out his life. I became more involved with his schooling, and he gave me more room to be an authority. I still remember the day I had a meeting with his counselor and a few of his teachers. A couple of his teachers were my old teachers during my wild and crazy days, and here I was, listing out my suggestions and demands of how Joe was going to successfully graduate from high-school. Well, it wasn’t easy for either one of us, but my little brother walked across that stage and received his diploma. I’ll always be proud of him for that. Besides his education, we made it through many other teenage issues like having a car, when to be home, when to get a job, and even when to move out. I decided to let Joe keep our duplex and I moved into an apartment about three miles away.

    Several months after I moved to this apartment complex, Joe moved into an apartment just downstairs from me. I didn’t see him too often because we were both so busy with our own lives. However, we did share a very special night together. It was about 2:00 in the morning and the phone rang. Joe wanted to know if he could come up and talk to me. That night he poured out his heart and informed me that he had gotten involved in alcohol and drugs, but he wanted to change his life. He looked me in the eyes and told me he wanted what I had. What I had was Christ in my heart. That night Joe and I prayed together and my little brother was saved. Thank God!

    During all of these life-changing experiences, there was one very special person who supported me like no other. Her name is Kim. For this part of my story, I will have to back up just a little. I mentioned earlier that the Burnett family changed my life forever. Well, I mean that in a million ways. Not only did they share with me love, confidence, security, and even Christ, but they shared with me their daughter. When I first moved in, Kim was living with her biological dad. I honestly can’t remember the first day I met Kim. I considered all the other kids my brothers and sisters because I lived with them, but Kim didn’t move home until years later. Kim and I developed a wonderful friendship. I was with Kim when she eloped, but I was also with Kim when she went through her divorce. We were best friends through all the good and the bad. She was there for me daily as I struggled with Joe and work, and I was there for her when she was struggling through her marriage and later her divorce. During the divorce, my love for Kim changed from a friendship love to romantic love, but Kim was too hurt to know how she felt. She needed me as a friend, but I wanted more from her. After realizing I was being selfish in wanting more than Kim could give, I decided to do what I could to give her what she really wanted. //I wrote her ex-husband a letter and told him of my feelings for her, but that I would leave the picture if he wanted her back and would take care of her. He made it clear to me and Kim that he wanted out and that it was final.

    After a lot of time together, Kim and I moved into our very own special relationship. I had always wanted God to give me someone that would know me totally and still love me, and Kim was that special person. Kim helped me find God again as we started attending church together regularly. I soon realized that I wanted to marry this beautiful, godly woman. On June 1, 1996, I dipped her in my arms and kissed her in front of about 500 people as we were declared husband and wife. She is the greatest gift God has ever given me.

    I am being blessed greatly by God everyday. I am currently finishing my college education and will be graduating next December. I have received scholarships from several organizations, including Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, to help me obtain my goal of a business degree. I also have a great job at Twelve Oaks Restaurant. Kim and I have recently bought a new house in Edmond that we both just love. However, we have had three particular blessings lately that are truly from Heaven. Last April, Kim and I found out we were expecting. Although we just knew God was about to give us a baby, God decided otherwise. We lost our baby after about eight weeks. It was the most painful thing Kim and I had ever experienced together. However, God keeps His promises when He tells us that He will bless us and take care of us. We were asked about adopting a particular little girl from our church. We have done everything so far to make this happen. But in the meantime, we were also asked if we were interested in being foster parents for any child who needed a home. After a while of trying to decide whether or not we could cope with taking care of a child like it was our own and then giving that child up, we felt God wanted us to do this. Well, on October 30, Kayanna, a beautiful 18-month-old baby girl was given to us. We have totally fallen in love with her. I can’t explain how much she means to Kim and me. I also know that Kayanna loves us dearly. Then on November 21, we received beautiful Shyla Ann. She is 17 months old. On November 26, we received Emma Rose. She is definitely the most easy-going 16-month-old little girl I have ever seen and continues to bond with our new family. As I write this letter, my heart is hurting because we have just received news that we may be losing Kayanna. I’m not really sure what to pray for right now, but I know God has the big picture in His hands and everything will work out according to His Will.

    My life has been wonderful and I know that God still has a lot in store for Kim and me. I thank God for the wonderful people He put in my life. I am thankful for Boy’s Ranch Town for giving me goals to strive for in life and teaching me hard work ethics to reach those goals. I am thankful to Joe and LaVon Burnett and our family for loving me unconditionally, for rebuilding my spirit, and for praying for me every single night before they went to bed. Thank you, Andy, David, Sabra, Kristin, Kim, Grandma and Grandpa Nelson, and Joe and LaVon. I am thankful to my mom for wanting the best for me and loving me enough to let me go so I could be the man I am. I am thankful to my brothers, Joe and Thomas, for being there for me, for sharing their lives with me, and for giving me the kind of bond that only they could give. I am thankful to my wife, Kim, for being a backbone to support me, my friend to laugh with, and a shoulder for me to cry on. I am thankful to Kim for being my dream come true.

    I am most thankful to my God and Savior Jesus Christ, for loving me enough to die for me and for continuing to show me His love through the many blessings He has poured all over me.

    I have learned so much just from the 23 years of my life. But the most important thing I have learned in this life is that God made us for Himself, and that He gives us many special people in our lives to share this wonderful experience with.

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