While ministering to high school students in Rizal province outside of Manila in 2005, Ronald Molmisa found himself in recurring conversations with students about love and dating. Some students were serial daters who dated girlfriend after girlfriend. Others struggled to deal with their heartache after a break-up.
With sex and dating being taboo topics in the majority Catholic country, young Filipinos often turn to the internet or Western media to learn about love rather than the church. So Molmisa sought Christian resources to help his students.
At the time, Christian books about love from the United States—like Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye—were popular, but Molmisa wanted a book that could speak to the lived experiences of Filipino students. While some Filipino authors had penned books on dating and love, he found them outdated and written in English, which many in the younger generation struggled to read. In everyday life, teens spoke, texted, and read articles in Taglish, a combination of Tagalog and English.
So Molmisa decided to write a book on relationships that would be both Bible-based and relevant to young people in the Philippines. With a background in research, he began conducting surveys and interviews to map out trends among Filipino teens. In 2010, he published Lovestruck: Love Mo Siya, Sure Ka Ba? (Lovestruck: Are You Sure You Love Her?), which mixes comical anecdotes on love and relationships with biblical stories and pastoral wisdom.
The short 80-page book, which was written in Taglish, quickly became wildly popular among young people in the Philippines. Lovestruck went on to become a nine-book series, including titles like Lovestruck: Sexy Edition, on sexuality and pornography; Lovestruck: Sakit Edition, on breakups and heartache; and Lovestruck: Shanaba? Edition on choosing a spouse. Molmisa also started the Lovestruck Movement, a nationwide ministry that includes seminars, conferences, and podcasts about relationships.
Molmisa believes Lovestruck’s success comes from the fact that he’s able to relate to young people by speaking their language, using humor and slang to distinguish himself from the stern and guilt-inducing stance on the topic that Christian authors have traditionally taken. (For instance, he opens Lovestruck with cheesy pickup lines suitors have sent over text, which he ties into a discussion about Jacob and Rachel in Genesis 29.)
He also sought to show how Christians could approach relationships differently from the secular world, which tends to portray romantic relationships as privatized and humanistic instead of communal and spiritual.
“I want it to feel like you are directly talking to me,” he said of his writing. “That is my voice as a pastor and counselor.”
Studying love from multiple facets
While Molmisa served in student ministry at Rizal High School from 2005 to 2013, he was also teaching political science at several local universities. His pastoral and academic background informed his approach toward his writing. As the pastor of Generation 3:16, a ministry that disciples Filipino youth and families, he deemed it important to respond with biblical truth that is Christ-centered. As a researcher, he made it a priority to back his statements with empirical evidence based on studies.
He found that many relationship problems among teens traced back to their upbringings. “The root of relationship problems is the family,” Molmisa says. “If your identity inside the house is complete, you don’t need to find your value elsewhere.”
In the Philippines, some families are separated as one or both parents work overseas to send back money to their families. Last year, the government recorded nearly two million overseas Filipino workers. Molmisa found that this often resulted in teenagers dating early as they didn’t have parents to support them emotionally.
This presents a challenge, since in the Philippines, dating has always been done in the context of family. The harana, a traditional mode of courtship starting in the 1800s, involved a man serenading a woman in the house of the woman’s family. It’s important to gain the family’s approval in order to further pursue a relationship. However, when the family unit is broken as parents work abroad, it can be difficult to find guidance in dating or marriage.
Image: Courtesy of Ronald Molmisa / Edits by CT
In Lovestruck, Molmisa adopts the tone of an older brother in addressing the causes of young people’s love woes. Since humans are holistic beings, Molmisa’s writing and ministry try to engage the soul, mind, and spirit.
“We approach the ministry with an integrationist perspective,” Molmisa said. “You cannot separate social science, theology, and pro-biblical psychology from each other in understanding human realities.”
This and the humorous and approachable tone caused his book to stand out when it was first published in 2010.
Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, praising Molmisa’s faithful and funny take on love in the Filipino context. The few negative reviews either criticized its orthodox Christian stance on sex and marriage or its use of Taglish, which was considered by some as too colloquial for literature at the time. The book went on to become a bestseller at the country’s largest bookstore chain, National Book Store, and has sold 100,000 copies to date.
“I like it because it gives a balanced content from testimonies, scientific studies, and a biblical point of view, and explains it in our language,” said 33-year-old Kennel Jane Pangaral, a campus minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Northern Mindanao. She finds it relevant for the college students she interacts with and often recommends it to them. Pangaral said this book challenged her to weigh her decisions when entering a romantic relationship by seeking advice from Christian mentors.
Meanwhile, the small book surprised Sara Jane Tantay-Mayorca, also 33, with how it could “correct and disciple” her. “It gave me clear biblical principles and practical guides about love, which, as a young person, became my source of emotional strength and stability,” said Tantay-Mayorca, now a youth pastor at Radiance of Christ Ministries International.
Since discovering the Lovestruck books, she has read the entire series and attended the Lovestruck Conference. “I credit my beautiful marriage now to this book because if not, I would have not chosen the right person and have not become the right person too.”
In his books, Molmisa writes about family, social issues, and other challenges that Filipinos face when it comes to love. While writing Lovestruck: Singles Edition, he held focus group discussions with women over 25 about why they are single. He found that some were their family’s sole breadwinner and, as a result, were too busy to find a husband. Another group of female students at the University of Santo Tomas, an elite Catholic school, said they were single because they felt called into singleness and destined to live a life of celibacy.
Starting the Lovestruck Movement
In 2013, Molmisa left his job as a professor to become a full-time pastor and started the Lovestruck Movement, which he desired to be a venue for “personal spiritual revival, reignition of love for God, and the promotion of righteous relationships.”
Through in-person conferences and online platforms, Molmisa encourages young people to set boundaries for themselves. He also holds Bible studies and lectures on different issues surrounding love and relationships. Molmisa encourages young people to pursue purity in the body, soul, and spirit; to practice accountability in community; and to trust in God’s power to escape from temptation.
“[Lovestruck] speaks to the core of the youth,” said Joyce Piap Go, a radio broadcaster, author, mental health counselor, and regular speaker at the Lovestruck Conference. “The Lovestruck Movement knows the needs of young people and addresses their issues head-on, guiding them to the Word of God and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Molmisa seeks to present youth with a hopeful message rather than guilt-tripping them into following God’s law. The ministry does not give away purity rings or make young people partake in oaths of chastity toward God during their conferences.
“I believe that Filipinos don’t need ceremonies for them to obey the Lord and prove that they live in purity and holiness,” Molmisa said. “The culture of the Philippines is very flexible [so] I don’t want to box them into a ritual.”
He added that he doesn’t want to pressure the teens, whose parents may be the ones pushing them to attend purity ceremonies. “I want them to grow in the grace and knowledge of God according to their commitments.”
As the Lovestruck Movement continues to grow, Molmisa has trained more than 50 seminar facilitators across the country to hold conferences on the Filipino islands of Luzon and Mindanao. Lovestruck partners with local churches to train volunteers to serve as staff during their gatherings. Around 3,000 young people attend their gatherings every year.
They have also extended programming to include parents and families in seminars on relationships and to provide scholarships for low-income elementary and high school students to attend school through their Love Scholar Project.
A new Lovestruck generation
Through his years of serving, Molmisa has seen the fruits of his ministry enrich his relationship with God and the people around him. He has learned to be open about his struggles with his wife and to find accountability with other pastor friends. Also, he finds it rewarding when some of the couples he married in the past now serve alongside him in the Lovestruck Movement.
Young people have different challenges today compared to when he first started ministering almost two decades ago. The Filipino youth are facing a severe mental health crisis. And due to the influence and pervasiveness of social media, they bring their problems online instead of to trusted mentors or friends. They get their information and attention from these platforms and, as a result, are shaped by the dominant ideologies present there.
To combat the worldviews students find on social media, the Lovestruck Movement has been active online since 2013, engaging with young people on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. They also release podcasts on topics like how to deal with long-distance relationships, how to manage your emotions, and the root causes of adultery.
Today, Molmisa visits schools and universities to spread the Lovestruck message, giving a gospel presentation about how love is inseparable from the Creator of love. “The source of love is Love himself, Jesus Christ,” he said.
Molmisa believes that heart transformation will pave the way for the transformation that Gen Z wants to see in the world. “The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart,” he says. Although change cannot happen overnight, Molmisa knows it can happen as long as young people find their purpose from the Creator. “Only a generation that is changed by God can change a nation.”