Melissa Mendez says her biggest achievement was helping her parents send her three younger siblings to school. With her showbiz earnings, she also had a house for her parents built in Quezon City. Then she bought herself a three-bedroom bungalow, also in Quezon City. She and her three daughters have been occupying the bungalow for 13 years now.
"Alam mo naman, God is faithful," says the actress, a renewed Christian. "Kahit na nagwawala ako noong araw, bliness pa rin niya ako. Sabi nya, ‘What you sow, you will reap.' Baka dahil nakatulong naman ako sa pamilya, kaya ganoon. In fact, after nito, nag-harvest pa ako ng isa pang bahay na pinauupahan ko naman ngayon."
The 41-year old Melissa, whom close friends call Melé, used to play leading lady to such action stars as Rudy Fernandez (Kunin ang Ulo ni Magtanggol, 1983), Lito Lapid (Alakdang Bato, 1984), and John Regala (Boy Kristiano, 1989). Now she's happy being a supporting actress.
In addition, Melé is praying to get a part in a soap opera.
"Since January , may listahan ako ng prayer requests ko—kasi, ganoon daw pala ‘yon, sabi ng pastor namin, dapat pag me hihilingin ka kay Lord, be specific—and halos lahat ‘yon, nabigay na ni Lord. Isa na lang, soap opera."
A TV soap spells regular income, which means steady support for Melé's three lovely daughters—Denise, 18; Cassie, 14; and Alex, 7.
The actress does not hide the fact that her kids are fathered by three different men. Denise and Cassie receive financial support from their non-showbiz fathers, but Alex, whose father is former actor Raymund Keanu, does not.
"Kasi wala namang pansuporta," Melé says of Raymund. "Alam mo, napakabait ni Raymund, e. Pagdating sa pera, wala kang maipipintas. Nagkataon lang na wala siya ngayon, na hirap din sya sa buhay niya, pero nag-uusap silang mag-ama. Noong birthday ni Alex, tumawag siya kaagad. Kinamusta niya ‘yong anak niya."
Every now and then, he also calls Melé, telling her, "Melé, pasensiya ka na muna, wala akong maipadala sa ‘yo. Pag medyo lumuwag-luwag kami dito, magpapadala ako."
Raymund is now based in the U.S., where he's starting over with a new family. "He's happily married na," says Melé.
And what about Melissa Mendez herself? Could her next prayer request be about finding the right man who will also walk her down the aisle?
"Well, oo naman," she smiles, but adds that she's in no hurry. Having found peace in her faith, she's no longer made restless by hankering for earthly pleasures.
"Magti-three-years na ako ngayon kay Lord," she says. "And sabi ko, ‘Lord you complete me.' Dati kasi, I always have the feeling na I need a man to complete me. ‘Yong parang ang hilig-hilig ko sa lalaki. Na parang 'pag walang lalaki, hindi ko kayang mabuhay. Pero ewan ko, noong naghiwalay kami ni JC Castro [a sexy actor who ran for councilor in Caloocan City in the last elections, but lost], instead of running to another man again, si God na ang naging husband ko."
She says she has Coney Reyes to thank for showing her the way.
"Si Coney Reyes na tinataasan ko pa ng kilay noong araw. Lagi niya akong sinasabihan: ‘Melissa, when you really have the faith in God na talagang He's going to be your provider? He's going to be your husband? Naka-smile ako sa kanya, pero nakatalikod, nakataas ang kilay ko. Pero she kept praying for me. Hindi siya nag-stop na mag-pray sa akin.
"Alam mo, dumating talaga ‘yong time na ‘binigay sa akin ni Lord ‘yong realization na bakit nga ba kailangan ko lagi ng lalaki, e, nandiyan naman si Jesus? Bakit hindi ako sumandal sa kanya? Alam mo, pag sa kanya ka nakasandal, kukumpletuhin niya ang lahat sa iyo."
With her usual candor, Melissa relates that she even prayed to God to take away her lustful thoughts.
"Sabi ko, Lord, tanggalin mo," she says, laughing. "Kilala n'yo ako, may pagka-el [as in lustful] ang inyong sister. Pero ngayon, hindi na ako nag hahanap ng lalaki."
Her biggest effort in this regard, besides being celibate, was when she had her breasts reduced—the same breasts that she had augmented before.
"Ayoko na ng malaki ang boobs," she says. "Ayoko na nang pinagtitinginan ako ng mga lalaki."