ABOUT C.I.

Christmas Institute (C.I.) is an annual 5-day Christian youth retreat based in Southern California. C.I. runs from December 26th—30th. It is open to youth and young adults from 7th grade up to college, and is supported through the United Methodist Church.

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Meet The Design Team

Co-Director

& Materials Co-Lead

Emily Mahipus

Hello! my name is Emily Mahipus. I live in Santa Ana, CA, and I currently attend Santa Ana United Methodist Church. I am also a nursing student at West Coast University and hope to graduate in two years. My first year at CI was back in 2009 as a camper. I was part of staff for two years, and was a counselor for one year. Now I’m serving as co-director with Alonzo! Going to CI for the first time was such a pivotal moment in my life. I accepted Christ into my heart, and God has drastically changed my life since then.  Through CI, I have also met amazing brothers and sisters in Christ who have not only become my life-long friends but also my family. CI allows a wonderful opportunity to truly encounter Christ. CI holds a special place in my heart, and I want campers to experience it the way I did. Some of my hobbies include eating, getting boba, napping, going to art exhibits and galleries (basically anything artsy). I also enjoy and am really good at binge-watching shows and movies. Some other fun facts about me: my favorite drink is sea cream Jasmine, and my favorite foods are chicken nuggets, tacos, and baby back ribs.

Co-Director

& Praise-Band Lead

Alonzo Ablola

I'm Alonzo Ablola, I'm from Paradise Hills, CA and attend First United Methodist Church of National City. I'm currently a student at San Diego State University, studying Business with an emphasis in Sports. I attended my first C.I as a camper back in 2009 and then started serving the leadership team in 2014. I am truly blessed and honored to serve as the Co-Director and Praise Band lead for this upcoming C.I. Christmas Institute has made a big impact in my life, my relationship with God, and it shaped me into becoming the person I am today. It has been a blessing attending C.I for a decade and being apart of this family. I hope the young people will be able to experience and understand who God is, and take this knowledge and put it into action in their daily lives. Some fun facts about me are: I love music (Hip-Hop/Island Reggae), I currently play college baseball, I love sports (Padres for Life!), and I love the ocean.

Creative Team

Lead & Registrar

Leo G. Ortega III

Hi! I am Leo G. Ortega III from Rancho Cucamonga, CA. I attend La Verne United Methodist Church, and study Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. I first started attending Christmas Institute as a camper back in 2014, and started serving in leadership as a staffer in 2016. I then first became a counselor for Christmas Institute in 2017 and started my run as the Creative Team Leader in the Design Team in 2019. From camper to leadership, being a part of Christmas Institute has been truly a blessing as C.I. has helped me in my life.C.I. is where I learned about other people's life stories and how their experience's affected their life and faith. C.I. helped me find me find my own spiritual gifts and opportunities for leadership by changing the way I looked at the world. With that said, CI holds a high importance in my life, and I want campers to experience it the way I did. In hopes, the campers create their own spiritual 

relationship with God. Some of my hobbies include drinking boba, traveling across the world, and singing my lungs out (hypothetically speaking). Other fun facts about me is: my favorite drink is coffee, my favorite food is steak (or anything beef), and my favorite pass-time is building something that I think would be cool to have.

Materials Co-Lead

Sierra Balatan

Hi! My name is Sierra Balatan and I am 22 years old. I am also UC Berkeley alumni (c/o 2018), and currently a graduate student at USC. As daughter and servant of God, I strive to walk with confidence in my identity in Christ and in humble loving obedience through His Holy Spirit. Though I am rebellious, stubborn, and disobedient at times, I trust that by His love and grace, He will keep me until the end. Oh yeah, Feel free to approach me when you see me; I'm down to pray for you or talk about anything from academics to my testimony to college adventures to good places to visit in the SF Bay area or Seoul, Korea!

Rischa-Norbel Taguba

Hello! My name is Rischa Taguba and I am 21 years old!

Camp Dean

Rev. Neil Platon

Hi I am Pastor Neil Platon. I am the dean of camp for Christmas Institute since 2003. I am currently the pastor of discipleship at New Beginnings UMC. I was born and raised in the Philippines. I was a pre-med student at the University of Santo Tomas (BS Botany & Pharmacy) in the Philippines before I followed God’s call to ministry. I studied at both Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in Pasadena, CA for my Master of Divinity and Claremont School of Theology for my Doctor of Ministry. I enjoy technology working with computers and gadgets. Before I became one of the pastors of New Beginnings my family and I served churches in rural Iowa and at Wilmington First United Methodist Church in the Los Angeles area before moving to the San Bernardino in 2016.

Staff Coordinator