This morning we woke up at 5:30am in order for Nate to get online while it was still business hours on Friday at home. We walked down to the cafe at our gas station, but for some reason we couldn’t get the internet to connect. We tried walking down to the mall where there’s a Starbucks, but it wasn’t working there, either. Once it hit 7am, though, there was really no point in hunting for a connection any longer, because it was 5pm on Friday afternoon back at home….and Nate knew he wouldn’t be able to get ahold of any of his business contacts that he needed to talk to.
So we headed back to the house to wait for Manny, who arrived around 9am to take us to San Pedro. We met at ABP2, the older boys home, which is in a building connected to Pastor Marcelo’s church. There was a group planning to do outreach at Coma Chili, and we were invited to go along. Coma Chili is a squatter village near the church and ABP, and the pastors often take some of the boys from the ABP over there to teach the children about Jesus and hand out food. We were really excited that we were going to be able to see a squatter village on the inside and actually meet some of the people who live there. I was excited to get to meet some of the street children and just love on them.
When we got to the village, we saw that a lot of it was flooded from the rains the day before. And when I say flooded, I mean it. We thought it was a lake until someone told us that it was normally a road. All of the roads are just packed dirt, so it doesn’t take much to turn it all into mud. They just lay a lot of boards across the parts where the water is deep, and the kids just walk along on the boards. We parked the car and walked down to the middle of the village, and kids were following us the whole way. By the time we got to where we had some room to spread out a little, kids were everywhere! There were about 150 of them crowded around, eager to hear what we had to say and excited to spend time with us. There were a few parents here and there who would stand in the doorways of their homes, watching what was going on. There were lots of women either with tiny babies or who were very pregnant.
Pastor Topher began with introducing all of the leaders, although the kids knew most of them already. Then a teenage girl from the church led the kids in some singing and a game. Afterwards, Pastor Topher introduced Nate and invited him to go up front and tell the kids about himself and what he was doing here. Then it was my turn. This was both mine and Nate’s first time speaking through a translator, so it was a little shaky at first until we got the hang of it. I told the kids about my job back in Mississippi working at a church, teaching children just like them about Jesus. I told them that I was their age when I first started to love Jesus, and that it was really important to me to be able to tell other people about Him, especially children. I told them how much I loved being able to spend time with them, and how important it was for them to tell people about Jesus too. They were very attentive, and even the little ones, only a year or two old, sat and listened as we talked.
After we finished, Pastor Topher did a gospel presentation to the children, using visual aids pasted to paper plates that he could hold up and show them. They were all pressing against one another to be able to see and listen, and it was amazing to see how much they already knew. It was obvious that the church had been steadily reaching out to these kids, because they were already so familiar with many of the basic truths about the Lord. He would ask them questions throughout the story, and the kids would shout out the answers. I couldn’t understand all of what was being said, because it was in Tagalog, but a man named Raul who was standing near us translated most of it for us.
After the bible lesson, the kids lined up in groups of 10 to receive a Christmas gift, some bread, and some juice. I helped hand out stuffed animals to all of the kids, and they were so grateful! They were so excited to receive a Christmas present. Then they all ran and got their little cups from home so that they could get some juice. A lot of them didn’t have cups, so they brought little plastic bags instead. They would just fill up the bag and either put a straw in it, or punch a little hole in the corner of the bag to drink from. After all the kids had gone through the line, we stood around for a few minutes, talking to the children who knew little bits of English, and giving out lots of hugs.
It made such a big difference being able to spend some time inside one of the squatter villages and meet some of the people who lived there. I would have thought that after being in one, I would be more overwhelmed, but I was actually less so, and more at ease. I guess it’s because I was no longer seeing them from such a distance. I didn’t look at it anymore as a huge group of faceless people that I couldn’t relate to, but I could finally see them as individuals and children just like I’m used to. Even though many of them couldn’t speak English, we could communicate through gestures and motions. They were smiling, fun-loving, happy kids who wanted to meet us and spend time with us and introduce us to their friends. It suddenly became so much more real and so much more personal. I wanted to jump in and get my hands dirty in ministry. The differences weren’t so obvious anymore, and they didn’t really matter anymore either. What mattered were the points of connection, the places where we were alike, the ways that we could relate to one another. What mattered was that these were beloved children of my Lord and I wanted nothing more than to just spend time loving them. The sun beating down overhead, the sweat dripping off of me, the mud all over my feet, the dirt transferred onto my clothes from the children, the smell of the village… it all just kind of disappeared into the background. There’s just something about meeting face to face the children you’ve been praying for and loving from a distance for almost a year.
After awhile, we left the village and headed back to the ABP and church for lunch. They had been cooking chicken in a big pot outside when we left, and they were almost finished by the time we got back. Interestingly enough, they were doing the cooking right beside a big cage of chickens, so I didn’t have to wonder where the food was coming from….fresh as it gets. They also made a big stir fry of all sorts of vegetables, and of course, rice.
While we were waiting on the food to finish cooking, Nate and I had some time to talk to several of the staff members and kids at the ABP. Pastor Topher asked us to assist with an outreach event on Wednesday, and we’re excited to be a part of it. They’ll be going to the railroad tracks near the church and ministering to the street children there. They asked Nate to give a gospel presentation to the kids, and later I’ll be leading a Christmas bible study for some of the women. Both times, we’ll need interpretors, or “interrupters,” as they call them!
We headed into the church for lunch and the MTW staff Christmas party. All of the staff members were there, including the house-moms for all of the ABPs. We got to meet all of the pastors and their wives and all of their children. Since the Scotts and Cheryl, the other American on the team, are all back in the States right now, Sandra was the only other American there besides us. The rest of the staff are all Filipino nationals.
We all ate lunch, which was delicious, and Sandra showed us the typical Filipino way to eat and use our utensils. The party was more of a program, with scheduled events such as caroling, performances by several people, a message from Pastor Marcelo, and some games.
Filipinos are so funny with their parties…it’s always such a big event! They love to celebrate! They were all dressed up and festive, and there were lots of decorations. They really got into it. They had emcees and everything! It’s just so different from an American Christmas party, so it was fun to just sit back and watch everything that went on.
We left a little early because Manny had a business event he had to manage for his company, but it ended up being better that way. Sandra asked Nate to help her lead part of a Bible study tomorrow night during a Christmas party for her neighborhood, so leaving early gave him time to go home and prepare.
We came home and Nate got to work preparing his part of the lesson for Sandra’s party, and I went upstairs to lie down and try to process some of the events of the day. Spending time in the squatter village would have affected anyone, I think, and I just wanted time to think. God was definitely providing for us with the schedule he gave us, because we have definitely needed all of our time in the evenings to debrief, rest, and process our thoughts with one another.
After awhile, I went downstairs to check on Nate, and we decided to have a low-key evening of ordering pizza for delivery and watching a DVD on the computer. It was nice having Pizza Hut after so many foreign and unfamiliar foods, and we curled up in the bed and watched Dead Poets Society on my laptop. It ended up being a great ending to a great day.