Can you imagine growing up in a cemetery? North Cemetery is home to about 10,000 Manila residents and approximately 5,000 of them are just young children. It is the only home they have ever known. Their parents are squatting in gravesites or sometimes, a minimally paid caretaker of the grave, making less a dollar a month. The children play among the grave corridors and sleep in between and sometimes on top of, the tombs. The grave structures are homey and lived in and some of the grown women I talked to, have lived in North Cemetery all of their lives. But this area is grossly neglected by the government that failed to even acknowledge that residents live here until very recently. Services are very minimal and programs to get children to school are only slowly beginning. Many are lost and wandering. Thousands are hungry.
Please Pass the Bread's newest feeding site just started feeding some of these lost children. They are providing a bible class and a hot meal daily and praying that God can change hearts in a cemetery.
I spent a little time with a few residents of North Cemetery that are involved with the feeding program. Nana Tita helps to coordinate the efforts, concerned for her own grandchildren and their health, she had prayed for something like this for years. Her prayers were answered when Please Pass the Bread saw the need. I also met Vilma who cooks for the feeding program and earns money to provide for her 4 children and put them through school. Education is very important to Vilma and giving her sons an opportunity to escape the cemetery, is her dream.
Meeting these ladies and seeing their homes was overwhelming. On one hand their grave structures seem safer and more protected than some of the Manila slums I visited. I can understand how with limited options, some families choose to live here. And at the same time, though, their choice forces them to live among the dead. Nana Tita told me that she isn't afraid of the graves, she knows they are only shells and her real desire is to bring the dying all around her to Jesus. She sees her 'community' and how so many of them will end up in tombs like the ones she lives near, never meeting the Savior, unless we intervene.
Matthew 9 comes to mind as we talk and it so perfectly illustrates the mission of PPtB as they partner with women like Nana Tita to show mercy to the weak and bring the good news to the sick. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (v. 12, 13)
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