North Cemetery

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)

click on the first image to open a light box to view images.

Faith in an undisclosed location

I met some truly incredible people while traveling in February with Please Pass the Bread. Today I am going to introduce you to one that is living the gospel, despite danger and difficulty.

Faith (not her real name, a pseudonym is needed to protect her) lives in an Asian country heavily populated with unfriendly groups and marked with political instability.  We flew here and then traveled with hired security to keep us safe. It was probably the most dangerous 48 hours of my sheltered, safe, American life.  This was, however, also one of the most life-changing (for me personally) weekends I've ever experienced-- in part because of the courageous people I met here. I met a group of workers that are constantly putting their lives at risk because of their calling.  Faith is on that team, working in connection with Please Pass the Bread, Faith does medical mission outreach in a refugee camp for war displaced people living in severly abject poverty. She is working on a battle field (of sorts) against an enemy that is fiercely defending it's ground.

I tried to imagine what Faith's life is like.  She has a husband and a 7 month old son.  She puts her little boy in a baby carrier and walks to serve among refugees everyday.  She teaches classes for young mothers on pregnancy and infant care.  She does well checks and gives medical health advice and instruction. All of this seems very basic until you remember that some of the fathers of the little ones in her children's class and PPtB feeding program are rebel fighters involved in the surrounding conflicts . The mothers in her pregnancy classes are all religiously devout.  Other Christians have had death threats for their boldness in sharing Christ among these people. But despite all of this, Faith told me that the treasure she has in Christ is worth all risk, all sacrifice and all costs.  She loves her neighbors and serves this community that is dying apart from Christ because she wants them to share her Treasure. 

I read recently that worship is the fuel and goal of missions (John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad).  Work like Faith's can only be done with an abiding worship of the living God to fuel it.  Otherwise it falls flat.  The goal of this work is to produce more worshipers!  Faith is doing that every day, in simple, slow, sometimes frustrating, steps.

I can't show you any pictures of Faith or her team (for security reasons) but I do have images from a walk I took with her into the refugee camp to meet some of the families she ministers to.  These families were displaced by the perilous conflicts in other areas of the island and fled to this relatively neutral zone for safety. They are struggling for survival and to keep their families safe.  Their make-shift homes are primitive and poorly constructed.  There is little to no education available and medical needs abound. Children are sometimes embarrassed to come to the children's class and PPtB feeding program because they only have one set of clothing and nothing clean to wear the next day. Their poverty is great.  Their spiritual poverty is greater.

Faith uses her training as a nurse and her experience as a mom to serve these families.  Motherhood is a language that has no barriers.  It is an experience that all mother's share, despite their backgrounds or faith.  It is an open door.  Her own pregnancy helped her develop relationships with other pregnant mothers.  They shared a journey.  Daily, Faith is learning new things caring for her own baby and as she learns she shares this next step of motherhood with the friends in her classes.  God is using her experiences as a mom to build trust and compassion-- to serve and show the love of Christ expressed tangibly to the refugee camp mothers.

On a Sunday while I was there we had church on a university campus that has granted a rent-free home to this group of missionaries because of all that they are doing to serve in this community.  We sang praises to God in the courtyard of this home, doing warfare with our worship.

It reminded me of how we all play a role in this work.  I was reading Exodus 17 recently when the Amalekites are defeated by a team effort.  Joshua was on the ground, actually fighting and leading warriors into battle.  Moses was on a hill, holding his staff to the heavens.  Aaron and Hur were on either side of Moses, holding up his hands.  It required all of that to win that battle and every role was essential.  Faith is in the fight, making warriors and doing the exhausting work of battling a very real enemy of God.  But the rest of us have a role in that story too.  It is compelling to figure out how we participate and whether we are even aware that the battle is happening so nearby. Lives hang in the balance.

Faith is a mom and she fights and makes warriors for the glory of God. Faith is one of my new heroes. I want to make sure I am doing my job to hold up the hands of those supporting her in a battle that is bigger than all of us and only won by the God who defeated the Amelekites. 

Meet two of the families Faith serves: the moms and dads who love their children through fetching water and nap time and laundry and playtime. In many ways their lives are so much like ours.  They are hungry people, looking to rescue their children and ready to meet the Rescuer. They are parents who need Jesus and see Him through Faith's life everyday.  

The information in this post is intentionally vague to protect Faith and the team she ministers with from danger. (click the first image to open a lightbox)

Joebertt's story- Binonva area, Manila

I met a little boy in Bionva that I wanted to smuggle into my suitcase and take home with me. His name is Joebertt (in the purple shirt) and his sly grin and mischievous personality made me laugh and instantly love him.  His mama has her hands full with Joebertt and his baby brother;  not to mention her four older children (ages 7-13)  who all live in the small slum home I visited.  They live on dangerous streets and with very little. Joebertt and his siblings have been attending a Please Pass the Bread feeding site for a little over a year.  They love the Bible program and Joebertt's mother explained that she sings the songs the children bring home with them while she does her laundry.  Joebertt's parents do not attend church and the songs and stories that the children are absorbing are slowly making their way into Joebert's mama's heart too.  She expressed her thankfulness for the feeding program and for the way the experience is changing her children's behavior, even at home. Especially in mischevious Joebertt.  

A pastor in Manila told me that their evangelism efforts often start with children.  Children are not hardened by the difficulties of life.  They have natural hope and understand joy in a way that fades with cynical adulthood.  But just as Jesus said we must become like little children, these young ones see truth first.  They see the Word of God and believe what it teaches, understanding the need in their life for more than just physical food. This pastor reaches the children with the gospel first, feeding them spiritual food as well.  The kids meet Jesus and it becomes contagious in their families.  Soon the parents come to church and the whole family is brought to the Lord.  All because of a child's faith.

Children in these street face dangers that far exceed their young years.  I am so thankful that Joebertt and hundreds of others are able to spend their evenings at the Rhye Church's PPtB  bible and feeding program.  They receive a hot meal and songs and the gospel message that is transforming their attitudes.  They come home with changed behavior-- that will lead to changed hearts, challenged families and transformed homes.  Just like Joebertt.