Weary to the bone, and emotionally upside down, my brain feels saturated with images and stories, but firing on too few pistons to really tell them. That's where I'm at as I attempt to write this post and somehow convey to you the brokenness and the hope that I saw and felt today.
Beautiful, brown baby faces. Mamas being taught how to practically care for their little ones, keeping them safe, healthy and happy in the midst of poverty and want.
Cheerful courtyard, painted by children from the development center. Beyond the courtyard lies a vibrant church, with thoughtfully planned programs run by big-hearted saints (mostly volunteers, of course). From start to finish, we were amazed by their faithfulness and sacrificial giving of themselves.
One of the most inspirational women I have had the privilege to meet. Susan is the director of this child development center, currently the largest Compassion center in the entire world, caring for over 700 sponsored children. This intentional, courageous, persistent and godly woman loves and fights for those precious little lives with a fierceness that I have never seen the likes of.
I am in awe of the work that is being done in this place. If you want to see what the hands and feet of Jesus look like, you need only come here. He is alive and well in the heart of Manila, sending mothers home with rice and vegetables, weighing babies and treating pneumonia, motivating children to dream beyond their circumstances, and trusting that the Word of Life will not return void.
From the beauty and inspiration of this servant-hearted church, its spacious courtyard and laughing children, we moved on to visit the home of our sponsor child whom we met yesterday. It was a stark contrast, to say the least.
Picture a squatter compound, a long, narrow, and crooked conglomeration of houses stacked on top of one another holding 800-1000 people crammed together in dire conditions.
Struggling to imagine it? Allow me to assist you.
Since I left my camera behind today I wasn't able to capture the details that stand out so vividly in my mind, so I can't even accurately depict it for you. Suffice it to say, these pictures make it look good, far (far) better than it is.
We walked through the filthy, derelict and narrow shanty alleyway, littered with trash, and buzzing with insects. Chickens and dogs roamed free, while water dripped onto us from hanging laundry above. This is an ugly place.
We found the family's home and walked up a dank and twisting staircase into a room about 8 by 8 feet, no larger than our walk-in closet. The floor was so soft and rotted through in places that I truly feared I would fall straight through.
They had prominently placed the family photos of us and our children on their old tv. I met Bemilda, John Mark’s mother, and learned more about how Compassion is helping their family. Gratefulness was evident as she beamed at us.
We asked how we could pray for them, and then asked them to pray for us as well. It was important to us to not be viewed as benefactors but rather as brothers and sisters in the Lord, each with something to offer the other.
I embarked on this trip knowing that I would be far more ministered to by the people I met than they would be by what I had to offer. I was right.
Emil and John Mark had obviously shared our family's prayer requests from yesterday with the rest of the family, because Bemilda animatedly repeated them back to us-- prayers for our children and some health issues with our youngest daughter in particular.
When she told me that they were already praying in faith that Johanna would be healed upon our return home, the floodgates began to open wide. I could hardly hold back my tears as I considered the immensity of the fact that this precious family, with concerns and burdens of their own that seem to far outweigh our own, were praying for us.
I have to admit that as much as I know (and the family confirmed) that the work of Compassion is making a huge difference in their family and particularly in the life of John Mark, I was still so broken over the situation as a whole.
I won’t gloss over it and pretend that because he is a sponsored child, their life has become rosy. It hasn’t and it won't anytime soon. Theirs is a struggle that is long and deep and hard. There are no quick fixes, no simple solutions.
They still live in an utterly cramped and unsanitary home. They are still in abject poverty with hardly enough monthly income to put food on the table for a family of six, let alone provide for any other needs. They still worry for their daily health, the safety and future of their children, and how they will continue to provide.
I could be tempted to despair over what I saw today. At times, I know I did. I wanted to swoop in and try to save them, even though the truth of it is that I don’t even have a clue what that would look like or exactly what I think I'm saving them from.
There's so much that they don't have, but here’s what I realized today that they do have...
Hope they didn't know before.
Before they knew that someone cared enough to sponsor their son, to provide him with basic needs and an education. Before they knew that they were being uplifted in prayer and cared for by others who have compassion on their situation. Before they knew the love and power of a resurrected Savior who numbers the very hairs on their heads.
Yes, the hands and feet of Jesus are reaching out to John Mark and Emil and Benilda and Ken-Ken. Through sponsors like you, though they walk through adversity they now have a very present hope in times of trouble.
My heart is resting today in the fact that what distinguishes a family like this from any other family living in poverty is not in the fact that Compassion International can solve all of their problems (because it can't), but that they have a confident, expectant hope that they can cling to in place of fear.
What about those who still feel that they are alone? Unloved? Unseen?
When you sponsor a child, you have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, extending hope in the most hopeless of situations, and to make a very real difference in the lives of a very real family. Will you do that today?