Stories from the Field: A Thankful Heart
As a Christ-follower, God brings us to different places and allows us to meet different people from all walks of life. One of the things I have appreciated the most is how God allows mission and ministry to be two-fold: one aspect of it being the bringing of the gospel to different unreached people groups; the other aspect is the constant molding of the hearts of those who participate in this calling, which He has giving to each and everyone one of us. Not every one of us will use our international visas and passports to share the gospel overseas, but do not worry: God calls us to be faithful disciples and preach the gospel wherever we may be. Local missions and even every day disciple-making are great ways to glorify our Lord and Savior.
In 2008 I was in my last semester of my senior year in the Philippines, and was well on my way to receiving a degree in Economics. One of my senior projects was to volunteer at a homeless shelter that removed children and families from the streets and attempted to rehabilitate them and return them to their hometowns and family members. Most of the people we met were abandoned young children, individuals with special needs and elderly who struggled with schizophrenia and other psychiatric concerns. We tried to build relationships with the young children and collected evidence and information about their home lives. Most of the young children we spent time with were exposed to a variety of harmful drugs either by their mothers, who used them while pregnant with the children, or by their own experiences in the streets. One child told me that to survive in the streets, you needed five pesos (or around ten cents in US dollars) to buy a cardboard box to sleep on top in and twenty pesos (around forty cents) to buy solvent that keeps them from feeling hungry every week. This same child told me that twenty pesos buys food for a day, but with there being so little money, most children opt to use the money to buy drugs instead. My heart broke seeing how many of the children were exposed to drugs so early in life, the effects in their brains, emotional behavior and physical bodies clearly visible to us.
One of our young children was Katie (name changed) and she was born with several physical defects. Her body was twisted and she walked while dragging half of her body and her weaker leg. Her speech was slurred as well, her words always jumbled together and hard to discern even if you listened hard. We were informed by her case worker that Katie was born in the streets by a young mother who did drugs. Upon realizing that her child was born with several drug-related defects, she abandoned Katie and Katie was found by some case workers and taken to the rescue center. It wasn’t her physical characteristics that stayed with me; it was her thankful heart and her joyful eyes that I will never forget. During the course of the six months that we were able to interact with the children, Katie showed a lot of joy when we played games with the children and it was soon apparent that she possessed an amusing sense of humor. She was very determined to win games and showed love for her friends by cheering for them when it was their turn to compete. During one of our bible study sessions, we talked about Jesus and how He loved the little children and one of the children exclaimed, “Mahal ako ni Hesus kahit wala akong bahay at kahit wala akong mabibigay sa kanya” (translation: Jesus loves me even if I do not have a home and I cannot really give any material thing to Him). Their amazement at learning about a God who loves us no matter who we are, or where we’re from or what we have was very humbling. How often do we forget the extent of God’s love: that He sent His only son to die for the sins of those He loves.
We wanted to give something to the children to represent that God gave something to us when Jesus died on the cross. Apart from food that we would bring, we decided to give them bracelets. The children just lost it. Most tried to receive more than one and some tried to trade colors with their fellow friends. All except Katie, she was just quiet and held on to her bracelet, tears falling down her eyes. On our way out of the compound, she ran after us and we stopped, thinking that she had wanted a different color bracelet or had needed something else. She ran to us and clasped our hands. One of my friends helped her put her bracelet on her wrist, thinking she was having a hard time because of her withered left hand. She shook her head no and simply said, “Enk thou”. My friend and I looked at each other, trying to figure out what exactly she was trying to say and then we realized she had said, “Thank you”. We left the compound with tears flowing down our faces, thanking the Lord for the lesson and for the children we met.
Katie had a thankful heart, and I am thankful that God works in all our hearts, producing good fruit as seasons roll along. I learned a very important lesson that day, one that continually humbles me as I reflect that as people, we do not get what we deserve. But our great God is loving and gracious in that He blesses us without expecting anything in return. What a marvelous God we serve!
There are an estimated 1.5 million young children in the Philippines who are in the streets daily. Some have been abandoned by parents, some have joined street gangs and some leave due to family difficulties and extreme poverty. Some children try to make a living in the streets selling newspapers, food, etc and go home to feed younger siblings because of an absentee parent. Some children live on the streets and choose at risks areas like train stations, ship yards and garbage dumps to stay. Seventy percent of these children are male and around 200,000 children live in a life of prostitution, drugs and extreme violence. Most of these numbers are concentrated in major cities like Manila, Cebu and Davao where most of the country’s population is. But is a problem that is present everywhere. There are a number of organizations and government initiatives that try to help the children, but in reality, funds are low, volunteers are overworked and street kids just get into a cycle of poverty where they are returned to families (if available) and end up running away again. Please pray for all these kids, not just the Philippines, as they are but one group of people to reach for Jesus. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.