Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Now, it's personal...

My dear friends and family,

I can't believe's been a whole year since that long-anticipated moment of stepping off a plane again in Manila, Philippines. In one week I'll be stepping off a plane in Canada! It's hard to comprehend how much has been accomplished here, how deep new relationships have become, and how much I've grown. In only one year, we started a school/daycare for street children, we regularly fed many hungry kids and patched up many wounds, I learned to speak a new language - or at least my own Taglish language (Tagalog/English), and all of these things are continuing each day. I can unabashedly admit that my relationship and dependence on God has grown exponentially. I can't downplay the importance of that and how it's brought me to where I am and the decisions I've made.

I know that I have so very much to learn about serving the poor, teaching children in another culture and in another language, and living simply while giving of myself greatly. For these things that I lack, I'm asking if you can pray for me and for the children we're serving. I had a feeling that when I started this internship, it wouldn't just be a "one year" thing. This is the beginning of something bigger - a kind of lifestyle and career that I want to adopt for years to come. I hope to serve, feed, and teach street children in the Philippines for as long as God will guide me.

Now, please bare with me as I share a few final thoughts and one invaluable lesson in particular that I've learned...

Most of us know the reality that millions of men, women, and children suffer and starve needlessly each day (you've heard it countless times on the news, read it in statistics, even seen it in ads from aid organizations). Perhaps you've found ways in which you can help, but have you ever wondered why we, as a whole, aren't doing more?

I recently read an illustration (in "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns) that gives some insight into why we might not always be so compelled to help. Imagine for a moment that you are eating your breakfast and reading the newspaper at home. You are surprised to read that thousands of children die each year in car accidents (most of them avoidable accidents). Reading this statistic, you might become sad, but likely not very emotional. However, imagine now that you just found out your neighbour's child died in a car crash. It would hit much closer to home, your emotional response would be much deeper, and you might seek ways to comfort the family and be there throughout their sufferings. But what if you learned that your own child had been killed. This would devastate you at the deepest level. It would be a life-shattering and profoundly personal tragedy that would forever define you.

There are many ways in which children's lives are cut short, and most of them are very preventable - malnutrition, unclean water, treatable diseases, to name a few. If the child who is needlessly suffering wasn't just a distant statistic, but was someone you knew by name who was personally very close to you (like a son or daughter), you would surely respond with urgency, doing whatever you could and paying whatever cost to save their life.

Our compassion for others seems to be directly correlated to whether people are close to us socially, emotionally, culturally, and geographically. One of the reasons why we might not always be compelled to help those in poverty is that the plight of suffering children in far-off countries simply hasn't gotten personal for us. However, for God, I believe it is extremely personal. His compassion for others is not conditional. The God I follow calls each child his own. This God also commands us to love our neighbours. When asked about the limits on who counts as our "neighbour", Jesus responded with the story of a man who rescued a suffering foreigner from a different culture, race, and ideology - even an enemy to the man who felt compassion for him. Furthermore, Jesus equated doing practical things for the poor (feeding, clothing, and caring for them) with doing those very things for Jesus himself. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me," Jesus said (Matthew 25:40). A personal relationship with Jesus would thus mean that the plight of the poor in this world is extremely personal to us.

This year, I've been fortunate enough to directly get to know children and families in poverty. For those children, their cause has become my own, and I would like to believe it is becoming more and more personal for me. As daunting as the global scene of poverty is, there are real solutions to these problems, and each of us can genuinely make a difference. In spite of all the things I've seen that have saddened me here, I have never become a cynic or lost hope that we can make a very significant difference. And believe me, when you get to know just one child in needless suffering, you recognize that the value in saving just that one life is beyond measure, no matter the cost.

So I want to end by briefly sharing a couple of real stories of some friends of mine. Imagine if these kids lived just down your street, if they attended your school or church, or even if you enjoyed sharing meals and conversations with them as I have been able to...

The kids "just down the street" who attend our feeding program

Kimberly attends our feeding program in Sucat. She is 7 years old and is a delightfully kind and warm child. She loves to study and read books. She told us that she wants to be a nurse someday, helping sick people and her family too. When she was 2 years old, together with her brother of 6 months, they were taken in by another young couple in their community. This is because their birth mother did not take care of them anymore - the mother's addictions to drinking and gambling consumed more time than she spent looking after her children. Kimberly's new parents, Michelle and Alfredo, couldn't have children of their own, so they thank God for giving them two adopted children. Alfredo earns a few dollars a day from construction work, but his work is not consistent. When he doesn't have work, his wife and their two children pick up left over food in restaurants to sell and eat themselves. Although they are struggling in their situation, they are thankful to be together as one close family. I will definitely miss spending time with their wonderful children.

Louie Jay (on the right) playing with friends

Louie Jay also lives in the Sucat community. He is 10 years old with three younger siblings. His father, Concordio, is a scavenger - finding and selling junk for a living. His mother, Maridel, takes care of the chores at home. Louie Jay usually takes care of his 1 month old sister while his mom is busy, and he has big dreams of becoming a policeman like his grandfather to catch some bad guys. Louie Jay once had an elder brother, but he died at 7 years old from tonsillitis. Since he did not receive any hospital treatment, his throat become infected and so painful that he stopped eating. Also, since the earnings from their father's scavenging is barely enough for their daily needs, hospitalization in such times is not an option. Despite these challenges and a recent demolition that caused them to move to our area, Louie Jay's parents continue on and focus on the future of their children. They strive their hardest to provide a decent way of living for their children, wanting to give the best for them so they can grow up with a different future. I wish you could meet Louie Jay and enjoy his lovable, fun, and rambunctious nature.

The purpose of me sharing these stories is not to inspire guilt. I promise you that. The purpose is to inspire genuine love and concern for real children that are personal to me. I hope and pray that you can find your cause that is so personal to you that you will use the voice, the resources, the time, and the strength you have been entrusted with to fight for it. Many of you have already found that cause worth giving and living for, and I pray that God gives you the wisdom and guidance to keep on fighting for it and running the race through to completion! Also, I hope you can share with me your advice and your lessons learned, and we can work together to serve a broader community with needs that Jesus embraced as his own. Thank you so much for reading these stories, praying and supporting me, and inspiring me through your friendships and genuine concern.

Take care always! And I hope to see you in person soon!


ps. ...many more stories and photos to come when I return to the Philippines, so this is not "the end", but only "to be continued..." :)


  1. Loved the blog John. It was good to see you again for a bit on Monday too. Look forward to welcoming you back home to Canada soon.

  2. Love it dood!
    Everyone needs to have experiences like this... we all need to have our eyes opened to what's out there and become passionate about something!
    Can't wait to see you back "home" soon! AND I can't wait to go back to Manila again to visit you in the future!!

  3. Hey John,
    Thanks for sharing your passion and what you've been learning. Looking forward to talking to you soon - I'll be back in Ontario in december. See you back in the "real world"