Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dinner with the Street Children in Manila

The Last Supper of Christ with His Closest Friends

Dear friends & family,

I recently fell in love with a painting titled "Hapag ng Pag-asa" (The Table of Hope) in which renowned Filipino artist Joey Velasco portrays a different version of the Last Supper of Christ. Here, Jesus shares his final meal with a group of street children. All of the kids seated at the table are actual poor children from Metro Manila between the ages of 4 and 14, and the child searching for crumbs underneath the table represents Velasco himself. He explains, "This painting reveals a story of greater hunger than a plate of rice could satisfy. What these children are starved for is love."

"Hapag ng Pag-asa" by Joey Velasco
The reason I chose to share this painting with you is because I want to be honest about something that's been on my mind since I started blogging. It's about that guy at the center of the dinner table. I've always been aware that many of my donors and friends who follow my blog are not Christian. Because of this, one my fears is that I might alienate them when I talk about Jesus or my faith. As you may have noticed, this hasn't exactly stopped me from talking about my faith throughout the blog. Of course, I do work for a Christian NGO, and all of our programs for street children operate out of local Filipino churches. My faith is central to what I do here. That said, I know that many of my non-Christian friends still support me because they know and respect me for the kind of person I am (independent of my beliefs), and because they value a cause that is universally respected - my cause to educate and empower children in poverty.

Nevertheless, the question of how much I should "toe-the-line" on discussing spirituality in order to maintain my appeal to a broader audience will continue to plague me, until I can simply and honestly address it. The reality is, the longer I work in the field here, the more I recognize the centrality of my faith in everything I do. It's undeniable. Without my faith, I never would have come to the Philippines in the first place, and it's what keeps me going in the most difficult of times. The miracles I've witnessed here from prayers alone are startling and unexplainable without that faith. Then I look at my friends. Many of my most respected Filipino friends were once involved in gangs, prostitution, and drug use. Most of them have personally experienced hunger, rape, and violence. They tell incredible and hopeful stories of complete recovery and personal redemption in spite of those experiences. In the most drastic cases of "lives turned around", they don't emphasize how they'd received help from a relief organization, a social worker, a religion, or a church. Time and time again, they only want to talk about how Jesus Himself saved them from their past. And that inspires me. I have probably learned more about the loving and redeeming character of God through my Filipino brothers and sisters who've come to believe in Jesus than from anyone else. Together, we love to spend time in prayer and worship, and we live out our faith by loving others and delighting in knowing God.

For most of my Christian supporters and friends, not much of that comes as a surprise. However, for others (and actually for many Christians yet) spirituality can a very strange and scary thing. For some, it's really uncomfortable or alienating to read or hear too much about it. All religious terms are "loaded terms" nowadays, and each of us comes at them with our own preconceptions. I do want to apologize if you've ever felt alienated by anything I've written here. I really do. Living in a vastly different culture away from home, I experience alienation and isolation daily from the things I don't understand or can't relate to, but which I do hope to try to understand. Please don't hesitate to ask me anything at all if you have questions or if you want to better understand my work, my faith, or my life here. I'm happy to chat about it with you, and happy just to hear from you! It's very important to me to always be open and sensitive to others.

And so, at times I will be very open about Jesus and about my faith. I pray that I can do that in a sensitive way. For in all honesty, He is the driving force behind my strength and compassion in serving the street children in Manila. Regardless of what you believe about Jesus or spirituality, you can be assured that I am always incredibly thankful for your trust, support, and encouragement in my work and in my life. I don't take that for granted.

Thank you for following along with me! Take care and enjoy this Easter weekend with your loved ones. I'll be spending it with the street children here - and thankful to do so!



  1. John, I just had to comment. I first looked at this awesome picture; zoomed it in, then read your post. However, I could not avoid the thought that your face was the 'one' in the middle - before I read anything. Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that I think your Jesus! ;D but it does mean that I see you being Him to these kids. Thanks for being open and honest. Thanks for serving there. Thanks for loving those kids! I sure hope that your honesty would not alienate anyone reading your posts and life experiences. Happy Easter!

  2. This painting is better then davinci's

  3. Thanks for sharing this, John. It's really cool to hear about the changes in the lives of your friends!