It is an easy task for a ‘monied’ missionary to begin a ‘church’. It is easy to rent a building, purchase some chairs, some speakers and microphones, perhaps a screen to place power point pictures and song lyrics. It is easy to distribute the literature sent from headquarters. It is easy to ‘buy’ some new friends and employee them in your mission enterprise.
It is hard work and challenging to raise the consciousness of a people to moral heights that are consistent with the reign of God on earth. The mountainous weight of moral deprivation must be borne on the shoulders of faith and cast into the sea. It takes faith to move a mountain, to build a temple of living epistles, but only money to fill a building.
by Mike Garner
Amongst the Least of These – Not a Romantic Venture
By Brett Madron
Jesus is very demanding upon those who choose to follow him. To associate with the least of these as Jesus did is not a romantic venture. As development workers who seek to function as Christ’s body in the world, our paradigm is one of working hard each day to improve the lives of those who suffer the oppressive forces of injustice.
Theoretically, giving one’s life in service to the poor carries with it a touch of romanticism. Practically, it involves getting up every day, putting our feet on the ground and working hard in communities of need. This immersion trip has been a window into the kind of hard work we face as a movement in the Philippines.
Only experience can de-romanticize idealistic notions of serving the poor. Looking malnutritioned children in the face as they ask for money; listening to scavengers in the slums whose daily goal is to provide food for their family; attempting through broken Tagalog to understand the lives of the indigenous peoples; observing the very real fears of the girls sexually exploited in the bars every night – these are the myriad of images that burden my mind as I wake up in the morning and decide that nothing changes for them unless we spend our lives amongst them fighting for a better world. Our resolve must remain.
Approaching the Poor with Humility
by Shaun Galford
Recently team members have begun to facilitate a daily Bible study at the slum known as Pagasa located on a drainage channel on the edge of Olongapo City. The people of this barangay live in abject poverty. The homes and neighborhood suffer constant flooding due to rain and high tides (the river ‘or’ channel drains into the bay). Many children are sick and malnourished due to the unsanitary environment. They also suffer a diet that consists of packaged sweets and potato chips sold at little home stores called “Sari Sari Store” by the Filipinos. In Pag-Asa there is trash everywhere; the city slogan ‘Keep Olongapo Clean’ does not apply to those persons living on the edge of the city.
One day we were walking through Pag-Asa and saw a few folks sitting on a concrete wall on the street corner. We sat down and began to speak with them. Soon more and more people began to join us. We laughed, shared stories and drank sodas. The next day we returned to the same spot on the corner. Many of the same people were there, so we began a Bible study. The next day we showed up again. This time we moved from the concrete slab and gathered under a small tree next to the river. Unfortunately trees are both small and scarce in Pag-Asa, but we managed to fit about ten people under this tree. We had a wonderful time talking about the Lord and trying to speak Tagalog. The folks on the corner have encouraged and aided us with our language learning. Despite the impoverished conditions of Pag-Asa most people are warm, gentle and hospitable. Due to their catholic faith they are eager to talk about life and Christian concepts. The hopelessness of Pag-Asa is a sign of the refusal of the powerful to care for marginalized peoples.
Expansion of Sex Slavery in the Philippines
By Austin and Kristin Bennecker
Every year, 1.2 million men travel alone to the Philippines for the purpose of sex tourism. With them they bring thousands of dollars that benefit the Philippine economy. Potentially the sex tourism industry brings 3 to 4 billion dollars into the country every year. This amount of money in a poor nation is staggering and contributes to graft and corruption in political circles.
On the streets of Barretto and Angeles City, it is normal to observe a sea of foreign men walking hand in hand with young Filipina women. The unfortunate truth is that this exploitive industry is growing. A recent visit to Angeles City, also known as “Sex City”, revealed its magnitude. In Angeles, the expansiveness of exploitation can be seen not only in the bars, but also in the culture of the city. Many survive from the presence of foreigners by selling cigarettes, gum, and Viagra. Countless motorcycle-taxi drivers wait at street corners ready to whisk away the next white man and young Filipina girl to one of the many large hotels that cater to them. The entire city feeds on the money spent in the purchasing of young girls. It has become a way of life that is both normalized and accepted. This unimaginable evil remains largely unchallenged. No one seems to care that men have replaced a girl’s name with a number and reduced her life to profit for a wealthy investor. No one seems to care that the moral fabric of society has been eroded to the point that even the church turns a blind eye. Without intervention, the number of women trapped as slaves will increase and the industry will continue to spread across the entire country.
The Children of Barrio Barretto
By Breann Bennecker
The past week we have continued to learn about the children who sell peanuts on the streets of Barretto. We have found them selling their assorted peanuts any day of the week at any time. I recently had an interaction with a little girl reminding me how their childhood is far from normal.
Rosedel is an 11 year-old girl who, like so many of the other children, is already feeling the repercussions of poverty and neglect. She suffers some obvious loss of mobility in her right leg. In my broken Tagalog, I asked her what happened to her leg. In her broken English she communicated to me that when she was just a small child she fell out of a tree and hurt her ankle. A fracture in her ankle was never set for the bone to grow correctly leading to this girl’s awkward limp and deformed leg. Rosedel’s story of a permanent disability brought on from a treatable accident is common in the Philippines.
We should always be shocked when children walk the streets at night looking for money. It should never be normal when children are sick and are not provided healthcare. The children of Barrio Barretto are cast into the night, left to live off the scraps of the sex-tourism industry. In their desperation they sell peanuts and learn to pick the pockets of unsuspecting drunks and careless foreigners that do not watch their purses and other valuables.
The Holding Cell…A fast fix
By Leafa Vagatai
Chains and the shackles could not restrain the man with the unclean spirit found in the Gospel of Mark. Instead he withdrew further outside of his society to live among the dead. This is the solution that society has for those who break the law. These people pose a threat and problem. However, instead of rehabilitation, isolation and detainment becomes the solution. Locking up human beings liked caged animals, crammed together in a small space and made to share one bed with 2 others is no solution.
Overcrowded cells testify to the failure of society and not to the success of law enforcement. The concrete walls of jail cells increase the heat of the tropical climate, overcrowding increases the feeling of being shut in like an animal. The incarceration of society’s victims is not a solution, but a railing accusation against the powerful.
Jesus rehabilitates the man with the unclean spirit by restoring his dignity and returning him to his family. In our efforts to help imprisoned families we learn the names of the incarcerated person and find out about their families, we bring them fish and rice, we encourage them to make choices for good and not harm others or use drugs or alcohol.
A Battle Worth Fighting
By Sarah Mascaro
Overlooking the chaos of Olongapo and Subic Bay sits a home of refuge, recovery and hope. The PREDA Foundation (People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance) has been rehabilitating children in the Philippines since 1974. This last week we had the opportunity to learn about the center as Father Shay Cullen (one of the founders) sat and shared his frustrations and hopes while recounting stories of the hardships that children have faced before coming to the center. Between the prolific sex-trafficking industry, poverty, abuse and law enforcement’s failure to act upon Philippine law, which prohibits prostitution, children face a difficult life here in the Philippines.
As we sat and talked with Father Shay, we found that we shared not only a common frustration with the condition of the society, but also a desire to work and bring change. Every day at PREDA people are committed to working with children and young women forced into the bars. The staff of PREDA seeks to educate, liberate and empower the oppressed to see the value of their life. But the battle seems endless as court cases go on for years without resolution and for each child that is rehabilitated there are still many more that are suffering.
To further our education and understanding of the child rehabilitation process a few members of our team will be spending some time at PREDA to gain valuable experience from Filipina social workers and psychologists. Gleaning from their years of experience, we will continue to be students learning about the difficult yet life-restoring process of rehabilitation. Let us fight the fight of liberation and empowerment! As the children of God it is our responsibility to bring order to this chaos and resurrect the life that has been stolen from these precious children. Through our words of truth, life, encouragement and hope we will continue to fight to bring justice.
Waiting (A story of Oppressed Workers)
By Joel Olson
We met Matthew* on our second visit to Cubi, the Hanjin labor camp located in the old barracks of the military base. Matthew was only 2 weeks into his training program and is excited about the opportunity to begin making money for his family. The young man had plenty to say about the hot working conditions of the training facility, but no real experience on the job. He looked forward to the day he would sign his contract guaranteeing him a job for the next 10 years. Last Tuesday, according to Matthew, his “dream” came true and for the next 6 months he cannot take a personal day off or he will risk losing his job. If he breaks his contract he is faced with a 100,000 peso fine – equivalent to a year’s wages for a Hanjin employee. Additionally, until Matthew receives his certificate validating that he finished his training with Hanjin, his skills are un-marketable to other companies overseas.
Like many of the other new hires we talked to today, Matthew is just waiting. Waiting for a contract, waiting for a day off, waiting to see his family again, waiting for a promotion, waiting for a raise, waiting to be validated as a human being, waiting for someone to tell him his ship has come in. Matthew, like the other 15,000 Filipino employees, is herded through the gates of this multi-national corporation waiting for things to change. As people of God, we must not wait for the world to change; we must be the ones who initiate the change.
*The name of the employee has been changed to protect his identity.