In 2006, I ventured into a Summer internship program with Students Living a Mission that took me to 5 different countries to spend time serving the most vulnerable people I had ever met. So many memories. When I reflect on that Summer, my few days in a rural AIDS hospice in Jamaica always linger with me.
I sat with a man named Anthony who was 39 years old and incapacitated from a stroke he had suffered from complications with HIV. He couldn’t talk. I sat bedside with Anthony for 5 hours a day for 3 days. I had never stared suffering in the face so hard in my life. I was used to asking people questions and letting them talk. Anthony couldn’t allow me to do that.
And so I talked, awkwardly I’m sure, about my life, about what I thought might be of encouragement to him from the Bible. I tried to make him smile and laugh and imagined what life he thought he was missing as he looked out the window of the hospice and saw everyday affairs continuing on without him. I helped bathe him and saw the effects that being bedridden was taking on his body.
After those 3 days, I recognized a few things. People like Anthony need someone who is willing to sit with them. But more than that, I knew I had a lot to learn if I was going to walk into the life of someone like Anthony and try to make a lasting impact. My encounter with Anthony caused me to re-evaluate how I really wanted to spend my life.
Fast forward nine years to this past Summer and I was leading an internship to the Philippines, our Southeast Asia hub, and the place I have been committed to serving since 2007. I was so happy and felt so privileged to introduce a group of 5 interns to some of the most precious people in the world, people with a great deal of need.
We hit the ground running. From visiting inmates in dilapidated prisons to facilitating children’s activities for children in the slums to visiting with a man who has fought for the past 35 years to stop the sex industry in the Philippines, we gave the interns experiences that would cause them to evaluate what it really takes to serve the least of these.
Being exposed to poverty is just that – an exposure. Especially at a young age, it’s tough to do much about it the first time you see it. Most of us don’t have any capacity to offer practical, resourceful solutions to the poverty we see and we also lack the words to know quite how to respond to the very real trauma that people in extreme poverty may have faced in their lives. But the exposure counts – as long as you don’t numb yourself and forget about it.
Fast forward to today. As the time arrives for the interns to take off for this Summer, opportunities are only getting better for our people to serve and meet needs in the Philippines. Because our efforts are now concentrated in the city of Tacloban, our personnel on the ground are preparing wonderful opportunities for our interns to meet with and serve various communities of need.
The interns will play basketball and host educational seminars with a group of boys stuck in a detention center, many because of an unjust penal system. They will provide meals and children’s activities for children who have spent almost half their life in a transitional shelter after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. They will encourage and work alongside Filipino youth, many of whom are still rebuilding their lives after the typhoon.
These and a variety of other activities will create opportunities for the interns to encounter people like Anthony, and be introduced to the challenging, yet rewarding journey of giving one’s life for those in most need.