Leafa Vagatai, Summer Intern facilitator in the South East Asia, reflects on the interns' introduction to the least of these in the Philippines.
In reading this challenging text, many readers will try to find a way in which they could benefit the least of these, motivated by the fact that our service to the least is equated with our care for our Lord. But the summer interns who served in South East Asia this summer had the opportunity to enact multiple avenues of service listed in this text. In so doing, they were humbled and challenged to consider those who are typically forgotten, who Jesus identifies as more than worthy of our attention.
The South East Asia interns (Chelsie Waldron, Emily Marotta, Darbie Guess, Josie Putnam and Gabby Ladd) stayed at Tahanan, our headquarters in the Philippines. Tahanan means ‘home’ in Tagalog (the local language), and we strive to make it a hospitable place for visitors, many of whom are not given a safe or welcoming place. Interns enjoyed hosting local youth for Bible studies, games, Open Mic nights and shared meals. Through these experiences they were able to develop relationships with Filipinos their age, learning about their lives and struggles. Despite differences in culture and language, their shared desire to know the Lord was evident. Darbie wrote, “As we worshipped together, our songs were united.” She recognized that the team wasn’t just going to minister to Filipinos, but alongside them. “MC, Irish, and Sheryl were part of our team.”
Summer interns facilitated a children's’ camp for 200 kids in the neighborhood surrounding Tahanan Community Center, an area still recovering from the Super Typhoon. Participants were given entertainment, directed play, competitions, but also... food. When the kids ate to their fill, we were able to take what was left to a community of people who make their living digging in the city dump for recyclables. Coming face-to-face with this kind of need is not something you want to do, it’s not comfortable, but interns are challenged to do it anyway, remembering Jesus’ words. Our interns felt that. Though broken, our interns also felt the Lord.
Visiting the sick and praying for them in one of the Tacloban government hospitals was another impactful experience for the interns. They learned about the plight of the poor and the inadequacies of the health care system to meet their needs. They sat down with these vulnerable individuals, listened to their stories and learned about their lives and concerns. One intern, Emily Marotta, sat and spoke to a young mother who was her same age. Emily learned that she had let go of the dreams she had of becoming a high school teacher because she wouldn’t be able to afford the surgery her daughter needed. Emily was shocked to see the types of compromises the poor have to negotiate--difficult decisions she never had to consider because of the privilege she was born into.
The interns also visited women prisoners in the Tacloban City Jail. As they learned more about their situations, families and experiences, they were challenged to consider the plight of prisoners who are not always guilty as charged. They sat with women and held their hands as they cried tears because of how much they miss their families. Josie Putnam reflected, “As we walked in they were so happy to see us, to sing songs with us. I talked and laughed with them, listening to pieces of their story and trying to learn some of their language. To think that we pass by people in their broken situations every day, when God is asking us to see them and discern how to be there in love and genuineness, breaks my heart.”
They also learned challenging lessons through these visits. One day we loaded the van up with essential supplies for the women in the jail, only to be told on the way that we would not have the opportunity to come in that day and should try again the next week. The team was discouraged but also learned that those feelings of disappointment and devastation are the reality of the women in prison--who also load up in vans and are taken to the court, hoping to get in and have their case reviewed, only to be turned away and have it rescheduled for months later.
The Lord was very near and we are all very thankful for the ways in which he was near to us on the day to day. So many lessons were learned regarding the plight of the people and the responsibility we have as believers to be a source of life and hope in a world that forgets the least of these.
We are continuing to pray for our interns who now carry these stories with them. We pray that their experiences continue to push them to seek the Lord in order to understand how to be better servants of these most precious ‘least.’