Introduction by Mike Garner
I am sure that the boundless love of God is to be modeled by us. This makes a just society a possibility. So, with a smile and tears, I walk amongst broken human beings that are lost and unable to find their way out of the darkness. Some lack any conscience or sense of morality and yet all I see is a fearful creature that needs love. I am certain that it is God that gives definition to the concept of love (it is written that God is love). Because of human limitations and weakness, we seek confirmation of love and look for it in a promise, a commitment. God’s commitment to humanity reflects a willingness to be identified with the least, the broken, the sinner. There is no greater power than love and love has no fear of the darkness that casts its shadow over humanity. Come and walk with me for a moment by reading the stories of my students and friends as we bring God’s love to the poor and oppressed in the Philippines. Enter the darkness of poverty, incarceration, and human trafficking.
The Catacombs of Pag-asa
by Chris Cameron and Megan Jarreld
Today we went to Pag-Asa to love the oppressed victims of the city of Olongapo and hand out school supplies. As we walked into the barangay we stopped at a few hovels where we aided the families with some school supplies for their children. We came to a cavernous winding tunnel where 4 families lived. As we entered through the first access there was a door to the right where a family of 3 lived in a single, tiny room and another door to the left into a similar sized room housing another family. To get into the rest of the house we had to bend down to walk through a small, dark tunnel. It was moist and there were dogs inside. Along the inner wall were openings where more people lived in less than humane conditions. At the end of the tunnel was a small staircase that led up into another small, single room where a family of 7 lived. More than a dozen people were in a space that was unsuitable for human beings.
As we gave school supplies to the parents, the children’s eyes lit up. One girl, Abigail, who was just 13 years old, sat quietly, waiting her turn and continuously thanked us after we gave her a notebook and some pencils. As we sat in the tiny room more and more mothers came to the door with their children all needing school supplies. These dehumanizing conditions contribute to other problems that are present in the Philippines like crime and the sex tourism industry. The greed of the city had cast aside these families like refuse or unwanted animals. They are the living "Lazarus" and are laid at the gate of the economic zone known as the SBMA. And like the rich man of the story, nobody cares.
Baby Catching and Screening
By Meg Mathews
Assisting in the birth of a child is an impactful experience. I was honored to have this experience when I met Lea, a 21 year old woman who was a victim of an abusive past. She was dancing in the labor room to help the baby drop. She greeted me with a bittersweet smile in the midst of a contraction.
I spoke to Lea in my best Tagalog and inquired about her life. She told me about her mother and first boyfriend, with whom she had her first child, and how they both passed away last year. She is now in a relationship with a forty-eight year old man who was the father of her second child, but she made it very clear that he was good to her. Her arms were covered in multiple scars, clearly evidence of her attempts to cut away the pain in her life. The birth of new life into the world should be a happy event, but for Lea hopelessness and poverty were inescapable realities.
I was with Lea for seven hours and the midwife Liza was overseeing the entire process. Liza informed me it was time for Lea to push. Liza was patient and kind and treated me like one of her students. She allowed me to assist in the delivery. Lea gave her last push and I caught the baby in my arms and showed Lea her newborn son. Tears of joy and relief came to her eyes as she gazed upon her baby boy.
Lea was relieved because the uncertainty of childbirth was over and she had lived and so had her baby. She had to take her child and return to the trauma of a life filled with poverty and lack - a life where death always looms close by, and a life where her child would likely live with the constant suffering imposed upon the poor by the injustice of society.
Olongapo City Jail
By Joel Olson
The interesting part about the Olongapo City jail is that, initially, you never know if you are talking to an accused murderer, a drug user, or a petty thief. In fact, the length of an inmate’s stay often has more to do with their socio-political influence than it does their crime. It is not uncommon for a Filipino to be held for months without a court appearance. Some may say their condition is just; they are getting what they deserve. For us, we say that justice will come when they find healing for the root causes of their condition.
As we distributed items to some of the men (who don’t often receive visitors) we learned more about their stories. We learned where they came from, what they did before they were incarcerated, and where their families lived. As we walked away we realized how ineffective this system is. What do they have to return to but the same life that lead them to this very place to begin with? The penitentiary is about penalizing, and without rehabilitation there is no hope for anything other than more continuous crime.
There are some things happening to improve the quality of life for inmates. The men and women have access to education through a program started by a local college. Unfortunately, very few participate (only about 10%). As a movement we see this incarcerated community of men and women as an opportunity to reorder their world. We hope that our consistent presence in the city jail will turn into times of bible study. We hope to reshape this community of men and women into people who understand the communal responsibility for justice. We hope that healing will be found in those who choose it, and that one-day the jails will be shut down.