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Saturday, 20 December 2014

What If It's You?

What if it’s you that loses your job this Christmas?
What if it’s you that is ashamed to ask friends and family for help for the umpteenth time?
What if it’s you who is mocked and scorned by the hardened street homeless who know you aren’t really one of them?
What if it’s you who is forced to search alone for a safe place to sleep on the dirty street?
What if it’s you who lies awake at night; cold, alone and afraid?
What if it’s you that is moved from one doorway to another by a security guard who looks right through you?
What if it’s you who plunges from normal working class to irrelevant street homeless in the space of a few days?
What if it’s you who is forced to spend your time digging through other people’s garbage for daily food?
What if it’s you who is enviously watching the Christmas shoppers spending lavish amounts of money as they walk past your dirty form?
What if it’s you who longs for a worried glance in your direction or a few kind words instead of the expressions of disdain and disgust?
What if it’s you who is too ashamed to attend a local church despite being invited due to being dirty and not knowing how to pray?
What if it’s you who believes that God couldn’t possibly accept you in your current state or forgive the many things you have done wrong?

What if you are the landlord of the person that loses their job this Christmas?
What if you are the friends or family of the person and they come to you for help?
What if you are a street homeless person and this person is forced to join your community?
What if you have a bed, sofa or floor space and you see the person searching for a safe place to sleep?
What if you are walking home and you see the person; cold, alone and afraid?
What if you are the security guard clearing doorways over the Christmas period?
What if you have spare food that you normally throw in the garbage?
What if you are blessed with money to spend on lavish Christmas gifts?
What if you are a member of a church and this dirty smelly person timidly shows up for the first time?

What if they are genuinely searching for hope?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

It's Very Hard to Change My Life

Firstly a big thankyou to all who contributed to our Christmas Rehab Appeal. We have now exceeded our original target of £700. We will keep the appeal open for another week or so in case anyone else would like to contribute. The extra money raised will most likely go towards the library project purchasing Christian books and Bibles.I have been busy shopping for the event which is now planned for the 29th of December. Updates will be on our website

As part of the planning process, earlier this week myself and Paul went to Olongapo. Our goal was to visit as many of the family members of the boys in rehab as possible to advise them of the plan and that they needed to get themselves to the Youth Centre at 6am on 29th to be included. To be honest, this idea is pretty ambitious as many of these people are hopelessly disorganised and don't usually know what day it is let alone when the 29th of December is. This makes it very hard to organise. If I was living in Olongapo I would arrange for the van to collect them from their houses to secure their attendance, as we have done in the past but unfortunately this isn't possible so we are forced to rely on their desire to see their children.

We went first to see Paul's family who are still living on the street where we left them after our last visit. They were pleased to see Paul especially now that he has brand new teeth which he was keen to show off. I was surprised and pleased to see Adam with the family looking clean and obviously drug/solvent free. He did have a nasty injury to his arm which apparently had been badly broken and re-set by a Doctor. It was still twisted with a large lump and I wondered what on earth it had looked like before the hospital visit. Despite this Adam was cheerful and wanted to accompany us to the Youth Centre where he had been residing until he ran away. He seemed to have matured since I saw him last a few months back.

We travelled to the Youth Centre and were greeted enthusiastically by the 20+ boys that reside there. The staff were also pleased to see Paul looking well as he was a resident there before. The social worker gave us access to the address details of the rehab boys but there wasn't really a lot to go on and many of the addresses were out of the area. In the end we decided it might be better just to spread the word about the visit via the staff. We persuaded Adam to return to live at the centre and said that he could accompany the families for the trip on 29th if he did so. (1 boy again off the street but for how long I couldn't say!)We paid for a snack and drink for all the boys and then left.

Myself, Adam and Paul then went to look for Simon and Joel in the Magsaysay Drive area. They can usually be found selling DVD's illegally with a group of older boys. Failing to find them we had lunch and then a slight miscommunication meant that I lost the 2 boys for the next 3 hours! This was pretty frustrating as I searched the whole area for them. However, the event brought the realisation that for the first time I wasn't worried about Paul being negatively influenced by his old group of friends during his absence as I knew that the change in his life was real.

I returned alone to the DVD area and immediately saw Simon and then Joel hanging around. Simon who was looking pretty thin, saw me but turned away refusing to acknowledge me until I had spoken to him about 5 times and then he grudgingly nodded. Joel was more talkative and said that he was doing well and everything was fine. I noted that he now had 4 ear piercings in one of his ears.

After a while I managed to get Joel alone as I knew he was acting in front of his friends. (I had received a message via a mutual friend a few days before that Joel was really miserable and wanted to come and live with me in Cubao.) I asked him what was wrong with Simon. He said that Simon blamed me for the death of Ramiro as I had evicted him from the house and he had died a few days later. I knew that Simon probably needed a place to put his grief and accepted that it might have to be wrongly placed on me for the time being.

Then I asked Joel how he was really doing and he said "not good." I told him that I had thought he had really changed before. He looked me straight in the eye and said "It's very hard to change my life." He said it with feeling and I really felt for him. I told him that it was possible as he could see from Paul's example. In that moment I wanted to tell Joel that he could leave with us for Cubao but I can't do that as there is nowhere for him to stay and Paul was allowed to stay at the church as an exceptional exception to the usual rule.

The main problem for a lot of these boys is that they try and change their lives themselves without God which lasts for a short time but without God they inevitably fall back and often into worse situations than before. I wonder how many times this has to happen before they realise that they need God. I know this to be true due to my own experience of trying and repeatedly failing to sort my life of vices out. Sadly I can't force them to realise this but I can pray for them and be there when they realise that they are hopeless and trapped in their sin without God. I pray that this happens for all of these boys before they become the victim of accidents or illness due to solvent use and then it is too late.

I reluctantly left them to resume my search for Paul and Adam. Then I saw a very familiar but slightly older looking face hanging over a railing with two other boys. It was Joshua (now 12/13) who I hadn't seen for 2 years. His face registered the recognition and then lit up as he pushed past his friends to give me a shy hug. I knew that he was back in Olongapo as we had chatted a bit online but I hadn't actually seen him so this was a bonus. He also was drug/solvent free and attending school! (he is the boy on the left on the front cover of my book)

Shortly after this I found Paul. I took him back to see Joshua but he had gone. His friends were still there and began following us around so I asked if they wanted food. I bought them some food and then encouraged Paul to share his personal testimony with them. He was shy at first but did so and then unprompted sat down with them and prayed for their food before we left. Afterwards I asked him how he felt about it and he said that he felt awkward because they were Muslim. I pointed out that he wasn't forcing them to do anything just sharing his testimony. I saw how easily he conversed with the younger children knowing where they had come from and I had hope that God would use him as a witness in the future as he has a heart to help people and share with them already.

We went back to Paul's family and took his grandma and introduced her to a local Christian family with a house church. This was really a very positive step as the family were very receptive and even agreed to visit Paul's family on the street. This church had previously received several of the boys including Paul, Joel and Simon and have been praying for them. They have also agreed to receive and follow up any of my contacts in Olongapo especially those that might be made when the families attend the Rehab on 29th as I plan to give Bibles and contact details for the church to the families that attend. This church is really an answer to prayer as I have been looking for a church that is open for ministry to the street people in Olongapo for a while due to the many contacts I have built up.

After paying for Paul's fathers TB medicine we headed for the bus back to Cubao. I was pleased to have seen Joel and Simon but Joel's pleading eyes played on my mind as I knew that had I offered to take him away from the street he would've jumped at the chance. I hope the time will come when that will be possible but I have to be patient and pray that he stays safe in the meantime. The social worker also informed me that she is processing the paperwork for them to be returned to Rehab early next year which might be a better idea initially.

Back in Cubao I was saddened to see Charlotte and Jack in the street again having returned them home after various now broken promises were made. I resisted the urge to offer Charlotte a bed for the night as it will just become a habit and I really need to meet with her mum to discuss the whole situation. Her mum should be attending the church this weekend. As myself and Paul were leaving, Charlotte began racing back and forth across the road jumping in and out of the traffic and narrowly avoiding being hit by different vehicles that slammed their brakes on to avoid her. After hesitating and watching in horror for a few seconds I had to make myself leave her to it as I knew watching was making her do more crazy things. I guess it's only a matter of time before one of these kids that I'm involved with is seriously injured or killed but I pray that it won't happen...

Monday, 8 December 2014

17 Jackets Please #rubyph #hagupit #typhoon #philippines

So the typhoon that is no longer one has hit Manila in the last few hours. The numerous prayers for safety worked, to the extent that so far I would compare it to a normal rain shower. I can't hear the wind howling either which normally makes these things a lot more scary. However, it's easy to say and write this in our brick house containing many material things that people living on the streets can only dream about. This thought has been with me (more than usual)for the last 24 hours as I watched locals prepare for the storm.

It all started yesterday evening when I was heading back from a church fellowship and saw one of my sponsored children asleep in the street. Charlotte hadn't chosen the best location to fall asleep. In fact, she had probably inadvertently picked the most dangerous and visible spot in the whole area. She was literally lying in my path as I walked back to my house at about 7-8pm. She was in the centre of the walkway right outside a building which sells rooms and various unsavoury services by the hour. Probably the only reason she hadn't already been hired or lured away is because she dresses and acts like a teenage boy. She has just turned 14.

The approaching typhoon and potential consequences of leaving her there were unthinkable so several of us spent several minutes waking her up (no easy task) and dragging her to her feet before I told her she could stay at my house for the night, but only for the night.

Today, I gave her a clean change of clothes knowing I would never see them again. I normally give clothes that I have outgrown which happens to at least a few items every week, not because I am growing at the speed of a teenager but because our local laundry shop shrinks them. Then we set out into the very dirty street to get her some flip flops as she had no footwear (again.)

After sorting this out and then searching in every shop in the area for something that I could wear to a wedding at the weekend I gave up when a shop assistant pointed out that I was now wearing my T-shirt inside out.

Walking back to my house with Charlotte in tow I noticed a large gathering of familiar faces at the bus stop at the end of the road that leads to the church. Many of the homeless people were carrying Bibles and were obviously wanting to attend our regular Monday evening Bible study which attracts around 35-40 homeless people. It starts at 6pm and it was only 230pm but the people tend to turn up very early for everything and fall asleep outside until they are allowed in.

They greeted me as I walked past and asked me if the study would be going ahead due to the typhoon. I assumed it would but told them I would check. I hoped it would as they huddled in several groups; wet, cold and shivering, some having travelled from other areas and most clad only in T-shirts or thin layers. I contacted a few people only to find that the Bible study would not be going ahead. Of course they were disappointed and I didn't know what I could do really so was about to leave, but then I saw an older lady shivering in just a T-shirt and hugging herself in an effort to keep warm.

I approached the lady and asked the obvious. She said she was cold and didn't have another layer so I told her to come with me and I would buy her a jacket or jumper. Of course I was then surrounded by several adult men who also began shivering, hugging themselves and saying they were cold too. After a half-hearted attempt to avoid the inevitable by telling them they were younger and this woman was old, I mentally calculated the cost and then succumbed knowing i would have to buy for them all. They had surrounded me and started chanting "we want jackets" or the Filipino equivalent which turned into loud cheers as I announced that we would be heading to Ukay Ukay (the nearest second hand clothes shop.)

I was a bit embarrassed as we headed along the street especially when I ran into two of my housemates. By the time we arrived at the store there were 17 people in the gang. I informed the store manager (who I already know) that each person was allowed to choose one jacket or jumper and that she could count them out as they left and I would pay for it at the end. She smiled and sat at the door to make sure that that was what actually happened, I don't blame her!

Then I addressed the motley crew patiently waiting at the entrance and in a loud voice made them promise me that they wouldn't sell the items afterwards knowing full well that some of them would anyway. (This always has to be factored into a decision to help practically but most of the time its worth helping anyway for the sake of the genuine.) After making this promise, the crowd of mostly men swarmed into the shop and spent a while browsing before mostly choosing very large coats that were too big for them but would hopefully keep them warm.

As they left and each said thankyou I encouraged them to see the gifts as a blessing from God. There was one man left who couldn't find anything to his liking probably because the quicker guys had cleared an entire rack of coats. So I went through the other racks with him only to hear him say "parang babae" (it looks like a girls) around 50 times. I told him "parang lalaki" (I think you can guess that one) but he didn't believe me and turned his nose up at everything. I was tempted to leave him in his thin T-shirt but as he was an older man I took him to a nearby new clothes shop and managed to get him a long sleeved T-shirt for just slightly more than the rest half expecting a selection of the others to come rushing in after us to swap, complain or demand the extra money. But nobody did which was nice. They were all very grateful and made me pose for a photo with them wearing their "new jackets." (Total cost = a little over £20, bargain!)

Then I spoke to the old lady that had begun this craziness and she, obviously realising that I was a soft touch, asked if I could buy her a coffee. I asked her how much and again I quickly did the mental calculation knowing it would be not one but 17 coffees...nodding my assent as I could feel that despite the jumper her hands were still freezing cold I again led the throng to a coffee machine which was out of water. We headed to a different location and waited whilst the cups were refilled. The vending machine was a slow process as I stood by the machine inserting the coins as the people chose their coffee or chocolate. Afterwards I took my chocolate and made good my escape. (Total cost = £1, yes, that's right! :)

On the way back to my house I saw a family that I met just yesterday. The girl Mary* is 21 and she has a 1 year old baby. Mary's 18 year old brother is with them. She says that their house burnt down recently forcing them onto the street. I don't know if this is true.

I noticed them because the baby was very dirty and had the start of a severe scalp infection. I bought them food and medicine. I told them about the church which was about 100 metres from where they were sitting and invited them to join us for lunch at the church but they arrived too late (which is the reason I bought them food.) I only knew they had attended the church because when I came out after the service I was surrounded by a crowd of street children desperately trying to tell me something and was still trying to piece together their bits of English with my still small understanding of Tagalog until the mystery was solved when they led me to the family who had returned to the end of the street.

I asked Mary* how she was doing feeling totally inadequate as its kindof like asking someone how they are when someone close to them has just died. Fortunately Filipino's don't say things like "Well how do you think I'm doing?? My house burnt down, I have no food, no money, and no work, my husband left me, my baby is sick, I'm living on a dirty street corner reduced to begging and a typhoon is coming."

The temptation to offer them lodgings for a while is very great but there are similar situations everywhere and I have to try and use my head not just my heart. I also have to think about my housemates who already graciously tolerate the constant arrival of various street children that show up invited and uninvited. I will take the family in temporarily if the storm gets worse but at the moment it is relatively calm. I hope they will use the connection to come back to the church as that is where the real help is.

Maybe you are wondering what happened to Charlotte* who kindof got lost in the mad rush of homeless people to the used clothes store. She turned up at my house at around 5pm with Jack* who smelt really bad. After noting that they both still had the flip flops I had bought them (and made them promise not to sell) making them both have a shower and giving Jack clean clothes, we sat down for a serious talk. I spoke to one then the other and convinced them (after tears) that they must return home to their own families knowing that what awaited them might not be pleasant but seeing no real alternative other than leaving them on the street to brave the bad weather. Interestingly Jack's main concern was whether he could still attend the church on sunday which warmed my heart as I promised to pay his fare if he were to do so.

I then sent them to buy food at a local street stand which I wouldn't have done a few months back as they might have disappeared with the money but Charlotte has proved trustworthy and once again reliably brought me some change. I then escorted them to a Jeep and paid the driver directly to take them home (one hour away.) As I did this I knew that they might just get off a few hundred metres down the road and head back to the street but that's when it's time to let go as I can only do so much. I prayed that they would go home as Charlotte has been away for a week now and Jack at least a month.

Sometimes I wonder how much detail to include here as it might read as a Florence Nightingale type story. I hope you can see beyond this and know that I include these details because I am so grateful to you the supporters of Olongapo Christian Help and Hope (www.olongapochristianhelpandhope.btck...) for your faithful giving. How frustrating and discouraging would it be if everytime I was moved to compassion by some poor needy soul here I had to walk on by because the funds weren't available to help them. Thankfully this has rarely been the case and when I do walk on by it is because it is not the right time or there is a need to get to know someone first rather than due to a lack of funds. I also hope these stories will encourage you to pray for those less fortunate here in the Philippines and that the stories assure you that your money is being used in many ways to make a small difference to a few individuals each of which is known and loved by God.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The One That Said Thankyou

Jack is 13. He was previously using solvents but hasn't done so for a while. I met Jack when he came to my house with Charlotte(one of the girls that stays regularly)about two weeks ago. He ia always very dirty with holes in his clothes as he is sleeping on the street. Jack accompanies me (and Charlotte) to Sunday school at 9am and the main church service at 1030am. I hope that he would be allowed into our church if I wasn't there to accompany him but its difficult to know as an unaccompanied child without shoes and with dirty holey clothes may sadly be turned away at the door of any church these days.

In church, he sits next to me mostly quietly and listens to my instructions. He tries to sing the songs and looks at the words when we are reading from the Bible (a tough task as it's in English!) He seems to be listening to parts of the message which is a definite improvement on the other children that sometimes accompany me, as documented before. Sometimes he falls asleep but at least tries to stop himself by sharply jerking his head backwards and forwards which tends to make me laugh. Having him there is an unintentional test for the church as some are moved with compassion as they hear his efforts to sing and others (i'm sure) still see him as a dirty abusive street child who doesn't belong there.

Jack is always pleased to see me in the street and rushes forward greeting me with a friendly smile and calling my name. He appeared last week in his holey, dirty clothes with terrible grazing all over his face. He said he had collided with a tricyle (motorised with side cart.) Then I saw him sleeping on the edge of the pavement in the central island of the main road in Cubao. He was just inches away from the traffic and could easily have rolled into it. Later that day I again saw him sleeping alone but in a safer place this time.

For some reason Jack's general appearance and friendly innocence tugs at my heart (more so than normal :)and I hate to leave him on the street but there is no alternative for him at the moment. He walks with a strange gait which makes him stand out from the other children. Last week whilst sitting next to him in his holey, dirty clothes at the end of the church service I sensed his lostness and unhappiness although he tries to hide it with a smile. I told him that Jesus loves him and cares about his life and problems. He looked at me to see if it was true and I assured him it was. I could see he took it to heart and hoped it was true.

There is obviously some sort of problem with his family but he won't talk about it and his friends say he doesn't have a house to go home to.

Tonight he attended the drop-in Christmas party, came rushing straight up to me with a big smile and totally knocked me for six by saying "Ate (sister) Natalie, can I please come to the church service with you on Sunday because of my sin..."

Afterwards, I reflected that although he is probably mistaken theologically as in his mind he thinks of church as a place for confession due to Catholic teaching, maybe his childlike understanding of the reasons for going to church (and needing a Saviour) are more advanced than the masses who dutifully head that way every week. Certainly by recognising his sinfulness and wanting to do something about it he is making progress..Actually I was amazed that a child wanted to attend the main service as I have to virtually drag Charlotte in every week and the others are sporadic in their attendance. Once inside it's often difficult to keep them there as they disappear for 5 minutes here and there to chat with friends outside or take extended breaks in the bathroom.

At the end of the party tonight the children were all given a small gift bag and Jack was keen to show me his as he tied the top closed carefully for later.

I realised at that moment watching him that it was the gratitude factor that had moved me again. Surely these are the helpless and hopeless that Jesus spoke about. Most people we help are assuming and take things for granted. But occasionally there is one that comes back to say thankyou and this time it was a child.

Pray for Jack* I can't stand to see him sleeping alone on the street every day and its only a matter of time before he is drawn back into solvents.

I hope this hymn will help us all to remember what a debt of gratitude we owe to God for having mercy on us. I am blessed to hear great hymns like this at Cubao Reformed Baptist Church week by week.

1. How sweet and aweful is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

2. Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

3. While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

4. Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?

5. ’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

6. Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

7. We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Drop-In Dilemma

At my church here in Cubao (Cubao Reformed Baptist Church) we have a weekly drop-in centre for the street homeless people on Thursday evenings. I have mentioned this a few times before as it is one of the main activities that I am involved in.

Over 100 people attend including many children. They are given soap and can take a free shower and wash their clothes. They can also see a Doctor. Later on in the evening they are given a meal and after this they hear a Christian message. The children and adults are separated for the message for obvious reasons. There are 15-20 regular volunteer church members who desperately attempt to keep order throughout the evening.

One thing that surprises me is that everyone wants to stay for the message, although some do fall asleep. I'm always half expecting people to head for the exit or make an excuse to leave after they have eaten but the only ones to occasionally try this are the "rugby/solvent" boys.

Last week I was encouraged that Paul wanted to be involved as a volunteer. He was really very helpful in the kitchen and later with translation when I was talking to some current rugby boys. I asked them if they wanted to enrol in Paul's school for a few hours a week. It's called the "Alternative Learning Syatem" (ALS) for teenagers that have missed a lot of school. The two brothers who are regular drop-in attendees wanted to enrol so I arranged to meet them at the church with Paul the next day. I was in a meeting that overran at the appointed time so was over 30 minutes late. I hurried to the ALS centre only to find that Paul had collected the other two boys from the church, taken them to the school and helped them enrol already! They really didn't need me, so I left feeling encouraged.

Paul has a big heart to help others and even when he was solvent addicted and on the street he always shared everything he was given. That is one of the problems we have faced more recently as he is desperate to help his family but they were too much of a burden at his young age. When walking with him around Cubao he always encourages me to help the teens and other street homeless. I believe he could be a strong witness for God in the future. He needs your prayers.

This saturday we will be heading to Olongapo for his first visit since he left. I hope that it won't be too disruptive for him as he is settling now in Cubao but I did promise him we could visit after 3 weeks. He had to stop working at his painting job as it was stirring up lung problems that he struggled with in the past and as it was with solvents it wasn't really ideal. We are hoping to find him other part time work. The church have said he might be able to help with the construction of the boys home for CCM which is due to begin in January.

"Olongapo Christian Help and Hope", our charity


have big plans for the Rehab in Taguig this year. We hope to transport 2/3 family members of each Olongapo boy to visit them during Christmas week. We also hope to give all of the children at the centre a meal and small Christmas gift as well as providing Christian books and Bibles for a library project at the centre. Please see our Fundraising webpage, we are halfway there already!

You are probably wondering what the title is about as there doesn't seem to be much of a dilemma yet!

Many of the attendees have been attending the drop-in since its commencement 11 years ago. They announce this proudly to all and sundry. But my first thought on hearing this was; "What has changed in your life since you began attending?" They are hearing the Word of God faithfully preached every week but many of these people are in exactly the same position they were in 11 years ago. Many of them are happy and comfortable with their street lives and lack of employment and don't see the need or haven't the motivation for change. Some will always be like this as the Bible makes it clear that many will reject God's salvation, but there is hope for others.

A few months ago Romey began attending the drop-in after I met him on the street near the church and invited him. He was 22 years old and found himself on the street due to family problems. He started enthusiastically attending every meeting. He was given a Bible and was avidly reading it. I approached the church about helping him to get a job assuming that is what he would want. He was asked about this and agreed to the work offered. He was given 200 pesos(£3) to buy products to begin selling. He disappeared....

After a few weeks I asked a friend of his where he was thinking something had happened to him. I was informed that he was sleeping in another part of town and that he said that he couldn't work as he needed to sleep! He has since moved back to the church area looking as dirty and miserable as before so maybe I will be able to talk to him again soon. Surprisingly I didn't feel impatient when I saw him just sad as he looked so hopeless and alone curled up in a ball sleeping outside a shop.

The church have tried various livelihood programmes over the past decade but all ended in failure due to a lack of market for the products and other issues of discipline. We have started to discuss the possibility of networking with Christians in business locally to build up contacts that might be willing to offer jobs to these people. But statistics show that these types of projects are rarely successful and so the poverty cycle continues. It is virtually impossible for anyone over the age of 35 to get a job here and that isn't even taking into consideration the issues of substance/alcohol abuse, lack of paperwork, lack of home to live in, lack of skills, lack of discipline..the list goes on and on.

The dilemma really is how much we as Christians should do for these people and how much we should expect them to do for themselves. The other issue is how to identify those who really want to change and are prepared to go the extra mile from those who just say what we want to hear...ultimately real and lasting change can only come from God if He opens their eyes to the truth...and how desperate we are to see this happen in the lives of the Drop-in attendees.

Needless to say it can be quite frustrating at times but as I learnt before with the "rugby boys", the real lesson is that sometimes what we think people need is very different from what they actually need or from what they want! We need God's wisdom as we consider future plans and options.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Too Young To Die

This week a child that I know in Olongapo died. He was hit by a Jeepney. He was 14 years old. His name was Ramiro.

I met Ramiro for the first time last week during the eviction of Paul, Joel and Simon from our rented house. Ramiro was with them and he and Simon were in a tangled heap asleep upstairs on a mattress when I arrived. The eviction was of course difficult as described in a previous blog post. If I hadn't seen Ramiro again after the eviction I think I would've been overcome by guilt that my last memory of him was evicting him from the house. I don't think it would have mattered that he shoudn't have been there in the first place and that the other boys knew that. I think it just would've been a terrible memory.

By God's grace I did see the evictees again, a few hours later that day. It was Ramiro that I saw first, he was standing watching me, Paul and Zee as we spoke to Paul's relatives in an area where many street people sleep. I recognised him and as I was no longer stressed from earlier events and we were about to go and eat I asked him if he was hungry. He of course said that he was and suddenly Joel, Simon and another boy appeared. I invited them all to eat with us and only Joel had an internal battle with his pride before accepting help from someone that had just made him homeless.

We went to Wimpy and Ramiro sat next to me. We thanked God for the food and I spent most of the meal talking to Zee as the boys talked amongst themselves. They ordered large steak meals. Ramiro was a small boy and couldn't eat all his food so I asked if he wanted to take it out for later and he said "yes." All of the boys thanked me as they left and I told them that the meal was from God and not from me.

Just a few days later Ramiro died. I was informed that he habitually played around on the Jeeps doing dangerous stunts and activities. This didn't help me to accept what had happened. I have to believe that God has a plan even in this and I hope and pray that Ramiro had heard about Jesus. I wrongly assumed that I would see him again and would have the chance to build a relationship with him as I have done with the other boys...

This is the second time someone that I have just met has died within days; A few months ago, Isaac's father died just a few days after I met him in the Rehab where he was visiting his son. It is a tough lesson but reminds me that I should always find ways to share the Gospel with every person that I meet because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Paul is doing okay here in Cubao, we have had ups and downs, some of them big and others not so much. He had 7 fillings and another extraction at the dentist (to add to his 3 extractions last week.) He is scheduled for 1 more extraction and i rebuild before he is fitted for dentures.

Joel and Simon are devasted by the death of Ramiro who they had known since childhood. They keep contacting Paul about it which isn't helping him to settle. Joel also told Paul that his (Paul's) father is really very unwell which made Paul very upset. I advised Paul that I believed Joel was lying in order to get Paul to go back to Olongapo. The enemy is actively trying to get Paul to return to Olongapo but helpfully the homeless peoples Bible study this evening was on that very subject; how the enemy tries to disrupt our lives when we are trying to change and adapt to a new God given situation. I saw Paul smiling to himself and spoke to him about it afterwards. He acknowledged that God was speaking directly to him.

Paul usually comes to our house to eat with us after work in the evenings, I think he just wants company. We have had some good conversations but I can tell he is still battling the temptation to give up here and go back to Olongapo as he misses friends and family and he is finding his new job hard (which is to be expected as he has never worked before.)

On saturday he again got lost on the way to work and contacted me about it. He knew I was going to the Rehab to visit his friends and I knew he wanted to come with me but I had said "no" as he was scheduled to work. In the evening he appeared having been to work and I was very happy as I had thought that he wouldn't bother having got lost. Today he told me that he was really very lost and didn't know what to do so he started looking for a Jeep back to Cubao to accompany me to the Rehab or even one to go back to Olongapo as he was so fed up. He prayed about it and then suddenly the Jeep drove past his workplace! He was really very surprised and got straight off the Jeep and went to work. This was really great to hear and Paul knows that it was God's intervention in his life.

On saturday I went alone to the Rehab and saw 7 boys (it should have been 8 but Isaac was on restriction for some violations)It was really a great visit and I was able to have one to ones with most of the boys about Christian things. I used examples of some of their friends who had been off solvents for a while only to return to them and explained that true change was only possible if God changed their hearts. I pointed to Paul as an example of real heart change because of Jesus. They really listened and I was encouraged.

I was saddened to see one boy Steve* (17) who had only left Rehab 5 months earlier back in there again. He said it is his 4th time in there from the age of 8! His girlfriend on the outside is now 3 months pregnant.

Solomon has really impressed me the most with his attitude and is actively helping the other younger boys. I found it so hard when he asked if he could come and live with me after Rehab. I had to say "no" of course as he has family in Olongapo but I know he has 8 or 9 siblings and the family don't have enough food. I promised him that when he comes out I will assess the family situation and try and help financially where I can. He was happy with this.

Damien* (17) has one eye having lost the other by gun shot. I didn't know him that well outside Rehab but had had a few long talks with him on the street where he talked about his family problems. I didn't know what to do to help him before and he became upset when talking about his family. He had just been transferred to rehab as well so I visited him. When I told him that I would be visiting once every month his whole face lit up as he smiled as if he couldn't believe it, later when I bought a few canteen items for them he was the first to say thankyou and when I was leaving he grabbed my hands and sincerely thanked me repeatedly. I acknowledged this but felt overcome by emotion as I left. Some of the boys take the visits and things that are bought for granted as they are used to them by now...I wasn't prepared for such an enthusiastic response...

The 2nd most grateful person was a young boy that had somehow joined our group during the visit as he was friends with the other boys. He was not from Olongapo. When I was buying the food items I saw him watching enviously and asked him if he ever had any visitors. When he said "no," I told him he could spend half of what the other boys were spending. The boys get 200 pesos a month each (£2.80.) He was really very grateful and followed me out of the centre thanking me.

I wanted to share these stories with those of you that have bought my book "They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know?" or supported our charity through donations as this is the difference the funds are making in the lives of a few hopeless souls on the other side of the world here in the Philippines. Thankyou :)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Devil Prowls Around Like a Roaring Lion Looking for Someone to Devour!

As I continue to ride my rollercoaster of a life I sometimes wonder if it will ever stop! Emotionally exhausting and extremely frustrating with never ending quantities of patience required. Not my most well known trait.

Last week I began to hear rumours from various sources in Olongapo that boys other than Paul and Joel were staying at the rented house and that Joel was not attending school and was using solvents again. I had made the situation very clear during my previous visit and was just waiting for an adult to witness the solvent abuse first hand before I took action. In dramatic fashion, well it couldn't really happen in any other way could it as this is my life, I received information from Paul that Joel was in fact using solvents in company with Simon and a few other boys. On the same evening Zee informed me that Joel had turned up at her place high on solvents and not appearing to realise that it was obvious.

I decided that I had to take decisive action to prevent the boys using the house as a solvent haven and to protect Paul from the influence of his friends. Reporting his best friend like this was a very tough thing for Paul to do and is virtually unheard of in the streetworld. I always tell the boys that if they try to do what's right I will meet them halfway and help them and although I knew that Paul had probably also made mistakes I could see that he was trying to do what was right even when surrounded by family and friends who were making no effort whatsoever.

I went to the house with Zee to put an end to the disaster and found Joel, Simon and 1 other boy asleep in the house. Paul was awake and seemed prepared for what was about to happen. I spoke to him separately and offered him a final opportunity to get away from the temptations of his old life by coming to live at my church in Cubao temporarily. He was worried about his family so I made some arrangements to help them and try and put his mind at ease. Then he agreed to come.

After talking briefly to the other boys I informed them that Joel would no longer be living at the house and that they should all leave as I had evidence that they were using solvents again. Joel tried to deny it but then admitted that he had been using a solvent but that as it wasn't rugby he thought it didn't count as I had only mentioned that they weren't to use rugby! I ended this conversation abruptly and then we endured the three boys mocking us as they packed up their things. Joel took great delight in dramatically removing his school books and uniform from his bag and dumping them in the house, signalling his future intentions. I couldn't resist telling them as they left that I would see them in Rehab next year as ultimately that is where they will end up (again!)

I felt no measure of satisfaction as I said this, only deep sadness at the ruined lives that had shown promise (particularly in Joel's case.) I also felt great frustration towards a system that had allowed one boy (Simon) to leave rehab halfway through a school year but had not allowed him to resume his education on the outside. This began the spiral for Joel as he was drawn back into his old circle of friends by Simon who, through no fault of his own, didn't have anything better to do with his time.

After the noisy trio had made their exit, the three of us (Paul, Zee and I) stood in sober silence for a few seconds as we recovered from the confrontation, and the knowledge that we had just made 3 teenagers homeless, and gathered ourselves for the next stage.

Next to deal with the landlady who had endured a lot more than was reasonable without complaint and had even tried to help the boys in some ways. We came to an agreeable arrangement and I think she was relieved that the boys would be moving on. She told me that it had been a refreshing change to meet people like us as she didn't come across people that really cared everyday. I was encouraged that at least out Christian witness to her had remained intact. I gave her a copy of my book

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott

and told her the code names of the boys that she had been half-supervising. She was very excited and wanted an inscription. She also bought one of the new mattresses from us as we left!

Paul carried his mattress and pillow to the bus stop as we left straight away. Getting off the bus in Cubao I tried to avoid the line of men attempting to escort people to taxis for a price when the taxis are already lined up waiting for customers. The ridiculous outcome after I had run around one such man to flag down a taxi with a bus sitting impatiently behind it, in the centre of the road, was that I was squashed underneath Paul's mattress and pillow in the back of the car as Paul got in the front with the driver. Obviously Paul had no idea where we were going and as I tried to mumble directions through the material I was really more concerned that I couldn't see whether the driver had even switched the meter on.

We arrived at the church in the middle of the 11 year anniversary for the homeless drop in people which was a bit chaotic just because there were so many people milling around.

The next day Paul was enrolled at the Alternative Learning System in Cubao for 2 hours a week and had 3 tooth extractions. He was also offered a great opportunity by a deacon in our church. The deacon has a business painting vehicles and he offered Paul a job as an apprentice Mon-Thurs and Saturday with Friday's off for school.

Today was meant to be Paul's first day at his new job but he turned up at my house early this morning to advise that the Jeepney that he was meant to take hadn't turned up. So I advised him to go to the area where he was meant to be working in a different jeepney and then ask for the correct jeepney to get him to work. It appears that he followed my instructions but I can't really believe what happened next...

Somehow whilst lost he saw the only person he probably knows in the entire area of tens of thousands of people. Unfortunately he knows this person who is a bi-sexual tattoo artist in his late 30s from rehab because they mix the adults and children there. This man is still taking hard drugs and invited Paul back to his house where he offered him a job driving trucks! Paul declined the offer but didn't know how to get back to Cubao so eventually contacted me on facebook to advise where he was at which point I told him to come back immediately.

He arrived after 5pm looking a bit sheepish having travelled around for quite a while and not having reached his intended destination. I was so relieved to see him sober and drug and tattoo free after his bizarre detour that any lecture I might have been preparing went out of the window.

Tomorrow I will accompany him to work...please pray that we actually get there this time.

10 Year Olds and Cross Dressing

Today I want to introduce you to Rick* Rick is a 10 year old Filipino boy. Rick dresses and behaves as if he is a girl. When I first met Rick I was informed by several adults that the reason for his behaviour is because "he's a gay."

To confuse matters Rick is friends with the two girls Charlotte*(13) and Tracey* (10) that our charity sponsors that often stay at my house on saturday evenings to facilitate them coming to church on sundays. Charlotte dresses and acts like a boy and is also labelled "gay" and Tracey has recently had her hair cut very short making her look more like a boy.

Whenever I spend time with the 3 of them in the company of others I spend most of my time explaining to people that Rick is actually a boy even though he is wearing a short skimpy see-through bright purple dress, bright coloured nail varnish and a pink hairband and that Charlotte with very short hair and dressed mostly all in black is a girl. By the time this has all been explained, the vast majority of people are so confused that they don't ask about Tracey!

Maybe you think I'm making light of a serious subject. Let me put it this way; when I first met the 3 of them begging on the street and over subsequent meetings for the first few months, I did everything I could to stop them cross dressing and to remind them of their specific roles. I was especially concerned about how they presented at church and ensured they knew that they must bring appropriate clothes with them for church. I even spent an afternoon in a second hand clothes shop with them and bought them whichever clothes they liked provided they were suitable. This has had a slight impact...

However, on saturday they turned up and Rick (who I hadn't seen for several months as he isn't related to the other two) was wearing a very pretty long girls top with black leggings that had bows on them. By this point, I found that even I was getting confused about his gender as the way he dresses and behaves is so much like a girl. So I decided to give up and hope that its just a phase. My nephew likes to dress up as a princess sometimes so...

I made the mistake one saturday of playing rough and tumble with the children and so now every saturday they expect the same and try and trick me into being drawn into the craziness. This weekend they settled for me accompanying them outside with a skipping rope (after Rick began the game that was "definitely going to break something" in the lounge!) To the delight of my neighbours I was then persuaded to take my turn at solo and group skipping something that I haven't done and won't be doing again for a very long time.

Later I couldn't calm them down and decided to leave them to it as they rushed around. This game ended in tears when the 3 of them turned into some sort of body ball which hurtled at full speed into our very firm wooden lounge table. Unfortunately Tracey's head took the impact taking a chunk out of both object and child. The crack was really very loud but thankfully, although there was a lot of blood and I think an element of shock, all was ok in the end.

Sitting with and supervising the children in church is interesting. They partake in any one or all of the following activities at various points throughout the service; talk to each other loudly, pass notes to each other, pass notes to me and expect me to read them and respond, ask to go to the toilet and disappear for 30 minutes, stare at people they know and try to get their attention, stare at people they don't know and make comments about them, complain that they are cold and shiver, drop pens, paper, hymn books and Bibles on the floor and then make a lot of noise recovering them, ask me who a person is and point at them, fall asleep, sing during the sermon, poke each other, poke me, stroke the hair on my arms, pinch my arms, pinch my hands, take the earphones of my translation device and refuse to give them back, draw pictures of people in the church and label them, try to sit on the floor, draw on the hymn books, pull the plastic off the hymn books, stand up when they should be sitting down, sit down when they should be standing up, deliberately sing loudly and out of tune, crunch sweets that they have somehow acquired, put their feet on the chairs, kick the chairs of the people around them, lean so far forward that their heads are touching their feet and stay there until I wonder if they have fallen asleep.

By the end of every service I am totally exhausted having said "huwag" (don't) and "tahimik" (quiet) at least 100 times and in the main been ignored. I look up at the roof of the church as if I will find refuge there and breathe a silent prayer of thanks that its over for another week having not heard a word of the sermon. Then after lunch at the church, where there are ALWAYS arguments over the food, I give the children their return fare, which I'm sure they don't give to their mother as requested, and take them to the next available Jeepney which will escort them the 1 hour home. Then I faithfully return to the 3pm English service for my spiritual input...

Being a Dad who Leads

Well, the situation in Olongapo seems to have turned into an episode of Eastenders. As I sit here writing this my mind is a whirlwind of endless possible outcomes for the two boys. It’s hard sometimes to know exactly when to draw the line and to say enough is enough. Ever the eternal optimist (as far as evangelism goes) I tend to keep hoping and hoping and hoping…that things will turn around.

Let me bring you up to speed. Last weekend I was informed by Zee that neither of the boys had attended the church due to having “overslept” (the service is pretty early starting at 8 something.) They had however somehow ended up at the Catholic church having attended a cult church (Iglesia Ni Cristo) several weeks before. How this has happened is beyond me as everything was in place for them to attend a Bible believing Christian Church. There was some confusion over dress codes and the boys thinking that Grandma couldn’t attend a “born again” church because she isn’t “born again.” Hopefully these issues have now been resolved.

The boys visited Zee later last Sunday with Simon who has very recently been released from rehab. They cheerfully informed her that Simon had been staying at the house with them which is against the rules. More worryingly though they informed her that Grandma had left the house again and was not coming to collect the money they needed for food for the week. So they didn’t have any food.

Reflecting on the situation I decided that the only sensible option was to go and find out exactly what was going on and to lay down the law for the second time in 3 weeks. Grandma confirmed that she no longer wanted to reside at the house and preferred to sleep on the street as she had been doing before. The root of the problem; she wanted to be able to house various members of her extended family and was upset that this wasn’t allowed. I visited the two boys with the local social worker from the Youth Centre and after a long discussion, made it really clear that they are on their last warning due to various things I had heard.

The problem now; the two boys have clearly demonstrated that they are not responsible enough to live unsupervised in the house and they really need a male mentor to live with them and provide oversight. I have made an appeal with my Olongapo contacts and hope and pray that someone will see it as a ministry opportunity (and of course a chance for free lodgings.) If no one comes forward and the boys continue to misbehave the project will likely come to a sharp conclusion and both boys will be back on the street, which probably means back to the solvents as they have no source of income and will not be able to fund themselves at school. This really would be a disastrous end, so please pray.

I have had a pretty frustrating week in general. I finally decided to go and collect my parcel, sent from the UK, from the Central Post Office where it has been languishing since August accumulating various storage charges because no one seemed to know where this mysterious “Central Post Office” was located.

A few days ago I set off in the vague general direction thinking I would “ask someone” when I got closer. Having been here for some time I should definitely have known better as you can ask 4 Filipinos for directions and they will confidently send you in 4 different directions. This is exactly what happened so I found myself in the unfortunate position of having to weigh up the various conflicting pieces of information based on how “reliable” a person looked.

Eventually after travelling on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) for a few stops I found a Jeepney (metal bus) to take me the rest of the way. The MRT which travels in a straight line along a track, is an interesting phenomenon as there are far more people trying to travel on it at all times of the day and night than can possibly fit, resulting in people being “bent” to fit inside. If you watch it from a distance you can often see peoples’ faces and limbs literally squashed against the windows as about three times the safe number of people have piled into a carriage. Even more amusing is that usually the carriage next door is virtually empty as for some reason everyone has headed for the same one. One day the MRT overshot the last station heading out onto the street. Commuters and pedestrians rushed to see what had happened, most of them more concerned with taking “selfies” and posting them to facebook than anything else. It was like they just couldn’t believe that what had happened was even possible!

This short video clip is similar to what happens on the MRT here in Manila, although the guards don’t do that!

Anyway, so I am on the Jeepney hoping that I am heading for the CPO and decide I will double check with the driver that he knows where I want to go. I ask him but he tells me to wait, thinking this means he doesn’t know I decide to ask the other passengers who unfortunately ask the driver again. He is understandably irritated by this and mutters under his breath that I am “naughty,” thinking that I don’t understand, until I respond “not really” and he looks very embarrassed. The kind old man does a detour from his prescribed route and drops me right outside the CPO, I feel obliged to tip him but can’t find any change so give him 100 pesos (£1.40) which makes his day.

I enter the CPO and head for desk number 37. As expected there are far too many staff to deal with the few customers. They can’t find my parcel and one by one go searching for it before giving up and handing it to someone else to continue. After 15 minutes or so they find it and start completing a lo-ot of, I’m sure unnecessary, paperwork before I can leave. I take the opportunity to ask the woman if they can’t re-deliver the parcel next time as it’s taken me over an hour to get to them and cost me more than the parcel is worth (with the £1.40 storage charge.) She informs me that they don’t deliver parcels and its only then that I realise that they hadn’t tried to deliver it at all.

I ask her why they can’t deliver small parcels if they are going to the address anyway to deliver the notice saying that there is a parcel one hour away. She tells me that it is policy but that they do deliver books. This stops me in my tracks as I know that my parcel is in fact a book and is clearly marked as such. I ask her why they haven’t delivered my parcel as it is a book and she says that she will make sure that next time I get a parcel they deliver it to my house. I’m totally bemused by this point as with millions of customers how can this woman possibly make a promise like that to one individual customer unless she’s planning to devote herself to this task 24/7 for the foreseeable just in case I happen to get another parcel! I guess it’s more likely that she’s just saying it to pacify me. I tell her that I will not be requesting any further parcels from the UK as its all too much hassle.

Leaving the CPO for the long journey home I decide to open my parcel to find it is a single book by John Macarthur entitled “Being a Dad who Leads.” …..very useful I’m sure.

Pile of Bodies

I know that I’m not going to be able to sleep as I’m wide awake so I don’t attempt it and instead wait until 430am. Yep, you’ve guessed it, another trip to Olongapo seems to have moved itself to the top of my priority list. I get up quietly, not wanting to wake my five peacefully sleeping housemates, and begin to get ready to leave. A sound startles me and I turn to see Chiqui the kitten bounding playfully into the room, probably having been sleeping just outside the bedrooms on a pile of boxes that he seems to find comfortable. I groan inwardly as I realise it will be a challenge to make Chiqui understand that I haven’t got time to play and that he needs to be “very quiet.” He runs around excitedly then lies on the floor watching me, then pounces on my feet, making me jump several times. Next, like a child, he deliberately baits me as he rolls towards the various wires plugged into the wall. I stopped him “playing” with them earlier in the evening because part of his game involved chewing and I was worried he might electrocute himself. I decide to leave him to it, assuming he will get bored as children do, knowing I’d given him fair warning, and hoping he would find a different game before he electrocutes himself. I switch off the light and walk down the stairs.

I head into the kitchen and open the fridge, and then jump for the third time as I hear a colossal bang from the general vicinity of my bedroom upstairs, that I am sure will wake everyone. Then I remember that although I have unplugged the cables in my room, I haven’t removed the desk fan from the desk and its cable is hanging tantalisingly over the edge, and had probably been too difficult for Chiqui to resist. I walk back up the stairs in trepidation hoping not to find a concussed or squashed ginger kitten at the end of my trail. I enter my room, once again switching on the light and happily note that my desk fan still in place. I look around trying to work out what the loud bang had been and trying to locate the culprit who, having earlier craved my attention, has now mysteriously disappeared. I don’t have to look far as suddenly said kitten takes a flying leap from his hiding place under my desk landing squarely on my feet and making me jump for the umpteenth time. “Goodbye Chiqui “I tell him firmly as I head back downstairs and straight out of the front door quickly shutting it behind me before my playmate follows, and I have to spend the rest of the night trying to catch him, for fear of breaking the heart of the only senior citizen resident in our house.

I head towards the exit gate for my road noting that it is still locked and hoping it isn’t padlocked as that would involve some undignified climbing. I fiddle with the chain to no avail and am in the process of wondering what to do next when our friendly neighbourhood guard approaches me with a small towel around his shoulders. I wonder where he has emerged from as I see only a wooden shack house on the pavement in the general direction he has come from…surely not? I hope he doesn’t lie awake all night on tenterhooks just in case a crazy resident decides to leave at 430am and needs the gate unlocking. I wait for him as he greets me cheerfully and then wonder why he is smiling until he reaches my location and gives the gate a very small push to emphasise that it is already open. We both laugh at my stupidity as I head down the street and he returns, I assume, to his very un-peaceful sleep.

A teenager greets me cheerfully in perfect English as he cleans out a plastic bowl in the street. The stray dogs are mostly awake already and wander around sniffing the rubbish bags, one of them lifting his leg over it. I recoil as I know that later people will sift through the same bags for their recyclables or in dire cases left over food. This subject while distasteful to many is worthy of further comment. There are crude signs everywhere advising people not to “urinate.” Whilst I’m quite sure the signs are not for the dogs and that many people here do need the signs as it is a particular problem in this part of the world, I wonder what the street homeless people are meant to do. The government doesn’t provide facilities for them so what choice do they have? Even with this knowledge it is fairly disgusting walking through the streets and having to avoid any wet patches just in case, especially wearing flip flops, which is the standard footwear. It is quite normal to see people in various stages of undress either because they have nowhere to get changed, because they are high on drink or substances and don’t care, or because they have no clothes. It’s just another part of the undignified reality of living publicly on the street.

I see a mass of bodies with limbs all entangled on top of various raised traffic islands in the centre of the street with noisy traffic flowing both ways just inches from their sleeping bodies. This is the equivalent of people parking themselves on a central reservation on a dual carriageway! I stare openly trying to work out whether they are adults or children, if I saw this in England I would find it difficult to accept that they were real people due to the location, but here anything goes. As I continue to examine the spectacle, I realise sadly that I have reached the vicinity, of the current hang out, of the rugby boys and girls (solvent users) that I saw just the other day. There are many teenagers here now, at least 15, maybe 20. It then dawns on me that they were probably high on solvents when they collapsed into their current pile which is probably why they chose such an absurd location for the night and also probably why they don’t care about the noise or the fact that it is such a visibly public place. There is a definite element of safety in numbers here as well and I recall how the Olongapo boys used to sleep in a similar fashion even though it always looked terribly uncomfortable to an outsiders eyes. I think again that something needs to be done about this and hope that soon people with a real heart to work with these children will join me…

Next I see a rough looking man walking towards me and I feel just a touch afraid as it is still pretty dark, until the man brushes past me with the customary “Hello ma’am.” He would’ve tipped his hat had he been wearing one and I am instantly reassured as thoughts of robbery or other violent crime vanish as quickly as they came. I head across the darkened overpass and notice a man in front of me on the steps attempting to carry far too much. I think of offering to help him but as he is ahead of me and might be embarrassed by the offer of help from a white foreign female I think better of it and then we head in different directions at the top of the stairs. I walk down the other side and quicken my pace as I walk along the edge of the 100 metre high railing separating the pavement from the road where the buses are. It is really irritating, when walking in this section, when you see a bus going to the place you want to go to but can’t catch it because the railing is in the way, so most people rush to reach the end of the railing so that If their bus happens to be passing they can buy a ticket on the bus and get to their destination more quickly.

I reach the terminal and face the usual dilemma. Slow bus which is perversely marked “express” or fast bus which hasn’t yet arrived. I head for the ticket desk and see a long line of people in the queue for “Olongapo,“ how annoying. Even more of an annoyance are the four members of staff standing behind the glass screen chatting to each other and staring at us in the line, as a lone female cashier frantically tries to shorten the queue. There are always many customer service people available here but not many who actually want to serve customers. Being a foreigner, in general, I actually experience better customer service than the local people, it might have something to do with money but I’m really not sure :) But I really don’t know how or why people put up with it as it really can be infuriating. Immigration is the worst, where they have various different lines for slightly different things and if you accidentally get in the wrong line they won’t serve you under any circumstances even if they are not doing anything else. (But tales of immigration are for another day as I can feel my blood pressure rising.)

Suddenly a booming voice announces that the slow bus is leaving (although they don’t call it that of course) and one by one people are turned away from the desk as they are ushered towards the waiting bus. I quickly reach the front of the queue and ask for the fast bus WITHOUT insurance. Insurance that you pay 5 pesos (7.5p) for can’t really be worth much; maybe it would buy me one plaster or a paracetimol (which are sold as individual tablets.) With all these extra emergency trips to Olongapo the cost of insurance adds up! The woman gives me insurance anyway which I return to her politely asking for my 5 pesos back as she looks at me as if I have two heads, and her illusions of rich white foreigners are instantaneously shattered. Well I am a missionary…During our exchange I am disconcerted to see a white board behind her with the heading “Suspended conductors.” The list of names below is extensive and each one has dates listed next to it. It appears the conductors are suspended for approximately a week at a time and then allowed to resume their duties. I wonder what their indiscretions are and hope they have nothing to do with road safety.

Whilst waiting I purchase coffee at a booth where the woman tries to get me to buy bread in addition. I ask for coke as a happy compromise but she misunderstands me and I have to say it about 10 times as she is crawling around on the floor desperately emptying the bottom of a large refrigerator when I can see the item that I want in the middle section above her. Pointing is done by protruding the lips in a certain direction which is one of the strangest things culturally but it definitely grows on you. I give up and rudely point with my hand in an attempt to save her any further trouble, When she realises what I actually want she laughs and apologises. I pay the grand sum of 40 pesos (50p) and notice that the coke that I paid 25 for has a printed price of 15 stamped on it by the manufacturer. This is quite normal here and how smaller vendors make their living but it’s amusing to see the proper price so blatantly displayed.

I sit in the bus terminal observing people and see a man escorted by a conductor walking unhurriedly towards a departing bus. Although his walk is casual he is loudly shouting towards the bus and holding up a single finger, indicating that he is just one passenger. I watch in disbelief as he continues shouting rather than running towards the open door of the bus as its obvious to me that the driver can’t possibly see him. The conductor makes no effort on his behalf and ambles off indicating that he should catch the next bus which is probably in an hour’s time. The man walks dejectedly away putting an end to the dilemma in my mind about whether I should stop the bus for him as he really wasn’t making enough effort.

My bus arrives and I note a sign in the window stating “Road testing now.” Shouldn’t the bus have already been tested as it is already on the road?! These and other questions fade away into irrelevance as I board the bus, sit down in my numbered seat and am then joined by a VERY large male who proceeds to fall asleep next to me half squashing me in the process. I am amused however as he frequently leans into me in a fairly uncomfortable way until I am forced to prod him. Then he occasionally snores waking himself up. At one point he even emits something like a sneeze cough and then apologises profusely as I try to hide my smile.

The bus gets on its merry way every so often braking just that bit too hard as it approaches lines of stationary traffic on the highway. The locals continue sleeping completely unperturbed as I wonder about that insurance…To be continued…

Computer Says No...

As expected, posting about police related topics doubled the readership of my blog. This seems to be a recurring pattern; after I had poured out my heart when giving my testimony to a group of children in one of the CCM homes, they just wanted to know whether I had ever handcuffed or arrested anybody...kindof missing the point of what I was saying; that I'd given up my job in the police to share the Gospel as that was more important!

I had two "computer says no" type incidents this week, I wonder if reading about the details will make you feel as stressed as being involved in them did. Lets see.

I wanted to upgrade our pocket wifi at the house as the connection speeds via GLOBE (named and shamed) are consistently well below that advertised. But whenever I contact Globe online (which requires sufficient signal) I usually get cut off halfway through online chat and have to go through the whole procedure again or if I send an email asking what the procedure is for an upgrade they send me one back failing to answer my question and refusing to divulge any information until I have given them at least 20 pieces of security information. I find this a little strange as I'm not asking for confidential information just what deals and promotions they have available for an upgrade, I don't understand why they would need my security details for this. I can't give them the info they need as the whole thing is in my housemates name as they wouldn't allow me to take the contract because I'm a foreigner. For the same reason I cannot sort this out in the store as they will demand to see the account holder and various forms of ID even though I am named on the account and am the one paying the I'm thinking of switching to PLDT..maybe someone from Globe will read this and sort the problem out...?

The second matter involves a parcel that was sent from UK. I received a notice that had already expired, about a week ago because my housemate lost it. It states that I need to go and collect the parcel within 30 days but it is stored at the central post office which is quite a way away. There is no name, contact number or address on the form and everytime they come to the house with a reminder they don't bring the parcel just the form! There is also a storage fee that is increasing over time and soon will be higher than the value of the contents.

On a more positive, and less frustrating note, I received contact from one of the "rugby boys" in Olongapo that I hadn't heard from in over a year. Joshua who is Muslim is back in Olongapo and is now attending school. I hope to see him on my next visit which is planned for Mon November 10th.

Paul and Joel seem to be settling down at the house in Olongapo after our initial "missing grandma" and other teething problems. I'm sure we have a fair way to go but for now things seem to be okay. I am still trying to get both boys teeth fixed as they have large visible gaps which might be a deterrent for a potential employer as they look pretty rough and perhaps more importantly, have trouble eating! Simon has finally been released from Rehab and is back in Olongapo.

I have updated the charity website with all of the new information about the boys under "Rugby Boys News" but am now unable to edit it because the "computer says NO!" I have asked someone in UK to contact BT about this as I can't even create a service desk request as this causes the system to crash too...the wonders of modern technology.


The drop in for the homeless street people was well attended last night and in addition to the usual volunteers a famous person turned up. I don't think he likes being famous, well he certainly looked embarrassed when I mentioned it. Matt Gamston (UK) was involved in starting the drop in centre around 11 years ago and dropped by for a visit. He was instantly surrounded by hordes of children clamouring for his attention. It was good to meet him at last as the first thing everyone, both here and at home, asks me when I mention the Philippines or the UK is "Do you know Matt Gamston?" Well now I do!

He encouraged me to continue studying the language by telling me that he "hated every minute of it" and "never really got it." No seriously, it WAS an encouragement as I thought I was the only one who struggled with it as everyone at the language school I was attending was always so bright and cheery.

I was also thrilled to see one of our regular "rugby boys" from Cubao, let's call him Mac, appearing in clean clothes and dashing around with a lot of energy with the other children. He looked solvent free and said he is now attending school. Pray for Frank* another of our boys who is not yet on the same path. Pray also for workers (especially men) to join me in reaching out specifically to the rugby boys and girls here in Cubao.

I have been reading a lot recently having discovered the free Goodreads website and realised I can download free ebooks in exchange for reviewing them. There's some great things out there, I encourage you to sign up.

I am giving away 3 free paperback copies of my book via the site, enter before 30th November to win. My parents will be responsible for posting them to the winners, I haven't asked them yet but they read my :)

I have found a company to sort out my PDF technophobe problems so the various forms of ebook should be out very soon...

I will leave you with this that I heard on Sunday for the first time...

More holiness give me, more strivings within.
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.
More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.
More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.

More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord.
More zeal for His glory, more hope in His Word.
More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief.
More meekness in trial, more praise for relief.

More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home.
More fit for the kingdom, more useful I’d be,
More bless├Ęd and holy, more, Savior, like Thee.

Philip Bliss

The Kitten vs the Cockroach

A few weeks ago my housemates acquired a stray ginger kitten to try and deal with the large numbers of mice that have taken up residence in our house. When I first saw the tiny animal I thought it was a bit of a joke and doubted it could catch anything. I was wrong.

Yesterday evening I heard a noise downstairs and went to investigate. I found Chiqui the formerly stray kitten pouncing repeatedly on a medium sized cockoach occasionally flicking it into the air and then waiting to assess its reaction. Of course there was none as luckily for it, the creature that had now become Chiqui's latest toy, had long since passed on. I decided to leave them to the one sided game of "tag" and went back upstairs. The next day I found pieces of black shell all over the lounge and was informed by my housemate that she had already cleared most of it up and that there had been not one but two victims. It seems Chiqui does have his uses until he gets big enough for the mice.

Mice I can cope with, cockroaches I really can't. I've had experiences here of giant flying ones and of being bitten on the lip or on the eye when asleep. The area of the bite can swell to 3 times its normal size which is quite inconvenient and looks really odd.

A fairly large cockroach appeared in my bedroom recently (I can never work out where they come from)and sat on the floor watching me warily. I looked for a book to squash it but as the only option within easy reach without putting my feet on the floor and potentially in its path, was my Bible which I decided wasn't appropriate and I wondered if the horrible insect was too big to be squashed.I dreaded the sound and the mess. So I spent the next 20 mins trying to catch it with a broom and eventually succeeded in killing it with said implement...resulting in the bristles of my broom now being filled with mangled cockroach. Nice!

Onto a more enriching subject. Tonight I attended the weekly homeless people's Bible study at my church. The regular attendees greeted me as usual like a long lost friend using the opportunity to practice their English greetings. There were about 35 adults, mostly men but with a few women and some children too.

When I first began attending these studies I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, being used to the very civilised and orderly English style study. This was something entirely different. The people traipse in often with their worldly belongings in tow so that they don't get stolen if they leave them on the street or with their plastic recyclables, ready to sell later on, that they have spent the day collecting. They head straight for the shower block which can only be a good thing. Then they sit around a large square table and a man from the church leads the study.

Amongst the attendees is a man who genuinely (and wrongly) beleives himself to be a modern day apostle wearing T-shirts and carrying literature to that effect. He gets short shrift from the other homeless people whenever he mentions it though which saves us a job.

I had arranged to supply anyone that attended the Monday night study for 5 consecutive weeks with their own Bibles, and now after only a month the Bibles that are visible look a bit like the people; dirty, tired and have seen better days. But there is an enthusiasm and quiet joy amongst a few of the attendees; one man sitting next to me has added coloured labels to his Bible so he can find the books easily. He shows me this proudly and I encourage him. Others have written their names on the spine and have many passages heavily underlined. Some of the Bibles have been well read whilst others are just dragged out for the study and while some have probably been lost or sold but thats always a risk worth taking. 6 new Bibles are presented and only 1 old man tries to claim 1 for the 2nd time.

During the study which last for an hour there is much disruption. People come and go from the shower block suddenly deciding to have their shower in the middle of it. A man walks around with an attendance register talking to people as he does so. A church member asks a few of the men to go with him to do something. People in the second row are openly sleeping with T-shirts and towels over their heads, others are trying not to fall asleep as they look on with bleary eyes. The older men through squniting eyes are still looking for the right page let alone chapter and verse when the study is already well underway, then they find something more interesting and read that instead commenting to their neighbour about it. A man gets out a bright purple comb and starts combing his hair which prompts others to do the same. A woman begins massaging her partners arms as he is complaining of pain. Another old man trys repeatedly to catch my eye to grin at me as I look around the motley collection. Many people are talking to each other. The children are well behaved today which is not always the case. A cat appears and stalks round the table sounding remarkably like a small child and yowling loudly over and over again. A few members of the team are preparing a snack for afterwards. I am relieved that they are not cooking today as it has been known for the whole place to become a health hazard as it fills up with smoke.

Yet despite all of this the study goes on with some listening attentively and taking copious notes. I wonder at the patience of the Study leader who doesn't allow himself to get distracted by any of the things going on around him. Actually if he did the study would never end, those that really want to listen can hear and thats the important thing, its just a complete contrast to Western ways.

Afterwards the people have their snack and I notice that a man is eyeing up my sports bag. He picks it up, examines it and compares it to his own. He approaches me and tells me it is a good bag. Then he says that his bag is "almost" broken and he needs a new one. He asks me if I have any others that I don't need. I don't. I look closely at his bag which is well worn and very full, bursting at the seams, but it still has a bit of life in it and there are no holes. I promise to buy him a new one if his breaks which seems to make him happy. I hope he doesn't quicken its demise as a result of my promise.

As usual I'm surprised by the small things the people ask for. Their lives are simple and uncomplicated, they don't want lots of material things but just the basics they need to survive. There is a definite freedom to this approach. I realised a while ago that the more things I had the more cluttered my life was and the more stressed I felt as I had to think about them. Life is definitely about relationships with people not about things and although much of the time it is not of their own making, these people have an advantage over Westerners in that respect.

Another woman wrote me a short letter last week asking me to consider her request. I wanted to discourage this type of solicitation and approached the church leaders about it. I asked her today what it was she wanted as the letter wasn't clear. The dear lady just needed the wheel on her wooden cart fixed so she could go back to work and provide for her family (Cost 500-700 pesos= a huge £7-£10!) On realising this, having thought she wanted long term support, I made the arrangements through a church member, she was very grateful which humbled me.

I was saddened again by the lack of provision for the elderly here. There are no care homes and no NHS. If the older people don't have family they roam the streets begging for money, ignored and marginalised by many people. In a culture where respect for the elderly is high on the agenda and senior citizens badges get you 20% off everything I find it strange that there is no longer term help. Often I see people that must be in their 70s (who look like they are in their 90's due to the burdens they have carried for many years) pushing heavy carts along the street or collecting plastic recyclables from garbage bags. I hope the government will step up and do something about this, when they have finished lining their own pockets that is.

In other news I have just agreed a deal for my book

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? by Natalie Vellacott

to be narrated in 2015 so you will be able to listen to it as well as reading it. The PDF Ebook is also available at Google Play

I'm desperately seeking someone with the technical knowledge to change the PDF into epub or word so that I can upload it to the Kindle and other ereaders. Its not as straight forward as you might think, I have tried many software packages etc so please only offer if you really know how to do it without the images and contents page looking like they have been regurgitated :)

Please feel free to comment on or "like" my blog and recommend it to others...until next time when there will be some updates about the "rugby boys" in Olongapo :)

A Sad Day with a Little Encouragement

Today I set out once again to try and do my grocery shopping having promised various people in England that I would do my best to eat properly so that I don't have to make any more emergency trips home for multi vitamin doses. Wait, that sounds really bad. Its not that I don't like food although I do struggle with a lot of the food here in the Philippines not being a big fan of rice which is the staple, its just that I tend to get distracted by more important things than eating.

Take yesterday for example when I was also on my way to do my grocery shopping. I was walking along the main street, acknowledging the various locals (usually men) who asked me loudly and in English where I was going and what I was doing. I wondered if they were just asking me to practice their language skills as they didn't normally listen to the answer and their friends tended to descend into fits of hysterics when the questions were asked. One man got a bit of a fright on one occasion when I responded in his language that I was heading for the church and that he was welcome to come with me. The polite response is to say that you are going "just there" rather than giving them a destination or inviting them along. But what is an evangelist to do when given such a great opportunity....

So, I was walking along when I saw two very young girls (10-12) with no shoes on walking just ahead of me in the street. I recognised one of them from the homeless drop in that we have every Thursday evening at my church (more about that later) I approached the girls from behind and tapped one of them on the shoulder, they immediately recognised me and seemed very pleased to see me. They were holding a lot of small envelopes with messages on the front of them. This is quite a common method of begging here, the idea being that the target is given the envelope to read whilst the beggar hangs around hopeful that some money will be placed inside.

Unfortunately some local church denominations have also adopted this approach by employing people to jump onboard the public buses, give every passenger an envelope and then preach at the involuntarily captive audience for sometimes up to 10 minutes. It can be fairly torturous especially if you are taking a long journey and representatives from the same denomination, preaching the same message jump on at every bus stop along the route. After hearing the message for the 3rd or 4th time there is usually a collective groan amongst the passengers when the next person wearing the badge gets on. I don't like to unduly criticise any evangelistic practice but I'm not sure that begging from non-Christians going about their daily business is the way to go, especially as many of them feel compelled to give as this is a Catholic rooted country and people are sadly often trying to tip God's divine scales in their favour for the afterlife. Removing that burden of good works through pointing out various Bible passages is one of the great freedoms that can be offered to Catholics here.

I asked the two girls if they were hungry having already mentally abandoned my grocery trip and suggested we head to Mcdonald's. This was amended on request to Jollibee and off we went. Over food we chatted about their situations and why they were begging on the street. I pointed out that it was dangerous for them to be in this area as there were bad men around. They said that they were with one of their fathers and they were all sleeping on the street. One of the girls had been living in one of the Christian Compassion Ministries Homes (CCM) the charity which is linked to my church but had left for some reason. I tried to persuade her to go back to no avail at that time but maybe she will think about it later.

After eating we headed back outside and as it was Thursday I told the girls that I would see them later at the Drop In centre. My church has a weekly event for the many homeless people here in Cubao, Manila. They can come to the church for a free shower, meal, Doctors appointment and of course a Christian message. There are sometimes over 100 attendees including many street children.

As we parted company and I continued along the street with the girls trailing at a distance behind me I noticed a large group of children in the middle of the street gathered round a pillar that holds up the platform for the MRT above (a public tram type system.)The children (mostly teenagers) were darting to and fro, shouting and teasing each other. I recognised the signs of the over-confidence and noisy behaviour but hoped I was mistaken until I saw the plastic bags. The children all had them hanging loosely from their hands or pockets and stopped to inhale the solvent from them every few minutes. I was disappointed to see some of our regular drop-in attendees amongst them as although I knew they were solvent users because they always carried the strong smell of it, I hadn't actually seen them partaking of the activity until now. What shocked me more was the number of girls in the group as there was at least 1 girl for every 2 boys and I was used to working with boys only in Olongapo. I was also appalled to see very young children amongst the group maybe as young as 9 or 10.

I watched the group for a few minutes wanting to talk to them but knowing it was probably pointless and wondering what I would say as at this time there is no specific ministry for the "rugby boys" and girls and there were a huge number of them. They are welcome to attend the drop in but often cause disruption and seem to be in trouble every time they attend.

Then I saw the two girls I had been with before join the group. Seeing this I walked across the street and engaged some of the group in conversation wishing I could do more. There were probably 20 children there which is the number we started with in Olongapo in 2012 and I knew that with God's help it would be possible to begin a ministry to help these children as well but the hard work is the initial building relationships which can take months or even years. The drop in boys recognised me and came straight over grabbing my hands and asking me questions. I asked them what they were doing there and reminded them of the bad influence of their peers but I knew it was going in one ear and out of the other, maybe not even that as they were high on solvents. After introducing myself to each of them individually and trying to remember some names I invited them to attend the drop in en masse and left...

On leaving I noticed a few local people that had been watching the intervention. I couldn't tell if they were disgusted by the children's behaviour or glad that someone was engaging with them. Maybe a mixture of both. If only more people had a heart for these children a lot more could be done but most people shy away from this group and working with them as it is hard and can be deeply discouraging requiring patience, persistence and of course a lot of prayer.

I have a long term plan to help this group but it relies on some big things falling into place...more about that in due course but for now I really need people with a God given heart for these children to be willing to work with me in this ministry to them.

None of the children turned up to the drop in later in the evening not even our usual crowd of boys. The drop in is a great idea for the adults and the younger children but the teens addicted to solvents really need full time workers willing to invest everything in the work.

Whilst chatting to a homeless lady at the drop in and sharing the gospel with her my hands were suddenly grabbed by a male regular attendee as he walked past our table. He was really over enthusiastic with a big few toothed grin (most of the drop in attendees have few teeth left) and I thought it was a bit over the top. I carried on talking to the Catholic lady who had also attended a local cult church and was now very confused. I wanted to give her a Bible but found her eyesight wasn't good enough so I arranged for her to have a checkup to get glasses so I could give her a Bible at some stage...a long way of doing things that I hadn't anticipated when beginning the discussion.

I had forgotten about the enthusiastic man until later when he came up to me, grabbed my hands again and thanked me profusely. Then I properly recognised him as a man that had poured out his desire to work at one of the drop in meetings back in August. He wanted to regain his previous job as a driver of a school bus. I had checked his driving licence which was in date and he seemed genuine. His problem was that he didn't have the funds to get the necessary medical certificate and police check - 2000 pesos (about £28 which here is a lot of money)I agreed to help him from our charity if someone from the church accompanied him (its never a good idea to give money directly even when the person appears trustworthy as it can be a source of temptation for of our boys in Olongapo was given 1000 pesos £14 by a foreigner who probably thought he was being kind to a street child but it caused havoc in our ministry.)Anyway a deacon went with him to get the checks done and his job application was successful. He is now working again. Praise God. I'm really so grateful to everyone who supports the charity allowing me to help people in small ways like this.

Now you can probably see why I never manage to get to my grocery shopping!