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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

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!