Friday, January 26, 2007

The Man on the Bridge: Part 1

My travels through Manila often take me over a bride that crosses the Marikina River. It was on this route, (which has become one of my favorite shortcuts) that I noticed a man sitting on the bridge's railing. I didn't think much of it and continued on my way. On another day shortly after that I noticed him there again and I began to look for him whenever I crossed over that brigde. He was always there, just sitting in the same place. No matter what time of day, morning or night, he was always there. When I looked a little closer I noticed that he has a normal man's torso, but that his legs were very small and out of proportion with the rest of his body. Then I realized that he was always there because he lives there, in a crack between the bridge and the wall next to it.

Later, I learned that there were sixteen families living in these cracks on both sides of the bridge and some were living under parts of it. There were whole families living there and some of them were made up of three generations (or more); Grandparents, parents, and grand children. Well, my just passing by went on for a month or two, as I looked for the man on the bridge. I would wonder, "How does he get around? I really don't think he can . . . so where does he get his food from? Maybe he fishes from the river." Then I thought, "Since he probably can't move around much, he probably can't go to church. I wonder if he knows the Lord?" As I continually passed him by, I told myself that I need to stop by and talk with this guy. I was acting like the men who passed by the injured man laying in the road in the story of "The good Samaritan." My conscious was getting heavy as I continued to pass by this guy in my comfortable airconditioned car; sometimes eating a snack and listening to my stereo. Finally, at Christmas time, I stopped my van in front of him on the bridge, rolled down my window and introduced myself to him. His eyes brightened and he had a big smile on his face as he enthusiastically said, "Hello Sir." I said, "Hi, I'm Sean, what's your name?" He told me that his name is Robert.

At this point I it is necessary for me to explain a piece of Filipino culture. Here in the Philippines, there is a Christmas tradition which reminds me of Halloween. People go door to door, (sometimes singing Christmas carols) hoping to recieve some money; usually coins. I figured that Robert was not able to get around so I decided to bless him this Christmas with some money and a bible. That was our first meeting.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Man on the Bridge: Part 2

A month had gone by since I visited Robert. I had driven across the bridge and past him several times, but I had not made the time to visit him again. I decided to stop by and visit with him on the way to a weekly meeting that I have in Manila. I parked my car at the bottom of the bridge and began walking toward him. I wondered if he would remember me. I also wondered how he managed to live in that crack between the bridge and the wall. As I got closer, I saw a 3x10 foot piece of corrugated sheet metal that served as a roof. The crack was filled with trash from the foot of the bridge all the way to the place where his roof began. The doorway to his home was about 8 feet down in this crack. He had no door, no windows, no lights (except by candle) and no electricity. Robert greeted me again with a large smile. He remembered my name, and as I walked up he said in a mixture of broken English and Tagalog, "Your the guy from Christmas who gave me the bible." I asked him if he was reading it and he said yes. I quickly learned that he spoke very little English, while he in turn learned that my Tagalog (although better than his English) is limited. I sat down with him on the railing of the bridge and we slowly talked. We struggled to understand each other, but between my limited Tagalog vocabulary, his limited English, and a few hand guestures, we seemed to mangage. I learned that he has been living by the bridge for three years with his older brother who takes care of him. Robert turns 34 in March and has five siblings. When he was just a year old, he had a very high fever (maybe a result of polio?)which somehow lead to the paralysis of his legs. As Robert and I continued to talk, he began to cough and asked me to wait for a minute. He climbed down from the railing and crawled on his hands while dragging his legs and the rest of his body along. He disappeared as he climbed down into his make-shift home. A few minutes later, he reappeared and climbed back up next to where I was sitting on the bridge. He showed me his inhaler and explained that he has asthma while he continued coughing. I told him that one of my sons also has asthma. I thought to myself, "It's not surprising that he has asthma since he literally lives just a few feet away from a road where thousands of cars drive everyday." I asked him if I could look at his inhaler to see what kind of medicine he was using. While examining it, I quickly noticed that it was empty. At this time, his older brother Angelito (Lito) rode up on a bike with a pill to help ease Robert's breathing. I asked him why he didn't just get another inhaler. He said, "Kasi, mashadong mahal ito (Because it's too expensive)." I took the empty canister and told him that I would buy him a new one and bring it back after my meeting in Manila. After my meeting that evening, I returned to meet Robert and Lito. Lito met me by my car at the foot of the bridge to help me carry a few bags of stuff that I picked up for them. Once we reached their home, I noticed that the darkness down in the crack seemed to have multiplied without the light of day. The passing headlights of the cars revealed the smile on Robert and Lito's faces. Along with the medicine, I picked up 10 kilos of rice and about a dozen various kinds of canned foods. I didn't know whether or not they had a can opener, so I bought them one. While talking with them, I became a little worried about the food I had bought them, because I realized that they only had about 6 teeth between the two of them. I knew that they would have no problem eating the rice, but I wasn't sure if they could eat the canned fish I bought them with so few teeth in their mouths. I later found out that they managed. This was my second visit with Robert and his brother Lito.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My Friends on the Bridge

Time was short so I wasn't planning on stopping by, but how could I just pass by without saying hi and seeing how Robert and Lito were doing? I was on my way to a ministry meeting that took me across their bridge again - but stopping by would make me late. Then I remembered that the last two times I met with my ministry partners, I was waiting for twenty to thirty minutes before they arrived. I figured that they wouldn't be angry if I was a few minutes late. I have learned that it is often difficult to be on time in the Philippines. The traffic is very unpredictable and the same route to work or school each day can unexplainably take twice as long sometimes. I pulled up to the foot of the bridge in my car and walked up to see Robert and Lito. I believe that Lito was out looking for work, but Robert greeted me with his usual smile as he explained to me that the medicine I got for him was helping and that he is breathing a lot better. While chatting, we got on the subject of food, probably because of my limited Tagalog there are only so many things I can talk about. You know, things like "How are you", "What's your name", "Where is the bath room (called the comfort room or CR in the Philippines)." I guess I can say a bit more than that, but we got on the subject of food. After asking me what my favorite Filipino dishes are he told me his:sinigang, a soup with pork and vegetables that is eaten with or on rice. I told him that I like sinigang too and that my wife cooks it rather well. Then I said, "Someday, you'll have to come to my place and we can eat it together." To which Robert quickly responded, "When?" "Oh", I said. "Lets see. . ." (I meant it when I invited him, but I didn't have a particular time in mind, I just thought someday). I went through my schedule in my mind and then said, "How about this Sunday? You brother Lito can join us." I told him that he and Lito can even join us at church. Robert said yes, but then he looked down at his legs, pointed, and said, "I'm shy." He was fine with going to my house, but he was embarrassed to go to such a public place as our church. As I thought about it I realized that it would be difficult for him to make it up to the third floor movie theater where our church is meeting since he can not walk. I told him that we can just have lunch at my house then. Soon I will look for a church that is nearer to him and that is more accessible for him. My mission, the Evangelical Free Church Mission, has a church fairly near to him. I hope that I can find a kind member of that church who would be willing to pick him and his brother up and bring them to church on Sundays. I said goodbye to Robert and told him I would see him next Sunday. This was our third meeting.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Friends Visit our House

Sunday came and the smell of sinigang filled our house. We were ready for Robert and Lito's visit. When I arrived at the bridge where they live to pick them up, Robert was dressed and ready to go. He called down for Lito to join us, who felt awkward and declined at first. I urged him, "Please come join us, we would love to have you over." He accepted and we all climbed into my van (actually, Robert literally did just that, he had to climb in because his legs don't work). Once I started the van, Robert was startled as the air conditioner kicked in. Concerned for him I said, "I can turn that off," to which he replied, "No" because he liked it. I'm sure that he rarely rides in any kind of auto mobile or feels refrigerated air on his face. As we were driving, Lito was thanking me for getting the medicine for his brother and he told me that he believed God was using me to help them.

As we drove into my subdivision (housing track) I could see the amazement in their faces. Even the smallest house in my neighborhood is huge compared to the little shelters they had made for themselves. After we pulled up into my garage Lito helped me close the gate while Robert climbed down out of the van and dragged himself into my house. I wonder what they were thinking as they came into my house for the first time. My place is like a mansion compared to their improvised little shelters. I pulled up some chairs for them so we could all talk. I was anxious to have my wife Jessica ask them some questions that I wasn't able to because of my lack of Tagalog speaking abilities. She was born in the Philippines and knows a lot more Tagalog than I do. I was wondering why Robert can't use crutches. I tried to ask him that and he said he couldn't, but I did not understand him when he explained why.

As the conversation continued with Robert and Lito, we learned that Robert can play the guitar. I didn't know what to expect, but I brought mine out and let him play. I was pleasantly surprised at how well he could play the guitar and sing. After eating Robert's favorite dish together for lunch I put on a DVD for us to watch. Robert, Lito, and I watched The Passion of Christ together. It was very quite after that movie, which I think is a normal response to it. While driving them home I asked them, "What did you guys think of the movie?" Robert said, "Jesus sure suffered a lot for us!" I agreed with him and then I asked them if they knew why. The did not, so I explained, "Kasi maraming Kasalanan tayo (because we have many sins)." They both agreed with the fact that we all have a lot of sins. I told them that I would get them bigger bibles than the small Tagalog New Testament that I had already given them.

We had a nice time together, getting to know each other better. This was the day that I began to share with them why God had brought me to the Philippines and why He was using me to help them. This was our fourth meeting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Another Day in my Adventures with Robert

Even though thirty minutes had passed after visiting my friends on the bridge, my throat was still sore. The effects of the fumes from the exhaust pipes of the passing cars had taken its toll on me. It's no surprise to me that Robert has asthma. I'm only there for about four hours a week; Robert lives there, spending all of his sleeping and waking hours next to that road. I just bought him a few more boxes of medicine for his asthma, but this reality should serve to remind me that I must get a local church involved with ministering to him because I will only live in this area for about one more year. During a previous visit with Robert I learned that he likes to play the game chess. I picked up a small set and we have played during our last two times together and he has beaten me six out of six games. I would never have guessed that a guy who has only finished about three grades of elementary school could be so good at chess. It’s not that I'm a horrible player; Robert is good! He is a smart man. I also picked up a couple of plastic stools so I can sit and chat with him.
Knowing that Robert's place has no running water or electricity, I asked him where he went to the bathroom. Laughing, he pointed to where I was sitting and various places around me for number one, and he said that they do number two on pieces of paper and then throw it into the river. That explained the smell, but I learned years ago that the Philippines is a land of many smells.
This was yet another educational and enjoyable time with my friend Robert.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Little Friends on the Bridge

Whenever I visit Robert, I bring a customary snack (called merienda). Merienda can be pretty much any food and Filipinos enjoy having it several times a day in between meals. A few visits ago I brought a canister of some long, tubular, flaky cookies called "Stickos." As we were playing chess and eating our stickos, little faces appeared through the railing across the street. These little faces had little eyes that were looking longingly at our stickos. I walked across the street and found three little kids, each no more than five years old. I gave each one of them a sticko and said hello. After exchanging names and smiles I walked back to Robert and the chess game we had started earlier. As our playing continued, our attention was drawn back to the other side of the bridge when we heard small voices yelling, "Kuya, kuya". This is a term of respect for an older brother or friend. I saw the three kids that I gave the merienda to earlier plus about four others. I returned to the their side of the bridge and gave them more stickos. By the end of the day, there were about a dozen little faces staring at us from between the rails of the bridge and calling, "Kuya, kuya." A few parents came out to see what the commotion was all about. One mother named Charlie came out, smiled and waved. She heard that I had given out a few bibles and asked if she could have one. I told her that I would love to give her one and would bring it next time I visit. With about 15 or 16 families living around and under this bridge, I see the potential for a bible study and some great ministry among them. I can't wait to see what the Lord will do.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Other Side of the Bridge

While chatting with Robert and Ate Dora, she asked, "Would you like to visit my house?" This is very Filipino. Hospitality is a part of Filipino culture and even if their place is small or they have very little food, they will still invite you into their home and share what they have with you. She lives on the other side of the bridge, just under it near the river. As I walked to Ate Dora's place with a small group of children following me, I saw people hand washing their clothes. They have a community pump that they share to get their water for washing. Those who can afford it buy different water locally for drinking. There were clothes hanging on lines and in the windows of their houses. Ate Dora joking calls the houses under the bridge "condo's" because they are nicer than the ones like Roberts, and are fixed between the bridge and the road. Their homes were improvised with pieces of wood, metal, and tarps. They were built on stilts so that they don't get flooded when the river rises. Ate Dora told me that they have to move to higher ground sometimes during the typhoon season. I was told that there were about 15 or 16 families living under and around the bridge, but I don't know how many people are living there all together. There are dozens of bridges like this that cross the Marakina River and I can't help but wonder if those bridges have communities living under them too. When I first meet the children who live here they were respectfully calling me "Kuya." It was cute as I was visiting with Robert the other day and they were calling out, "Kuya Sean."

As I was walking through the structures leading to Ate Dora's house I hope the the brown water that was running across the path was not human waste. I didn't want to give the appearance of uneasiness, this was their home, so I walked straight ahead watching my steps till we reached her house. I said a quick prayer in my head as I drank the water she offered me, a kindness of which I was not about to refuse.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Wheel Chair for Robert

Jessica and I were having some coffee with our friend Jeffrey the other day. We got on the topic of ministry to widows, orphans, and the poor. During our discussion, we noted how many church plants or young churches talk about how they are going to reach out to the poor SOMEDAY once their church gets established. Yet, somehow, even after churches get established, many still never get around to ministering to widows, orphans, and the poor. When Jeffery told me that this is an area he would like to see his church grow in, I told him about my friends at the bridge. I showed him a picture of Robert and explained how he is virtually trapped at that bridge because of his paralysis. Jeffery asked if he could use a wheel chair. I told him, "probably" and that I was looking into getting Robert a special three wheel bike made for handicapped people.

Early the next morning Jeffrey called me and said, "I have a wheel chair, where can we meet so that I can give it to you?" Jess and I were excited and praised the Lord for this blessing. As we were on our way to pick it up, I pictured a dusty old wheel chair that someone had hidden away in their garage. That was not a disappointing thought and we were grateful for the Lord’s provision, but when we met Jeffery, he carried a box to our van. The wheel chair was brand new! We couldn’t wait to bring it to Robert on Monday when we would visit him next.

That Monday afternoon we pulled up to Robert’s bridge (We also brought Kian, Christian, and Grace with us). I went a head of them to call down to Robert so that he would have a few minutes to get ready for visitors. After sharing greetings with each other I told him, “May regalo ako para sa iyo” (I have a gift for you). He got ready while I went back to our van to get my family and the box. Kian helped me carry the box as Christian followed. I was a little worried that Robert might be disappointed because he had mentioned in the past that he wanted a special three wheel bike made for handicapped people. I hoped that he would be pleased with this wheel chair because I really believe that it can change his life. He will no longer be trapped at the bridge all day. He can move around, go to cooler places when it is too hot or even look for some kind of work. When we reached him with the fairly large and heavy box, he read the side. "O, a wheel chair", he exclaimed. I couldn’t tell if he was excited or disappointed, but he didn’t waste much time climbing over the rail to sit in it and try it out. In Tagalog, he started talking about the three wheel bike again, but we encouraged him to try it out. I suggested that we all take a walk down the street to the gas station convenience store to get a cool drink. It was a very hot and humid day and there is no shade near Robert’s place.

I could tell that Robert was a little uneasy, but he went with us. He asked me to push him down the bridge because it was a little steep, but once we got to the bottom he took over. He was a little shaky at first while getting used to controlling the chair. The side walk before the bridge has so many holes and cracks in it that we were forced to move to the street. I was praying inside, “Lord protect him and don’t let him get discouraged.” We finally made it to the gas station and walked into the store while Robert rolled into it. It was only about a block from his home, but this was probably the first time he had ever been inside of it, or any other store. We bought a few drinks and sat out in the shade to enjoy them. Then Robert shared that one time someone tried to give him a chair, but he was too embarrassed to use it, so he refused to take it, which made his brother Lito very unhappy. As Jessica and I wondered why he took the wheel chair this time, we speculated that it was because he knew us and that we were there to encourage and help him get started. As we practiced using the chair in the parking lot of the gas station he was quickly getting the hang of it. People from the community who often saw Robert sitting on the rail of the bridge were looking at us and smiling at us. I pray that Robert will get comfortable using the chair and that this will open up many new doors in his life. Next time I visit him, I will take him for a stroll to a near by fast food place to share some ice cream and to play a game of chess in a clean air conditioned place. Robert knows that I am a missionary and that it is the love of Christ that compels me to love him and the rest of the people at the bridge. However, the most loving thing that I can do for him is not to get him a wheel chair, rice, or medicine. The most loving thing that I can do for Robert and the families who live at the bridge is to share the good news that Jesus Christ loves them and wants to forgive their sins if they will trust in Him. Regardless of their response to Jesus I will continue to serve them, but I will never stop sharing the good news about Jesus with them. I can’t wait to see what the Lord does in their heart’s trough us. Click here to read more.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pictures for Ate Dora

While visiting ate Dora and our other friends from the bridge we have been taking pictures. When we gave her copies of some of the pictures that we took of her and her family, we learned that this was more of a blessing than we thought it would be. We could see the joy in her face as she looked the pictures over. She then shared with us that she has no pictures of herself or her family. Around fifteen grandchildren and no pictures of them! This would be unthinkable for most grandmothers in the States. When I thought about it, I realized that in the small room of her shanty, there is nothing on the walls. Actually the walls are less than a quarter of an inch thick so you really couldn't nail anything to them (otherwise you would have a bunch of nails sticking out of your walls). I suppose she could stick them up there some how. She kept smiling while she and her granddaugher "Girly", and a few other grandkids were admirering the pictures.

Since it was a hot day and there was no where for us to sit at the bridge (I had brought Jessica, Kian, and Christian with me) we walked down the street and sat at a few tables out side the gas station's convienence store. Ate Dora told us that one time she needed a picture for an I.D. and since she did not have one she had to use her sister's picture. She said that they look similar, but the picture on HER ID is not of her. Hopefully no one will look to closely and cause an embarassing momment for Ate Dora. We gave a picture to Robert also. One of him and I playing chess along side the bridge. He said that somehow he is going to nail it to the block wall in his house. I know that these are little things, but they do communicate that we care about them. My family and I drove over the bridge last night at around 9pm. It was dark and everyone around and under the bridge were no doubt sleeping by then, but I could not help to pray and think about them as we passed by. Please remember them in your prayers as we minister to them and try to get the local church involved in helping us reach out to them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Robert's Birthday

On March 31 my friend Robert turned 34. I stopped by his place at the bridge bringing a chocolate cake, a bag of oranges and some fruit roll-ups for the kids who also live there. I was greeted with a wave and Roberts usual smile. I think I succeeded in my goal of making him feel cared for and special. He asked, "What's this?" as I put a box in from of him. He was happy at the sight of a chocolate cake with, "Happy Birthday Robert" written on it. Between Robert and his brother, who lives in the shanty across from him, they have one plate and three spoons.
We used one of the spoons to cut the cake and I brought a box of napkins to serve the rest of the cake on. We called on neighbors and friends who were passing by to join us in celebrating Roberts special day. A couple of little ones caught on to what was happening and soon there about over a dozen kids stopping by or calling out to us in hopes of sharing Roberts birthday cake and other goodies. Ate Sylvia, Melvin, Charlene, and many other friends stopped by. This time opened up a great conversation that I will share about in my next blog so check back later. Click here to read more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An Interesting Conversation - Part 1

While visiting Robert on his birthday I had an interesting conversation. It started when Ate Sylvia asked, "What religion are you?" I told her that I am born again because that seems to be the best identifier for Christians to use here. This helps to keep Christian from being confused with false or non-Christian groups. However, saying that your 'born again' can get you confused with faith healers, which is what Sylvia did, because she then asked me, "Can you heal Robert?" I looked across at Robert as he sat near the railing of the bridge with his legs hanging limp. Now, I don’t believe that we can demand healing from God, or that the gift of healing at will is normal for today. However, I do know that God can heal anytime that He wants and does heal today when He wants to.

I was ready to pray for Robert’s healing and I confidently believe that if God wanted to, He would heal him. For some reason, I wasn’t even nervous at the thought. If it was not God’s will to heal Robert now, I would not be embarrassed to pray for it and find that the answer is no. It would be God who said no, not me. It would be God who chose not to demonstrate His power and not a failure on my part. I know that I am just the messenger and that He is in control and knows what He is doing. At the same time, I would not have been surprised if God decided to do a miracle and restore Roberts’s legs! I could see God using that circumstance to show the people of the bridge His power and His love for them. I could see God using that to draw attention to Himself so that they would pay attention to the gospel and believe.

Well, before I could agree to pray for Robert, Ate Sylvia just keep talking away about different beliefs. She seemed to forget her request and said that Robert told her that he had many questions for me, but was unable to ask them because of my limited ability to speak Tagalog. I believe my heart was right and that my faith wasn’t lacking, but we didn’t get the opportunity to see if God was going to grant a miracle that day. Perhaps He kept her talking because He has another plan other than healing to make Himself known to the people at the bridge. I was able to understand and discuss a few of their questions, but I told them that soon I would bring with me a friend who was fluent in Tagalog and who would answer all their questions. They were happy with that and proceeded into a second interesting conversation, which I will write about next time. Click here to read Part 2

Monday, January 15, 2007

Robert's Second Birthday in Less Than a Month

I realized it was late when I saw my shadow glide across the wall in front of me because of the head lights from the cars passing behind me. I intended to leave an hour earlier, but Robert said, "Okay, one more question." I had brought my friend Wolfgang with me, a fellow missionary who has lived here for over ten years. Wolfgang loves the Lord and has a real heart for the poor. I had shared the gospel with Robert and Ate Sylvia before, but I wasn't sure how much they understood due to my limited Tagalog. Wolfgang would be able to answer their questions and make sure that they understand the (gospel) the good news that Jesus Christ forgives the sins of those who trust in Him.

I could tell that their hearts were softened and ready for the gospel, but Robert and Sylvia first had many questions. First, Robert wanted to know where Cain and Able got their wives from. Second, he wanted to know how Jonah could have survived in the belly of the great fish. These were great questions. It was encouraging to me that not only has Robert really been reading the Tagalog Bible I had given him, but that he actually understood what he was reading and was wrestling through it. Sylvia's questions included wanting to know what the bible said about worshiping Mary, saints, and various statues, and what is meant by being "born again". After satisfying their questions, Wolfgang shared the gospel with them again. We started with Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3. I was pleased to hear that they did understand what I had shared with them in previous conversations and that they were really tracking with what Wolfgang was sharing with them.

Wolfgang invited them to ask Jesus to save them from the penalty of their sins and to live in their hearts. He told them to only pray if they really, really want to follow Jesus. Praise, the Lord, they both wanted to! At first, I wasnt sure about Robert. As Wolfgang prayed, Ate Sylvia repeated after him, but Robert remained silent. As we were saying our goodbyes Robert said that he prayed in his heart.

The challenge now is finding a church within walking distance because the round trip cost of about 50¢ is a substantial expense for them. I'm praying that they will see that the sacrifice is worth it. I'm also hoping that the church itself would be able to send some of their members to my friends at the bridge to do bible studies. For now, we picked up Robert last Sunday and took him to the closest EFC church with us, about 15 minutes way. I was proud of him because his joy in knowing God was greater than his fear of what others might think about him and his wheel chair. Pray that Robert’s faith in God will grow and that a local church will show him and my other friends at the bridge love by regularly visiting them and teaching them the word of God.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Interesting Conversation - Part 2

In a story called, "An Interesting Conversation - Part 1" , I mentioned that I would write more about a conversation with Robert and Ate Sylvia. After asking me if I could heal Robert, Ate Sylvia didnt wait for an answer but kept throwing more questions out. One thing she really wanted to know was what the bible says about praying to statues. This is widely practiced in the Philippines. They pray to statues of Mary, Santo Nino (Baby Jesus), the Black Nazarene, etc. As usual, we were sitting on the walkway of the bridge. I looked around and saw a piece of wood on the ground which gave me an idea. I picked it up and, as best I could in Tagalog, I began to answer her question. I held the piece of wood on the rail and told them that I could paint it, put a face on it, eyes, ears, and mouth. Then I told them I could make feet for it also and then I set the piece of wood down on its end as if standing and let it go. It just fell over on the ground. I did this two more times and it fell to the ground each time. I asked what happened? They saw that the wood had no power to stand up on it's own. I told them that in addition to not being able to stand, it could not speak, hear, or see. Then I picked it up again. Looking at it, I loudly called out to it something like, "Help me, bless me, feed me, take care of me!" They began laughing. I asked, "Why are you laughing?" They replied, "It's just a piece of wood."

"That's right", I told them, "And every time we pray to an idol we are just talking to a piece of wood which can do nothing for us." I wasn't sure if they understood all that I shared with them, but I later learned that they did when I heard them share part of the story with another missionary that I brought there to visit them. (click here to read that story).

I think that illustration with the piece of wood made a big impression on them and helped them to see the futility in praying to idols. I shared with them that we should pray and worship God only. After all, He is the one who made us, who came and died for our sins, who offers salvation through faith in His Son, and who wants to be intimately involved with our lives for eternity. Why go to anyone or anything else! (Robert and Sylvia pray to receive Christ - click here to read ).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sean, I don't want to die and only you can help me!

It had been six weeks since I last saw any of my friends from the bridge. Though I was on a working vacation in the States, my thoughts and prayers were often focused on them. Did Robert have enough rice? Was his asthma medicine used up? How was he doing now that the rainy season had begun? These questions were answered on my way to pick up a visiting short-term mission team. Before I went to the airport, I stopped by the bridge to see Robert and my other friends. I noticed that they covered their make-shift homes with some extra wood. I assume they did that to keep some of the rain out of them. I called down to Robert and after a few minutes he climbed up to greet me. His brother Lito joined him shortly after that.

As we exchanged our hellos and began catching up on the latest news in each others lives, they mentioned to me that Ate Dora was taken to the hospital earlier. Lito went on to explain that she was struggling with hyper tension and high blood pressure. After a little while, she came out from under the bridge, but for the first time I saw her walking with a stick to give her some extra support. She greeted me with her usual smile, but I could tell that she was weakened.

Ate Dora said to me, "Sean, where have you been? I have been waiting for you! I don't want to die and only you can help me! I have to take care of my grandchildren!" (she has over a dozen of them that she helps care for while her children do what ever jobs they can to help the family survive)
I don't know exactly what is wrong, but she said that the doctor said that she needs a CT scan which will cost about $80 US dollars. I'm guessing that this would be at least one or two months wages for her and could be even more than that since her jobs are not consistent. Ate Dora then told me, "I promise, if you help me, I will bring my whole family to church." I told her that I only want her to go to church if she really wants to and that I will help her because she is my friend. Perhaps she will go to church through this because she sees God's grace upon her as he uses me, but I don't want to start the practice of building churches on obligation or guilt. I will be going to get her and take her to the doctor on Monday. Pray that God will show the doctors what is wrong inside her body and that they will be able to correct it. I will write about this as I learn more.

Friday, January 12, 2007

So little for us and yet so much for him

There was excitement in her voice as we discussed the possibility of her son's face being whole, but I could also hear the concern in her questions. Perhaps it was a dumb question on my part, but I asked her if she (Ate Vergie) was interested in having her son's face fixed. I've learned never to assume anything. I thought to myself, "It's possible that she could be against modern medicine or too afraid to have her son go under the knife". After I brought it up, Ate Vergie and Ate Sylvia asked me a few questions. Would he feel pain or would the doctor make him sleep during the procedure? Would the doctor just numb his lip? Would they use needles or would he just have to breath in the anesthesia? "It's too mahal (expensive)! How can we afford the medicine?" I told her, "akong bahala sa gastos" (I will take care of the expenses) if she is interested. I'm kind of taking this by faith because I don't know exactly how much it will cost, but I heard that there is one group that comes to Manila about once a year and does the surgery for about $300-$400. That's no small amount for a missionary salary, but it is still relatively small. How could Jessica and I not do that? Relatively so little for us and yet so much for him. I haven't done the math, but I wouldn't be surprised if I found out that we spend that much on coffee each year. This surgery could be life changing for Angelo. It would spare him from years of ridicule and hurt, adverse hygiene and medical issues, open up better possibilities for work and most of all, be a life long testimony to the love of Christ.

Angelo was born four years ago with a cleft palate. His tita (aunt) told me how he never cried as a baby and still doesn't speak. Ate Vergie said that he makes some sounds and he clearly understands what is being said to him. She hopes that he will be able to talk after his mouth is fixed. Angelo's father seems to have had a nervous break down and is out of work and seems to have given up on life at the moment. Maybe God will use this surgery to give Angelo's dad some hope and remind Him that He loves him.

I'm hoping that this surgery will have several other effects as well. First, Angelo has asthma. He is one of many kids and adults living under the bridge who have asthma. I'm guessing that the fumes from the exhausts of the thousands of cars passing over their bridge each day has a lot to do with it. This is especially dangerous for Angelo because I don't think he can use a conventional inhaler for his asthma. He is not able to form a seal around an inhaler with his mouth due to the section of lip that is missing. I think this could potentially be life threatening for Angelo if an asthma attack makes it difficult for him to breathe. His family can't afford a trip to the hospital, but they do have access to an inhaler...An inhaler which I'm guessing would have little effect at this time because of his deformity.

Second, I hope that God helping him through us will not only be a testimony to Angelo and his family, but to that whole community under the bridge. Several of them have and are reading bibles that I was privileged to give them. I was just talking with some of them today and they can see how God has not forgotten them. They see how He has sent me and other people over the years to help them as He cares for them. I have found a few possibilities of some local churches that might be able to help me minister to them. Their hearts have become more and more prepared for this. I get excited as I think about the possibilities. Join me in praying that we can help correct Angelo's deformity and get a local church involved with loving and teaching these precious people. Click here to read what happened next.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. (Luke 17:15)

He just turned 4 years old last
February, but he can’t speak much yet. He understands well, but his deformed palate has made speech difficult for him. I pray that someday Angelo will praise God with his fixed mouth and palate as he grows older and learns about God and what He has done for him.

I felt so privileged to be helping Angelo when I saw him walking hand in hand with his mom toward my car. Just a week earlier, I couldn’t help getting choked up when his mom translated my words into Tagalog to little Angelo. She asked him, “How would you like to get your mouth fixed?”. He smiled and gave his mom a high five.

On Monday morning, we were on our way to the hospital for a consultation with the doctor about fixing Angelo’s cleft palate. We found out that we came at the perfect time of the year. Angelo’s doctor told us that several doctors were doing a mission that week and that they were doing cleft palate surgeries the next Saturday for free. For FREE! God sure has good timing! The surgery and all the medicines would be free this particular week. There are only a few costs left and some kind friends from the States have already stepped up to cover them.

To our surprise, the doctor had Angelo immediately check into the hospital for initial tests (blood, x-rays, urine, etc.). He told us that Angelo needs to stay in the hospital untill Wednesday and then I could bring him back on Friday to get prepped for surgery on Saturday. Angelo didn’t seem to mind, but Vergi, his mom, was surprised and a little worried. First, I learned that Angelo is one of eight children and she now began to worry, “How can I feed my kids if I miss work?” (She would have to stay with Angelo the whole time). Second, since she did not anticipate having to stay at the hospital, she didn’t bring anything with her (like a tooth brush, extra clothes, a towel, etc.) The hospital doesn’t even provide blankets or pillows. We went across the street and picked up some food, water, tooth brush and other such stuff for them. Vergi’s best friend Charlyne would bring clothes and other necessities the next day.

The ward that they were staying in
has two large dorms with about 100 beds on both sides and all were occupied with patients and their families. Angelo was captivated by a little girl in the bed across from his. She had a cleft palate too, only she had two openings in her lip instead of just one. This may be the first time he has ever seen anyone in the same situation as his. They stared at each other fascinated. As it turns out, the cleft palate wasn't the worst problem this little girl had. When they did evaluations on her to get her mouth fixed, they discovered that she actually had a hole in her heart. So last month they did open heart surgery to fix her heart and this month they will fix her mouth. Add to those difficult circumstances the fact that she is not even a year old yet, she is only ten months old right now. As I was talking with her mom and playing with her I got a big smile out of her. Because of the open flaps of skin above her mouth, it was hard to see that she was smiling, but her eyes couldn’t hide it.

The next day I found out that the doctor was having trouble finding a vein in Angelo’s arm and was unable to finish all the bloodwork in time to release Angelo on Wednesday. He decided that Angelo should just stay there through Saturday for the operation. Again, Vergi expressed her concern about not being able to work. She and her husband sell eggs (the ever so popular Filipino "balut" to be exact – basically duck embryos) to support the family. I told her not to worry, that we would take care of her and her family during this time. After that I went home to wait for Saturday. Click here to read the next part of the story.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Outside Is Fixed, The Inside Is Next

I have to admit it was a little hard for me to look at his face before the operation. I didn't want to stare or show any sign of shock at his appearance, but it did take some effort to smile and to be encouraging without having an expression of pitty on my face for this little guy. Remembering how precious he is to God; that his body will be restored to perfection if he goes to heaven, and that all of our lives in this world are temporary helped me to have compassion for him. Angelo and his family do not know the Lord now, but I pray that in the future, Angelo will be able to look back and see the deformity he used to have as a blessing from God because God used it to bring him and his family to the Lord.

The outside is fixed, the inside is next. Angelo's outward appearance looks better now, but his inside still looks the same to God. As I thought about this, I realized that Angelo is actually a good picture of many of us. We can fix ourselves up on the outside - dress up nicely, put on make-up, do our hair, be on our best behavior and look pretty good in the eyes of the world; especially when we compare ourselves to others around us. The reality however, is that inside we are still in bad shape. The facade may look great, but with God, we still fall short of being good enough for living with and enjoying Him forever. He takes every thought, attitude, word, and behavior into account. The sin within all of us separates us from God because He is holy and He can't allow deformed sinful souls in His prescense. Like Angelo, we need corrective surgery, but on the inside not the outside.

Here is Angelo before the surgery.

Here he is after the surgery.

I am so pleased with how his surgery came out. He is still healing, but he looks so much better. The doctor needs to take his stiches out still and there is a bit of swelling, but he's a handsome little guy! When I brought him back from the hospital it looked like the whole community living under the bridge came out to see him. In my best Tagalog I chatted with many of them as we all enjoyed seeing Angelo and his mom Virgi back home. At this point Angelo was more excited about the new ball we bought for him than his face being repaired, but that's just how little boys are, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We aren't the only ones expecting a new baby

I’ve written several times about Robert and his brother Lito who live under a bridge. Well I recently learned that Lito (pictured above) has a girlfriend and that they are expecting a baby. In case you forgot, Lito lives under a 3X10 piece of corrugated sheet metal that is held up by a small wooden frame (probably about the size of a closet in your average American home).

They have no electricity, running water, or bathroom (called a CR in the Philippines) and they enjoy the constant flow of fumes from the exhaust pipes of the passing cars just above them. It was hard enough for Lito to take care of himself and his handicap younger brother (34), but now he has a girlfriend/wife and soon a baby to take care of. According to Robert, Lito is making less than 500 Pecos or $10 a week.

When Lito and Robert told me about the baby I smiled and probably said something like, “WOW, how many months is she? How is she doing? Is she getting sick?” I just couldn’t get myself to say congratulations. I love kids. As a matter of fact, my wife Jessica and I are expecting our fifth child any day now. But in Lito's case, first, they are not legally married. Second, I suspect that the pregnancy was not planned. And third, not only do they have a challenging life just struggling to survive, but now a little one will have to join them in their struggle. At the same time, I have to remind myself that whenever a new baby comes into the world, there is no such thing as an accident. God is never caught by surprise. He is in control and His plan is proceeding perfectly and on schedule. I pray that this little one will someday worship and glorify God and that the Lord will somehow them and and me by allowing me to have some small part in that.

I have given a lot of thought about being poor and rich during the last few years and I started asking myself this question, “What’s so wrong with being poor?” Of course nobody wants to be poor, but it’s not inherently evil. Many groups show us video clips, pictures, and brochures of sad looking poor children. They tug at our heart strings and cause us to thank God for all that we have. I am personally moved and involved with helping the poor, but not because I pity them. On the contrary, there is a lot to envy about them. They have a keen sense of the frailty of life and the control God has over it. This knowledge makes many of them very open to the good news that Jesus forgives sins and has a new home in Heaven for those who trust in Him alone. I also see the poor having fun together with family and friends without the use of expensive toys or things. With no more than a few sticks, marbles, or just a little imagination, the kids have hours of fun. What is even more amazing is that they can do it without a Playstation or computer. I also see strong family and community bonds among them as they watch out and care for each other as best they can. If you think about it, being rich has many pitfalls as well. The bible says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven. I have seen many rich people who seem to be slaves to their businesses and possessions.

All that being said, this new little one of Lito’s that is coming into the world may have to deal with many obstacles, but will also has the opportunity to be a child or God. If he or she does become His, then all the hardships of this life will have been worth it and are not even worthy to be pitied or complained about in light of what God has waiting.

Right now, I am trying to get Lito a job. God seems to be opening the door for Lito to drive a pedicab in our neighborhood. Our friend Mang Bert told us about an opening.

Lito would work six days a week and make about 300 Pecos a day ($6). This would be about $140 a month, which is more than triple what he makes now. He will have to rent the bike for about 45 Pecos a day (just under a dollar). If it works out, he can eventually buy his own bike for about 7,000 Pecos ($140). Jessica and I are helping to get Lito started by covering the costs of his paper work, bus fare, uniforms, and dues. Please pray that this job will work out because it will really bless Lito, His girlfriend, their new baby, and Robert. So far Lito has not appeared to be receptive to the gospel like Robert has been. Also pray that his heart would soften and that God would give him saving faith. We have begun a bible study under the bridge with a local church ministering to the 15 families that also live under that bridge.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bible Study at the Bridge

Praise the Lord, we started a bible study at the bridge. After months of searching I found a Filipino pastor in the area who has devoted his life to serving God and the poor. During my search for him, a mutual friend gave his number. His name is Sonny Malangis. I called him and we agreed to meet at a restaurant near the bridge. It was then that we discovered that I met Pastor Sonny before - actually he met me. He attended a preaching conference we held last July and he sat in on a seminar that I taught.

I learned that Pastor Sonny (Standing in front of his church) has a church that is about a 25 minute walk away. He has committed to walking to the bridge every Sunday afternoon to teach my friends there the word of God in Tagalog. I knew right awayI would like Pastor Sonny. When I took him to the bridge, he immediately began to engage with the families living there. He began to laugh with them and to talk about life with them. I'm praying that all of my friends there will become followers of Jesus Christ and that we will either plant a church right there or that we will be able to bring them to pastor Sonny's church to worship on Sunday mornings.

Kuya Edwin (the man in the center of the picture) and his wife Charlyn have stood out to be a core couple at the bridge. They speak the most English of all those living under the bridge so between their limited English and my limited Tagalog we are able to understand each other pretty well. Kuya Edwin built several benches so that the people wouldn’t have to sit on the ground any longer during the bible study.

Edwin and Charlyn opened up their home so that the kids can meet in it for bible study while the adults meet separate for their bible study. Our friend Merriam (holding the books, Charlyn is standing to the far left) agreed to teach the kids which is an extra joy for me to see since the Lord used Jessica and I in the process of drawing her to Himself.

The space under the bridge where Edwin and Charlyn live is tight, but it works well for little ones to hear the word of God, do some coloring, play games, and eat snacks. Merriam is teaching the kids bible stories starting with The Creation and the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, to the story of Jesus Christ and the Salvation He offers to all those who trust in Him alone.

Every week these precious little ones would run out to the road to greet me and then run back down to the bottom of the bridge to let everyone know that I was there. Now I have the pleasure of seeing them learn about the Lord! Pray with me for God to open their hearts and give them faith to trust in Him as their Savior.

It is also a great joy to see Robert helping to lead the worship in song because he is the first person that I met at the bridge and the first one there that the Lord used me to draw to Himself. We provided a guitar for Robert and I can't wait to see him again because I found a few cassette tapes and books of Tagalog worship songs for him.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

This typhoon thing takes getting used to

This whole typhoon thing takes a little getting used to. Being a native California boy has gotten me used to earthquakes, but falling trees, sheets of rain that seem to fly sideways, heavy winds that topple billboards, pummel signs, knock down walls, launch roofs, and blow down houses is completely new to me.

I even started writing this blog on my PDA (my little electronic organizer) because we were without power for two days. We woke up on Thursday morning and learned that power was out in the entire manila area, city of more than 14 million people. Now, there are a lot of electronic gadgets that I can get by without, but we were really missing our air conditioning. Despite cloud filled skies and continuous rain, it was very hot and sticky. After a night of hard rain the winds from the typhoon grew stronger. Schools and government offices were shut down giving me lots of time to think. I couldn't help thinking about my friends living under the bridge. When the wind caused our windows to rumble I remembered that they have no windows. The shanties that they live in have many openings that wind and rain can rip through.

Charlyn is my key contact at the bridge because she is the only one with a cell phone. I sent her a text message around noon to see how everyone was doing. She told me that the wind was really strong and the river was rising, but everyone was okay. My cell phone service was going on and off, but just after lunch she text-ed me again. She told me that some of the block walls around the bridge and near their house had fallen down from the force of the typhoon. She also told me that one of the houses got blown into the river. Thank God no one was killed!

After the worst of the typhoon had past I decided to drive over to check on my friends. Other than some minor flooding and being littered with fallen banana trees and other foliage, my neighborhood seemed to have faired well. As I began driving there I saw that the way to the bridge looked like a battle field. The streets were filled with uprooted trees, downed signs, fences, and stunned people doing their best to clean it up.

As I neared their place I noticed that the road was closed. I parked and walked a few blocks to the bridge. What at sight! About a 75 foot section of a twenty plus foot high block wall had fallen over the road and bridge. There was a large crane, dump truck, and a crew of men dismantling the remains of the wall. The path that served to get to the homes of most of the people from the bridge was completely blocked.

Looking at the foot of the bridge I could see where the kids would often gather to wave good-bye to me as I left. I remembered the time when they all posed for me at the end of the bridge.

Now that spot was covered with the remains of the block wall. The little ones who live down the covered path were now locked in until the crews and cranes could clear out all the debris. Sadly, to save money it is likely that the owner will not remove the broken cement from the walk way to their homes. Their simple walk home from school has turned into a literal hike.

As soon as my friends saw me several of them came over to me anxious to tell me about what had happened. I was amazed at the site of this huge wall hanging over the road. It looked like it could fall at any moment. They told me that this was not the only wall to have fallen; another wall fell right where their houses are. I asked if I could see them, to which they eagerly agreed. They led me down a rickety old hand made ladder that dropped about ten feet down on the side of the bridge opposite the fallen block wall. We had to slide and crawl through several small spaces until we reached their homes on the other side of the bridge. These small spaces were actually more homes of other families from the bridge.

I was shocked to see the place where I had seen the little children play so many times. Just a couple of weeks earlier my son Kian had set up a small basket ball hoop on the wall which was now laying face down on their play area. The fallen wall extended across the ground just two feet shy of about four houses. The path to Edwin and Charlyn’s house was cut off on both sides. I had to crawl under a small space between the fallen wall and the ground to get to their house. Once there, they quickly served me a hot cup of coffee (Filipino hospitality!) and I snapped off a few pictures. I could see that a house that was on the second level of houses was gone. Charlyn told me that it was blown down and fell into the river which washed it away. We all thanked God together that no one was hurt. It was interesting to note that the wall fell down all around the area where we hold our bible study. Since this area was left unharmed, Lord willing, we will resume tomorrow. Not even a typhoon can stop the Word of God from being taught to these dear people and I thank the Lord for the opportunity to be a part of it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

She knew her son was different, but she didn't know why

Our Sunday afternoon Bible study at the bridge is going well. The other day as Pastor Sonny taught from the word of God, I was able to show a few visitors from our mission (Pastor Paul and Judy Snuffer) the ministry. It gives me great joy to see Robert, my first friend from the bridge, leading the worship songs, everyone paying attention, reading along in their bibles, and asking questions. I was amazed to see for the second week in a row a few visitors from outside. I am also enjoying seeing friendships deepen among the people at the bridge like I had not observed there before.

As usual, its always fun to see the little ones in their bible study. Pastor Paul took a few good pictures that I thought I'd share. Merriam has been faithfully teaching the children and we were pleased to have her sister Marife join us for the first time this week. Josette also faithfully helps teach the children, which allows us to separate them into there age groups and teach them better. We were also able to move the kids Bible study from a small space under the bridge to a larger shanty. It blesses me to see the kids looking forward to teachers Meriam and Josette's coming each week. They usually follow us out to the car and wave us good-bye.

After the study we all sat around talking when I could see the pain in the face of one of the mothers. Her name is Charlita. She was holding her son Chariel in her arms as she began to cry and tell us there story. I had noticed Chariel before, but only from a distance. He is a three year old little guy who is always in his mom's arms and cries a lot. He is one of the few children who does not join the other kids for the bible study. His mom comes when she can, and now I understand when Chariel doesn't join the other kids. Seeing him up close I noticed that his lips, fingers, and toes are blue.

Charlita told me that she wanted to tell me earlier, but felt ashamed to ask for help. She knew that her son was different, but she did not know why or what the problem was until just a few days earlier. Her only son Chariel was having difficulty breathing and passed out. They took him to a doctor and right away he knew that Chariel has a heart problem. It was a blessing the Pastor Paul and Judy were there because they were able to share that over 30 years ago their son was also a blue baby and had to have his heart repaired. I told Charlita that I would help them as much as I can.

The next day I picked up Charlita, her husband Ariel, and Chariel (Charlita + Ariel = Chariel). First we went to Philippine General Hospital (PGH). As we were driving I could hear Chariel laboring to breath. I began thinking about the man who was blind from birth in John 9:1-3. In verse two, His disciples asked Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replied in verse three, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." Was this why Chariel was born with a defective heart? Is the Lord going display Himself to Chariel and the people from the bridge through His power and love?

When we arrived at the PGH emergency room the doctors told us that he needed to be admitted so that they could run some tests. They assured me that he was welcome, but they also warned me that at the time, it was TWO PEOPLE PER BED. They wanted to make sure that we were okay with that before they admitted Chariel. Then what I had observed began to makes sense. I saw several beds with more than one patient on them. I saw children hooked up to breathing machines laying next to children hooked up to heart monitors on the same bed. The doctor told us that we could also go to the Philippines Heart Center. Charlita and Ariel left it up to me (which is the culturally correct thing for a Filipino to do). I decided to try the other hospital hoping that it would have more room and because it specializes in heart surgery.

At the Philippines Heart Center the doctor seemed a little irritated and asked Chariel's parents why they didn't have this problem correct soon after his birth. He said that the doctor who delivered Chariel should have recognized the problem right away and recommended the surgery. However, the doctor at the heart center quickly changed his tone as Charlita explained that they couldn't afford to have the baby in the hospital. They delivered the baby by themselves in their home. As the doctor explained to me the problem with Chariel's heart he pulled out a sheet of paper breaking down the costs of the surgery. If the tests determine that they can do the surgery, then it will cost about $7,000. That is cheap compared to having heart surgery in the U.S., but it is much more than missionary family can afford. We will ask the Philippine government for help, but if the Lord puts it on your heart to help, all of us over here would deeply appreciate it. Either way, all eyes are on God to see what He will do through us and you. Stay tuned.