I was sitting in the back of the orphanage jeepney watching Pastor Allan become more and more animated. Except for Pastor Allan, his wife (Irene), a couple of their kids, and me, the back of the jeepney was empty. They were the last family to be dropped off before Matthew, Lee, and I arrived back at the orphanage after a church meeting. It was night, and Pastor Allan’s kids were dozing off. The plastic coverings on the sides of the jeepney weren’t snapped shut, and they flapped as we drove. House lights and city noises streamed inside, but my attention was entirely on what Pastor Allan was saying.
There is a city on the island of Cebu called Cordova that is making a lot of money by exploiting their children. Parents make their children produce Internet pornography for old men in the United States. And the children get rewards for doing these things, so they are often willing to do them.
Pastor Allan has a visible love for the people of this city. He was telling me about his plan of finding other trades for these people so they wouldn’t have to participate in “cyber sex.” He wanted to buy a welding machine and teach the men how to weld, but he had no idea how much one would cost. And he wanted to find a trade for the women.
He seemed very optimistic about the future for the whole area, so I felt confident enough to say something like, “So, you do think that the situation may get better in the Philippines, and that there might not always be so much poverty?” He confidently said he does believe things could get better. I confided in him that the poverty in the Philippines seems like such a huge problem that I often feel like it would be impossible to eradicate it all, but I also told him that his hope really encouraged me.
He then reaffirmed that he really does think there is hope. His excited optimism rubbed off on me, and I remembered I had heard that places in New York City like Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen used to be so dangerous that police didn’t like to go there, but now I’ve been to those cleaned-up places, and I told him about this.
I think what most inspired me was his joy and optimism despite his own circumstances. Pastor Allan used to work for a call center, but he got in an accident and lost his teeth. He now has fake teeth and can’t speak well enough to work at a call center. (But while he worked at the call center, he was very sick because he had to work through the night for Western markets.)
Now Pastor Allan is a pastor, and he works very hard, but he doesn’t make a lot of money. Sometimes his kids eat or sleep at the orphanage. Moreover, Pastor Allan’s electricity was off for over a month, not because they couldn’t pay for it but because their landlady didn’t pay the electric bill even though they gave her the money.
I feel strange writing about these things because in the U.S. we don’t like to talk about how much money people make because it can be shameful. But no one in the U.S. or the Philippines who makes a lot of money has any cause to look down on Pastor Allan because I wouldn’t be surprised if he has twice the passion, work ethic, love, and determination that most of us have. I think people in the Philippines can feel a little bit of embarrassment by their poverty, but it is common, and they do talk about it. They need each other.
Pastor Allan told me his history that night in the jeepney, but he spoke more about his plans for Cordova. I was overcome with admiration as I watched him become increasingly enthusiastic as he told me his dreams. A week or two later I was at Matthew’s and Lee’s caregroup (small prayer group) listening to Pastor Allan give an update on Cordova. He was having some unforeseen obstacles. He found out that clergymen had come to Cordova before and told the people that God uses the cyber sex to bless them financially. He also realized how much it wasn’t just a matter of having other job opportunities. They loved the way of life cyber sex allows.
Pastor Allan did, however, find a place to hold a children’s service where they could play music and provide something other than cyber sex for the kids to do. He said it’s sad seeing the influence the cyber sex has had on the kids and how they dance. His kids started teaching them hand motions and clean dance moves to worship songs.
At the beginning of my fourth week in the Philippines, I visited the place in Cordova where they have their ministry to the kids. They have their events on the patio of a house that belongs to a Dutchman, his Filipino wife, and their two kids. (At one point later in the day, one of the Filipino girls held my arm next to the half-Dutch girl’s arm and said our skin color was similar. They seemed kind of surprised or excited about that. I think the half-Dutch kids have lived in the Philippines their whole lives, but I’m not sure.)
On the way to Cordova, a bunch of teens and young adults packed into the uncovered back of a vehicle, and it poured rain on them, but they were definitely having fun. I was in the front cab. A lot of the houses in Cordova are on stilts and everywhere was a little flooded and muddy. (It floods a LOT in Cebu.) Once we got to the Dutchman’s house, one group of people played the drums and other instruments in order to teach the Dutch man’s son how to play for the kids’ ministry, while a bunch of us played in their pool. (I think the only time I was actually chilly in the Philippines was when it got dusk and cloudy and we were still swimming, even though I was swimming in my clothes.)
After we swam, our hostess gave us all delicious shellfish and barbecue chicken kabobs. It was definitely my favorite meal while I was in the Philippines. Then Pastor Alan talked to us about Cordova. He told us that all around us people were making money off of their kids performing cyber sex, and he told us about the ministry he was starting. He asked everyone there if they could commit to coming once a month to help with the ministry and develop relationships with the kids in the area.
Except for Pastor Allan, his wife, and our host and hostess, I think everyone there was in their early teens to late twenties. Two boys from the orphanage were also there because they had been helping teach the kids dances along with Pastor Allan’s kids. And Pastor Allan pointed out the fact that God was using two kids from off the streets to serve other kids.
The group I was with in Cordova is also the group that runs the Sunday children’s ministry and youth group at His Dwelling Christian Church in Cebu City. They are extremely busy with school, college, or work, while also running ministries in the city. But they all agreed on the spot to help Pastor Allan. And I was overwhelmed.
I had just seen them all goofing off in the pool and laughing in the back of a truck in pouring rain. They are all so young, and they play and have fun like children. But their lives are serving God’s people. I wished I were that close to people in my church and that I was willing to build ministries and do great things even if it meant sacrificing as much of my time as they did.
That evening they all thanked me for coming and serving the orphans and said it surprised them that people were willing to come around the world to serve orphans in their country. I tried to tell them how much I respected all that they were doing. I wished I could serve their ministry, too, but Pastor Allan said I could go home and tell people about them.
That night was the first night I cried. I wanted to get through all five weeks without crying to prove to myself and others that I was strong, but that fourth week I decided it wasn’t worth it, and I was just numbing myself by not crying, not really being strong. I was riding back in the front cab of a jeepney. One of the guys I knew best was driving, and I was squished next to a girl who is around fifteen and was practically sitting on my lap.
We were talking, and out of my physical and emotional exhaustion I said something like, “My life is so meaningless compared to yours.”
“Oh, don’t ever say that, Miss Ariel,” the guy driving the car said. He was very abrupt and emphatic. It surprised me, and I think it touched me at the same time, and made me start to drop some tears that I might have gotten away with in the dark if the girl sitting on my lap hadn’t noticed and been like, “Ate Ariel is crying.”
“Oh,” the guy looked over at me very fast.
“Just a little bit,” I said, but then I started sniffling and crying more.
[Okay, yes, this is a rather embarrassing story, and I have gone back and forth a million times over whether or not I was going to post it. I decided to post it (but without the other people’s names in case it embarrasses them) for two reasons. One is I don’t want to give the impression that missions trips are easy and everyone should just up and go on one by themselves without spiritual support. I talked to Matthew and Lee while I was there, but it was still hard being away from my whole church and family. So I think this is part of giving a fuller picture of what it’s like in the Philippines and how a person might react. Second, the rest of the story really shows how God met me, so I will continue.]
The guy then very kindly and not at all arrogantly quoted full verses and references to try to make me feel better. (I did tell him that I knew I was crying partly because I was really tired.) Two verses he quoted were:
Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
He was glad when I started smiling again. He was like, “I can’t believe I made an American cry.” He said it was okay that I cried, though, because we all need encouragement sometimes.
Then we started talking about other things like how he met his girlfriend. And he was quoting from a book (I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris) written by the pastor of a church I used to attend. (I go to another sister church now.) I said something like, “Wow, God sent me to the other side of the world for you to give me dating advice from a book that my former pastor wrote.” [Another side note: I have an African friend who found this book in his little African village, and it changed the way he viewed marriage and dating. God really does work in awesome and mysterious ways.]
I was much more encouraged after that, though still a bit overwhelmed and kind of embarrassed. We dropped off someone who had been in the back of the vehicle, and the guy made some joke and told me not to cry. I don’t know if I looked like I was about to cry again or if it was just a coincidence, but the guy driving was like, “She already did.” And in my head, I was just like, “Wow.”
Now that I’ve been back in the U.S., I’ve seen through Facebook that the youth have been true to their word. They held a big music fest in Cordova, and they seem as passionate as ever about serving the Lord. School and other things have managed to engulf my time since I have been back, but I have been able to do a little for the people in Cebu, and I’ve slowly but surely been telling their story. And I have also followed their example and started becoming closer to people in my church. I have a long way to go, but as I have been reminded, God has a plan for me, and He hasn’t finished maturing any of us yet.