All a person has to do to feel completely inadequate to strike a successful blow at poverty while in Cebu is wake up in the morning. No matter where you go during the day, it surrounds you. If you walk out your gated driveway, there might be a woman caroling for money, even in July. If you drive down the street, you are sure to pass run-down shops and homes while you try not to hit skinny stray dogs. Once you get to the stoplight, a handful of men sweating in the heat will ask if you would like to buy rags, bottled water, or a newspaper. When you arrive at your destination, self-employed parking attendants will back you into your parking space and ask for a couple pesos. On your way to the building, children will come up to you with their hands out asking for money or selling bracelets.
Even if you never get out of your car, you breathe poverty into your lungs in the form of car exhaust and sewage. You see filthy and sometimes naked men, women, and children walking along the curb. A child might even knock on your car window and raise her palm to you.
The problem is complicated and extensive, and for those people who do feel like they have a calling to wage all-out war against poverty and rip its deep, sucking tentacles out of the Philippines, I imagine it is easy to become consumed. I don’t know how they could retain the energy and motivation to continue the fight without constant refreshment from others.
The temptation to succumb to weariness must be very strong for the valiant members of His Dwelling Christian Church in Cebu City because they face the unique challenge of not only spreading the gospel, but also administering tangible help to those struggling in their own congregation and the community in whatever ways they can. I have to admit that their enthusiasm to continue the many programs that they oversee might at first cause someone to think they could never grow weary. But, after spending a few weeks with them, I am sure that they could use more troops and encouragement simply because I know if I were them, I would be constantly exhausted.
A relatively small group of people administer a feeding program, prison ministries, an orphanage, a Bible school, a youth group, prayer groups, a Friday prayer service, and a hospital ministry. Furthermore, many individuals lead multiple ministries. Though most ministries consist of a group of people, the hospital ministry is down to one man who visits patients suffering from diseases such as tuberculosis whenever he is able. In addition to raising 25 kids, Matthew and Lee teach at the Bible school once a week, lead a prayer group, and serve at the church in other ways.
The church also oversees over 20 (maybe even 30) other churches on the surrounding islands. Many of the pastors are young men who have seen how much of a need there is to spread the hope of the gospel in those regions and create a church community. I had the opportunity to get to know a few of them, and even though they are in their early 20’s, they have the responsibility of serving a congregation of believers and the surrounding communities. Still, they remain humble, always asking questions and trying to better understand God’s Word. And, they have a great sense of humor. Some of them have even been educated for lucrative careers but decided to serve God for little pay instead.
They remind me of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Their example is amazing.
His Dwelling Christian church will soon receive some support from Sovereign Grace Ministries (of which my church is a part); however, before then, their senior pastor, Cornelio Ebo, and his wife and son will go to America so that Pastor Ebo will be able to attend the Sovereign Grace Pastors College. The church fully supports his going; however, for the ten months he is gone, church members will have to take on even more responsibilities.
Despite all of the time and resources the church spends to bless others, the congregation rents out different spaces for its own services and events. The Bible students live on the top floor of a small high-rise which needs major improvements; however, if they were to make any, the landlord would likely raise the rent. This building is also used for Friday prayer services, the Bible school, and the church office.
Matthew estimates that it would cost the church $75,000 (U.S.) for property and $150,000 (U.S.) to build a three-story building. He came up with the interesting idea to build a structure with a Christian bookstore and something like a Chick-fil-A on the bottom floor to generate income for the church and then have the sanctuary on the second floor and church offices and the Bible school on the third floor. However, the church doesn’t have the capital for that right now.
I pray that the Lord blesses the church in amazing ways! Everyone at His Dwelling has been so welcoming to me. They have gone out of their way to talk to me and include me. They even welcomed me in their program the first Sunday I visited. I feel honored to have met them. Their determination in the midst or real trials is inspiring, and I know that I’m really going to miss them when I come home.