In 2009, I visited the Philippines where my brother has lived for over 30 years. He is a missionary, seminary professor, and church planter. I was privileged see where and how he lives in a suburb of Manila, and it changed the way I think about the world…and the way I think about my faith.
There was so much about that Asian foreign land that is good…and yet there was so much abject poverty it broke my heart. I understand why my brother has chosen to live there and I admire him for his sacrifice. I am so very glad that there are people in this world who give up so much to follow God’s leading. But could I ever be one of those people? Could I give up all of the creature comforts I have come to love so well?
In my novella, Manila Marriage App, there is a passage that talks about a creek community located upstream from the fictional seminary. The following is an excerpt:
The shanty was made of plywood covered with a corrugated metal roof. The room we stepped into was clean, but that was all there was—just the one room. An old wooden cushion-less couch leaned against the back wall. In the corner, on the rough concrete floor, was a narrow bunk bed with folded up mats underneath. Timothy had mentioned that seven people resided in this structure. From the size of the place, the residents lived all crammed together.
I was offered a seat on a wooden chair pulled up to a white plastic table. On the wall to the right, scant measures of rice, a few vegetables, half-a-chicken, and two lonely bottles of hot sauce sat on a pantry shelf. The only water available seemed to be a rain barrel full of brackish liquid placed outside under the eaves. And where was the bathroom?
I couldn’t help but be distraught at the lack of, well, everything I regarded as essential in a home. My arms wrapped around me, my breath hitching.
A tiny gray mouse huddled in a shadowy corner while two big, fat mosquitoes circled around the room. My skin prickled, just thinking about the creepy critters.
Timothy settled Pinky on the mattress-less bottom bunk, covering her with a threadbare scrap of blanket. He squatted down, whispering who knows what into her ear. Whatever he said had her giggling before she fell headlong into dreamland.
Despite the dilapidated dwelling, Liwayway and Pinky seemed to have many friends and support from the neighbors. One at a time, a dozen or so people popped their heads in to say a quick hello and drop off food, a few pieces of fruit, a plate of rolls—Timothy called the bread pan de sal—a coconut, and a tin of something called Skyflakes.
Liwayway’s hands fluttered as she busied herself, obviously determined to make us feel welcome. She switched on the two-burner propane stove and heated water for instant coffee—the very best in the Philippines, too. When the coffee was ready, she sliced a mango and broke out the Skyflakes. I was waiting for something unusual, but they were ordinary saltine crackers. The fruit and crackers hit the spot. What moved me more was her willingness to share the little she had. Wasn’t there some verse in the Bible about that?
In the New Testament, passages in both Mark and Luke tell how Jesus observed as people gave money to the collection boxes. Many of the wealthy were throwing in large sums, so very proud of their generosity. A poor widow came by with an offering of two small copper coins. That was all she had, and yet she gave it away. How was that widow going to live? How was she going to eat? She sacrificed all she had because she had faith God would take care of her.
The rich gave much more and yet the widow’s gift meant more? Interesting concept. A song from my childhood plays through my mind—Little is Much When God Is in It. The chorus goes like this:
Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.
I have so many material possessions here in the States, so much food, so much comfort, so much I take for granted on a daily basis. As I write in my warm, snug little house, I look around me and see more wealth than the people of that creek community will ever have. In the Philippines, a person’s gift of a dollar might mean a great deal more than all the checks I write to my local church. That’s humbling.
In Manila Marriage App, the heroine, Shay Callahan, has a choice to make at the end of the book. Stay or go? I like to think that if God called me to serve in the mission field I would have the courage to listen to his command. I haven’t had to choose, although my brother did. But I do have a choice as to how I live here in the good old U.S.A. We have the homeless, the poor, and the downtrodden right here in the town where I live. I am trying to be more mindful of that.
Dear Lord, I pray you continue to break my heart for the people right here at home. Keep my eyes open and help me to be your hands and feet in the world where you have placed me. In Jesus name, Amen.