|Filipino church ministers to destitute families|
Bishop Solito K. Toquero (far right) visits with
some of the young girls living at the Gilead Center, a residential
shelter for street children supported by The United Methodist Church.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
Second in a series about ministry in the Philippines
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 16, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)
and Vince, both age 12, were born in a cemetery in Manila, and until
recently lived among the tombs with no hope of a future beyond the
They were no different than thousands of street children wandering
around the 11 million residents of Manila until a United Methodist
pastor saw their potential.
The boys now live at the Gilead Center, a residential shelter for
street children supported by the Women's Division of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
The children are grateful for small things: a roof over their heads
when it rains, food on the table when they are hungry and a warm bed
inside a safe room at night.
"I was not afraid there because it was where I was born," Kent said
of his life in the cemetery. "I like being clean now; you could never be
The Rev. R. Randy Day, then top executive of the United Methodist
Board of Global Ministries, and Rebecca Asdellio, also a board staff
member and a native of the Philippines, traveled to Manila in July to
visit several ministries that care for street children and the poor.
Life in the cemetery
Manila North Cemetery is the city's largest cemetery. It is also where many of the poorest residents live.
Everywhere in the cemetery are signs of life. Scraps of wood and tin become walls and roofs, resting on and between the tombs.
Born and raised in a nearby cemetery in Manila, Kent and Vince now live in the shelter with 25 other children.
Clotheslines heavy with wet jeans, shirts and children's clothes are
strung from trees. A basket lined with rags and shaded by a torn
umbrella contains a worn child’s toy. Dogs and cats weave their way
around the tombs sniffing for overlooked bits of food. Men, women and
children walk dispassionately among graves.
Joseph Saneigo was washing a few clothes when leaders from the Board
of Global Ministries, Bishop Solito K. Toquero of the Manila Area and
others from the Philippines Annual (regional) Conference came to see
where Kent and Vince’s life began.
"I make 30 pesos a year to take care of a few of the tombs," Saneigo
explained. He was buying water from his neighbors who have built homes
on top of the graves. It costs 4 pesos for a bucket of water.
Saneigo said he lays a mattress on top of a tomb at night but that "the mosquitoes are very bad."
Ministry among the tombs
The Rev. Allan D. Casuco started Sta. Mesa Heights United Methodist
Church outside the walls of the cemetery and has built a congregation
among the people of North Manila Cemetery.
"We are a very mission-minded congregation," he said. The 200-plus
members sponsor children like Kent and Vince so they can climb out of
A clothesline hangs over tombs in Manila North Cemetery.
One woman who has six children said one of her children is sponsored
by the church, which means he gets fed, clothed and can attend school.
"The pastor came here to visit and he was so happy he made us want to join him," she said.
"This is truly a story of resurrection," said Day. "You have raised up a church out of the ashes."
After seeing where and how the people lived, Asedillo said she was
touched by the pastor's devotion to the people living among the tombs.
"Clearly he cared for them; he wanted them to know Christ and
experience his grace," said Asedillo. "Besides their spiritual needs, he
was eager to provide the people access to resources that the church is
able to provide –– like making it possible for some of the children to
attend the church's day care/nursery/kindergarten school."
A balm for children
The Gilead Center is a calm, clean green space outside the city.
Children play on swing sets and eat at long tables inside a warm,
tasty-smelling dining room. The center is surrounded by mango and citrus
Priscilla R. Atuel, a United Methodist deaconess and director of the
center, explains the name Gilead comes from Jeremiah 8:22: "Is there no
balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of
the daughter of my people not been restored?"
Some of Manila's poorest residents live in shacks made of scrap metal and wood
built above the tombs.
The Gilead Center is a place for healing for children living in especially difficult circumstances, said Atuel.
"The pastor [Casuco] asked if he could bring us some children from
the cemetery," said Atuel. "Can you imagine children living in a
Most of the children in the center came from North Manila Cemetery or
from Rizal Park, a large public park inhabited by many homeless people.
Local United Methodist churches and the Board of Global Ministries send money to support the children.
Currently, 11 girls and 16 boys live in two dormitories. Bright pink
walls, bunk beds and bed coverings make the Ethel Lou D. Talbert Shelter
for girls a cheerful place to live. The shelter is named for the former
wife of retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, who wanted to establish a
safe haven for girls living on the streets.
The blue walls and bunk beds of the Kapatiran Shelter are just as inviting to boys.
Priscilla R. Atuel is a United Methodist deaconess and director of the Gilead Center.
Atuel proudly talks about Jennifer Gamutia, a former shelter resident
who received a nursing assistant certificate from Asian College for
Science and Technology last March. "It’s a dream come true for me,"
Gamutia said. "Now I can look forward to a better future for me and my
"Jennifer stayed in Gilead Center for Children and Youth Welfare for
three years where she finished her secondary education," Atuel said. "It
is truly wonderful when we are given glimpses into the fruits of our
labor after these years."
The center takes in children ages 7 to 13 until they are ready to be
transferred to high schools. Parents visit their children as often as
possible, and the church also helps parents develop skills that can
provide sustainable incomes.
Atuel said graduates of the center are working toward high school diplomas, higher education degrees or certifications.
"Isn’t it wonderful what the church can do?" she asks.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this report based on her visit to the
Philippines in July.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Philippines: Mercy and Mission - A series about ministry in the Philippines
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