|Commentary: Finding a kingdom in heaven in Manila
A man searches through bags of garbage for
recyclables to resell in the Payatas landfill in Manila, Philippines.
The island nation's capital city is one of the most densely populated
places on earth. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.
Fifth in a series about ministry in the Philippines
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 19, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)
God sent me to the Philippines twice this summer. I think there was a plan.
Manila, a city of about 11 million people, is jam-packed. Two-lane
streets become three, four, five lanes or more as taxis, cars, buses,
jeepneys, tricycles and miserable-looking horses pulling heavy carts
full of passengers fight for a piece of the road.
As one of the most densely populated places on the planet, there is
not enough room or jobs for everyone to scrape together a living to put
food on the table every day or a roof over their heads every night.
Families lives in a cemetery where mothers put their infants down for
a nap in a discarded laundry basket suspended between tomb stones. Men
stand in waist-deep garbage praying for rain as they wash bits of
plastic in hopes of selling it for a few pesos.
United Methodist Mary Johnston Hospital, established in 1906 to serve
the poor, has not forgotten its mission. Doctors, nurses and
administrators take food and medicine to their neighbors in one of the
most dangerous communities in the city.
"Whoever welcomes one such child..."
A UMNS Photo Essay by Kathy L. Gilbert
In all of these sad, bad places are United Methodists bringing Christ and hope.
Waves of misery
In July, I was part of a delegation from the United Methodist Board
of Global Ministries visiting street children and the poor. In August, I
returned as part of a team from the United Methodist Board of Church
and Society meeting with human rights advocates. (A second series of
stories from that trip will be published in the next few weeks.)
The only place I visited both times was Smokey Mountain, a
smoldering, stinking sea of garbage that stretches as far as the eye can
see. Hundreds of the poorest of the poor call it home.
Smokey Mountain is one of the last places on earth you would want to
go. But Sun Sook Kim, a United Methodist missionary, has spent 20 years
in ministry to its residents. She plans to retire next year and, instead
of going home to Korea, she will stay with the people she has come to
Kim described how visitors and church volunteers react when she takes
them to Smokey Mountain. Many sit in their cars and cry, unable even to
A makeshift baby cradle lies beside a tomb in Manila North
Cemetery, where some of the city's poorest residents live.
Families have built makeshift shacks on the edges of the trash pile.
As one woman said, "When it rains outside, it rains inside," pointing to
the home she has cobbled together with scavenged lumber and tin.
Garbage trucks constantly rumble in to dispose of the city's trash.
Residents of Smokey Mountain eagerly rip open the bags hoping to find
treasures — a bit of copper, glass, plastic or other recyclable goods.
The lucky ones make about $2 a day.
Smokey Mountain was not on the agenda for my second trip. However, I
had a gift to deliver. An outpouring of donations from my colleagues at
United Methodist Communications sent me back to the garbage site with
$500. Kim used the money to purchase 600 pairs of rubber slippers in
every size for the children, women and men.
For many people, especially the children, the shoes were the first new ones they had owned.
Welcome the children
Rebecca Asedillo, a staff executive with Global Ministries, was part
of the team in July. A native of the Philippines, Asedillo said the
experiences reminded her of Matthew 18:5: "Whoever welcomes one such
child in my name welcomes me."
Julie Solimano, a resident of the Smokey Mountain landfill,
holds her grandchild during a visit by the Rev. Johann Osias, Rebecca
Asedillo and Elenita Laurente.
"That is at the very core of our ministry as Christians, I think," she said.
The city's first Smokey Mountain dump became an international
embarrassment in the early 1980s and was closed in 1995 though a new
site was opened just a mile away. Asedillo said the "New" Smokey
Mountain reminded her that the problem remains the same. "How does one
uproot poverty?" she asks.
"The civil society and people's organizations are quite strong in the
Philippines. They know that as the rich get richer, the poor gets
poorer. The church cannot stop at charity. The church needs to advocate
for social change."
Kim recalls that, when she first went to Smokey Mountain, she was
angry and couldn't understand why people were forced to live in such
conditions. She wanted to tend to their wounds and provide decent
clothes to wear and nutritious food to eat.
A teacher at Puno United Methodist Church's Masa Mission Center leads
her students in prayer.
God answered her anguished prayers with Matthew 6:30-34, in which
Jesus reminds us that God is watching over his children: "Strive first
for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will
be given to you as well."
Kim and other United Methodists are bringing hope to the poor in the
Philippines. As she said, "I cannot offer them a kingdom here on earth,
but I can show them the way to a kingdom in heaven."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this series based on her trip 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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Philippine Street School
Street children find haven at United Methodist center
Filipino church ministers to destitute families
Church offers hope to Filipinos living amid garbage
Struggling hospital continues to offer free health care
Philippines: Mercy and Mission - A series about ministry in the Philippines
United Methodist Women
United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Committee on Relief
Philippines Episcopal Areas
Funding and Giving