As you guys have probably figured out by now, I'm not the best writer when it comes to really serious topics and deep thoughts (I prefer telling crazy stories about floods and Jeepneys!) about poverty and foreign missions. I have been processing and experiencing so much about those two topics the past two months and I have not really fully formed my thoughts and heart yet, so I have remained hesitant to write any thoughts here. I know once given more time, the Lord will continue to work and show me his truth and light about poverty and missions, but until them I'm just going to let people who are a lot better at expressing these ideas do it!
The first a some thoughts from the HOPE intern in India. She really expresses a lot of what I see in the Philippines on a daily basis. Just exchange Indian with Filipinos and you basically have my thoughts.
"The more I see of these rural Indians, the more I question what drives their existence. It’s subsistence living at its finest. There’s nothing to be gained except survival for the day; curl up on a mat on the dusty floor at night in the air-condition-less room, preparing to wake up with the dawn to start all over again, in the rice fields, washing clothes, feeding the naked baby, keeping the dogs away from the family and little food. I guess I don’t understand what it is that gives these people hope. Is it merely the fact that this is how they have ALWAYS lived? Raised this way, they know nothing else? I’d like to think that the power of Jesus gives hope–most of the people I’ve seen are believers–but hope for what?! Surviving one more day? Waiting for heaven with everything in them?
Some days I’m filled with total disgust at American consumer culture which lives to be entertained. Shoot, these Indians don’t even know what entertainment is aside from a pale American girl making faces at their babies. That’s not part of their reason to live. But more than entertainment and pleasure, Americans–and all wealthy citizens really–live for freedom. Freedom to go where you want, buy what you want, see whomever you want and do what you want with these friends. When these things are taken away because of poverty that can’t fund a bus fare from one slum to the next, poverty that maybe could afford a coke but certainly not a book or the education to understand it, poverty that kills off your friends and makes your only reason for existence with them the joint goal of survival… this is a terrible kind of bondage."
This next link is to a really moving article written a few years ago about a huge 50 acre trash pile in metro Manila that collapsed 11 years ago killing hundreds of scavengers. This man is an incredibly gifted writer and does more with one paragraph than I could hope to do with 100. Here is a small sample if you don't have time to read the whole thing, but I HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to read it.
"We wander through warrens of shacks, built on blocks to weather the monsoon. The soot-covered houses seem half destroyed, and the people next to the dump don't own the land they live on. Squatters' shacks overhang the banks of the Pasig River, which has been turned into a vast cloaca for the city's waste and yearly rises above its banks to sweep away the most vulnerable settlements. Manila has a severe monsoon, and informal housing among the slum population leaves tens of thousands living in flood-prone, cramped, disease-ridden squalor. Even in the worst locations, or on the periphery where the city fades away into the rice fields and swamps, there is always the threat of a more powerful economic force that can edge squatters out from whatever place they've taken as theirs. They are haunted everywhere by the bulldozers of progress.
Time and again in Manila, huge slums have been emptied to avoid the unwanted notice of the outside world. Imelda Marcos was notorious for clearing out tens of thousands of slum dwellers in the mid-1970s before the arrival of the Miss Universe pageant, the visit of President Gerald Ford, and an IMF-World Bank meeting. Not to be outdone, her nominally democratic successor Corazon Aquino reportedly evicted 600,000 squatters during her presidency. When prices rise and landowners want to clear shantytowns from their property, one of the favored methods in Manila is arson, known as “hot demolition.” A popular technique involves releasing a rat or cat soaked in kerosene and set alight into a settlement, where the terrified creature can start dozens of fires before it dies.
But even in this swampy hell there is a degree of remove, of levity. At the edge of the pier, under a tin roof, a karaoke machine is running, the words spooling out on a screen beneath a shot of a beautiful girl walking on a beach. A young girl in rubber boots, covered with mud, grabs the microphone and starts singing a Filipino pop song in a cracked but totally heartfelt voice. The mangangalahigs have distilled survival, and even joy, down to an essence. That life prevails here is a testament to what can be endured; in the midst of squalor, laughter and karaoke can still be heard. Even the landscape insistently offers up signs of regeneration: when we leave the pier, there is a dim rainbow bent over the piled housing of Navotas. North of the slum, the fenced-off dumpsite of Smokey Mountain lies dormant and abandoned, after ten years its slopes already beginning to be reclaimed by grass and shrubs."
There is a hope I have seen in the poor of the Philippines that I believe is unmatched in most of the impoverished world. More thoughts to come later.