I (Leslie) am a huge fan of missions. Does that surprise you? Do you think, “Well, of course she loves missions...she has been a missionary for many years...that’s obvious”. Well, what I mean is, I love being a missionary and I love that being involved in missions can be a life-changing opportunity. I remember our pastor in the US, Roger Adams, who has said that in any church he is the pastor, he gets them interested and active in missions...it broadens the views that the church members have and gets them excited about service outside the church.
I recently had the awesome privilege of seeing this life-changing process up close and personal over spring break, as I led a group of nine middle school students and five chaperones from Okinawa Christian School International to Manila, in the Philippines to minister to children living in poverty. We had begun planning this trip nearly a year ago and the students and I had been meeting nearly every week to plan, pray, learn what the Bible says about ministry and to learn our performances. After the earthquake in Tohoku, I checked on the possibility of changing our destination to Sendai, but found out that anyone under the age of 21 wasn’t allowed in the area, so I felt that God was still calling us to Manila.
We went to minister with these marginalized children prepared with a song in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines), two wordless plays about Jesus and a ton of beads and face painting supplies. We simply wanted the children we met to understand that we love them and that there is hope in Jesus. We worked with Metro Ministries Philippines, a division of Bill Wilson’s Metro Ministries out of New York and were able to take part in their work of Sidewalk Sunday Schools.
We were able to perform three times and were able to do beading and face-painting four times to probably over 1000 children. Our venues were all different and each one exposed us to a progressively more difficult environment. Each evening our middle school students met, to discuss what the kids had experienced that day, and then prayed for the next group and our ministry there. We talked a lot about what it means to be a servant and to be a “light of the world”.
The area that made the most impact on our kids was the “Smokey Mountain” area...a huge garbage dump inhabited by people and children who make their living by going through the garbage looking for items to sell. It made our students thankful for the love and care they receive from their parents, and many of them made pledges to complain less and be more thankful. The third area we visited, though, made the kids see the impact of their prayers. At this site, we visited and worked with kids in a slum area that had been the recipients of a history of love and exposure to the Gospel of Christ for about a year. The difference we saw in these kids and the stories we heard about Bible studies being started and lives being changed as a result of the ministry of Metro Ministries brought tears to our eyes. There is still much to be done, but there is a small fire of hope there.
Across from this slum area was another slum area...much more primitive and dirty and without any amenities at all. The people living in this slum were obviously leery of strangers and were not in the least welcoming. These are the Muslim Badjao tribal people who are from the southern part of the Philippines and who left due to the conflict between Christians and Muslims there. As a group, they left their homes and came to Manila to settle in this dump area. Close-knit and private, they have not allowed their children to attend the Sidewalk Sunday Schools or take part in any of the activities.
As we arrived and setup our tables for beading and face-painting, we settled on an area near the Muslim group. As other children were happily and with much enthusiasm allowing their hands and faces to be painted and were enjoying the beads, the children from the tribe were cautiously and silently approaching the back of the tables. Several of them came up and indicated they would like to take part even though they weren’t in line...we went ahead and helped them out.
After this, we started the Sidewalk Sunday School, and all the children came over to sit on the blue tarps...all except the children from the Muslim group. They had never attended before and this day seemed to be no different. But after we started the program, a couple of them slipped in and sat, enjoying the performance close up. We didn’t realize all this until much later as we started playing with all the children afterward. We heard that this had been the first time the children had participated at all and the Metro staff are encouraged that this may be a way into the group. So are we...our kids feel that God allowed them to be a part of something big using their prayers and faithfulness as a catalyst.
That’s the way it is with God..he calls us to join Him and to see what HE is doing around the world and in our neighborhoods and then allows us to grow and feel the blessing of that partnership.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-15