Manilla Feeding Ministry...

Manilla: Philippines

The time is 5am. I'm awake, but I don't know why, I am still half an hour early for my alarm to go off. I stare at the bed above me and I listen to the rain splatter on my port hole and the side of the ship. All is peaceful in my room. All are sleeping. No one is really ready for the day to start.

I'd spent the week leading up to this day trying to prepare myself for what I was going to experience, but how can you. You can't imagine what it will be like for any experience, especially when you have yet to experience it yet. But I had heard from others and their experiences, so I had time to brace myself to expect to be shocked and moved and... challenged.

Suddenly my early morning day-dreaming is shattered by the piercing noise of our cabin phone. Who could possibly be ringing? No one in the room needs to be up for atleast an hour for work, so why is the phone ringing? [seriously, this was what ran through my mind]. I get up - the first to comprehend the phone is really ringing. Its my team leader, Judith. She's ringing because our planned outting this morning had been given the wrong time on it; we were told 5:45am for pick up but it was infact a 4:45am pick up instead. Quick brain, start working. Clothes. Shoes. Stuff...

I sleepily make my way to meet the others, suddenly alert to the tiredness that was following me. We wait 10 minutes for everyone to get together but some were slower at waking up than others. We walk outside, and carefully down the gangway. The early morning rain had been heavier than I had thought - big deep puddles lined our pathway to the vans, assisting in waking a few of us up quicker because of the shock of cold, wet feet.

Driving to the little church, most slept in the vans on the way there. I couldn't, my mind was still trying to prepare myself that I was awake and about to see something that will likely affect me for a long time. Plus, its not easy to sleep if your not overly confident in your drivers abilities to drive in a place like the Philippines - where it seems that anyone who is tall enough to see over the dashboard can drive, and at whatever speed and in whatever lane they choose. Maybe that's not exactly true. Maybe you have great confidence in your driver [because you know them] and have zero confidence in everyone else on the road. That is likely it...

After 10 or 15 minutes of driving, we arrive at the church and are quickly shuffled up the 3 floors to meet with everyone and split up into groups. 2 Douloids [people from the Doulos] and 2 volunteers from the church make up every team. We pray that the small ministry we are about to perform is received well and that we will make an impact into someones life. When we are armed with one small bag of bread, 2 large bottles of warm milk and some cups, we head out. Following our guides, we zig-zag the streets, cars, and people making ourway to our destination.

At first the buildings we pass are large houses with little gardens and courtyards. Gradually [but at a quick pace] they soon shrink, lose the gardens and the living space and become small, crowded boxes fitting into any space that can be found. People living ontop of people. Animals roaming freely on the streets. Children, which were few before, now seemingly come in packs of 20 or more. The streets are getting crowded with trucks and vans, more so with motorbikes and scooters, creating a flood that makes it difficult to follow the ones leading. Then theres the smell. You can't put your finger on what it is, but its not one that makes a pleasant aroma. Sour, putrid and nasty.

You can see at the end of the road ahead a swarm of people and vehicles. We break out the end of the street onto a big open area full of people and mini-stalls. We follow our leaders as they make their way through the slush on the ground; slush made up of food and waste and last nights rain, blended together by previous peoples feet and vehicles driving over it.

We walk to one of the 'undercover' areas where I see - only as we draw closer - a mass of people are sleeping on the ground. They are lying on cardboard or some sort of cloth or nothing. Children sleepilly walk towards us dressed, half-dressed, dressed in plastic bags or naked. Mothers wearily try and wake their children so they can get some milk and bread, but perhaps from lack of sleep, exhaustion or even previous 'sniffing' [paint or petrol] keeps them sleeping. Perhaps its best if they sleep instead.

We only give the milk and bread to the children because the church only has very small finances and until we arrived they could only afford to do it once a week. Because we were there though, we helped cover some of the costs so they could go up to three times a week during our month-long stay in Manilla. Pastor Larry, co-ordinator of the Feeding Ministry, was saved from the very ministry he runs, both physically and spiritually.

One particular moment that is strong in my memory was this fragile lady who came to get milk and bread for her [possibly] 6 month old child. We gave it to her and she went back to where she had been sleeping. As we were making our way to another area to give out milk and bread, I turned to see that same lady eating the bread and drinking the milk herself, her child sitting on the ground. My immediate reaction was to go over and take it from her and give to her child, but before I actually did anything, I had to think. There is a woman who is probably just as hungry as her child is, what right to I have to judge how she uses the very small bit of food we gave her...?

With my heart quite honestly feeling the blow of what I was witnessing, we walked to the 'centre' of the open area. While weaving between sleeping people, pausing every now and then to hand out more milk and bread, I looked around at the sight that fell before me. On one side there was a huge truck full of food scraps and trash being unloaded by a front end loader, the contents being casually dumped in the middle of the puddle and on the filth that is the ground, while people picked through it for things to eat. On the other, Jeepneys and bikes lined the side behind and around stalls, music blaring and people staring, while traffic weaved its way by. All through the middle where the stalls are, people were beginning to set up their day's sales while others slept.

How could this be? I felt helpless. Were we making a difference? Was the cup of milk and one bit of bread going to help? Would my bad translation of "Jesus loves you" into Filipino making sense? With so many children, how can we give to them all? What happens when we run out - will they get angry? Turns out, we go so early while most are still sleeping so that we can avoid the problems faced when those who have been 'sniffing' don't get what they want.

It was such a challenge to not allow myself to cry. When I looked at the face of an anorexic girl cutting up somewhat fresh food for the family to sell, I could feel the tears well, but knew that if I let go and lost it in the middle of that place, it would be more of an insult to them anyway. This is their life. To some of them, that was probably a good day. There was atleast some food being 'delivered', and perhaps they would make enough to eat. We saw one very old woman who was so thin and though our supplies were almost out, we gave her some milk too. Her eyes lit up when we handed it to her.

We continued on. I was walking with Tomas [Sweden] and many eyes would stare at him since he was tall, white skinned, and blonde. Both men and women shouted out possibly trash talk to us when we walked past, and I was grateful for the lack of understanding of the language to stay ignorant. Many homosexual men [dressed at their best as women] would stare at the guys as we walked past - it was hard not to stare at them back.

We'd finished what we could do and met up with the others to walk back. Some of the more awake children followed us around for a little while, trying to get more milk [which sometimes they succeeded in getting]. Some would hold your fingers as you walked. Some would shout rude comments. We just smiled and kept saying "Jesus Loves You". Maybe one day they would remember.

We walked back the way we came into this street market mall thing. I didn't really walk with the group because my mind was still where we'd just left. I felt like we just imposed ourselves into their life for a flitter of a moment [not even an hour] and then left. We turned and walked away. I felt like all these white people coming was like parading guests at a museum, passing with occasional glances to the 'things to see' section. I felt low. I felt stupid. I felt lost and confused.

More so, it was the biggest wake up I've had. In Australia, there is so much opportunity to get help from the Government, for accomodation or food, yet, none here. Poverty in Australia is nothing compared to what I had just witnessed, and that wasn't even the worst of it. I think I trully realised that we have SO much. I knew that even if you are on Government help, you have so much more than so many people in the world, and we still complain we don't get enough. I realised that we are so obsessed with ourselves and our happiness, even us Western Christians. "Don't focus on money" they say, yet, we spend everything we earn.

I struggled with what I had seen that day for a couple of weeks, and really only now have fully dealt with it - possibly because its not affecting me anymore. But I am glad for the experience. I am glad for the wake up call and I am glad that I could see it face to face.