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A Gap Between The Houses


Joe Grimwood is serving an Envision Internship with GBM, based some of the year at Mission Centre in Abingdon, and spending significant time on placements in other parts of the world. Having served on the Latvia team in September, from November to February he went to Manila to work alongside Brian and Necy Ellis and Cubao Reformed Baptist Church. Here he reflects on his time working among the urban poor.

From the street, it looks like a dark hole, a gap between the houses. The only give-away is the dozens of water meters against the wall. Through this gap live hundreds of people. Having walked inside, you continue down the alley, stooping, stepping over the open drain that runs down the middle, dodging a mother washing her clothes on the floor. You walk past doorways on either side, opening into small rooms where whole families live together, often cooking and eating in one room, and all sleeping in the other. Poverty is commonplace, and extreme. How can these communities be helped and reached with the gospel?


For a long time, Cubao Reformed Baptist Church in Metro Manila has been working tirelessly to help the poor in their area through Christian Compassion Ministries (CCM). As well as working in squatter areas like this one, they also run homes for abused or neglected children and a Drop-In Centre for the homeless. The main outreach in the squatter areas is through an education sponsorship programme. Children are sponsored with the resources they need to go to school. The vision is that if a child can complete their schooling, they are much more likely to get a good job and so help their immediate family, and later on, if they marry, their own children as well, thus breaking the chain of poverty. Social workers frequently visit the families of the sponsored children to help them in their various problems and encourage them. CCM also organises events such as parenting classes and seminars for the young people to help families to be a close and supportive unit.


However, the greatest need is not physical, but spiritual. Two thousand years ago, a carpenter stood up in a synagogue in Northern Israel and quoted these words from Isaiah the prophet: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…’ The Church sees the need today to continue this work, to preach the good news of this man, the Son of God. This spiritual need is first and foremost. Physical help is of course also important; Jesus also had great compassion on the people even in that village, Nazareth, despite their great unbelief. These two needs are vital, and in love the Church is called to meet both.


It has been exciting to see how the Church is doing exactly that. I was mainly working with Levi Ilhig, who has recently been employed as the CCM chaplain to oversee the spiritual side of the ministry. He has been able to set up Bible studies in each of the squatter areas where CCM works. Each family in the sponsorship programme is encouraged to attend. Levi leads some of these sessions himself, while others are run by elders from the Church or trainee pastors from Grace Ministerial Academy, another ministry of the Church. These groups meet each week, some with just four attending and others with over a dozen, often mothers in their thirties. These are still developing, but the Word is being explained faithfully and is being heard, and the seed is being sown. One of the advantages of a strongly Catholic culture is that the Bible is treated with high regard. Those who come are also eager to share things to pray for, and it was great to see how the Bible study leaders were able to show their care and follow up on these in subsequent weeks.


There are many other ways that the gospel is being proclaimed. At each event that CCM organises, there is an evangelistic devotional. The social workers witness personally to the families during their home visits. There has been some fruit from this work, but still only a small percentage of the families sponsored have come to the Lord – but the Church believes in the power of God in his Word!


This willingness to engage with the Bible was evident in other settings, outside the squatter areas. Jerome Mangahas, a recent graduate, is organising some Bible studies with students from a nearby university. Students at the Church have been inviting their friends to look at the Bible together. At one of these studies, there were about a dozen people, all friends of one church member! Having recently been a student myself at a university with an active Christian Union, I was used to a Christian bringing one, maybe two friends along to something like this, but surely not this many! This is the opportunity that exists in the Philippines, even in the younger generation that is becoming ever more secularised. Pray that these Bible studies will continue as, typically among students, they can often be quite sporadic!


There is a real passion in the Church for the Bible. Sermons are very thorough and Bible-centred, and there is an eagerness to read extensively, especially older books by the Puritans. Cubao is a young Church in terms of the age of the membership, and it is exciting to think how this devotion will be used by God in the future. Fellowship and hospitality come so naturally, and are so key in Filipino culture, but I don’t think I have ever been in a Church where it was so easy to make friends, feel accepted and have a really good chat with anyone about meaningful things. Between the morning and afternoon services, everyone stays at the Church to eat together and then relax and talk. After the midweek prayer meeting, it is common to go out to a local restaurant with others from the Church. There are also groups running for people at different stages of life, including youth, singles and couples groups, with teaching appropriate for each group. For example, over Easter there is a camp being organised for the singles, with teaching on living wholeheartedly for God.


This concept of wholehearted living is one of the great challenges that I’ve seen from my time in the Philippines. For many, the Church and Jesus as its head is the complete centre of their lives. Part of the year-long internship with GBM is to think through what serving God might look like in the rest of life. This isn’t an easy question, and it is certainly challenging. The Bible abounds with this theme, like the words of Paul in Philippians, to ‘consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’ Pray that many more will come to know Christ through the work here in the Philippines and beyond.