Returning to Manila after 2 days in Tacloban felt much like coming home, even after such a short space of time, with the familiarity of the ‘home comforts’ of our cottage, the local shopping centre, the launderette and the local store.
The time spent in Tacloban, just as in the Philippines in general, has been an assault on the senses: the sound of the gentle ‘parping’ of the vehicle horns, the vibrant colour of the Jeepneys, the smell of… I’ll leave that to your imagination!
It is a country of contrasts, particularly in the distinction between rich and poor, seen most clearly in the short walk from the hotel to the Robinson, the shopping centre, the cathedral to global consumerism, with its many familiar names, including TGIF Fridays, Starbucks, Dorothy Perkins and Marks & Spencer, as we walk past street vendors and those living on the streets.
The work of Kanlungan sa es-erma, with those most in need within the city, was brought home powerfully yesterday in the swimming trip, where all the projects came together at a ‘Water Camp’ near Cavite City for a fun day. Jeepneys arrived stuffed with excited children from the outreach centres, the children’s home, the boys’ and girls’s homes, and the farm, for a time of swimming and fellowship. It was a time of meeting up, particularly for friends who have moved from one context to another but most poignantly, perhaps, for 2 pairs of siblings who have been apart for some months, and who were eager to spend time together catching up.
The park offered much to entertain the children, with water slides, fountains, jungle river and a wave machine and from the time we arrived a crowd of children excitedly bombarded the team with demands for attention. Spending time with children playing happily, watching them grow in confidence around the water, was yet another privilege, on an ever-growing list; Pastor Fi even found time to teach one young lady to swim!
As the time for lunch approached, each centre laid out tables for their respective charges, and a mountain of food appeared, some of it cooked onsite. The word, and smell, quickly spread, and soon the place was throbbing with the sounds and children eagerly eating. As the remains of lunch were cleared away, the children returned to the pool and more fun was had.
By mid-afternoon, as the children’s energy waned, not even sustained by ice cream, the stage was set for the presentations, which began with a time of worship and continued as each context shared something that they had prepared, be it dancing, or singing.
The highlight of the afternoon was the celebration of the birthdays, of young and old, although the focus of this part of the afternoon was on Pastor Mark, as we all joined with him in celebrating his special day. These celebrations concluded later with a meal out, to which a number of the staff were about to attend. Following the family photograph and fond farewells, the vehicles went their separate ways having had a fun day, rich in the presence of God.
Today was mostly about church and souvenir shopping, again bringing to the fore the huge gulf between rich and poor, a challenge to each of us as we wrestle with all the riches with which we have been blessed, that we might use it for God’s kingdom, both here as well as at home.
With just two more days here in the Philippines, and the strain on being away from our loved ones, not always made easier by the availability of wifi, we give thanks for for the privilege of coming and experiencing this beautiful country, its welcoming people, and the tireless work of Kanlungan, but also for the depth of friendships within the Streetlight team, as well as with the staff. Please continue to pray for us, for the energy and stamina for all that we still have to see and experience, for safe travels and for God’s blessing to be on us all as we process the whole experience.