Journals
Posted on March 5, 2024
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Walking With the Poor in Metro Manila

Recently I returned home from a week of walking alongside the ministry of my International Ministries colleagues, Paul and Queenie Rollet, at Companions With The Poor in and around metro Manila, Philippines. I was privileged to meet Oseth, Flor, Nora, Leo, Raineer, Winston, Janette, Sonny, Evelyn, Ramon, Rapha, Mae Ann and several other servant leaders. They showed us Jesus as they introduced us to the people they love and serve living in informal settlements scattered across the city. I was invited to accompany a mission team from Cherry Hills Church in Springfield, IL by dear friends Laura and John Rollet. They also happen to be Paul’s parents. It was good to be with folks from across the globe brought together by a common calling: to see Jesus among the poorest of the poor. That includes all of us. Some may live in abject physical, others in spiritual, emotional and relational poverty. All are in need of companionship, mutuality, dignity and love. I might add another need that often gets overlooked, that is play; lifegiving spontaneous engagement that reminds us to be present now. 

Some of the most memorable moments we shared included walking through neighborhoods. Some were crowded with market stalls, multifamily dwellings, and motorized tricycles. Another was crowded with bars, beautiful young  people and foreign

tourists seeking companionship through prostitution. One neighborhood that moved me deeply was called Pintor. Companions With The Poor has started a church in this landfill community among recyclers who piece together a life, picking through the trash. In Spanish Pintor means painter. Here I noticed suffering, but also survival in spite of the struggle. Walking with those who live and minister in Pintor opened our eyes to what is often hidden by distance. All of the discarded waste from metro

Manila is gathered in this one place. The concentrated smells, piles of plastic from water bottles and packaging, old clothes, and obsolete appliances, unseen by most urban dwellers, are impossible to escape for those who live close by. 

One of the questions I’ve been exploring in my PhD research is: How do we not only help individuals and communities acknowledge, grieve, and heal the impact of traumatic loss, but also question and dismantle the structures and constructs that create those traumas in the first place? At the same time I am asking: How have communities that have been imp

acted by tragedy, trauma, exploitation, discrimination and violation found ways to transform their brokenness into beauty? The landfill community of Pintor, and others like it around the world, exist due to economic imbalances, power hoarding and the invisibilization of poverty. First and foremost, we must question and dismantle these destructive and deadly structures and systems. All of this is part of the prophetic call we heed in response to Jesus’ incarnational, flesh and blood,

“moved into the neighborhood” invitation to us as followers of the Way. That said, we also witness the resilience and creativity in these communities as they transform their brokenness into beauty. It will never justify the pain by any means,  yet somehow indomitable life remains. When it is difficult for me to articulate all that needs to be said or made sense of, I turn to art. It doesn’t fix much, but it does help me take steps forward in hope. We call this “turning to art” an aesthetic response.

Here is my aesthetic response to our walk through Pintor:

When I removed my dust covered sandals,

What is left is an empty impression.

A reminder of getting up close to the dirty details

That imprinted on my skin and got under it as well.

 

The mattress spring doorway

Entrance into a scavenged shelter.

A safe place to sleep.

A thin place.

A threshold.

 

The boy who broke the ice of our strangeness 

And the silent stillness between us

With the surprising sound of a homemade cannon,

Created with discarded cans and cologne

 

The impromptu dances of Tik Tok call and response 

We laugh, live and love our way into sacred silliness.

The outstretched hand,

The shoulder of the other

We make a way 

along the way 

to share the load

 

A whisper of the wonder

That awaits us in eternity.

M Baits

02/07/24