We have a friend in Manila, a young pastor who inspires us as she serves her people in and out of season. Pastor Joy Pring, CTC Church’s gift to the community, has a love for people and a passion to see lives transformed. Her church is situated in a village that is made up of middle income families, a nice place to live but not extravagant in any way, a place that would fit well into any Canadian context. Across the wall, however, is Ascona, a poor area that people have lived in for over thirty years without title to the land. Ascona sits on the bank of a river, water that is black with pollution, with smells that make you sick to your stomach.
When it rains, the river rises and floods the passageways. When it rains hard the village is under two meters of water. All of the houses are on stilts. It is so common an occurrence that village leaders have strung ropes to aid people’s movement and constructed makeshift boats to float supplies. Children can’t leave their homes when this happens. It simply isn’t safe. CTC has had a small work with this community, Sunday school with children, a small feeding program, some financial support when emergencies happen. They happen often.
The church has been feeling overwhelmed by the pressure and underwhelmed by the response. This is not uncommon, well meaning people set out to serve and eventually burn out under the pressure. Poverty is complex, it is hard! CTC knows this first hand. My friend Joy knows this personally. She asked for our help. We laughed together as we acknowledged the level of her desperation in asking us. Humour always help put things into perspective and keep things from getting too heavy. Yes Jesus wept, but he also laughed! We chose to engage.
This is always a difficult situation for us. There is never sufficient resources to go around and communities like Ascona face so many challenges that it is above the capacity of a small local church to handle, or a couple of Canadian GFS come to think of it. Does this mean we should walk away? Absolutely not! Jesus didn’t, Joy doesn’t, we couldn’t. We offer what we have, at best a widow’s mite, a mustard seed filled with hope, an expectation that God will honour our efforts, heal our mistakes, and cover it all with His grace as we wobble forward into places we have never been, doing work we are woefully under equipped to do.
In the case of CTC that mustard seed comes in the form of encouragement. Church leaders need to hear that it is ok to be frustrated, permissible to feel deeply about all the causes of poverty, the ugly side of this world. The role we fill in partnership is co-journeyer, training and assisting where we can. Sometimes that is active work, getting our hands dirty. Sometimes it needs to be unhurried, prayerful, especially when things are especially difficult. In either case it is a privilege and a blessing.