November 2006 - Vol. 1

Journey to Neighbor

by Dave Quintana

"The Rescuer", a painting by Michael O'Brien

Journey into the unknown
I’d like to invite you to accompany me on a journey.  A journey spending a month living and working with the poor in and around Metro Manila in the Philippines.  And yet also a journey into the unknown and a journey into the uncomfortable.  I can’t say that I know yet for sure, but it might just be the journey of a lifetime.

It’s a journey spent following other people and also a journey, I believe, following Christ into the darkest places.  I so vividly recall Jodean leading me under the bridge alongside a trash-filled, polluted trickle to where “the bridge people” live. The “houses” (well, little rooms with cardboard and sheet-metal “walls”) get smaller and smaller, darker and darker, and smellier/hotter and smellier/hotter as we continue the tour to its endpoint. This is their life. This is all they have.  Life on the streets, and a “home” under the bridge. I can’t help but ponder, “Does anyone even realize they are here?  Does anyone even care?”

A Few Snapshots Along the Way
Luigi was one of my housemates for a week in a household for streetboys.  When we asked him what his favourite kind of food was his response was an obvious one to him, but a shocking one to me, “Food that’s not rotten.” Fair enough — I suppose if there are two different kinds of food, food that is rotten and food that’s not rotten, my favourite food is food that’s not rotten as well.

Mia, or “Princesa” as I called her because of her beautiful smile, was bed-ridden for life (which will be short) in a Missionaries of Charity hospital. Engaging in eye contact seemed to make “soul contact” in a heart-breaking way.

Then there was the no-armed beggar, tapping relentlessly on the window for money.  He was just one of countless, nameless faces in desperate need of help.  Should I walk by them without looking?  Should I give them a peso?  Should I give them 20 pesos?  Should I give them all the money I have?

Anawim is a home for abandoned elderly started by a friend with “an open mind and a broken heart” and cares for 60 or so lolos and lolas who have no one to care for them.  Gilbert who arrived the same day I did was in a care accident when he was 24 and has been in a wheelchair ever since.  How can he smile and laugh so?  He was a music major and somehow still has a song in his heart.

Payatas is a squatter area where thousands of families make their living scavenging the dump, scouring the rubbish in search of something worth selling or something worth eating. How am I to respond to this?

And of course there are the kids on every major corner, every day and every night.  They do whatever they can and whatever they have to just to earn a few pesos.  They are survivors. They are fighters. Do they have much hope? Jodean from He Cares Foundation thinks they do.

The Great “Cloud of Witnesses”
So many have travelled this road before and I’m grateful for their company.  Bob Pierce who founded World Vision and prayed “may my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Mother Teresa who challenges us to “love Christ in his many disguises.” Jackie Pullinger who reminds us that “its not what you’ve got that’s the issue, but what’s got you!”  John Wesley’s response was to determine what he needed to live on, and to do so, no matter how high his income became. Ignatius of Loyola has a beautiful prayer, “Teach me Lord to be generous. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To serve you and ask no reward save that of knowing that I am doing your will.”

And these words of an unknown witness always cut me to the heart, “forgive us Lord for looking at the world with dry eyes.”

Improved vision along the way?
It has been an interesting and challenging exercise trying to put words to my experience and consider what I think it means for me and for us “advantaged Christians”.  I found the love and service of those ministering sacrificially so tremendously inspiring.  I found the raw need and pain and suffering of so many deeply disturbing.  And perhaps above all I found the experience incredibly humbling.  How is it that this “month of extreme sacrifice” is a way of life for the majority of people in the world?

It is clearer to me now that those of us that have much are just stewards of this resource.  As someone once said, “It’s not that we don’t have enough, but that we don’t effectively get it into the hands of the right people.”

I’m also seeing more clearly that:

• old people mainly need someone to listen to them and share in their story
• kids mainly need someone to play with them and show them the way
• rich and poor alike want time with people they want to be loved by and share life with
• people in pain want someone to accompany them in the midst of it, thus making it so much more bearable
• we all need relationships, community, touch, a role to play, someone waiting for us and someone who needs us.
And in all of this I sense a personal invitation from the Lord to press further up and further in.  I have given up much as a man who’s dedicated his life to serving the Lord full time and as one who is “single for the Lord” in an ecumenical missionary brotherhood, but I sense the journey is just beginning.  The Lord is inviting me to join him in the “wilderness of compassion” and to seek out the lost.

Some things you might want to consider
Might there not be ways that I could share more of what I have with others?  What would my life be like if I lived on 10% less?  (Is this an inspiring or terrifying thought?)  Could I engage in some “unplugging experiments” from the materialistic, noise-filled existence that is modern life?  Might I for a time apply a “luxury tax” on myself and whenever I buy something for myself buy something for someone in need?  Are there possibilities for “creative collaboration” where I and others who “have” can come alongside those who “have not”?

Doing some reading and reflection both personally and in a study group has been an important part of my journey.  Among other fine books I’d highly recommend:

• Simplicity, Love and Justice  (BESOM)
• A Testament of Devotion  (Thomas Kelly)
• Freedom of Simplicity  (Richard Foster).
Speaking of Richard Foster, here are some challenging suggestions (“reachable handles”) from him on how to benefit more from simplicity:
1. buy things for their usefulness not their status
2. reject anything that is producing an addiction in you or that breeds oppression in others
3. develop the habit of giving things away
4. learn to enjoy things without owning them
5. develop a deeper appreciation for creation
6. be skeptical about “buy now, pay later” schemes
7. practice Jesus’ teaching about simple speech (“let your yes be yes …”)
8. shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom.

And here are his guidelines for giving:

• give proportionately, beginning with a tithe
• give to “non-celebrity causes”
• give without seeking power
• give of ourselves and not just of our money
• make use of financial advisors
• make out good wills.
Bon Voyage!
“Less for self, more for others, enough for all.”  What a great motto Gawat Kalinga has.  I haven’t arrived there for sure, but I am at last commencing the journey.  I know I can’t do much, but I can do something, so I close with this poem:
 I am only one, but I am one.
 I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
 What I can do, I should do, and with the grace of God I will do.
A young man named Erik Weihenmayer summitted Everest on 25 May, 1999.  Quite an accomplishment … especially since he is blind.  Some time later while speaking of his daughter’s birth he said, “there are summits everywhere, you just have to know where to look.”  I agree.

I often feel like a blind climber in search of the summit.  Often for us followers of Christ the summit is a dark and lowly and difficult place.

[Dave Qunintana is an elder of The Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.]

(c) copyright 2006  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 36, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom