It must have been 100 degrees out in the mid day sun whilst four of us were piled into the back of a cab and two in the front on the passenger side. In typical Filipino style, there is always room to accommodate everyone and so everyone came to our destination. With my friend from the states in town, and the help of NGO friends, we got to tour some of the different service areas that my NGO, CCT, had in the Manila area. We were on our way to see the lunchtime meal and fellowship meeting held for street dwellers under the bridge, near the city post office in Manila.
Initially mine and my friend’s energy was waning due to crawling traffic, body heat, lack of air conditioning and claustrophobia but eventually my engagement kicked in more as my Filipino friend, Ciara, starting asking questions to “Kuya” (means “older brother” in Tagalog, I will leave it at that since I don’t technically have permission to tell this story). I had met Kuya a couple of times and knew he was part of the street dweller ministry at the organization I had been serving at, but didn’t know too many more of the details. Ciara began slowly asking questions and soon allowed me to interject my own as my fascination increased. Kuya’s story goes something like this:
He grew up in the lesser developed province of Samar, in the Philippines, where there was not much money and not much opportunity. His parents encountered a recruiter who promised that if they allowed their son, at the age of ten, to move to Manila to work, that he would send home a steady paycheck to them in Samar. His parents took the deal and entrusted Kuya’s care to this recruiter.
Well as often happens in situations like this, Kuya discovered a life in Manila filled with long work hours and hard labor. Unfortunately at the time he had no way to contact his parents, no education to even understand his own address and no formal identification. With these disadvantages in mind, he still decided to run away from the work and risk his life on the streets.
Having worked with gang members in the past, I was fascinated to hear about his life growing up on the streets. He was strong and quickly became the head of his group of kids whose territory included the same Manila baywalk I would run along each Sunday morning. Kids that wanted to join their crew had to prove themselves worthy. Meals were stolen or crimes were committed to make sure that the group members ate each meal and were able to take care of each other.
Details in the in between were lost to me, but somewhere in the last five years (Kuya is probably in his late thirties) encountered a group of people from CCT who were providing meals, fellowship groups, spiritual mentoring and job training. Despite receiving much grief from his friends on the street, Kuya chose to pursue a relationship with CCT and has dramatically changed his life. He works for CCT running outreach to other street dwellers and he is able to make income to provide for his own housing and personal needs.
Not being a very expressive man, you could still see the immense gratitude and humility Kuya feels about his new life. As he explained about the blessings he has received the one thing that struck me was the tone of awe he had about how he had met a wonderful woman at his church and they had married. He turned to us as he said, “You know too, my wife, she is college educated. I explained to her how I haven’t even finished high school but she said she didn’t even care. All she cared about is the man I am now. Yes, she is college educated”.
Not long after that, we arrived at our destination and I got to witness Kuya in action as he gathered street dwellers he knows in order to share good news of God with them, offer them community and provide them with a meal. He recognized all the faces and greeted each person as a close friend.
So that is the story that I wanted to share. I don’t really know how to finish this story other than with gratitude for getting to witness a life redeemed and a life that now is trying to redeem others. I had the chance to be with an amazing organization that because of their love of God, has created an amazing program to pull street dwellers off the street and back into a life of beauty. It is stories like Kuya’s, that have been gone to show the power that this organization and program have provided. I have another good friend in the Philippines who writes a blog called “I see God in that” and I can’t help but think this for that day and for a life on the streets turned into a life of caring for others.