We are walking back from our daily evening market errands with fresh usda (“fish” in Tagalog) and gulay (“vegetables”) in one hand, firewood in the other. Coral and I lead the way home with our feet having memorized the route. Ate Anna, our host mom, and her three-year-old son, Michael, follow closely behind. The comfort of knowing how to get back without thinking allows me to take in my surroundings: kids are running around the street, some playing basketball, others tossing their tsinelas (“slippers/flip flops”) at a can to knock it over, tricycles and trucks, women gossip, by the sari sari storefront windows, a teenager sells street food on a cart, while old men sit shirtless on the sidewalk observing people passing by. The community I see on the streets of Payatas is everywhere - for a change people are socializing outside, away from their computer screens and cell phones (even though texting is really popular among the young people here). The simplicity in which the people of Payatas live allows the flourishing of communal life. Sharing life in community is something I would imagine a shade of beauty looks like in the Kingdom of God.
As we continue to walk down the street, past vegetable stands and across the footbridge, we start passing some of he houses where we have visited and shared the Word of God in our Bible studies. One house stood out in particular. Ate Anna’s friend, Ate Flor, lives with her husband and their three young children in a small, dark room consisting of the sleeping space, living room, dining table, and kitchen. There is one window where natural light enters the room, but it is largely blocked by another house less than three feet away from it. When we were invited inside she generously gave us soda and pastries for our afternoon merienda (“snack”) despite her not having enough food and nutrients in her body to breastfeed her baby daughter. As we ate our merienda, Ate Flor proudly pointed to her eldest son’s academic awards on the walls, explaining how the promise he shows in school may be compromised since that can no longer afford his supplemental classes. We continues to listen as Ate Flor began sharing more things that were troubling her heart.
Prior to meeting us, Ate Flor had applied for jobs in order to provide more income for her family. As she held back tears, she explained to Ate Anna in Tagalog that she feels forced to work even though it would mean leaving her 15-month-old baby in someone else’s care. With all the family expenses, from rent to transportation for her husband’s job to medical payments for her baby’s delivery, often times Ate Flor doesn’t have enough money to buy their food. The choice she faces is to either feed her family and not be present in her children’s lives or have them starve. Ate Flow was even considering taking a job abroad with the pain of leaving her family for at least two years before being able to come back to the Philippines to visit them. As Ate Flor held onto her baby daughter with tenderness and love, speaking with sorrow and pain in her voice, my heart broke and mourned with her. Along with her financial worries, Ate Flow explained how broken family relationships have made the choice more challenging, given a lack of physical and emotional support. In her hopelessness, I also felt hopeless - I found myself at a loss of encouraging words to give her. Sitting in that despair, I realized only Jesus could speak wisdom and truth into Ate Flor’s heart. We prayed for her and her family, knowing as humans we are limited and broken - that true peace, provision, and healing only come from God.
Everyday, Ate Anna, Coral and I have the privilege to enter in people’s homes and their lives to be in community with them, to mourn with them, and to remind them that the brokenness and despair in their lives is not the Kingdom of God - that Jesus desires healing and wholeness and restoration for us. In immense suffering there is the beautiful invitation to share life in community with each other and with Jesus…living in solidarity is something I would imagine a shade of beauty looks like in the Kingdom of God.
- Ali Hampton