The past couple of weeks have been nothing short of life changing. I have survived a 14 and ½ hour flight, slept in the Seoul, South Korea Airport, bought groceries at Fooda (and no, that’s not a spelling error =) ), had Filipino spaghetti at Jollibee (it’s not quite the same as back in the States), and taken countless jeepney rides (where you are shoved a little closer to the people around you than you may have wished.) And on a more serious note: I have witnessed material poverty like never before. It was a couple of days ago when I was surrounded by dirt, trash, and pollution, while sitting in a church service on top of a burial tomb that I realized my definition of poverty has been skewed my entire life . I have defined poverty and wealth based of the possessions people have, but it hit me that a lot of these people living in the slums are wealthy. Their faith is incredible and they are keeping their eyes and hearts set on the things that will last for eternity. They praise God for all the small things they have, and in terms of eternal things and the Kingdom of God some of these people are among the wealthiest I’ve ever met.

Our team had the opportunity to go with Cebu City Alliance Church (CCAC) to feed and teach a Bible story to a group of children in a village in the city. Once we were done teaching, the kids lined up to be served food and I stood off to the side to watch. There was a little girl kneeling down in the dirt next to me and I knelt down and attempted to ask her what her name was. During the story I had been leading one of the songs, and whenever I looked at her she would smile but she didn’t really participate in the hand motions. When I asked her what her name was it became clear to me she didn’t understand English. I asked our host and translator, Ruben, to come over and help me communicate with her. I found out her name was Mariel and she was four years old. I realized she didn’t have a bowl and would be unable to eat. I had Ruben ask her if she wasn’t hungry, and she responded she was going to eat at home. Later we asked her where she lived and her response was, “everywhere”.

A few minutes later I pointed in the general direction of her face and said, “Gwapa ka,” which in Cebuano means, “You are beautiful.” She turned and asked Ruben, “My hair is beautiful?” and I asked Ruben to tell her “No, everything” and I motioned with my hands to her entire face so she would understand. As soon as Ruben translated for me, Mariel looked back at me, smiled shyly, and let out a little laugh. Ruben turned to me after this exchange and said, “That is probably the first time anyone has ever told her she is beautiful.”

Ruben had told me earlier that the majority of these girls had been molested by this age, and a lot of them were children of prostitutes.  And the sad thing is that they will most likely choose the same lifestyle when they are older because they see it as their only way to make a sufficient amount of money.

After that exchange between Mariel and I, she stood behind my skirt and wanted to play with me. When it was time for us to leave our first feeding site to go on to the next, she let me pick her up and hug her and then she held my hand and led me into another alleyway. My exchange with Mariel is one I will never forget, and my new favorite saying for all the little Filipino girls is “Gwapa ka” because who knows if they’ve ever heard it or when the next person will tell them. It’s such a blessing to have the opportunity to love on these kids and shine truth and light into their hearts. My prayer is that they will turn to Jesus to be loved and not end up looking for love in the people and things in this world.