The God of This City

Culture Shock – (n) a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to anew, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.

It hits everyone at different times. For me it took four days. It didn’t hit me as I walked out of the airport and into the Cebu humidity for the first time. It didn’t hit me the next day when I saw dirt, trash, and broken huts for homes on the side of the Cebu City streets. It didn’t hit me when a thousand kids came running up to me and grabbed my hands and touched my foreign white skin in Riverside. It didn’t hit me in Basak when I met 50 and 60 year old women who didn’t know how to read because they didn’t have to opportunity to ever go to school because their parents couldn’t afford a pen and paper. Instead all those things built together until Day Four.

We went to an area of town by CCAC, which is the church Pastor Ruben (our host) belongs to and works with. This area is known as Cebu’s red light district, and the kids we would be working with that day were the children of prosititues. We were told that some of the girls wanted to grow up to be prostitutes, because that was all they had known and the only way they thought they could make money. One of the girls, Sabrina, that I spent time with had already been molested. She is eight years old. I’m going to try to find the words to describe the things I saw that day, but no words could do it justice. I walked out of that place with a broken heart – God truly broke my heart for what breaks His.

These kids lived basically in and around a dirt field. There were piles of dirt and trash built up, and that’s what they played on. They were dirty; wearing mud-stained, torn up clothes that hadn’t been washed or even changed in probably weeks, if they were even wearing clothes at all. They were desperate for attention. In the other places we had been to so far, the kids were shy. You would smile at them and they would smile shyly and then run the opposite direction, until 15 minutes later when you were best friends. This was different. These kids were desperate for attention. Within two minutes of walking in I had gotten about 15 hugs and had 5 different kids holding on to my two hands. These kids were the forgotton ones. They are unloved, unappreciated. They’ve never been told they’re beautiful and rarely recieve a hug or an “I love you”.

Despite all of this though, they had life like I’ve never seen. We sang songs and they jumped up and down and sang at the tops of their lungs – not caring how much they messed up the English. Every time we finished they begged for more. They smiled wider than I’ve ever seen and lit up my heart like it’s never been lit before. They had so much love in their hearts – for music, for dancing, for life, and for each other. It was beautiful. We did a short lesson for them and then sang some songs, and after that we had a feeding. I spent a lot of time talking to an 11-year-old girl named Angelique. All of the kids brought bowls and spoons to eat with, but she didn’t have one. When I asked her if she was hungry, she said “Not really”, but the look in her eyes said differently. She didn’t have brothers and siblings. “These people are my family” she informed me, as she motioned her arm toward the 40 other children in the area. She never once went to get a bowl or a spoon, instead she stood toward the back of the line and ushered all of the other kids in line in front of her. She kept doing this as those younger than her went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths until the pot was empty. All the while she had a big smile on her face. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So much happened that day. Kids dropped their spoons in the dirt and picked it up and wiped it on their soiled clothes and kept eating, because it was all they had. They ate so much of the most unappetizing chicken and rice mush that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen more appreciative kids. They were starving, dirty, and broken. I was humbled. Saying good-bye to them was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I gave the same kids hugs good-bye about 12 times. They clung to our arms and legs and followed us out until they couldn’t go any further.

When we debriefed our day that night, I couldn’t help the tears that came to my eyes. These kids lived in the poorest conditions I’d ever seen, and yet they were more joyful, more loving, and more appreciative than I had ever been. It was a humbling and life changing moment for me, and this only begins to describe the poverty and heartbreak I’ve seen in Cebu thus far. One thing is for sure – I won’t be coming home the same. These kids, the Filippino people have left footprints on my heart that will never fade. The images I’ve seen I don’t think I could ever get rid of. 

The smile on the kids faces that day, seeing Angelique put everyone before herself, watching them jump up and down and dance like crazy to Justin Beiber songs makes it all worth it. We really are making a difference here in Cebu, even if it’s only telling a little girl she’s beautiful for the first time. So much love has been poured out to the city and the people, and it’s been a blessing to be a part of. Thank you all so much for your thoughts, support, and never ending prayers – there’s no way I’d be here without you. Please continue to pray for me, my team, and our ministry here in Cebu.

“Greater things have yet to come, and greater things are still to be done in this city.”
                                                          – Chris Tomlin

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