When the troupe of bright eyed, smiling children came marching into the Opening Ceremonies of the Council of Bishops in Butuan City, The Philippines, dressed in bright red dance costumes everyone turned and simultaneously gasped and smiled broadly. Over the next 10-15 minutes, we were moved by the precision of their movements as they whirled around the floor singing songs of praise to the Lord Jesus. I, like many of the international visitors, assumed that these were Sunday School children from the host church that was located in a nice neighbourhood. Were we ever in for a surprise!
At the end of their several presentations, the emcee for the evening explained that these were children from the Ahon Ministry of the Social Ministry of The Free Methodist Church in The Philippines. (“Ahon” means “to lift up and to lift out”.) These young boys and girls live with their parents at the large city dump.
Compelled by the love of the Lord Jesus, Free Methodists have established a significant ministry to these families of the poorest of the poor. This ministry is led by Pastora Teresita (Tessie) Chua, the Director of Social Ministries for The Free Methodist Church in The Philippines. The parents of these children scavenge all day long in the dump to collect cardboard, plastic, cans, bottles, and even food to sell so that they can eke out an existence. With support from International Child Care Ministries, the Ambago Free Methodist Church that has been planted near the dump uses its facilities throughout the week to minister to these children. They receive wholesome meals and attend school, learn life skills, and through the influence of the staff, come to understand that they have the potential to break out of the life that their parents have accepted as their lot.
Bishop Jim Tuan told me that the Ahon Ministry has adopted a wholistic approach to “lift these children up and out of slavery, illiteracy, and sin.” In addition to the ministry at the dump, Ahon Ministry has a home for boys and is working on developing a home for pastors who often retire in poverty. They also have a “Bless the Child Ministry” to tribal children living in the countryside outside the city. He explained that all the churches are encouraged to have some form of community focused social ministry based out of their buildings.
Pastora Tessie is a person whose love for the Lord Jesus and the impoverished radiates in her wide smile and bright eyes. She led the delegation to the dump riding on her motorcycle and as she moved among the dump workers, it was clear that they knew and loved her. Since the Free Methodists have been ministering there, fighting among the families working at the dump has been decreasing. A number of these families have become Christians and are involved in the ministry to the children. There is a growing sense of community among these believers and because of this other dump workers are coming to Christ. Pastora Tessie told us several stories. In one instance one of the houses occupied by a single parent mother caught on fire due to the build-up of methane gas from the garbage under the house. (These people shelter themselves in houses or makeshift cardboard shacks right on the garbage.) Christians from the dump and from the church in the city banded together to find materials to replace her house.
As Pastora Tessie was showing us this house, she told me her story. Before she became a Christian, she was a leftist social activist involved in social development. She agonized over the impression that if she became a Christian, she would have to abandon advocating for the people that have nothing. As she began to read the scriptures, she saw that true Christianity as practiced by Jesus and advocated by people like James and John placed a high priority on caring for the poor and those who are often exploited.
Another initiative that she has in motion is the petitioning of the Justice Department to make provision for terminating the parental rights of those who were forcing their young teens to become prostitutes. In the meantime, teams of Free Methodists are befriending young prostitutes who gather on the bridge that leads into the dump as well as in the centre of the city. Once there is a relationship of trust, they try to persuade the young person to come to a transition house and then, if they are making progress to move on to their healing centre for prostitutes.
Pastora Tessie is a wonderful passionate, fully abandoned follower of Jesus who is living out what the Apostle James meant when he wrote in chapter two:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
And what Apostle John meant when he wrote in the third chapter of his first letter:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
These Filipino Christians are representing the Lord Jesus well in their country. It is true that actions speak louder than words and it is all the more powerful when actions are naturally accompanied by the good news of the gospel.