Neglected by his parents, Manong* spent his childhood in a rough-and-tumble slum of the Philippines fearing nothing, including the effects of the drugs he was taking.
The biggest influences on him were the kids who taught him how to smoke and get drunk. Not yet a teenager when he first started experimenting with drugs, Manong felt using illegal substances was just another way of having fun with friends.
“He had no idea at all that he was playing with fire, that he was seriously getting hooked on drugs,” the leader of a local ministry said. “For him, it was just part of enjoyment as a kid and later as a teenager.”
When he turned 18 last year, Manong was still in the habit of stealing money from his mother for liquor, cigarettes and drugs, the leader said.
“Cursing his mother was just normal and became his way of life,” he said. “He had no fear of committing sin, no fear of people and no fear of his future – until one day he had an accident in his workplace that made him quite helpless.”
His haughtiness had alienated his friends, and he had cut off contact with what little family he had when he found himself facing the life-threatening injury.
“He never pictured himself to be in this kind of crisis,” the leader said. “When he was alone crying in pain with no one to turn to, that was when he thought of the God he wasn’t sure he believed in.”
A kind acquaintance helped him get treatment for his injury, and another put him in touch with a local missionary, who invited him to a fellowship that was meeting in limited numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Manong attended out of curiosity, the leader said, and in the Christ-based intimacy of the small gathering, he experienced not only loving care but the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When the group leader shared the gospel, Manong realized he needed God’s grace and prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
“He was with them regularly and joined a Bible study led by our local missionary, and he came to realize that God allowed the accident for him to experience His discipline and come to God,” the ministry leader said. “It was the Word of God that helped him to escape temptation in alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. God transformed his life. He learned to ask forgiveness of people and most of all of God. He is now a living example to his mother. He understands better now that only through Christ he can have a meaningful life.”
Ministry amid Pandemic
Such outreach continues in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Philippines crossed the 1 million mark in COVID-19 infections in April, threatening to burst the country’s medical infrastructure, but local missionaries have structures in place to work around lockdowns.
Workers who have formed relationships by visiting homes and sharing meals have created bonds that allow them to continue meeting one-on-one with appropriate precautions, the leader said.
“Social distancing doesn’t have to stop us from visitation,” he said. “People need people, and they need encouragement. Even if we can’t enter their houses, we can keep caring and reaching them by knowing what they’re doing and what to pray for them.”
People who once formed fellowship or Bible study groups maintain contact with local missionaries who check on them through texts, chat messages and video calls.
“There is a personal touch in doing so,” the leader said. “A simple message can mean a lot in the right moment. It can make a difference to people’s lives during these uncertain times. Social distancing is not a hindrance to discipling. By cell phone we continue to encourage each other to stay in the Word. They share prayer requests and inform us about what is going on in their lives.”
Amid widespread poverty, local missionaries report the pandemic has cut off the livelihood of nearly everyone they know, and needs are steep.
Besides distributing relief goods in the form of food, clothing and medicines, local missionaries also have provided livelihood training for the poor in how to best harvest crops and bring them to market.
“This served as people’s livelihood to help meet their physical needs amid the pandemic,” the leader said.
Hunger and want come in waves with each swell in infections and lockdowns, and local workers who have resources to help meet needs are grateful for the opportunity to serve their neighbors. Home visits to unreached people enable workers to assess their condition.
“There are times that villagers experience terrible days and weeks,” the leader said. “Knowing that there are sincere people who care, understand and who are there for them makes their burden light. God’s faithfulness strengthens them.”
Workers say they feel deeply honored by God to be able to reach out to them in compassion.
“Giving them something to eat to fill their stomachs is priceless in these uncertain times,” the leader said. “Workers were able to verbally share the gospel while helping to meet their needs. Villagers who were not open to the gospel before now show interest to listen from the Word of God. Workers took that as a challenge to reach more souls for Christ.”
Local missionaries are meeting such physical and spiritual needs throughout the Philippines. Please consider a donation today to equip them for the task.
*Name changed for security reasons