Ano’ng pangalan mo? (translated from Filipino to English: What is your name?)
It was the first question we’d ask every child. A crucial question. One that gave identity to the amorphous yet very real poverty many have become accustomed to. And with that one line, a door opened, inviting an exchange between two seemingly different worlds, but also two individuals with a lot more in common than they would have originally thought.
A week ago, I had the blessing and privilege of joining a team of 40 from Heart of God Church on a mission trip to my motherland, the Philippines. We were there to get first-hand experience and support Pastor Bill Wilson’s Metro World Child Ministry that conducts the world’s largest Sunday School, reaching over 40,000 children weekly, in city slums around the globe.
How does one attempt to describe what one can only sense?
In four short days, we came face to face with what was previously unnamed. Weaving through narrow, labyrinthine backstreets and alleyways; by the danger of old railways and houses teetering on stilts above murky waters; through the strangeness of cemeteries where the living co-mingled with the dead; through forgotten rural patches amidst the urban chaos of Metro Manila. There, our senses were assaulted and heightened by unthinkable spaces—environments that no person should have to live in.
There was the penetrating smell of waste in an ironically named site in Tondo: ‘Aroma’, they called it. The cacophony of children’s laughter and the clatter of scrap and garbage, as they ran (literally) naked with abandon, in playgrounds of their imagination. With the hot sun bearing down on the ground, I could feel the crackling of matted garbage and caked mud, as our shell-shocked footwear tread what had become permanent terrain.
And yet to know a place is to know the people. One child at a time, we were acquainted with the community. I won’t forget the young girls, initially shy behind their timid smiles, but with a little prodding, would engage in conversation and even trail along visitations. Little boys playful rough-housing and clinging on to our men, as if looking for monkey bars, a father figure or both. Children who would soon trust you enough to hold them by the hand or carry them in your arms. Their brightness a contrast to the bleakness around them.
And ringing in my head and my heart, all these names—they don’t belong here.
The only difference I could see between us and them? Nothing, except that I would be able to leave, and they had no choice but to stay. I did not earn my place in this world, any more than they deserved to be found where they were. But indeed, to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
It took 35 years for such a personal homecoming, to finally walk through these paths and see with the eyes of my heart. I will always thank my God, for how He orchestrated everything, even bringing me out of my homeland to give me a new identity, to find Him, and call on His name. And now, as I have freely received, so am I called to freely give and share the hope of the Gospel and the Good News of salvation in Jesus to all.
All attempts to exhaust description and commit this to memory would not matter, without a demonstration of the love of Jesus.
Standing there amidst the screaming hopelessness, many of us asked— can one person make a difference? Pastor Bill’s own testimony as an abandoned child picked up from the streets by a Christian who responded to his moment of need, has made all the difference in his life and the thousands he has reached. There were also many stories of former sidewalk kids turned teachers, showing God’s power to transform a life. All it took was one person who was willing to be used by God, to reach out in love and relationship to another.
These children were not meant to be pitied, but to be loved. In those small, intimate moments, with every smile, hug, word of kindness or encouragement, seeds were sown. The love of God came in the form of food, clothing, healing and prayers. It may take generations, yes a miracle to turn things around, but for as long as there are people who will fight the good fight, we know that our God always remains in control.
In our dorm room, there was the Metro World vision, a handwritten sign displayed on the wall:
“To see leaders, teachers and pastors raised up out of the streets of the cities worldwide, so they in turn will minister to the next generation.”
And this is the kind of evangelism that the ministry lives and breathes, through the tireless dedication of the Metro staff and volunteers. In the weekly sidewalk gatherings, through regular visitations and the genuine connections made with these children, the ministry provides a safe space, a bright spot of hope, and a seed of a dream for a future in Christ.
Knowing one child, one name at a time, so that they would come to know the name above all names, Jesus. And in turn make His name known and glorified in generations to come.
Coming back to Singapore, where the contrast of comfort could not be more evident, it is easy to forget. I am challenged to bring this same passion home, not retreating into familiar routines, but to open myself and my heart to those around me.
As Church presses on toward HOGC 4000, this trip reminded me it is not about the crowds, but it is about individual lives and souls. It spells the difference between life or death, heaven and hell for someone out there.
Let not the people around us become a nameless sea of bodies, drowned and lost in a world that tosses us with its hapless, foolish distractions. It’s true, we can’t save a single soul ourselves, but we can set into motion what only God can bring to fruition. So that as God calls each one by name, they too would have His name etched in their hearts for eternity.
I am thankful for my Pastors who have this same heart for young people and generations, who built our church upholding these core values. Thank you, Pastor How and Pastor Lia for believing that the strength of a church would not be in its seating capacity, but its sending capacity. You have led by example and paved the way for us to respond to the urgency of needs within the larger body of Christ’s people, far beyond what we could do by ourselves.
This was my third time signing up for the Tondo trip, but I know now why it happened this time and this way. A big thanks to Pastor Garrett, Pastor Lynette and Pastor Charleston and all our leaders, for thinking of every single person on the team—how we could grow through this experience and walk even more closely with Christ, toward our destined purpose in Him.
Grateful for this team of 40, helmed by the wise leadership and generous hearts of Darryl, Sabrina, Peck Lian and Evonne. We were people called to this moment for different reasons, many of us not quite understanding why we were there, or how we could make a difference. Yet as the days passed, I was continually amazed by each person’s willingness to come together with our unique strengths, united by a mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And through that, we were not just people who went to a church in Singapore, but people who became the Church to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Philippines. To God be the glory, forever and ever! Amen.
If you have been moved in any way, you can find more information on Metro World Child Ministries on their website. Learn about how you can sponsor a child in the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as other ways to help.
Know them by name and make a difference.