I could tell you all about the rats, the cockroaches, the heat, the food, sleeping on the floor... but that's not why we came.
After three transformative months of encountering Jesus every day, we came to love as he loves them - that they would know him and his love.
After dipping our cups into the wellspring of life, we came to pour out into the lives of those who've never drunk from life changing truth.
Upon arriving in Manila, we drove to South Caloocan City, one of the districts of Metro Manila. The Fundamental Baptist Church of Agudo welcomed us with open arms to stay for the entire month of August.
Once we settled in and got oriented, we gathered around and began to pray, asking the Lord what he wanted us to do while we were here.
I can't remember with certainty exactly how this story goes, but my - oft ailing - memory tells me that it went something like this...
Sitting there in the silence, listening for his voice, we began to hear children outside gathering around our door.
Bang bang bang!
One of us immediately got up and opened the door to a bunch of starry-eyed, giggling faces. Though we appreciated their excitement, we were concerned that they were climbing over the fence and trespassing onto the church's property. It tok a little while to escort them out. Little did we know that as we closed the door their hands and feet were already scaling the fence again.
With everyone back in their seats we continued to listen to anything God had to say.
Bang bang bang!
...it didn't take us long to realize that ministry was literally knocking at our doorstep.
Just a lot of tired after running around and giving all of the kids rides on my shoulders.
We spent almost every day playing with and loving on these children who came from such rough backgrounds. When I close my eyes to remember I can see their elbows, feet and fingers jabbing into each other as they fought for affection.
I wonder if some of them had ever experienced an unconditional love from someone before.
To me, this photograph helps describe the invasive nature of the children. They're so wonderful!
The surrounding neighborhood was known for gang activity, violence, and gambling. They often had fake funeral wakes going on so that they could gamble on the street (they would rent corpses from the local morgue). But because the children were so infatuated with us and trusting of us we felt really appreciated and well protected by the community. A couple of us were prayer-walking when a man halted them and told them not to go down that street or they'd get robbed.
Us guys found it really easy to connect through basketball. We would often go towards the heart of the neighborhood and play pickup games. One time we had to play for a 1-liter bottle of coke. Yes, we lost. One man eventually came to Christ after seeing us just come and play basketball at one of the locations.
It was a real joy to see God's unique gifts come out through our team. Dani and Annissa were like two mother hens; the kids flocked around them wherever they went. Rachel often read a Bible with them and sometimes they read along too. Nikki turned out to be an excellent teacher. Chris had a special way of bonding with young men over basketball. Josh was a main attraction just for being tall. As for me? Well, apparently they thought I looked like Justin Bieber. Or Messi. Or Connor McGregor... lots of photos... lots.
One day I was outside with Dani and Annissa when some older boys came along. I got to talking with them and then one of them asked me for my shirt. "For remembrance!" he said. I wasn't wearing anything special, so I said "Sure!" and gave him the shirt off my back. Well, news travels fast. The next day, almost every guy I met was asking me for another shirt or something else. I felt bad having to say no, but they seemed to understand that I simply couldn't give out material things to everybody.
Well, a few days later we were coming back from playing basketball in the heart of the neighborhood. It had started raining halfway through our game, and we were soaked as we headed back to our church. I was in the back of our group when one of the boys following us tugged me by the arm.
He couldn't speak English, but he didn't need to; he was pointing at an elderly man who was stuck sitting in the dirt under the downpour.
As I walked over another man came to lift the elderly man up. His rain-sodden pants had sagged down, exposing his bare rear end to the dirt and water; a pitiful image that won't be leaving my mind any time soon, if ever.
Together with the other man we helped the elderly man sit down in a chair underneath an umbrella. By this time a second man had come to help, and he motioned with his hands for me to give the elderly man the shirt I was wearing.
In a split second my analytical mind kicked in - "how come this guy is telling me to give up my shirt when he's wearing one of his own that he could give? I'm wearing our YWAM team shirt too, my leader won't be happy if -"
I snapped back to reality as I looked at the shirt the elderly man was wearing. It was once white, now discolored, with what seemed to be either dirt or moldy spots. It was also soaked through. The elderly man was looking up at me... those eyes.
He never said a word; but he didn't need to.
Within a few moments my shirt was wrapped around the elderly man's shoulders. The two men thanked me and I walked away.
I was full of emotions on my way back to the church - mixtures of frustration, sympathy, inner peace, and even joy ebbing out and flowing in at each beat of my heart.
But I was also touched by what happened next.
The boys who had been following me had seen everything. As we walked back they held my hand tightly and stayed close at my side. They told me "Thank you, thank you" over and over again, with deep gratitude in their eyes.
In that moment I realized how significant that seemingly insignificant act was; through me Jesus had just redefined what a heroic man is to these young boys growing up in a dog-eat-dog world.
Justin (front middle) had tugged my arm asking for help.
I am so thankful that Jesus spoke to these boys through me even though my heart wasn't in a perfect place. I trust that these boys will remember that moment as vividly as I will many years from now - something that changes the course of their life and the day-to-day decisions they make as they grow into men.
Side note: I have a distinct memory of generosity when I was a young boy. A missionary from Indonesia had been staying at our home, and I had been enchanted by the necklace he wore around his neck. Towards the end of his visit, I had insensitively asked him if he had another one of those that he could give me. He did! I was so delighted that I immediately ran over to my friends and told them all about what I had just gotten. Moments later he was swamped with requests from the other boys for necklaces. I could see the pain in his face as he handed out one after the other - I think he had intended to give them to someone else. But despite that, he was smiling through it all. My necklace broke or got lost a few weeks after, but that memory has never left me.
How foundation-shakingly powerful would it be for those boys to live out joyful generosity in a place of poverty and greed...
One day we watched a movie with the kids, and Josh (not pictured) found that as long as he kept his arms wrapped around the child in his lap, the child would become calm and content... as if it was all they ever wanted.
We didn't come with a rigid agenda to shout out our gospel message and leave. Our team emphasized partnering with the Lord and what he wanted to do. Sometimes that simply meant to relationally love on and interact with people.
Left: Rachel sitting with the kids while us guys played basketball with the adults. Right: one of our ministry times of dramas and testimonies in the neighborhood.
Other times it meant to go into schools and teach on Christian values. We went to a bunch of elementary schools and high schools, sharing our dramas and testimonies with the children, and then breaking up into small groups to get to know them personally. The Lord put it on our hearts to share teachings on sexual purity and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, which - at the very least - left a significant impression on many of the students.
5th Grade students watching attentively as the father and mother begin to argue with each other in our drama called "Family." (To watch the entire drama, click here and scroll down to the bottom of that page).
As we hopped from class to class, Dani and I became the emcees of our teaching sessions. We had a lot of fun cracking smiles, warming everyone up to listen well, and to reaffirm what was shared in the dramas and testimonies. We called ourselves "The Dan and Dani Show!"
In addition to emceeing, I was often tasked to perform a funny skit called "Sin Chair," where a man gets stuck to a chair (representing sin) and tries to hide that fact from his friend. Even though I did it every other day, the ensuing smiles and laughter made each time so worth it.
The ending of "Sin Chair," followed by other dramas and testimonies... and eventually, one massive dance party!
It feels odd to say that we got used to many people - kids especially - raising their hands to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Hundreds, actually. Praise the Lord!
But I won't sugarcoat it either, because it was honestly hard to tell how genuine they were. Many kids raised their hands just because they saw that everyone else did, or there may have been misunderstandings. For instance, Catholics don't believe in a "one and done salvation," so of course if you ask them if they'd like to accept Jesus, those already pursuing that faith would raise their hands.
We had been so excited to do our part to contribute to the 11,000 people who we were told were saved before arriving in Manila. But when we saw it for ourselves, we feared it was unrealistic to simply count the number of raised hands as actual salvations.
The enemy really tried to capitalize on these doubts and negative thoughts, and I'd be lying if I said that we as a team won every battle. But we came around to choosing to be grateful in certain hope that the Lord was indeed at work in many people's hearts, whether we saw it or not. It's not our job to know or ache over how many people got saved or healed, but simply to listen, trust, obey, and have hope.
I've come to find that our attitudes and behaviors are some of the most critical factors in spiritual victories and losses. Spiritual battles are not won by how much fruit is seen or unseen. Spiritual battles are won when we continually surrender our hearts to Jesus, receive his heart for his people, love unconditionally, be grateful and joyful in all circumstances, have hope despite all odds, trust and obey, and build each other up in wisdom and encouragement. We need to stop worrying so much about outcomes and take on a greater responsibility for how we respond.
Funny enough, it's easier to see the Lord at work when we are already filled with his love and joy.
An audience of children and mothers watch our dramas and testimonies in the slums. A tiny stream of black water trickled between us and them. To get to this location we had to walk underneath a bridge in the pitch black for a few minutes. Often times the area would flood, making it impossible to go underneath the bridge; the only way in or out.
The Lord really showed up on our trip, often times in ways we didn't expect. We came to surrender our way of ministry for his. He moved in many peoples' hearts, including my own. He healed, he saved, he counseled, he redeemed. He accomplished what we came to do.
He also strengthened the "young men of Agudo." In the church where we stayed, several young men lived upstairs together. Some of them were pastors and others were studying. They had full-time jobs during the day, but they prioritized ministry whenever they had free time. We quickly became friends with them, spending a lot of time together inside the church and out. They also translated our testimonies for us.
It wasn't long before they realized that the things we did for outreach were not complicated or challenging - they could do it themselves and more. We could see firsthand how emboldened they had become over the course of one month. Discipleship is so powerful because its influence multiplies influence. Today those young men of Agudo are still leading the new ministries we started or revived.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave for Indonesia. Rachel expressed this well so I'll cite her:
The early morning we left the Philippines for Indonesia, we opened our door to find that a couple little boys had slept outside our door the night before because they didn't want to miss saying goodbye to us. This touched our team so much, and I don't think there were many dry eyes as we said goodbye.
Looking back, I am touched by all the support and prayers I and my team received in this (and the next) country. There were plenty of times when something beautifully small would happen and I'd think, "There are people praying for me and this ministry back home."
It's been a joy to do this with you.
I've got one last story.
After our last - and largest - ministry times to an audience of two hundred or so students, we were taking photographs with each class. We were taking one last photograph as the rest of the classes filed out of the gymnasium when I noticed that one small girl in her school uniform had stayed behind.
She stood next to the photographer, smiling directly at me. I could literally feel my heart melting - she was so adorable.
In that very moment I was struck with a thought, "Could this be the face of Jesus?"
Before the thought could even leave my mind she - agh how do I explain this - scrunched up her face with a nod and an even beamier smile, as if to say...
Stay tuned for my next blogpost on our next month in Indonesia!