Goats, fish and hope in the Philippines
KINAWAHAN, Philippines — Why would anyone want to leave Heaven’s View?
That’s the nickname Edgar Demecillo gave his small swath of paradise in this southeast Asian nation. Here, on a quiet mountaintop, overlooking the island of Cebu, he raises goats, weaves baskets from coconut palm fronds and preaches the Gospel to a church of 15 souls.
Life is hard, despite the beauty. There’s no electricity, and it’s a half-mile, treacherous walk downhill to fetch water. The climate is arid, and raising crops is difficult.
“It’s a sacrifice. It’s hard work,” says Demecillo, 33.
But “for me, it is very important.”
Even in the harshest environments, Christians must work to “capture the soul of every man for our Lord,” he says. “I must proclaim to other people so that they can obtain salvation.”
For smart, industrious Filipinos such as Demecillo, the pressure to leave impoverished communities is high, says Salvador Cariaga, an evangelist who preaches Jesus and sustainable agriculture at nearby Arapal Christian Camp.
Potential ministers and community leaders often move to the island’s cities to make a living, earning $5 to $10 per day.
“When they do that, communities like this have no hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty,” Cariaga says.
Demecillo, who was baptized 13 years ago, became a disciple of sustainable farming in 2009. He learned to raise goats and maximize profits, working with Cariaga and church-supported ministries including Give A Goat and Bread for a Hungry World. The ministries loaned him goats and allowed him to keep their offspring.
It wasn’t easy — especially after a drought killed many of the kids produced by the loaned goats. But he persevered, remembering 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
“Now I am preaching the word of God here and in neighboring places,” he says, “and developing their livelihood, increasing their ability to raise goats.
“And I’m planting fruits.”
As a result, the members of the small Church of Christ that meets in Heaven’s View used their own money, plus a little support from two nearby congregations, to build a meeting place.
More importantly, Cariaga says, when Demecillo decided to stay, “this community regained its leader, and this church here regained its hope.”
‘WE DON’T JUST GIVE THEM A FISH’
Another Filipino Christian, Marilyn Jumao-as, succumbed to the temptation to move to the big city — Fort Worth, Texas, to be precise.
In need of funds to pay a debt, she could find no other way to raise the money locally. So she left her home and family in Compostela, a community in Cebu City, and earned income taking care of an elderly Christian couple in Texas.
Though she loved the couple — and the Church of Christ in Texas that treated her like family — she missed her family back home. When she returned, she looked for a way that Filipino women could earn money without crossing an ocean.
Now she teaches women to fish — or, more accurately, to make fish bracelets.
Using old magazine pages, she and about 20 women gather at the Compostela Church of Christ on Saturdays to produce colorful handbags, change purses and bracelets that resemble the Christian ichthus — or fish — symbol.
Give A Goat sells the products, along with soap produced from goat’s milk, and provides the women with supplemental income.
“We don’t just give them a fish,” Jumao-as says. “We teach them to trust in God.”
Loretta Canen loved the women she met at the church but lacked the manual dexterity to make bracelets or goat soap. She became the designated childcare coordinator, leading Bible songs and devotionals for the children as their mothers make products to sell. The women pay her for her time. One year ago, she was baptized.
“I love my time with the kids,” Canen says, meaning the human ones, not the goats. “I think it’s my ministry.”
Other women have found their calling through the program, Jumao-as says.
“I’m so grateful to God for giving me these ladies,” she says, brushing back tears. “Money cannot buy the happiness they have now with God.”