‘God called me for this,’ says former Muslim, now Bible college director
SOLANO, Philippines — ‘I grew up Muslim. My father was…
MANILA, Philippines — Hannah Faith knows her ABCs — and a lot more.
“Letter A,” she begins, in high-pitched, staccato syllables. “‘A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother,’ Proverbs chapter 10 verse one.
“Letter B: ‘Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth or turmoil,’ Proverbs chapter … (she thinks for a moment) 15 verse 16.
“Letter C: Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right … ”
And on she goes — barely stopping to breathe — straight through the alphabet.
After four solid minutes of reciting from memory, she reaches “Letter Z: ‘Zion heard, and was glad.’”
Braided pigtails bobbing, she triumphantly chirps out the Scripture reference: “Psalms chapter 97 … verse eight!”
Her classmates whoop and cheer.
She’s 4 years old, by the way — this girl named Faith who studies math and reading and memorizes God’s Word in a place called Friendship.
The 45-member Friendship Road Church of Christ hosts a weekday tutorial program for Faith and 26 other children in its building — a simple, cinderblock-and-sheet-metal structure in Marikina, a suburb of the Philippines’ capital city. The program is part of Metro Manila Ministries, a church-supported nonprofit founded and overseen by Filipino and American Christians.
Nearly 13 million people inhabit Manila and its surrounding communities. An estimated 4 million live in the city’s slums. That includes the urban poor who live as squatters — inhabiting ramshackle structures on land they don’t own — in the communities of Friendship and nearby Twinville. The threat of eviction by the government is ever-present.
Many of the children here never attend school, and those who do are unready for the academic rigors.
As young as age 5, they drop out and beg or peddle on the streets, rummaging through the trash looking for anything they can sell. Some steal and get hooked on sniffing glue.
Drugs and gangs are part of life here. Last year, the country’s newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, launched a controversial Drug War, targeting the cartels with tactics that have claimed thousands of lives and raising the ire of human rights groups.
Even in a place called Friendship, it’s easy to despair, says Danni de Vera, minister for the Twinville Church of Christ and evangelist for Metro Manila Ministries.
But here he sees hope for the future — a small hope, Faith-sized.
Providing children as young as 3 with
pre-kindergarten education — which is largely out of reach for the poor in Manila — decreases the risk of dropping out, de Vera says. Consistently, the children who attend the ministry’s tutoring centers are top performers in their schools.
But the ministry’s mission goes far beyond academics.
“Doing the work of the Lord is my life,” he says. “Until my last breath in this world, I want to share the Word of God. This tutorial center helps me preach, not only to the congregation every Sunday, but every day throughout the lives of these children.”
On a Monday morning, as Faith and her classmates study inside the church building, de Vera and his fellow Christians gather around tables at the entrance to study the Bible with the children’s parents.
Faith’s teacher, Rose Papasin, discovered the Church of Christ through her daughter, Izzy, who began attending 10 years ago.
“I saw my daughter reading the Bible every day, but I didn’t understand it,” says Papasin, who grew up dabbling in Catholicism and various Protestant faiths. Soon, she was studying alongside her daughter and members of the church.
“In every Bible study, my eyes were opened. I saw the truth,” says Papasin, who was baptized two years later and has taught at the tutorial center for four years.
The work is “very fulfilling,” she says, but quickly adds that, in order for her students to be successful, “we need also the help of the parents.”
Like Papasin, Metro Manila Ministries founder Remy Kingsley came to faith in this burgeoning metropolis. She answered a newspaper ad for free lessons through the World Bible School correspondence ministry.
She was baptized here and later married Dale Kingsley, an American — whom she met through an ad in another newspaper, The Christian Chronicle — and moved to Wichita, Kan. Now she and her family worship with the Northside Church of Christ and make yearly mission trips to the Philippines.
“I am not a Christian that can just sit around,” Kingsley says. “I cannot be a bench-warmer.”
On one trip, while visiting the Friendship community, she saw an opportunity to help children and share Christ with their parents. Working with de Vera — a friend from their days in a Filipino church’s young adults ministry — the Kingsleys launched a tutorial center through the Friendship Road church in 2007.
As church members studied the Bible with the students’ parents, baptisms followed, resulting in the planting of a Church of Christ in Twinville — which now also hosts a tutorial program.
Metro Manila Ministries helps other Churches of Christ in the Philippines, which has about 1,000 congregations, launch similar outreach efforts.
The nonprofit also helps to provide education far beyond early childhood, partnering with Churches of Christ that offer livelihood classes in sewing, jewelry making, cooking and other job-related skills.
One partner, the Payatas Outreach Center, offers livelihood courses plus specialized classes on aging for the elderly in their community, says minister Felipe Cariaga.
Cariaga, founder and president of the Manila School of Evangelism, says that the classes help preaching students and church members alike to connect with people in their communities. Working with Metro Manila Ministries, Filipino Christians can let their neighbors know that “there are people like us who can help them — not only in their spiritual lives, but also in their physical lives,” Cariaga says. Then, he adds, “they’re willing to trust us.”
Nine years after launching the first tutorial center, there are small signs of change and faith — even joy — in Manila’s impoverished communities.
Lorenz Bianan, age 12, lives with his family of 10 in Twinville. Though they’re squatters, the family has recently refurbished their home. Outside its bright yellow doors stands a neatly trimmed row of potted plants on a stone balcony — intricately carved and painted to resemble wood.
His mom, Joy, enrolled Lorenz in the tutorial program hosted by the 60-member Twinville Church of Christ. The first graduate of the Twinville program, he’s now an academic standout in seventh grade.
He was baptized two years ago. His mother, impressed with her son’s faith, began studying the Bible and was baptized last year. Now she shares the Gospel with her neighbors and hosts Bible studies in their home.
When asked to name his favorite Bible story, Lorenz Bianan gives an unusual answer — Job, the Old Testament figure who loses all his riches and sits, destitute, in sorrow and ash, begging for an explanation.
“Even when he is sick, he still stays faithful to God,” Lorenz says of Job.
When asked what he hopes to do with his life, the fourth grader’s answer is equally surprising.
“I want to study microbiology,” he says, “and become a scientist.”
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