Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Friends on the Bridge

Time was short so I wasn't planning on stopping by, but how could I just pass by without saying hi and seeing how Robert and Lito were doing? I was on my way to a ministry meeting that took me across their bridge again - but stopping by would make me late. Then I remembered that the last two times I met with my ministry partners, I was waiting for twenty to thirty minutes before they arrived. I figured that they wouldn't be angry if I was a few minutes late. I have learned that it is often difficult to be on time in the Philippines. The traffic is very unpredictable and the same route to work or school each day can unexplainably take twice as long sometimes.

I pulled up to the foot of the bridge in my car and walked up to see Robert and Lito. I believe that Lito was out looking for work, but Robert greeted me with his usual smile as he explained to me that the medicine I got for him was helping and that he is breathing a lot better. While chatting, we got on the subject of food, probably because of my limited Tagalog there are only so many things I can talk about. You know, things like "How are you", "What's your name", "Where is the bath room (called the comfort room or CR in the Philippines)." I guess I can say a bit more than that, but we got on the subject of food. After asking me what my favorite Filipino dishes are he told me his:sinigang, a soup with pork and vegetables that is eaten with or on rice. I told him that I like sinigang too and that my wife cooks it rather well. Then I said, "Someday, you'll have to come to my place and we can eat it together." To which Robert quickly responded, "When?" "Oh", I said. "Lets see. . ." (I meant it when I invited him, but I didn't have a particular time in mind, I just thought someday). I went through my schedule in my mind and then said, "How about this Sunday? You brother Lito can join us." I told him that he and Lito can even join us at church. Robert said yes, but then he looked down at his legs, pointed, and said, "I'm shy." He was fine with going to my house, but he was embarrassed to go to such a public place as our church. As I thought about it I realized that it would be difficult for him to make it up to the third floor movie theater where our church is meeting since he can not walk. I told him that we can just have lunch at my house then. Soon I will look for a church that is nearer to him and that is more accessible for him. My mission, the Evangelical Free Church Mission, has a church fairly near to him. I hope that I can find a kind member of that church who would be willing to pick him and his brother up and bring them to church on Sundays.

I said goodbye to Robert and told him I would see him next Sunday. This was our third meeting.
Click here to read more.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Man on the Bridge: Part 2

A month had gone by since I visited Robert. I had driven across the bridge and past him several times, but I had not made the time to visit him again. I decided to stop by and visit with him on the way to a weekly meeting that I have in Manila. I parked my car at the bottom of the bridge and began walking toward him. I wondered if he would remember me. I also wondered how he managed to live in that crack between the bridge and the wall. As I got closer, I saw a 3x10 foot piece of corrugated sheet metal that served as a roof. The crack was filled with trash from the foot of the bridge all the way to the place where his roof began. The doorway to his home was about 8 feet down in this crack. He had no door, no windows, no lights (except by candle) and no electricity.

Robert greeted me again with a large smile. He remembered my name, and as I walked up he said in a mixture of broken English and Tagalog, "Your the guy from Christmas who gave me the bible." I asked him if he was reading it and he said yes. I quickly learned that he spoke very little English, while he in turn learned that my Tagalog (although better than his English) is limited. I sat down with him on the railing of the bridge and we slowly talked. We struggled to understand each other, but between my limited Tagalog vocabulary, his limited English, and a few hand gestures, we seemed to manage. I learned that he has been living by the bridge for three years with his older brother who takes care of him. Robert turns 34 in March and has five siblings. When he was just a year old, he had a very high fever (maybe a result of polio?)which somehow lead to the paralysis of his legs.

As Robert and I continued to talk, he began to cough and asked me to wait for a minute. He climbed down from the railing and crawled on his hands while dragging his legs and the rest of his body along. He disappeared as he climbed down into his make-shift home. A few minutes later, he reappeared and climbed back up next to where I was sitting on the bridge. He showed me his inhaler and explained that he has asthma while he continued coughing. I told him that one of my sons also has asthma. I thought to myself, "It's not surprising that he has asthma since he literally lives just a few feet away from a road where thousands of cars drive everyday." I asked him if I could look at his inhaler to see what kind of medicine he was using. While examining it, I quickly noticed that it was empty. At this time, his older brother Angelito (Lito) rode up on a bike with a pill to help ease Robert's breathing. I asked him why he didn't just get another inhaler. He said, "Kasi, mashadong mahal ito (Because it's too expensive)." I took the empty canister and told him that I would buy him a new one and bring it back after my meeting in Manila.

After my meeting that evening, I returned to meet Robert and Lito. Lito met me by my car at the foot of the bridge to help me carry a few bags of stuff that I picked up for them. Once we reached their home, I noticed that the darkness down in the crack seemed to have multiplied without the light of day. The passing headlights of the cars revealed the smile on Robert and Lito's faces. Along with the medicine, I picked up 10 kilos of rice and about a dozen various kinds of canned foods. I didn't know whether or not they had a can opener, so I bought them one. While talking with them, I became a little worried about the food I had bought them, because I realized that they only had about 6 teeth between the two of them. I knew that they would have no problem eating the rice, but I wasn't sure if they could eat the canned fish I bought them with so few teeth in their mouths. I later found out that they managed.

This was my second visit with Robert and his brother Lito. Click here to read more.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Man on the Bridge: Part 1

My travels through Manila often take me over a bride that crosses the Marikina River. It was on this route, (which has become one of my favorite shortcuts) that I noticed a man sitting on the bridge's railing. I didn't think much of it and continued on my way. On another day shortly after that I noticed him there again and I began to look for him whenever I crossed over that brigde. He was always there, just sitting in the same place. No matter what time of day, morning or night, he was always there. When I looked a little closer I noticed that he has a normal man's torso, but that his legs were very small and out of proportion with the rest of his body. Then I realized that he was always there because he lives there, in a crack between the bridge and the wall next to it.

Later, I learned that there were sixteen families living in these cracks on both sides of the bridge and some were living under parts of it. There were whole families living there and some of them were made up of three generations (or more); Grandparents, parents, and grand children. Well, my just passing by went on for a month or two, as I looked for the man on the bridge. I would wonder, "How does he get around? I really don't think he can . . . so where does he get his food from? Maybe he fishes from the river." Then I thought, "Since he probably can't move around much, he probably can't go to church. I wonder if he knows the Lord?" As I continually passed him by, I told myself that I need to stop by and talk with this guy. I was acting like the men who passed by the injured man laying in the road in the story of "The good Samaritan." My conscious was getting heavy as I continued to pass by this guy in my comfortable airconditioned car; sometimes eating a snack and listening to my stereo. Finally, at Christmas time, I stopped my van in front of him on the bridge, rolled down my window and introduced myself to him. His eyes brightened and he had a big smile on his face as he enthusiastically said, "Hello Sir." I said, "Hi, I'm Sean, what's your name?" He told me that his name is Robert.

At this point I it is necessary for me to explain a piece of Filipino culture. Here in the Philippines, there is a Christmas tradition which reminds me of Halloween. People go door to door, (sometimes singing Christmas carols) hoping to recieve some money; usually coins. I figured that Robert was not able to get around so I decided to bless him this Christmas with some money and a bible. That was our first meeting. Click here to read part 2.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

We talked until it was too dark to see each other any more

They had a fan but it was not running; it appeared that their electricity was cut. We talked until it was too dark to see each other any more. The small shanty that houses this family of 10 plus, and a few grand children is smaller than my garage. Even though it was dirty, filled with mosquitoes, and humid, nice conversation made these realities fade away. It met Alisa, Irene, and their neighbor through a fellow missionary who brought me to them so that I could practice Tagalog and minister to them. Alisa, a 59 year old mother of ten brightened up when she found out that I was from America. She told me that when her daughter Irene was younger, she was sponsored by a family in the States. Alisa brought out a stack of old weathered letters that Irene’s sponsors had written to them. The family treasured those letters and the friendship that had developed over the years with this American couple who had it on their hearts to help.

We moved to another shanty that had some light and Alisa went on to tell me that they lost contact with the family many years ago because their farm land was destroyed by ash from the volcano at Mt. Pinatubo. They were forced to evacuate and have been squatting in a make-shift home along a dirty river in Manila. Agency policy prevented them from giving Alisa and her family the address of their America friends, who had no way of knowing what happened to Irene and her family or where they moved to. As I examined the letters, I noticed the names of the American couple and Irene’s case number so I copied them down . Alisa also told me that the family lived in Florida.

The next day I did a search of the names on the internet. The names popped endorsing a dog training school. The endorsement included the city in Florida that they lived in. I didn’t know if this was the right couple, but I entered their names in the on-line White Pages for that city. Sure enough it popped up with their name and address. I was able to call and talk with the wife (her husband had passed away a while back). For years they had wondered what had happened to Irene and her family. She emailed me a letter which I delivered to a happy Irene and family. I was able to take some pictures of Irene (now 27 and married with 3 children) and some of her family to email back to Florida. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for these families or my new friendship with them, but what a privilege to have been used by Him to bless them.