when i bring my students to the slums, i only give them one rule: to find out what they can live without.
when they sleep in the slums, can they do without their bed or their toothpaste or their toilet paper? the moment they stop, to say the cannot live without this or without that, their journey with the poor stops.
one lady student was so ashamed to move her vowels in her host’s home that she waited for midnight to do it, when she thought everyone was already asleep.
in most homes, toilets don’t have doors. the feces drops directly on the sea water or river water below the house.
there is no pipe in plumbing, no running water and certainly no toilet paper.
midnight came and she moved her vowel and suddenly everyone heard the plunk plunk so loud as the feces hit the water. it was to say the least the most unforgettable experience of her life.
there are two approaches to poverty in the slums. one is developmental, a common approach which aims to lift the poor out of poverty, into a more decent and just living condition.
the second approach is simply to journey with the poor, to understand why the bible says the poor are rich in faith. this latter approach aims to bring us deep into the purposes of God in the way He deals with the poor. a remarkable insight can be gleaned from the life of Mother Teresa. She said she saw Jesus in the poor, in the dying and in the sick.
As we journey with the poor, we come to grip with the things we are in bondage with which is why we ask, what is it we cannot live without?
the goal is not to make the students into rigid stoics, spartans who reject luxuries or extravagance. the goal is to find our freedom. st. paul said, “i know what it is to live in plenty and i know what it is to live in want.”
when we are in bondage, we have no freedom. as christians we must be able to say that even without our laptop or cellphone, we will survive. i can enjoy the lavish life of the wealthy but i also will not be crippled when casts into utter poverty.
a beloved author George MacDonald, whose writing converted C. S. Lewis to Christ, once wrote (in his book, The Highlander’s Last Song) that, referring to the decline in the spirituality of their clan, their misery all began when they started to despise their poverty.
i could not for all of my life really fathom how a mortal man could ever find that kind of wisdom. but macdonald had it.
in our Christianity today, following the materialism of the world, we have defined being wealthy in terms of material possessions, hoarding and accumulation. wealth is measured in terms of how much money we have in the bank, how much we possess even though the bible is quite clear it is not to be so.
instead wealth as far as God is concerned is measured in terms of how much one has given away to the poor. true wealth is found in our generosity, not our possession.
one student later on asked me, how do i draw the line? how do i know i am no longer too extreme, excessive, abnormal?
i believe the line is found in our freedom. all christians must have this freedom. it was for freedom that God has called us. we are free and yet we make ourselves a slave of all. Jesus was rich but he made himself poor in order to make others rich.
those in bondage to material wealth have no freedom. when you take away their possessions they will be crippled or die, or worse, give up their christianity. many in the rich churches are like that. once they have no more money, they will stop attending church.
and yet, among the poor, that is not the case. they will continue to attend even though they have nothing.
we slept under the bridge one time. on top of us was the coastal road, from manila going to bacoor, cavite. each time a vehicle pass through, we would be awaken because our house was attached to the inner ribs of the bridge.
our host was allan, with a wife and three tiny kids. the youngest then had the flu and worsened by the constant bitter smoke from the wood stoves. i have asthma so i noticed immediately.
allan was one of our church leaders. he found Christ in our church when we were evangelizing under the bridge.
after a couple of nights there, all of us were desperate to leave the community and go back to the safety and comfort of our homes.
while allan on the other hand was passionately testifying to us about his faith and how thankful he was that God had brought him there under the bridge.