Our community and ministry began years before we joined MMP. When we started, we were not yet part of MMP. We belonged to another organization. We all moved to MMP and took over the shell corporation of MMP after the founders decided to close down the corporation. MMP before we arrived was entirely focused on pre-schools. We were just a handful of missionaries journeying together when we moved into MMP. When we moved in we had church planting as the flagship project.
Later, though, the MMP pre-school also joined us. MMP today is the umbrella organization for church planting, preschool, manpower placement agency, college scholarship, microfinance and overseas missions. MMP means Mission Ministries Philippines, Inc. and it actually began in America (as MM USA). We are now trying to get the name changed here, to make it resonate more with who we are and what we are doing. Maybe we will change it to, Manlalakbay na Maralita sa Panginoon (Those Who Journey in the Lord with the Poor).
We did not have any money or office at the start. After twenty years in MMP, we are now ten times that many, about 50 full time staff excluding associate staff (all our partner churches) and Trustees, and offshoot group, the MUG. We plant 3 to 4 churches a year in the slums (2013). We actually have many applicants each year, sometimes more than ten. We want to expand fast but growing a community is difficult. We can grow in number but many doubt if we can sustain relationships if we accept too many new staff too quickly. Relationships take time to cultivate.
I have worked with the Navigators and seen how difficult and slow recruiting from the upper class is. The rich are too attached to material wealth. They take almost a whole lifetime to decide to go to full time mission. They are also expensive. Our country has seen several decades of real fire from heaven kind of revivals as a result, there are many, especially in the lower economic class, who are soundly converted and doing ministry already but dont know they are doing ministry. Almost every slum I go to, I bump into them – they are doing evangelism, bible study, and others but dont realize they are doing ministry.
We recruit mainly from the poor because they decide faster (they have very little options). When they know they will do ministry with a support group like ours, they get very excited – they have professionals who will do counseling and spiritual direction for them, financial experts who will help them raise funds or engage in suitable tentmaking work, and be trained, on top of having a warm and dedicated community. All our field workers work in a team also which is important (several years ago ABCCOP realized that the number cause of attrition in their ranks was the fact that they sent people to the field alone, so since that time they have stopped doing that and now always send by teams).
The poor are also cheaper to mobilize. They usually only need about US$4 dollars a day to get them into the field. Whats more, these people dont need special adaption training to adjust to slum life or to understand slum culture, they live there and grew up there, they know it by heart.
We have to turn away many applicants because of two reasons. The first is the team arrangement. Each time actually divide after each church planting project. They are then paired with new ones, new recruits. The team flavor has to come from the old ones, meaning the older staff have to set the pace and create the work atmosphere which means they need to be the dominant or at least the majority in the team. This growth by mitosis means we cannot expand as fast as we want. We can only accept the number of recruits we can accommodate in the mitosis process.
The second reason is community life. If we expand too fast, we will lose our bonding as a family. If we were to run it like a corporation and treat our people like staff or employees, it would be different. The challenge with community building is maintaining relationships that are biblical – meaning, akin to community or family. The bible describes the church using these words – the household of God, brothers and sisters with God as our Father, family, etc. Most mission groups use corporate values to maintain their structures. These groups are very indifferent and commercialized. The sense of family is not present. If we grew too fast, we will lose that sense of family.
Together all our churches would total more than 4,000 members (2013), although they are not technically our members because we have turned them over already to their mother churches. MMP vowed not to form another denomination and to always make our newly planted churches part of existing denominations or groups. These churches are all in the slums, in Payatas, Montalban, San Jose (Bulacan), Las Pinas, Talaba (Bacoor), Taytay, Cainta, Malinta (Valenzuela), Balara, San Mateo, etc. MMP also branched out to micro churches now under the MUG (Manila Underground).
It was our belief from the start to always support the church. MMP is a parachurch although it tries in many ways to live as a church for the reason that one cannot plant churches unless one thinks and breaths and lives church. MMP will not plant churches without the local church even though this has many times proven to be painful and heartbreaking. MMP can always do it alone and even do it faster without the participation of the local church. The local church also many times hates the slums which make it doubly difficult. Our most frequent failures in church planting is attributed to the local church partner violating our partnership agreement – either they renounce their worker whom they sent to the slums, stop supporting him, or else, withdraw their worker completely to devote him to another community.
MMP is organized as a flat structure composed of church planting teams, and overseen by an Execom. The team leaders are part of the Execom. Above the Execom is the board of trustees. The Execom runs the entire MMP and is headed by an executive director and his staff, training director, field director, office administrator, and partner church liaison. These five staff along with the Board of Trustees are elected by the membership. In the election, the wives also vote. Every member has one vote.
MMP as a religious order:
MMP is I think less a church and more a religious order. When we look at the Rule of Life of the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis of Assisi, this becomes apparent. The Communion or Holy Eucharist forms the most important part of the rules. It says, since we see Eucharist as the heart of our prayer, our personal rule would call us to frequent participation in this Sacrament.
The second rule of their order is Penitence. Regular examination of our obedience to Christ is necessary. To be reconcilers we must first be deeply reconciled to God. We have not done much of this and we need to practice daily self-examination and regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The third is personal prayer. We set aside a definite time for prayer each day to spend time with God, to pray for others, to meditate and to express our thankfulness. Evangelicals call it the Quiet Time. Prayer is the root from which our lives and ministries grow and are nourished.
The fourth is self-denial. This is the discipline of saying “No” to oneself by putting God first. We are often aware of the places in our lives where additional self- discipline is needed, but our Spiritual Directors should be asked to help in this area. We also focus on eliminating the ways we may manipulate others to our own ends.
In this regard, we have three people who are trained spiritual directors. Winston recently finished the Center for Ignatian Spirituality course to become a spiritual director and retreat master from Ateneo University (2013). Sir Leo is perhaps the most competent and best trained spiritual director in our group.
The fifth rule is Retreat. Silent retreats and quiet days provide an opportunity to rest and grow physically, mentally and spiritually. At least three times a year, we participate in organized or private retreats.
The sixth is study. We all need to learn more about God and His will for us. Study of the Scriptures and of Franciscan spirituality is important to our Christian growth.
MMP may stand out for building the most people academically, helping them get degrees suited for their ministry. Elsie is the most outstanding in the field of community development having gotten a master’s degree from the prestigious ASI (Asian Social Institute, the most renowned in Asia). Don got his MATUL (MA in Tranformational Urban Leadership). Grace is finishing her MBA. I have perhaps gotten the most, having my diploma in biblical counseling, a diploma also in spiritual direction and my DMin in Leadership. My wife did the two diplomas with me and now is candidate for EDD in Counseling.
The seventh is simplicity of living. Simplicity calls us to examine our giving of self as well as the material things over which we have control. Our cluttered lives, our preoccupations with “belonging”, can interfere in our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters. We are called to a life of simplicity, eliminating those aspects of ourselves and our lives which prevent our full expression of God’s love.
The eighth is work. Service has always been an important part of the Franciscan vocation. Daily work is one way in which Tertiaries serve God and others; we are often also called to serve God and our brothers and sisters in individual ministries, ranging from prayer to social activism.
The ninth is obedience. All our staff are obedient to the decisions of our Execom just as the Tertiaries submit to the Third Order Chapter. We say the Daily Offices. We support each other by prayer, attendance at Fellowship meetings and a pledge of financial support to the Third Order. We report regularly to the Board of Trustees as the Franciscans do to their Order on the keeping of the Rules. We have Spiritual Directors whom we see a minimum of twice a year.
The monastic life actually is based on living together, and as Bonhoeffer wrote, of a common life together. MMP people live in their own homes but always feel it is the community which is their home, attested by the fact that hardly anyone leaves or resigns.
We will look at this common life and life together in MMP.
Rules and storytelling:
Many mission organizations and religious orders utilize rules in order to instill discipline and order. Most convents or monasteries also have rules like the Benedictine rules which govern eating, sleeping, praying, fighting, expulsion, burial, etc. inside the monastery.
In MMP we have many rules but we rely also on storytelling. Storytelling is more powerful and binding. We need rules certainly but more than that we also need stories or narratives that underlie our journey. Jesus used mainly stories and parables. The Torah is a big bundle of rules governing relationships among the called-people of God, the Israelite nation, including laundry, cooking, interest on loans, haircut, even contagious diseases, all designed to help promote community. In the New Testament, we have many such guidelines and arrangements (it is hard to call them rules, honestly). An example is Ephesians 4
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
We must always remember that verses like these (all the verses with the phrase, one another), were meant to be rules within community. Nowadays because we live so independently of each other and there is no more community, we apply this like common virtues, in our relationship with non-Christians. But they were to characterize actually our common life as the called-people of God, the church.
Most communities today, even monastic ones, are already very individualistic. The sense of community where people relate as family members is no longer there. This is how badly and deeply secularization and modernization has influenced Christian relationships.
St. Benedict introduced a very important and timely reform in the monastic movement, as early as 500 years after Christ’s death. He noted that many monks were moving around too quickly from monastery to monastery. They did so when they were dissatisfied with the food, the beds, the abbot, the worship or other reasons. He found these reasons very petty and not enough justification to transfer. We have a saying too these days about moving from one church to the other when a member is dissatisfied with his or her church. We tell them that if you happen to find the perfect church, do not go there, you will only ruin it.
What St. Benedict did was instituted the rule of permanence. It meant that when one joined a community, he did so for life. The rule of permanence of Benedict meant that one could not transfer from one monastery to another, for one reason or another, like bad food tyrannical abbot, lousy fellow monks, bullies, etc. It meant when one joined a church or monastic community, he is there for good, to grow old there, die there and be buried there. It is very significant that St Paul equated the church with marriage and in marriage, there is no divorce except for infidelity. If you happen to marry the wrong guy, too bad.
If we take Benedict’s rule of permanence seriously, we will be stuck with the local church we moved in on the first day and be forced to really journey, look at the rules or laws of the community and persevere there. Only when this element of permanence is present can many of the principles of maturity in Scripture actually work. If we can always move out when the going is tough we will not see the crucible of God’s love – he molds us within difficult relationships to teach us how to love and we cannot learn to love if the option to get up and go is always there.
A very popular set of community rules can also be found in Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, a classic on how to maintain relationship and spirituality within a monastic community comparable with the Benedictine rules. The two are beautiful books or set of rules that may have sold more than the bible itself.
But story telling is far more powerful than laws to unite people in community. No matter how beautiful or harmonious these laws or rules are, storytelling still beats them all. As we said, Jesus bound people by stories, parables and others. Experts will say Jesus was a master when it came to teaching precisely because he targeted the corpus callosum which is the link between the left brain and the right brain. The corpus callosum it is said is comprised mainly of stories and feelings. The left brain is the most undeveloped while the right brain is very susceptible to feelings and experiences. The two sides connect together with stories and with Jesus, it was with the use of parables that he connected the two sides of the brain.
Stories lift us up out of the worldly concerns and make us see beyond to a new horizon. Stories ignite also our imagination to inspire us and give us new strength and courage. We have great fictional stories like the Lord of the Rings which tell of the nobility and bravery of Frodo who was the only one qualified to carry the magical ring and bring it to the volcano to be destroyed but the others, the more powerful and wiser warriors, even the great Gandalf, could not qualify because they would be overcome by the ring. Only those who do not desire power could resist the ring and that man was Frodo. It is powerful stories like this that binds the people in the community, these stories ennoble them and make them apply willingly and passionately a standard that is higher than law or rule itself. Law simply cannot reach out to this level of profoundness or poignancy like stories do.
What the law or rules could not do is move us from within, from our passions and desires, to live for something higher than ourselves, to sacrifice and to go beyond our call of duty. The law or rules could only work from outside, like a force compelling us against our will or desires, but stories work within us. We own our stories. Stories also show Christ in person, and in a relationship. This makes it easy for us to enter into the picture, and become part of the story. We identify with heroes and warriors, and are swallowed up in tales of sacrifice, honor, courage and love.
Our favorite story is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which is a story of such great drama. Narnia is also another fictional story related to that. Some will say the story is only for children, but really, it is a story for us all, especially those of us who still have the child inside them, full of imagination and hope, full of passion and daring. When we use store telling as a way to build communities, we make use so much on the imagination of the hearers. When we were small, we have great imaginations. In the early 19th century, a new book was like a new box office hit movie today. Without imagination, our stories would fall flat on their faces.
The drama in Narnia is most exciting when Edmund is going to be punished but Aslan decides to take his place. It portrays the drama that must have gone on in heaven when all things seem lost for good. Jesus as Aslan, agrees to die in Edmund’s place and it seems in the mind of all, the cause is lost forever. When Jesus dies, all are forlorn, the wind seem to have died the leaves do not move, everything seem to have stood still.
But suddenly, something erupts into the scene, the stone table on which Aslan is laid, is broken. Aslan’s body is nowhere to be found. Then everyone remembers the ancient law that said, when someone who has no sin dies for someone else’s sin, he breaks free from death. The White Witch apparently forgot this and she fell into the trap by killing Aslan. By killing Aslan, the witch also set free the entire land of Narnia, which until then was under her spell, under a curse.
Community needs stories like these. I think God also knew because he did not just give us a set of rules or a compass. He gave us a whole Bible replete with stories, dramas and great triumphs and defeats. Without such stories our community will quickly degenerate into a social club or a charitable organization. But the movement and dynamism of community remain alive primarily through storytelling. Great hermeneutics according to N. T. Wright is all about being able to weave lessons into and through the great narratives of God as creator and covenant maker stories.
Stories from MMP:
Most of the stories of MMP comes during the once a month whole day in prayer when all the staff gather to intercede for the ministry, the donors, the families, marriages, the government, leaders and others. During this time, many stories are told. We begin with an update, how you are and what blessings have you received.
We have many stories in MMP. Astrid, one of our staff, and the oldest, is always seen giving so much of her support to the poor that she meets on her way home at night even though they are so poor themselves. Imee, also regularly, as a matter of habit, bring the remaining bowl of soup after dinner to her neighbors in Payatas who have nothing to eat. Many in MMP borrow money just to be able to attend our worship every other Wednesday. These stories bind us more than laws and rules do and bind us not just to one another but also to Jesus who is the highest ideal in all our stories. What ennobles us most is when we see someone among us willing to die self just to serve Jesus.
One of my favorite stories in Talaba, a slum along Manila bay, towards Cavite, was when a Canadian summer team worked there to help construct the church building. Each dinner time, the Canadian team and the MMP team shared dinner together after a grueling hard day’s work under the hot sun, shoveling cement and lifting hollow blocks.
I still remember with much shame that when we were all exhausted, escaping to the shade, our tongues hanging out, there was our pastora Millet (Espanola), still shoveling, still lifting hollow blocks and she was thinner and smaller than all of us.
In the dinner table, the group shared their stories. In this scene, we see how stories help us also get to know each other and become part of each other.
The Filipino team shared one night about how, no matter how poor they were, they would always plant a church and the Canadian team listened. Even when they had no food to eat, they went out to plant churches and in the past several years they had planted many churches. After hearing this, all the Canadians wept.
The next night, the Canadians now took their turn and told their stories and the Filipinos listened. The Canadians told how they were from a wealthy church and they had lots of money and had several hundred members and had been a church for 17 years already, but the church had not planted a single church since. And on hearing this, all the Filipinos wept. I remember this vividly. It is a story that will always remain in my heart.
Stories move us to a higher plain, to make us live not just for ourselves but for a lofty ideal. When people live for something higher, they become more than mortals, they become nobles, warriors, fearless heroes and heroines, and death no longer seem that scary and life becomes more enticing.
We also have many prayers that are weird and funny. Because most of us are very poor, it is not uncommon to be always praying for food, for our daily needs. So, our staff are all too familiar with prayers for provision and we have many variations for the same thing. The beginning was in Tatalon where our roots come from. It was I think Pastor Jun Paragas who taught the people to cast out the spirit of hunger – you point at your tummy and say, In Jesus Name, out loud and cast out, naming the disease or demon, in this case, the pangs of hunger, commanding it to leave your body. It works sometimes.
Pastor Ray Hilamon I remember was on a special ops mission in the mountains of Davao, targetting the T’boli tribes. He would wait at the Philippine airforce airbase for a space in one of the giant C130 an old Hercules remnant from WWII. Its very interesting because he is so poor but he can casually leave our office in Quezon City after a meeting and in the next moment, he is telling us he is at the Villamor airbase waiting for his ride. Usually, at the first trip he can already get a space, standing, but its free so the waiting is no problem. Then in the next moment within the same day, he calls to tells us he is already in GenSan and beginning his trip to the mountain. Back at the office he would tell us stories about his mission and usually, it is about surviving without money or food. The poor does a lot of ministry but without money. On one hike up a hill, he was very hungry and he had no food with him. He has to rely on good samaritans to feed him. He tells us, and I think it was in a prayer time, how God answered his prayer. He prayed that he could just eat the leaves along the trail and God would make his stomach able to digest them. And sometimes it really works.
The third version of pray for food happened on the way to a funeral. I think it was either the burial of May An’s papa or Doris’ papa. The new recruits, very idealistic, were on a van already along the Montalban area, towards the cemetery. Suddenly, ate Nita, sometimes, very pentecostal, tells the group it would be necessary for them to give even a token amount to the bereaved family. It was a tight and potentially embarrassing situation because everyone in the van had only enough money for going home. If they give even a little or half of it, they could not get home anymore that night. Begging would be the only option to get home. the worse part though was they had not had their meal and they were hoping that even if they could not get home, they could at least buy something to eat. They were famished. But they hesitatingly groped in their pockets and with much heaviness of heart, turned out bills and coins and placed them in the outstretched hand of Nita. It was not much but Nita, also very poor, knew what that money meant to all concerned. To the bereaved, a lot. In the Filipino tradition of needing to always give abuloy, very important. To those who gave, disastrous. So, she prayed like this. God, we know you will provide for our food and even now, fill our stomachs. And immediately she looked up and said, see, you are no longer hungry! The group was amazed at the miracle.
Our newest staff, Raymund is maybe also the youngest. He is doing his ALS now so he can get a certificate to allow him to go to college. He lives with his parents in Macabud up in the mountains of Montalban. One day during his training day, he took one of the jackfruits and divided it into two, one half he used for his fare going to the office for the training day and the other half he gave to us in the office. It was a delicious jackfruit all the more because it was generosity growing out of poverty.
Raymund hardly eats despite that we recruited him on the testimony of people who said he was very hardworking and was quite successful in his youth ministry, growing steadily into a leader above his peers. We were eating one time at Inasal (eat all you can rice). It was a treat after their immersion in the slums of Wawa. They came out victorious. During the dinner he ate lots of rice, maybe had five refills or more. Filipinos eat in a peculiar way. We eat our rice basically and use the viand, in this case, the chicken as the food to help us swallow our rice. We put bits on chicken on our spoonful of rice before we put it in our mouth. From this experience, we acquired the slogan, the battle cry, We will Rice Again!
When his chicken was almost gone, he asked for one more refill and then he wrapped the tiny chicken meat and the new rice refill. He said that will be his breakfast tomorrow.
Story of the urban poor:
A story that may grip us all in drama is the story of the urban poor, how they have gone out to the entire world bringing the gospel in difficult places. Urban poor or slum dwellers are the last people we would consider as missionaries even though they do a great work in the harvest. Many go out as missionaries but they do not look like missionaries at all. They are construction workers, domestic helpers, nurses and seamen. Poor and uneducated like in the Acts of the Apostles. They are able to go to mission sites that are impossible for regular missionaries – like Saudi Arabia, or in very expensive sites like Tokyo. They are new missionary fields like Kazakshtan and Mongolia in the new mining rush. They are also in India, as early as in the time of the business boom for movie digital cartoon productions.
More than 11 million Filipinos are working overseas. If we assume that 10% are Christians, that would be 1,100,000 people. If we say 10% of that are actively and boldly sharing the gospel, that would be a staggering 110,000 missionaries! That would make it the largest missionary force ever mobilized into the harvest in the entire history of Christian mission. The goal of the South Korea church is to have that in the next decade only. In other words, while it is still a goal of South Korea, it has already been accomplished by the Filipino church. But no one bothers and no one is impressed. The poor somehow do not figure in the calculation of the church that is biased for the rich.
The Philippine poor also plant churches, without money, without seminary degrees, and all for the love of Jesus. When we see them in their homes, we see also what the bible was saying, that the poor are rich in faith. It is an inspiring drama played out daily, every moment. Always, in it, we see God. We love the stories of St. Francis of Assisi also and how he referred to poverty as his beloved mistress (meaning, a Noble Lady or a Lady of great Royalty).
This is the story of the urban poor today and echoes the actions and dynamics of the first missionaries in the book of Acts. There, the first missionaries were also poor and uneducated. They were reluctant missionaries forced by persecution and drought to get out of their comfort zones, leave their homes for strange lands. Our OFW missionaries also leave not because of any romantic motive to share the gospel in foreign land but in order to find jobs and to avoid starvation. Evangelism is incidental only or accidental in some cases.
The first missionaries also went first to their cousins when they landed in the foreign country. They went to the synagogues where their fellow Jews and countrymen were hanging out. Evangelizing foreigners, unreached and unengaged, was far from their minds. Our OFWs are doing the same thing. They first reach out to their fellow expatriates, Filipinos. The first church in Saudi Arabia were all Filipinos. That was also the case in Japan and Vietnam. But in time, the locals were drawn in. Some Arabs were converted gradually in Jeddah and in Riyadh and in other cities. Also, some Japanese began attending the Filipino churches in Japan.
Our pastor in the slum in Sto. Domingo became the pastor in Tokyo, of an all Filipino church. One of his members in the Tokyo church was a Japayuki. This girl’s mom was our member in the Sto Domingo slum church. Slowly they got local Japanese people. They grew big and began sending missionaries. They are now in Vancouver and Oregon.
The strangest thing for me is the reverse mission. Some Filipinos came to know Jesus in the Middle East. And they get this idea that there are no Christians (born again) in the Philippines. One church prayed for a year for a member’s family in a slum in Kaingin, at the back of UP Diliman. We also began mobilizing to that slum about that time.
A year after we began our church planting work, that member from the Middle East church arrived. We had a meeting in my house and she told me about this burden they have for mission, to reach their relatives here in the Philippines. I was stunned. They actually see us as their mission field. Through their prayers I believe the church in the Kaingin slum was planted. It was inside the house of the family of that lady I met in our house. Her family all came to know Jesus and became the first members of our church there.
Pastora Leone also is of the same reverse mission mentality. She came to Christ also while working in the Middle East and returned to be a missionary to the Philippines. She is now our pastor in the slum church in Pulang Lupa.
There is a nice story about her work in the slums there, a garbage mountain site on the coastal road in Las Pinas. She is a very quiet and humble woman, single and comes from our partner church whose name already described what they are about: The Prayer of Jesus Ministry. So, that is what she does, she goes around the community regularly, from house to house, asking permission to pray for people inside the homes.
She does it regularly and sometimes it does not seem to have any effect on or value to the people except one day, she skipped a house and went to the next house. Before she got back to the church, the woman in the house she skipped was already there, aiming to pick a fight with her for why she skipped their house. Apparently, everyone was already expecting her rounds and deeply appreciated the prayers and even willing to fight her to get prayed for (funny).
Many think the poor are lazy and they are a financial liability. Nothing can be farther from the truth actually. The poor give more than the rich do or ever will. Our partner in Talaba slum, Pastora Milleth is married to Niels, a minimum wage earner in the Philippine Bible Society. Milleth uses half of Niels salary for her fare travelling to Talaba every day, 7 days a week. That is a tithe or giving of 50% of gross. She also runs a preschool and has two assistants, Maribel and Susan (a single mom with a son whose name you cannot forget, DiyosGod). The pupils pay P10 pesos a day and all that money Milleth gives to the two assistants, which in my biblical accounting is a total giving of 150%. When i tell the members of our rich church in Valle Verde to give 10% tithes and we will strictly enforce it, half of them will leave the church. Some will try to wiggle out and ask if the 10% is gross or net. Our sweet pastor would likely reply – doyou want your blessings gross or not?
I have not given near that percentage. I know most of MMP gives that much. My goal is to be able to even come near that level. I think when I do I will be ready to die, or else, die trying.
Journey through prayer and discernment:
Let me summarize it a little here. MMP journeys in two ways, through theological reflection or story-telling and also through prayer or discernment.
Theological reflection is really about connecting our small stories with the Big Story of the Bible. When we tell stories, they can relate to the great theme of the gospel when God of the Bible is worshiped. Every day, we have tales of people being saved and who turn away from their sins. These stories again resonate with the story of God redeeming His people in the Bible.
We journey also through discernment or prayer; in MMP, it is mainly through silent retreats. We also do the lexio divina during worship weekly as a whole, all of MMP and also in the field, by teams. The whole community observe every other week this prayer. This is not the prayer as understood by evangelicals, but prayer as done in the orthodox churches, called the divine office. There are basically three kinds of prayers, the prayer of asking, of obedience and of listening. The more we listen the deeper and more attuned our prayers of asking and obedience become. Most evangelicals only know the first two prayers, asking and obedience.
Our worship every other week is divided into two parts. We separate the most sacred part from the sermon. The first part is what is informally called the solemn part and the second, the preaching part. Aside from the office worship, our field teams also have lexio divina in the field. The goal is to try to work out the ministry from contemplation (according to the Jesuit, contemplation in action).
Very few preachers know how to deliver a solemn and sacred sermon that harmonizes with the solemnity of the worship. Many times a sermon can turn into a lecture, a discussion or a diatribe of some sort. Some can preach too long and also, be very complex and cerebral, uutakin si Hesus. To maintain the solemnity of the worship, we have divided it into these two parts.
We begin with an opening prayer, the invocation. It is to ask God to come to us and bless us and for us to say, we are now in the presence of God. This begins our entering into the presence of God. We come early. Everyone is told never to come on time. We need time to collect ourselves, catch our breath and settle down. We cannot do that during the invocation or opening prayer.
We have to be there early so that we can prepare and when the opening prayer is made, we are present, all of us, our hearts, soul, mind and strength. There are people who feel they don’t have to be there at the opening prayer. I tell them if they want to do that we will remove the opening prayer altogether. Bart said that when he joined MMP, his perspective of worship changed radically. For many years as a Christian, it was alright for him to be late for worship as long as he was on time for the sermon. The sermon was the real worship for him. He said that after the training and he had become a regular staff of MMP, he could no longer miss the opening prayer. He felt the opening prayer and the solemn parts were equally important and he could no longer afford to miss them.
Our prayer time is patterned after the Taize worship in France.
- opening prayer
- a song, contemplative song is sang
- a reading of the Psalms
- a song
- a reading of the Gospels, one paragraph, in English and in Tagalog
- a twenty minute silence of listening and being present
- intercession prayers
- reciting together the prayer Jesus taught us, kneeling
- the communion and
- a benediction
- going around to embrace and bless each other
Occasionally we add our recitation of the creeds or confessions. Occasionally, we arrange our intercessory prayer into subjects – pray for our families, then our teams, then our country, and so on and so forth.
We have singing during the prayer time or worship. Not cerebral songs (teaching all the important Calvinist doctrines while singing) but a contemplative song, one that helps us settle into the presence of God. We sing songs that carry all of us, our body mind and heart, into His presence. Songs that only carry our minds won’t do it.
We also read out loud the psalms. One psalm for each divine office or prayer. We read Scripture usually in both English and Tagalog. NT Wright tells us that the psalms actually disciple people more than anything else does. No one can learn to pray without the psalms. When the psalms are read over and over, throughout many years, it molds the minds of the congregation to think biblically. Psalms are particularly effective in discipling because of its different characteristics: psalms are songs and songs enhances learning and acceptance. Psalms also are poems which makes memorizing also easier. As song and poem, they soothe the heart to pray when people run out of words, especially during crisis. Psalms embody the entire gamut of human experience, the ups and downs and show where God is in each stage. God is present in our despair as well as in our triumphs.
The reading of the gospel is preceded by a call to deeper solemnity. There is much preparation into it, to usher the congregation to what we may call our present Holy of Holies. The preparation is to announce that the next step is the holiest step. We must believe each time that the Word is Holy and show it in our liturgy, our movements, and our songs. The level of sacredness actually shows also how big our God is, the more sacred, the bigger God gets. When people take off their shoes when entering or approaching a holy place, that act makes God bigger. People who casually come into the presence of God may show intimacy and boldness thus showing also sacredness, but most people are brazen and disrespectful and totally irreligious. As a general rule, we need to show more respect by observing the sacredness of God’s presence than being spontaneous and casual.
When we read out loud the Gospels, one short paragraph only from either Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or John, we read them in both English and Tagalog. The reading must be loud, projected, not harsh or shouting, and to be read slow enough.
The Bible was originally meant to be read out loud. When very few people could read, someone else read it out aloud for them. There is a big difference in impact between us reading privately with our eyes the Bible and the Bible being read out loud to us. When we read it with our own eyes, it goes to our mind and frequently by habit becomes a cognitive process, and God turns into an idea. The Roman Catholics criticize Evangelicals for it, that the Word became flesh but the Evangelicals have turned the flesh into words again.
People should be taught how to listen to the reading. They are not to try to catch all the words nor try to anticipate the next word. These are dangerous things to do while listening to the Word being read. The mind will always want to analyze, dualize, dissect and atomize the Word. and to avoid surprise, move ahead of the reader. CS Lewis says we must allow the Word to take us by surprise.
Then we have a moment of silence, 20 minutes. The people too must be taught how to stay silent. It is not a time to do intercessory prayer. It is a time to enjoy God’s presence. The goal is to be embraced, to listen to His voice (not word), to experience His love.
After the silence, we have intercessory prayer. The leader guides us. He will say for example, let us now pray for all the sickly and needy and then all pray together. He will lead in three or four items of prayer: needy, family, leaders, church or others. Then we all stand or kneel for the prayer Jesus taught us. Then we can have a meal also or a communion. When the communion is offered and people take turn to walk to the table, we also instruct the rest not to hurry and to learn to enjoy the most sacred portion of the worship, savor it and linger in it, not hurry it up and rush it so it ends quickly.
Communion like baptism can be used as a screening tool or otherwise as an invitation. Some will argue that only those who are worthy can join in the meal, only those who are truly saved are qualified. In MMP, we believe, communion is an invitation to come and become qualified again (and again). We do not turn away from communion because we have just sinned (no matter how big or small). We actually have to go to communion to be restored. God who said forgive others 70 times 7 also applies that same rule to himself, He forgives 490 times!
At the end, we have the benediction, to close the time together. Then we go around and embrace each other and bless one another with the peace of God. We are careful not to hug the opposite sex carelessly. After that, we all sit down and listen to the sermon or homily. Sometimes, you notice that for some people, it is the only time in their whole life that they are embraced. One professor from Biola seminary said that for some people in America, the only time they ever have a sustained touch is when they go to the barber shop for a haircut.
We also have some people struggling with gender issues. The males struggling with this usually heal from sustained touches from a true male person, done in the light of holy liturgy. Studies show that males suffering from gender issues need a godly hug from male companions to strengthen their self-identity, like putting up bricks inside of people’s heart but instead of bricks, we put hugs.
We make some announcements and then lunch is served (if we are worshiping at the house of the Deboers, our founders) or we go out to a nearby carinderia to eat together, usually at Aling Lina’s.
Offering in worship:
Each worship time, we practice the Hindu Ashram reverse tithing. We have collection or offering after the worship and the needy ones can take from the collected money an amount for their lunch and for their fare home. The collection is not for MMP but for the poor who attend the worship. Many come from far away and sometimes have to borrow money to attend. Attendance is never a problem. People want to come and attend and even those who are not members keep returning because of the worship. The poor ones need money which is why the offering is there – to provide money for their fare home and for their meal after the worship. One staff takes care of the distribution. It is done in such a way as to avoid making the poor feel they are objects of our charity (where they have to ask or beg). They can freely approach the basket and without question, will be given enough for their meal and fare home. It is already undignified enough just to approach the offering basket. The distribution is done when everyone is already standing up to leave.
The offering is an important part of our community life and enables the poor to join and take part in our worship. The money does not come from MMP as an organization. The offering is a free will offering of all those attending, and one may give ten pesos and another, a hundred pesos. But there is a sense that it is the worshiping community that is giving, not just one person or an organization. This helps to bind the people in a deeper unity.
Salary and support raising in MMP:
No one receives any salary except for the bookkeeper and office manager. Everyone raises support from donations of friends, relatives and churches. Some have part time tent making work like St. Paul. MMP also lends money to staff for their livelihood. One borrowed money to buy a tricycle, another bought a taxi. One borrowed money to sell school supplies specializing in projects (bond paper, colored paper, envelopes, folders, etc.). There is also one who opened an internet shop. Our support is usually very small, enough only to pay our transportation to and from the community so having a tent-making sideline is vital. Our present director sells boneless bangus (daing) from Pangasinan which he peddles from house to house. His wife cooks puto pao which she delivers to the market every week. Everyone has to have an additional source of income besides support raising.
From our support we deduct 10% as administrative contribution to pay for office, salaries like the bookkeeper and office manager, and utilities like phone, electric and water, as well as, office supplies.
All of MMP are working:
If we look at MMP as a church, all our members are fully deployed, planting churches, discipling and doing administrative work. There is no one who is not doing anything. Everyone is a worker and church planter. And all are believers, saved and saving others. This is the ideal church.
90% of our staff are from the slums and many still live in the slums – Ely, Flor, Godjel, Mc, Doris, Raymund, Sonny, Eloisa, May An, etc. We have grown slowly and journeyed faithfully. If you look at us as a church, the biggest thing you will notice is that everyone is laboring in the harvest, everyone is planting a church. Most churches have very passive congregations and only the pastor is working.
I met Lando Ceniza years before we were in MMP. We were planting a church in Bansalangin, Payatas. We did the biggest land rights or socialized housing project in the barangay, more than 500 families were made beneficiaries.
Lando finished from the best state university in the Visayas, a degree in agriculture. He came from a family of fishermen. Lots of siblings made it necessary to migrate to Manila to find his own future. Without much guidance, he became manager of a 300 sow farm beside our church, which was not really a farm in a decent sense. It was almost like running a farm in the middle of the city market. All the pigs also were fed food scraps culled from the garbage dumpsite. It was like a second level dumpsite itself. The food scraps were always alive and moving – with maggots.
He became a Christian in the Navigator campus ministry (actually, the counterpart of the Navigators, the Lakas Angkan). When we started our church, he joined and almost immediately became one of the leaders. He was a natural born teacher and those who attended his bible studies grew and matured like no other.
He later married Josie who had lots of money and worked as house maid in Hong Kong. They were classmates in the state university back home. She had a degree in agriculture economics. She gave up her good income to become wife to Lando and lived in Bansalangin. Eventually, pushed to extreme poverty, they landed beside the garbage mountain.
When next saw him, he was in a shack, dirt floor, one room affair, with a tiny run down sewing machine, making rugs from the scraps of the garbage mountain, living in extreme poverty but still in love with Jesus. Plus they now had a baby, Rapha Joy.
(Rapha recently took the college entrance exam for UP and for Ateneo. She along with two other girls, in their third year high, stayed in our house while doin their review last summer, 2013).
I invited him to join MMP which he did immediately and soon, rose from the ranks to become team leader. His income and support base also improved and he was soon out of the garbage dumpsite, into a more decent housing. MMP lent him money for raising pigs, goats and a tricycle (Kawasaki motorcycle with a side car).
His bible study became quite extraordinary. In MMP, he would always have the most number of bible study groups, more than once a day! Only Winston came close second. Winston could reach about 5 a week. Winston was also an extraordinarily gifted teacher and was senior to Lando, a member of our Execom.
Lando planted many churches and we saw a big future for him, maybe even become someday our Executive Director. They had another child, Gwyneth and Josie landed an almost permanent work in the church as pre-school teacher. MMP sent her to masteral studies in pre-school management. All the time, they lived like ordinary slum families do.
Lando, me, architect and Lorna all suffer serious asthma. I was the only one who could afford the expensive sprays – nasonex, symbicort and others. The rest took hand-me-downs from me, succeeded to my sprays (we shared our spray medicines). Sometimes I would buy two and would give it each one of them, by turns.
One night, three years ago, we got a call, midnight. It was a distress call. But it was really too late already. Lando had an asthma attack and was not breathing anymore. They did not know what to do. My wife is a doctor. She told them to rush him to the hospital but I was looking at her facial expression and I knew it was over. We got dressed and got to the hospital where his body lay.
A couple of days before that I actually bought him two weeks supply of the ordinary asthma medicine, without the steroid. I think he overdosed on that because that usually does not work in emergency situations. We lost a really good worker. Lando still remains with us in spirit, always a reminder of sacrifice and perseverance. Lando will always be a model for us of what a good bible study teacher is.
We now also have a few non-Filipinos. We have three Americans all living in the slums – Lindsey, Paul and Gary. We have two others with us, Samuel Hwang is Korean and his wife, Hannah, help us also in many way. Our founder is Stew and Corrie, also American citizens, although Corrie is Filipino by birth.
When the foreigners came, it really took us by surprise. We were wondering what God was up to. We have prayed and discerned and it maybe that God is telling us that our journey does not belong to us, Filipinos, and that the journey actually belongs to the whole world, to Americans, Koreans as much as to Filipinos. Our mission suddenly has gotten very small, tiny islands, dots on the ocean. We are pressured to look up to a wider horizon and see the greater work of God in the world.
November 2013 we sent a dozen people to attend the Call to Justice conference in Mumbai, a first for us and a big doorway opening to mission. We don’t know what lies ahead. We are afraid and also, challenged, to risk, to take steps of faith. We have good models ahead of us. The Kairos mission group of the favelas of Brazil sent out missionaries, urban poor people, to the world, a decade ago. Does God think we can also do the same? India? Africa? The largest slums in the next decade will be in Africa. But the biggest concentration of slum people will be in India. If one has not been to India, one has not really seen the poor. Can MMP send urban poor people to the slums of India as missionaries?
MMP does the solitude exercise three times a year by holding a silent retreat three days and two nights to create the backbone of the community journey. This is a strategy to intentionally create a rhythm inside MMP, a rhythm of prayer and work. Mother Teresa worked 16 hours a day among the lepers of Calcutta. 8 hours in prayer and 8 hours in the field holding the hands of the dying. The two 8 hours were intertwined as a rhythm of contemplation and action, going in and out of the chapel like two strands in a twine.
We journey through theological reflection and discernment or solitude. Solitude is basically listening. As Catherine Doherty wrote, solitude without listening is not biblical. Because of solitude, we are also able to journey with the poor in the slums. It is through solitude that we can see Christ in the sick, the dying and the starving.
Three times a year, although we are very poor, we have managed to bring all our staff to a silent retreat. Its three days and two nights and costs about 1,600 pesos for each person (2013) in Tagaytay at a catholic monastery. We have been doing this for almost ten years now. At the beginning, many felt they were going insane because of the silence, no talking, no cellphone, no reading even of the bible, no writing, no intercessory prayers, no music, no exercising or jogging, no making of signs or signaling each other.
Many attempted to escape or find a secret corner to talk, or hide in their room and talk and we had to police them constantly. But now, everyone knows it is a vital part of our spirituality. They retreat constantly from their work to silence to maintain their solitude. Solitude, which I described in another article, how to journey with the poor, is needed for urban poor workers to be able to see Christ among the poor.
Liturgy used in building community:
What is important is that our community is led by liturgy. In liturgy, there is no one higher, no leader, no big shot. It is a time for all to bow down to God. Worship is a time to enter into heaven. Psalm 22 says, God dwells in the worship of his people.
This is the way to build community. We do this as often as we can, whenever we meet. With this the spirit of the group slowly becomes the Body of Christ. The mystery is to see Christ in the group, that the group is the physical manifestation of Christ.
Church is said to be composed of three things, worship, mission and community. We believe the three are tied together by liturgy. In many ways, a church is a community on a spiritual journey. Besides being a family, we are also a journeying community. It is a spiritual movement. All our staff attend silent retreats. It is there that we enter solitude as a community, to listen together to God.
We put up liturgy as the true authority within our structure. The question we need to ask is, how do we make our churches last a thousand years? Most churches according to scientific surveys will last only at most ten years. I think the answer to the question how do we make our community last a thousand years, is in the use of liturgy.
Liturgy infuses a sense of the mystery into church life and worship. It is an acknowledgement that most of God, most of church is a mystery to us and it is precisely the liturgy which enshrines these hidden meanings. It is the rich symbolisms in liturgy that carry us forward beyond what our minds can grasp, that carry us through hard trials and conflicts, through times when we have lost our desire for church and for God, through the times when our senses fail us, when everything has degenerated into meaningless routine – it is liturgy that will carry us through.
One element in liturgy is gratitude and another is a sense of the sacred of the ordinary, the repetitive and boring. Contrast this with man’s frequent addiction for things special, new, novel, sensational and extravagant. It’s a balance between the two, between the grand and the boring, the exciting and the ordinary, and to be grateful is how we find the balance.
We want a church that will last but it is not just any Christian community we want. We want one that will last and grow and be nourishing! There are many factors that work together, and they all should be taken together with this one.
I have seen a Syriac Orthodox church in Chennai, India that was growing, expanding and was still evangelistic, after more than one thousand years. I have also been the attorney of many traditional churches, many about a hundred years old. These have very unique and totally strange spirituality, dynamics that many of us who never grew up in a traditional church will not understand.
Look at the Episcopal church, or the Methodist, or the United Evangelical Church, the largest Chinese church in the Philippines. One can get lost, or be caught in the cross fire of politics, and internecine warfare, inside the church, especially in the Board meetings. I think one needs Machiavelli’s the Prince to be able to survive there.
Most Christian groups conduct their fellowships with a short spontaneous prayer and one or two bland singing, not even prepared beforehand and capped with a lecture cum sermon. It defies everything the bible teaches. Many today have no idea what liturgy is or how it can build community.
For a good worship, people need to come half an hour early and collect themselves, sit down and be silent, catch their breath and be present. Being present is the key element. Most people in fellowships exist or live only in their minds, without their bodies or hearts. Even more are absent, their minds somewhere else, in their work or laptops or office. Only their bodies are present.
Yet, even their bodies are not important parts of the liturgy. We have absolutely no theology of the body. We could live without it, meaning, have a spirituality without our bodies. Churches make their members attend overnight Friday prayer meetings, where they go through a long list of prayer items which they raise to God in a marathon fashion. They can do this after a long week of work when they are already squeezed dry and exhausted.
We believe in MMP that the more rested we are, the more we can hear God. We are careful to listen to God in silence so we can pray more effectively our petitions. We find it dangerous that we might be raising up petitions of our own wills rather than God’s will.
About our fallen comrades:
We are the only army that kills its wounded…..so the saying goes. I wrote this prayer request a few weeks ago and later, in the text box was the reply of the fallen comrade.
Please pray for my friend. He has fallen into sin. It is not as though it is a habitual thing. He may have been “killed” already by his church or his fellow pastors when they broadcast it to the whole community. It was later I found out, the first time it happened.
We are supposed to forgive him and restore him unless he refuses to repent. The bible tells us to avoid adulterers or fornicators or such people but only because the offender wont repent. My friend will eagerly repent but as of today I doubt if he can come back to ministry. He is very capable and has a really good heart. We all fall and in the bible, the righteous may fall 7 times but he is encouraged to get up.
Paul talked about excommunicating but he has never excommunicated anyone as far as the biblical record shows. The case in 1 and 2 Corinthians involved someone who simply refused to repent and even so, in the end when he turned, he was eagerly restored. The point I guess is this, even the worse or extreme measure of excommunication has as its highest goal the restoration of the sinner.
If we look at the heinous crimes in the epistles, fornication, adultery, heresy (anathema in Galatians), and etc. no where do we see Paul implementing this disciplinary measure. He may have encouraged the church of Corinth to do it but he himself did not. And even the example in Corinth seems a very rare case. I doubt is any sin is worse than the sin of King David or the great apostle, Peter who denied Jesus three times – both never got excommunicated.
More work is done or required to be done to patiently and perseveringly argue, persuade, convince, reason out, rebuke, admonish, encourage and teach sinners to repent and turn than to cast them out of the fellowship.
I feel our desire for purity has more killer instinct in it than kindness. We are more eager to put out a fallen brother (we are so proud to be like Phineas in the old testament. actually I had wanted to name my first son Phineas until my wife almost had a heart attack because of it).
There is a lot of work involved in the disciplinary procedure. A lot of painful work. One of them is the need to have a degree of secrecy in it. Only the right people should know because not everyone would know how to handle the information and it could go out of control and the restoration made impossible.
The church should find out if there is an element of incorrigibility or habitualness in the sin, if it is being done often despite admonition. The church must determine if there is a need to kick the sinner out. The kicking out should be public, not made a secret.
Many sinners avoid discipline by simply transferring to another church. This is almost a hopeless situation when this happens and it happens frequently.
There are many counselors who use the medical model and thus will not call sin, sin. They are afraid it will add to the psychosis and in America, get a lawsuit. They will instead convince the offender that it was not his fault, actually he was sick and he did not know what he was doing nor could help it and should not be blamed.
We need to call sin, sin. But we also need to see the clinical aspect also. Sex addicts and homosexuals will need a lot of counseling. And in order to view the sin properly, one needs to see it from a long view. A practicing homosexual who used to masturbate 10 times a day but now does it only once a day is clearly a reformed and repentant sinner and should not be kicked out. If he has accepted Jesus as lord and savior, that one time masturbation does not invalidate the salvation. He is surely still saved. In fact, he is showing a lot of progress and the church needs to celebrate and buy beer and wine and a big cake.
Sexual addiction like drug addiction is often “incurable” and the person may relapse frequently but it does not mean stubbornness or refusal to repent. It just may show how deep-seated the psychopathology is. We see this in shoplifting Lindsay Lohan and even with battered wives who refuse to leave their abusive husbands.
If the sinner is married, the matter of the welfare of the spouse is a delicate thing. She will suffer the most even though she has not committed any sin. The publicity and shame will destroy her more than the husband who sinned. This is very important to consider when doing disciplinary measure in church.
Matthew 18 spells out the process in detail, detailed enough to guide us in our work on disciplining sinners. We need to look at it carefully.
Of course there are others who just readily forgive without understanding what happened, without knowing what the sin was. Some well-meaning people will work towards restoration without working in coordination with the disciplining body involved, in a way, short circuiting the work of the church. When that person gives the pardon and restoration it can also be viewed as a betrayal of the body just like someone today who would go and give money to the litigation fund of Napoles who is involved in the biggest pork barrel scandal of the country.
We also need to remember that we all sin and we all fall. And we are so quick to forgive ourselves also. In addition we have made what is called “pet sins” so that some sins are worse than others. Murder is bad but refusing to love and violating the greatest commandment to love is ok. Stress feeding is better than pornography because it is less shameful. Rage is better than stealing or lying. But all sins are the same, there is no such thing as worse or lesser sins. Not talking to your spouse by giving him/her the silent treatment for days is the same as murder. An unforgiving spirit is also sinful and if the person refuses to repent of his unforgiving spirit, he could be liable for excommunication. Jesus clearly taught us that if we will not forgive other people’s sins, neither will He forgive our sins.
How do we restore our fallen comrades?
The Word is a two edged sword. One will cut deep into our hearts and one into God, into his heart. We will need to sense if the person is really repentant. There must be humility and submission, especially submission to the leadership. The leadership must also have a clear idea both of the offense and its biblical implications as well as a good idea of how to restore the offender. It is not enough to impose a penalty. The end goal is to bring back the offender not only to Christ but also to the ministry. This process will be painful to Jesus and to the offender.
I was astonished one time reading a business management book (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) that everywhere in the world, when a person gets bankrupt he is practically blacklisted, meaning no bank or capitalist will give him money anymore, except in America. In America, it is an embedded societal value that people who have been bankrupted are now wiser and more reliable, which is the opposite of what many think.
Perhaps we can introduce this into our Christian church, that our fallen comrades are deemed wiser and more reliable after their fall. Of course, we have to rule out psychological problems that are chronic or deep seated, such as homosexuality, sexual addictions, and similar pathologies which potentially could erupt again and again. A strong support group and skillful counselling is needed for these complex problems. In addition, if a criminal law is violated such as when there is sexual abuse of minors, the whole thing just blows up.
But when it comes to restoration, I believe the best and most effective is to begin early in bringing the offender to communion. The whole community must take part. In MMP we have communion every other week which is where we should bring the offender. No talking or counselling need accompany it. Our communion is preceded by very careful preparations, confession, silence, etc. We have a theology also of embrace rather than exclusion, meaning, we don’t use communion to keep people away but the opposite, to restore people. Communion is where the fallen can be forgiven and be cleansed in the most loving and painful way. It is painful because it is very directly towards Jesus in the Bread and the Wine. Unless the person is really defiant and hard-hearted, coming to communion in this moment can really pierce a person’s heart deeply for it shows how much we have sinned against God, how much we have hurt him but at the same time, it also shows in a very dramatic way how much God loves us and how much he embraces us – by swallowing and by eating Him.
Later, I got this response.
Challenges to building community:
I am very selfish and one reason I want community is because I want help when I fall into hard times. When I become an incapacitated elderly, or bankrupt, I want community to come care for me, visit me and when I die, I want community to cry at my wake and be at my funeral to bid me goodbye, sing a song, utter a prayer, and speak an elegy.
And yet, modernization or capitalism is fast making this difficult or no longer necessary. In modern societies, it is not community that is expected to do that. We just put our elderly in the homes for the aged or institutions for handicaps. It is the state that has this duty, not the community and not even the family. When we kick out or force out our children out of the home when they reach 18, we also stop family and community. One stigma in modern society is for a man to be living still with his parents. Whether good or bad, the result is to make community obsolete. Modernization and capitalism makes interdependence obsolete. Being alone and living alone is the norm now.
In the more than twenty years, our group has sought to make this an urban poor owned mission. Most of our members come from the slums and are very poor. The rich has one vote equal to a poor member.
This has often been problematic in many organizations especially on the issue of money. The OMF for example is much admired for their walk of faith in their finances. OMF financial arrangement is practically socialistic, where the members share finances in common but this is impossible when a big gap exists between rich and poor. It is often necessary to screen out candidate who have a very low financial capacity (only Americans can join, Filipinos cannot because they dont have a strong financial support base and will only dilute the sharing proportions). Naturally, the share of the rich will be dissipated because of the many poor, leaving only a meager amount for each one.
Our group however has managed to somehow come up with a way of sharing resources that make up for the big discrepancy between rich and poor. A big amount of the common fund actually goes to the poorest of the poor (called, the most needy fund)
This is perhaps the greatest challenge to building community, how do you share resources especially if most of the members are poor? Within a very capitalistic society which give premium to values such as individualism and independence, which defines being rich as accumulating so much worldly possessions, sharing in community will always seem counter-productive. While everyone is driving uphill, towards accumulating more and more wealth, here we are, redistributing them to everyone, and driving downhill.
This is what Jean Vanier spoke about, which is called, the downward mobility. We are called to link hands with the weak, powerless, poor and handicaps while the world is called to do the opposite, to link hands with the powerful, wealthy, capable, intelligent and beautiful, the world’s formula for success.
And yet, without this element of downward mobility, community will only be superficial, another accommodation to the worldliness of society today. Community cannot be just another add-on to modern life. It must be a contrast society, a counter-culture, that speaks against and opposes the values of capitalism, especially those that define wealth in an exclusionary way.
Our laws, tax laws for example, make it imperative for people to always think only in terms of nuclear family and never of community. Tax benefits for personal exemptions are limited to immediate family members. Salary is basically computed in reference to the need of a nuclear family. Building community will always prove an uphill battle.
Take a look at a possible scenario. When we put the rich and poor Christians together and apply 2 Corinthians 8 that he who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not lack anything – when we put that into practice, it will look like this. On Sunday, during worship, if one is seating beside a poor man, you have three cars and the poor man has not had a decent meal for the whole week, it may be necessary to sell one of your cars to use the money to provide for that poor man.
Capitalism has infiltrated Christianity obviously. Many Christians are allergic to syncretism (for example mixing Catholic practice with Evangelical faith or Hinduism with Christianity), but no one gives a damn about mixing capitalistic values into Christianity. It is to hell with the poor. Our pastor in Tampa, Florida Brian Sanders told us that Americans know how to give but do not know how to share.
The effect of Capitalism in Christianity is to make the poor only objects of their charity which is what happens in giving. In sharing, we acknowledge that all our wealth does not belong to us, it belongs to God, we are only stewards.
In capitalism, the rich Christians will accumulate as much as they can. It is grossly indecent that 1% of the people of the world own 90% of the wealth of the world. It is also a fact that the rich countries actually get more from the poor compared to the total aid they give to the poor countries according to the latest Harvard study. If we operationalize this wordly distribution of wealthy, we will vomit.
My student called me one time asking for more instruction for their class immersion in the slums. She was asking how much they would budget for their meals there. They were to be housed or hosted by our slum families, church members. On the phone, I told her the budget is P10 pesos per meal and my wife who was standing beside me gave me a terrified look, like saying, hey, thats ridiculous, there is no such thing, there is no meal worth P10 pesos. By her looks alone, i felt spanked.
Then I did some math. Allan, married with three little children lived under the bridge on the coastal road. When I bring my students for immersion, I would live in his house. During high tide, the water was up to the thighs. But the houses were safe, they were hanging by the main beams of the bridge, high above the water. But when you have to go out, you will need to wade through water unless you wait for low tide. We would urinate or defecate within the house and it would fall into the river below. Just at the corner, a few feet away was the sea of the Manila bay. It was the dirtiest water I ever saw in my life. While asleep the big trucks running over the bridge above would shake us up and wake us up. During meal times, the whole house would be filled with thick smoke from the fires of the outdoor kitchens. I would be teary eyed the whole time and with my asthma, it was pure unmitigated punishment. I had to bear it because I would see Allan’s youngest son, with a cough, a tiny baby, suffering, and the smoke would make it even worse but they could not do anything. Allan was always thankful God brought them there because it was there that they found Jesus. I on the other hand was so eager to get out and go home.
When we eat our meals, Allan would say lets have adobo and it means rice with oil and toyo – nothing else. His average income is not more than 300 pesos a day. If we say P10 per meal times 5 people in his family, that is P150 per day for meals. If we increase it, say, to P20 pesos per meal, its already the entire income of P300 pesos but Allan still has to take out from there his transportation fare, the payment for the water, which means you cannot use the entire 300 pesos. That meant P10 is the normal costs of meals there. I want to tell my wife she is wrong.
When you look at this at look at the world distribution of wealth, 1% of the people of the world owning 90% of the wealth of the world, it is so indecent – it can look like this: I eat at Jollybee, a meal usually costing P100 pesos (burger, drink and fries) and this is equivalent to ten meals already for people like Allan.
We need to institute both social and economic equality as the main backbone of community especially in a poor country like the Philippines. We cannot pretend that the rules and arrangements that work well in America are sufficient in this context. Social equality also means no discrimination – no male, female, Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, slave, free, black, white, illegal alien or citizen, etc. The rite of passage into community is the baptism. The call is to a people. Church means the called-ones. It is a community with well-defined membership. Jesus asked, who is my brother or my sister or my mother? The answer tells us who our members are. It is within this membership that our community is formed.
Capitalism has also a built in exclusionary tendency. This is the soul and drive of apartheid, separateness, to separate the blacks from the whites in South Africa in order that the whites can enjoy their wealth at the expense or detriment of the blacks. Capitalism also does the same thing – separate the rich from the poor so the rich can enjoy their wealth also at the expense and detriment of the poor. The exclusion or apartheid is done through strict visa rules and fierce border guard patrols.
In addition to social equality, we have also economic equality. This is not communism. Communism is legislating poverty, making all poor. It is not forced or mandatory but voluntary and seasonal. Paul only wanted a modicum of equality, not an absolute one. He said, those who have a surplus now will give to those who are poor now and when these poor in turn improve in their wealth they will then also be giving to those in need.
Sharing and financial equality must be done in the context of a strong and meaningful liturgy. It cannot be sought for its own sake. This is true also in marriage to which the church has been likened. Spouses cannot seek intimacy and harmony for the sake of a good marriage but always in order to worship God. Equality in community must be done for worship also, that in this, as Psalm 22 declared, God will dwell in our worship, so also in our community through the equality, God dwells with us as well. The danger of equality without liturgy is to pressure, or force people into a difficult economic or social arrangement based on very earthly and short sighted goals. Kingdom values are in themselves already practically impossible to implement and it is only through liturgy that we are able to journey through this impossible standards without falling into despair or regimentation.
Liturgy saves us from excessive rule-oriented governance in community where people are disciplined to follow more because of rules than because of a long running and inviting narrative deeply embedded in their culture. Rule infractions are also treated with the same sympathy present in liturgy, present in the great narrative of God redeeming His people.
Again, this is part of our arrogance, that we believe we can do it in our flesh, that it is in our power to make change happen. Secularism has infected our discipleship and our understanding of the theology of change. When we conduct for example marriage seminars or parenting seminars, there is a sense that if we do it perfectly, things will work out in the end, we will have perfect marriages or perfect kids. We think we are biblical in our approach because we rely on Scripture, we refer to love and commitment, even servanthood and dying to self, to boost our program for marriage building but deep inside us we know it will not work out, it often does not work out and we then pretend that it has even though it has not.
We pursue the prescriptions of our marriage workshops with carnal zeal when only liturgy can help us. Liturgy is like someone who has just gotten into pornography or had an affair, and now its Sunday and the communion is being offered. Many churches would bar us from drawing near until we are made clean. But the opposite is really true of biblical communion. It is when we are fallen and sinful that we must draw near in order to be made clean and as we hold up the Bread and Wine, we shudder in fear because we know we are unworthy. Somehow, the communion has opened our eyes the way it did at the Road to Emaus and suddenly, we see Jesus again.
Liturgy opens our eyes. Liturgy makes us see Jesus again. Our marriage workshops and parenting workshops can only do so much. A relentless pursuit will only produce frustration and despair. Our pursuit with carnal might leads only to pretense and guilt. But a constant coming to liturgy, a constant coming to communion, brings Jesus into the picture, into our fallenness and instead of despair, we see Jesus, and then we can go on, move on and try once more. We get up and run again.
MMP raises funds for all especially the needy. We have a most needy fund that is given to MMP staff with no support. All the children of poor staff of college age have a college scholarship. We have extended our college scholarship to those in our slums and the total in college (2013) is more than 100 students now. After five years of running the scholarship, we have more than 80% of our graduates gainfully employed. In the Philippines, public primary and secondary education are free. MMP also has a manpower placement agency and we have deployed more than 400 into factories, malls and construction sites.
We create bonding at the team level. We take out the team to the beach or lake for time out and bonding at least once a year. We also do it for the newly formed leadership team in the slum community. We believe, more than anything else, it is this bonding, friendship and intimacy, eating and playing together, that binds our organization together. When people fight, the bonding element makes it difficult to just up and leave. They have so much precious memories together for that to happen. There is thus much impetus to reconcile and to live in peace.
Mmp used to have family camps but we cannot afford it anymore now due to our big number
I read long ago about a festival in Green Land. The name is really funny. When Eric the Red, the terrible Viking left his home country to avoid imprisonment and possibly hanging, he settled in this place and because he missed his countrymen so much, he called the place Green Land to entice them to come but there is really nothing green in this place, of course, a little green but a lot more white or snow.
The modern society there today still observe some traditions. Once a year, they all leave their homes, all the family, including the children go to a place around a lagoon. They close their shops also so for a week they are all camping beside that lagoon. They build a replica of the old Viking ship and observe their festival.
They read out the old Viking laws and at the height of their celebration, they burn the Viking ship which is floating in the lagoon. They are around the small lagoon and watch as the ship burn.
This is the family camp I would like for our MMP, once a year we all go to a place like that and build maybe a bahay kubo, emblem of our nations great tradition of bayanihan, or community spirit. We will read maybe all the traditions and proverbs of the old people, I don’t know if we can find a code of laws of our ancestors, maybe we can.
The Old Testament has more things said about festivals than about laws and I think the reason is the festivals, which many Christians already relegated to the background, as useless things, are actually more important than the laws themselves. They form the early liturgy of our forebears. Liturgy create the spiritual mould or boundary or contour of our community.
Each festival actually commemorates something, the feast of Light or the feast of Tents, always symbolizing one great epiphany – a sighting of God. When Jacob wrestled with God, he afterwards built an altar. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they built also an altar to remember what happened – so such great even will not be forgotten. A people whose center is a festival that commemorates a great even in the past is a strong community, built around a remembrance of how God had acted in their midst.
Everyone is in a way religious like these Israelites, everyone wants to build a memorial. After the tragic 911 in New York where more than 4 thousands died, a memorial was built at ground zero. I was there when it was being cleared up and now there is already a great monument to remember the tragedy – as though to say, it should never happen again, but also to say, the tragedy did not make us downcast but produced instantly so many heroes.
We have always preached in MMP that community is the center of the gospel and without community there is no gospel. The world has become very individualistic and community has become passé. We must ask, how do we preach the gospel without community? It is only through community that we can demonstrate the kingdom. Jesus had to leave and bring the Holy Spirit in his place because Jesus as an individual could not demonstrate community as a single lone individual. Sharing, love, forgiveness, equality and all that we speak about the kingdom can only be done by a community.
But finding such community nowadays is hard. I have known many white Caucasian pastors growing in my first few years as a new believer. The white pastors would go home to their big houses after the service and eat their meals in peace. It was a given. Their house and their food was their own. It was also a given that each one was to take care of himself, and not expect others to help him. There was no sense of being a family or being a brother or sister in Christ.
MMP will always face this challenge. We have many poor members and a handful that are not poor, but even though only a small minority is not poor, this tiny minority still tends to be the dominant influence inside MMP. Money and wealth is still the most important consideration in many decisions and relationships. Our journey is not finished.
There will always naturally be more adjustments on the part of the rich when it comes to building community. It is vital that we believe it is the biblical mandate as prerequisite to the gospel that we have a community where the rich and the poor believers are together. the rich must join in not because the poor needs them but the opposite, that they are the ones who really need the poor. 1 John 3 says, if anyone has a surplus of the world’s goods and finds a brother in need, and does not provide for him does the love of Christ abide in him. We note four things here: 1. that the believer is rich and abounding in worldly or material wealth. 2. that the poor here is a brother, a Christian. God has no agenda to help the poor of the world. He only has one agenda, to get rid of poverty inside His church, His people, according to Deut 15.4. Many Christians read verses like this in the Bible and think it refers to the poor of the world, the poor in general, in order to escape the mandate to live in community and help the poor within. 3. The text implies that all our spirituality, like our quiet time, our tithes, our prayers, worship, our fasting, silent retreats, memorizing verses, studying Scripture are all useless and empty unless we take care of the poor within our midst. 4. and last, it really means the rich need the poor in order to authenticate their spirituality for unless they do that, their spirituality is useless, the love of Christ is not there.
Besides knowing about the need to authenticate our spirituality, the call of discipleship is generally a call to a downward mobility. Jesus although he was rich became poor in order to make others rich. This is the movement desired of the church. The church commits a grievous sin by hoarding a surplus. The church should always seek to become poor and lose all their surplus in order to have this solidarity with the poor.
The downward mobility is to take the road to obscurity, so we will become nobodies, as the poor are also, nobody, no names, just numbers. When we journey with the poor, we will also seek to become poor. The idea of silent retreat or solitude is the same, the goal is kenosis, as demonstrated by Christ and expressed in Phil 2.7 he emptied himself, to become poor. Silent Retreat means to do kenosis, to be in the womb for nine months even though you are God.
When we join MMP, that call is there. We may not become so in an instance but it will come. It is after all a journey.
I have long looked up to Francis and Edith Schaeffer, two of the saviors of the evangelicals during the tumultuous 70s. They have a son, Frank and Frank recently gave up being an evangelical and became a Greek Orthodox. I was initially shocked and then I read the reason why. Frank said, I am a work in progress. Evangelicals have this sense that they have arrived. There is no sense of journey. That is what i am looking for in the Greek Orthodox church – a journey.
 Don Amado Reyes (Nessie), Winston Pinzon (Jannette), Joji Limjoco (Connie), Eric Cubillo (Gloria), Jojo Galang (April), Ramon Padilla Evelyn), Ronnel Severa (Julie), Grace Buado (Elmer), Alfredo del Mundo (Susan), Astrid Randa (Mel), Godjel Quinones (Julie Ann), Ely Cotanas (Lourdes), Louis Martin (Jonas), Lando Ceniza, deceased (Josie), Flor Encomio, Doris Risare, Lindsey Mcdonald, Paul Rollet, Raineer Chu (Mila), Eloise Alcantara, Sonny Bestmonte (Grace), Robert Albarico (Felinda) with MUG, Dodoy Cipriano Arsenio (Shirley) with MUG, Mike Sabalza (Donna), McLloyd Lamar (Jeannie), Abe Tiangco (Euemin), Leo Armas (Ammi), Lowee Boot (Chicki), Jeff Samontanez (Anacel), May An Flores (Jonar), Moises Maaghop (Tina), Gary Myers, Raymund Vizcaya, Chona Domingo, Aida Acorda Manalo, Marvie Aquino, Stew Deboer and Corrie, James Co, sick leave, Tess Rapada with MUG, Sally Silva, on leave, Joel Senna (Marge), Philip Sim, Jerson Leonar, Marlon Magayon, Robert Manrique, Nita Bacani with Mug, Delia Macasinag, Eder Rosialda, Joshua Rosialda, Bart Valeriano (Sheila), Onie Avante, with the BOT, Fred Millamena, with the BOT, Nits Valdez, with the BOT, Cynthia Hubalde, with the BOT, Bebot Estrevillo, with the BOT, Milleth Paragas, with BOT, Sam Rayala, with BOT, John Rey Quinones (Milay), associate, Julius Quinones (Evelyn), associate, Milleth Espaniola (Niels), associate, Joey Tamor, associate, Arnold Catiquista (Jackie), associate, Letty Mamaclay, associate, Lita Rosialda, associate, Lucas Aquino, associate, Malinta pastor Manny Valeroso, associate, Ray Hilamon (Imee), not defined. We have on the pipeline future staff: Liway, Ligaya, Irene, Christine, Dan, Nehemias and Joel. MMP has always had Alben Ferrer, a lawyer from the University of the Philippines. He has adopted MMP as his community and also brings his mom to our functions. He drops by purposely to fix up our computers (his hobby). He also handles several of our pro bono cases for indigents involved in petty crimes.
 December 15, 2013 was the 16th year anniversary of our church in the Payatas dumpsite led by Pastor Fred Millamena. They already have two daughter churches. I spent 11 years in that community. We were there before Pastor Fred, maybe three or four years before, so the total would be about 19 years already since we first set foot in that place. In our first year, Winston, Imee, James and Joji, there was only one garbage mountain. By the time we were done, there were already three huge mountains. At the beginning of the third mountain of trash, we had to stand up during our bible studies to see it. At the end of the year, we could see it already even while seated. We have many lessons and inspiring stories from this community and ones that especially molded our perspective to ministry and the poor. These are related in other articles I have written – about Nicodemus and a new understanding of mission, about the two prostitutes and seeing God in most difficult places, and other great stories. It was from Imee Hilamon that we finally learned that the poor give more than the rich do.
 Fred and Beth Reyes left to minister in the province. Geronimo burned out and left the ministry and later left his wife. Rey also fell into sin and left us. Elsie is now with a ministry reaching out to Jews after 5 years a missionary of MMP in Jerusalem. Others stayed only for a short time with MMP are Jun and Rose, Vilma and Calixtro.
 We have many stories. America has many stories that clearly have bound the psyche of the Americans together to form a collective consciousness. One good example is the story of the life of Abraham Lincoln and the struggles during the civil war. These stories remind the Americans about how they almost never became a United States and it was the sacrifice and wisdom of Lincoln that removed the threats to the Union in time before the continent was plunged into an even deeper crisis.
Another one was Kennedy’s life and his project to get the first man on the moon. At that time, America was looking for a hero figure and also an icon. The rocket to the moon gave them an icon and Kennedy became their hero. Those stories bind Americans more than their laws or rules do. People who have gone through the Second World War also have stories and are bonded together by these stories more than anything else, more than blood, citizenship, social status, etc.
 Facebook and social network: is it real community or virtual only? Is virtual real or illusion only? One expert says we equate now connection with conversation. In conversation we cannot determine what we will say and how the interaction will work out or end. Boring and repetitious activities no longer form part of our interactions. Things have to be always lively and interesting in the net. While in real life, it is not. Real is ordinary boring and repetitive. We also cannot present ourselves the way we want in real life. But internet connection is more about endless self-promotion; we edit and delete which we cannot do with real relationships and conversations. We make sure our photos and profiles are perfect and expect more from technology and less from each other. There is the fallacy that since we are connected we are no longer alone.