God is watching us...NOT from a distance. A song popularized by Bette Midler includes a line that states that God is watching us from a distance. As a Catholic, I don’t believe that to be true.
Growing up in one of the slum areas of Metro Manila in the Philippines, I experienced hardships not only from physical difficulty but also emotionally and spiritually. One will not be able to understand the pain and the stigma that go along with living in the slums unless you experience it. It is in the slum area that I spent my life from birth until the day I came to Canada.
I remember a friend named Hazel whose house was located on the other side of the road, where the rich people lived. One day, Hazel invited me to her house. You can just imagine my delight at being in a place like that, so big and so beautiful. She introduced me to her mother and Hazel said to her that I lived on the opposite side of the road, where the squatters live. I heard both of them arguing later, and after that day, Hazel was a friend no more. She was forbidden to have any interaction with me. Yes, she was forbidden; not because of anything else, but because I was poor. But I learned at a young age that being poor is not a condition for physical suffering or embarrassment, but one that taught me courage, determination and resilience. Being the eldest of seven children in my family, I learned to earn a living at an early age in my life....where, in this part of the world, you would call it child labor, I call it survival. My environment, and some people, set a limit in my life and just like other poor people, I can easily adapt to things around me. But I refused to be just like them. God breathed life into me and He did not create me, nor anyone else, to just be average. He wants us to tap into our potential to rise up beyond the norm.
God loves me so much; He has other plans for me. He does not want me to accept mediocrity in life. When God decided that it’s time for me to go back to school, in spite of the financial hardships we went through every day, He paved the way for me to finish my education and to pursue my dream.
Living in a poor home situation does not mean there is no future. Poverty taught me that when you let go and turn over your life to God, He will not abandon you. He needed me to cooperate so He can take care of me- to ensure that I reached my full potential, to be what He wanted me to be. So I did not just go through the hardships of being poor, I grew through it and it made me who I am today.
Then when God knew I was ready, He called. God asked “Where are you?” I answered, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” There are people on this planet whom only you will be able to reach because of where you came from, what God has made you to be and what God has called you to do. I grew up poor so God called me to serve the poor.
In December of 2002, my cousin Luz and I received a letter from an Augustinian nun who by chance we met during the World Youth Day held here in Canada. The letter was an expression of pain and a plea for help for the poor children of my country of origin. It was before Christmas when we received the letter and in it she stated, “I get sick to my stomach when people greet me with Merry Christmas, for how can I reply the same when all I hear are the cries of the children who are suffering because of poverty?” This letter prompted the birth of our outreach program in the Philippines which we simply call “Philippine Mission”. We have partnered with family members, friends from our parish and also friends from outside of the parish; the Augustinian and Passionist Sisters are our mission partners in the Philippines.
Together since 2003, this group of people have been helping not only by sending children to school to get an education through the sponsorship program, but also helping their families to become self sufficient.
The heart and soul of this mission is Luz. In the beginning, I was only saddened by the letter, I shed a tear. But Luz was inspired by God and she presented her plans to me. God knew that I was ready for this calling but I was not prepared. My response to Luz was “Are you crazy! I am enjoying my cushy life, I do what I want in my free time and you want me to change this?” I said “nah ah. No way Jose!!!” She said to me, “But I can’t do it on my own. I don’t know how to talk to people.” Here’s the Moses of the mission...Luz. So I said, “And you think I do?” But I guess God in His infinite wisdom and goodness placed His hand on me and made me Aaron, the “mouth piece” of the mission.
During these hard economic times due to the corona virus pandemic, I was afraid that some people would back out of the sponsorship program. My faith and trust is weak but Luz entrusted the whole situation to God and His mercy. To date, aside from the sponsorship program, the mission has a Learning Center catering to pre-school children and an after school program, and a program for illiterate adults, and it also helps the Passionist Sisters financially in the administration of the Home For Girls. Our outreach program has what I call success stories. These success stories are comprised of children who defied all odds and through their strong determination and tenacity completed their education and became self-sufficient.
To date, 26 children (and counting) graduated from college or university with the help of the Philippine mission and they are paying it forward by sending their siblings to school and being a sponsor themselves. Jessica who was fortunate enough to be provided financial support by the mission was able to go to Hong Kong and get a job there. She is now paying it forward by sending money to the Passionist Sisters whenever she can. Wilmar, who through the love and concern of a wonderful friend, just graduated and is working towards his goal to become a priest. To date, he is just waiting for a letter from the bishop so he can be installed as a deacon. The Philippine Mission also administers feeding programs, a backpack program and the yearly Christmas Bundle of Joy Distribution to the poorest of the poor. This mission, entrusted to us, has given hope to the people who otherwise would be hopeless because of the lack of any resources.
All this because each one of those involved in this mission has been called. It is our mission and God has put His hand on all of us. I believe we can best impact others by living our lives as best we can. Like a mirror, we reflect the Glory of God. We have to proclaim that Jesus is Lord not only with our lips, and our hearts but also with our hands. Our actions and inaction should be a testament of our faith. The words we speak should be compatible with our actions. For it is then that we can say that we are true children of God. If just one person’s life changed because of you, your life will have made a difference for eternity. So you see, God is not watching us from a distance. He is by our side, in our heart and will forever be with us, no matter what. He is our partner in our life’s journey.