This is a story shared by our friends in the Philippines, who went through the servant leadership course as a community and as a result decided to form the Center for Servant Leadership, Philippines. This is a story of the power of prayer and transformation that can happen when we are aware of God’s call to reach out to a broken and hurting world.
By Ruth Ortega with Francis Hernandez
One of my favorite essays is Elizabeth O’Connor’s “Who Hears Prayers?” In the story, two old, mentally ill women dominate the scene – one kneeled to pray and the other taunted her – “Get up woman! God don‟t hear your prayer!” O‟Connor then poses the question to herself, “Does God hear her prayer?” “Then I remembered. God is in me and where I am God is. The real question was, Did I hear her prayer? What would it mean to hear her prayer?”
In CSLP’s new curriculum, one of our subjects is the “Outer Journey”. This is where students are encouraged to go out of our gates and be a part of other communities, listening to people‟s stories and learning through action and reflection. In fact, as a result of this subject, almost every house in Guinhawa (our local community) has been entered by a CSLP student. We were all struck by the story of our senior student, Francis and his group, after they visited the home of Maritess Ugbac – whom they call Titit.
Similar to the women in O‟Connor‟s article, Titit is mentally ill. She has four children – ages 12, 10, 9, and 5. Her husband, age 74, suffered from a stroke in 1995 and since then had a hard time providing for the family. He earns a little money from fishing but spends it mostly on alcohol and gambling as a temporary escape from his destitute life. Titit does the neighbor‟s laundry and earns Php200 ($4.80) per week. Our students noticed Titit’s house and how unaccommodating it is for her family. The roof leaks and its one small room doubles as a living room and a bedroom for the couple and three of their children. The house is lopsided because its wood pillars are about to collapse.
During the first visits with Titit there was little cheer in her face. We wondered – what would Titit be praying about? Actually, Titit stopped praying a long time ago – she figured God didn’t hear her prayers anyways. But Francis and his group made sure that after every visit they ended with a prayer. It didn‟t take long until Francis‟ groupmate, Angie heard Titit‟s prayer. (Angie and her family lost their house to a fire set by her alcoholic father who later abandoned them. Her eyes are very keen on the need of people for houses.) A week later, the students contributed from their small allowances for house materials and gathered sasa leaves for pawid (a traditional style roof in the Philippines) from the CSLP farm. CSLP cut down mahogany trees for wood and altogether the community worked as one to replace Titit’s house anew. Now, a typical Filipino house (nipa hut) is rising for Titit and her family. Of course it was much more fun doing things WITH them than doing things TO them. Titit’s family shared their resources and contributed to the house construction.
Her neighbors and relatives once in a while pop in and ask questions. “Will you be requiring Titit to go to Guinhawa Church on Sundays?” However, we are more convicted of bringing Jesus to the people instead of JUST telling them to come to Jesus. But still, Titit went to Guinhawa Bible Church the next Sunday. When I saw her, her slightly cheerful face has bloomed to a radiance of joy and freedom. She had a different aura, far from the depressing image she was the last time I saw her. She didn”t return to church the next Sunday, but our CSLP community continues to help her. Then arose another question, “Why are you building a house for them for free?” Why? – because God DOES answer prayers! God has all the answers but He doesn’t give it all by Himself. We are God’s partners, his eyes, ears, hands, and feet!
Amazingly, this act of looking through God‟s eyes with compassion and love to our neighbors has been contagious.
Guinhawa Bible Church, located eight meters from our CSLP compound, saw how we worked as a community. This caused them to reflect on their role as partners in building God’s kingdom. They realized that, what they used to think was impossible, was actually possible. The church has now “left their gates” as well – and they have started building a house for the homeless in their community. I like the words “contagious community.” May it be that the CSLP community, with the love of Christ it has experienced be able to infect love in those who are searching for it in their prayers, and become contagious themselves. God does hear prayers.
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