By Ruth Ortega, from the Center for Servant Leadership, Philippines
There was a time when we sat down and asked ourselves what wealth makes us and what poverty makes of us, who we would want to be identified with and to what will our lifestyle witness. On our second week of having no money in the fund to buy food for 27 stay-in students, nothing to buy for gas for the stoves, nothing to keep the lawn mower useful, nothing to spend for operational expenses, we gathered at our community time and reflected on what the Lord is requiring us to do about it. Amazing reflections came out. The student monitor for the dining hall initiated that students contribute financially and manually. She found out that the community can survive for long with the small cash and in kind donations from the students, faculty and staff, and the neighborhood. Some neighbors let the students gather vegetables from their backyards. Another volunteered to get banana blossom for viand from the farm in his Christian service area in Banilad, Pinamalayan. When the community learned it was for CSLP, they added more to what he was supposed to take. Jean Vanier says, “In a poor community, there is a lot of mutual help and sharing of goods, as well as help from outside. Poverty becomes a cement of unity.” This was an eye opener for the members of the faculty and staff who haven’t received their salaries yet.
Another student who is not used to sharing, went to buy coffee and realized that it felt no good to drink alone so she decided to buy for everybody else. She termed it as a “lessening of her greed’. This was true for Ate Remy (Academic Dean), who for her love of pets, budgets a certain amount of her income for animal food. When she saw the situation at the dining hall, she sat down with her husband and discussed the matter. She realized she could choose to close her eyes to the needs and cries of others but she cannot neglect the needs of her pets. She concluded she loved her pets more than people. With that, she decided to stop talking about it and start acting. She decided to buy fish for the students instead of her pets. We had a festive lunch that day. Of course she continued to do that after- not neglecting the needs of her pets while attending to the needs of others.
For some reason, our cook did not report for work. The students assigned themselves to do the cooking. It brought so much joy to the community to hear laughter and singing from the dining hall as the students fan the flames from the charcoals that slowly cook the community food, as they do the shredding of the coconut to extract milk, as they slice tomatoes for the fish sauce (bagoong), as they set the table, wash the dishes, do the chores. This is true wealth, something money cannot buy, something we would not have experienced and realized if we would have otherwise been provided with all the material things we needed. We witnessed creativity, oneness, love, sharing, and the inner beauty of each one. Vanier talks of his own experience when he says, “When people love each other, they are content with very little. When we have light and joy in our hearts, we don’t need material wealth.” It is a wonderful experience to live the theories we are attesting to before we go out and preach it to others. Ultimately, we are truly grateful to the God who created all things, that He is indeed our great provider, and has never fell short in answering to our needs (Philippians 4:19). The community realized what true wealth means and that CSLP is very wealthy.