Wednesday, 14 October 2009


N.B. Today at College, our afternoon session was looking at the concept of "Worship": what it means, how it has changed over the years, our experiences; good and bad; of sung worship, and different aspects of leading corporate worship. It was a really good session, even though I spent most of it away with the fairies and appearing uninterested; I was just reflecting back on past experiences...

When I first arrived in the Philippines back in July, I spent a few days in Manila before flying on to Negros. On the day after my arrival, I spent time in Payatas with the team that work at and attend the youth centre. I was given the warmest welcome ever, and even though I could barely remember very few of their names from the year before, they were all more than pleased to see me and have me stay there with them for a few days. (And of course, by the time I left I knew them all.) I was made to feel special and appreciated in a way that I don't understand, and hasn't been repeated that often since.

While I was there, about 20 of them were attending a Ministry Training Course run by Father Paul and the Youth Worker: Mhel. On my second evening, a few of us travelled to Mang Inasal (a really good chicken place with unlimited rice) and Tita Olyn treated us all to some food. It was a great evening of laughter, renewed friendship and honest realisations. Mhel blessed the food before we ate, during which he said: "Lord, help us to remember that everything we eat is food we have not shared with those who are hungry." Humbling and moving words from someone whom many in Western society would describe as "poor." Poor in material goods maybe, but rich in love, spirit, heart, acceptance, and passion for those who are suffering.

I stayed at Lourdes' that night, and overwhelmed and humbled from the hospitality I experienced from those who literally have nothing, it was a memorable night. The next morning we were up early, to have showers (a bucket of cold water that you pour over yourself with a jug), and "breakfast" (flavoured spaghetti, some sweet bread rolls and a chocolate milk drink) before setting off in the morning light around Payatas to do some errands that Lourdes had to do on behalf of the Youth Centre. Then we were off down to Block 7; the area at the base of the rubbish dump; where Fr. Paul lives when he is about in Payatas; because those on the training were leading some worship time with the families and children that live down there. Whilst completing the errands I was introduced to a few of Lourdes friends who live around Payatas and also had a good few invites to stay in people's homes the next time I came to stay in Payatas.

Of course, in true Filipino style, Lourdes and I turned up at 8am (the agreed time to meet) and spent nearly an hour waiting around for the rest of the group. I didn't mind in the slightest, as it gave me a chance to sit and observe some of the life that so often goes unrecorded at the base of the dump. Lourdes translated some of my questions to the local “shop” keeper, and I learned a little bit about the people who populated that part of the dumpsite, and saw a glimpse of what life must be like. When the others arrived, Guitar, Drumbox and bag of flavoured bread in tow; and greetings and hugs were exchanged; we gathered around a house doorway only a few feet from the fence that separated us from the mountain of rubbish that dominated and shadowed these people’s homes. I had a clear view of the dump, the guards and the people, young and old, clambering over the scraps of metal, plastic and waste clothing looking for anything that could be sold, exchanged for food, or used for something useful. And I experienced discomfort in the deepest, rawest sense.

It wasn’t the worship that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t even the fact that all those who weren’t from the youth centre gradually made a circle of unabashed stares around me. It wasn’t even the smell that gradually overpowers you as you draw nearer to the beast of a dirty, smelly rubbish mountain. I had seen it the year before, and I had heard many stories about the things that went on day by day. I called myself a friend to some who lived there. But I had taken for granted so many things; I had wasted so many opportunities. I had let the culture and natures of English life sweep me away since the last time I stood in that place. I had not lived every day for a worthwhile reason. I hadn’t lived every day like I knew what was going on. And I did know. I had, in effect, forgotten the lessons I learned. And I hadn’t even realised.

And as I stood there, singing song of declaration and loyalty to God, I realised what a sham I’d made of things. And after streaming through the multitude of pre-mentioned thoughts in my head, I realised that none of it made any difference. I hadn’t any difference. I had failed to do all the things I thought I would when I returned to England the first time. These people still lived here; still suffered from poor health, poor housing, little to no education, and food only when profits from the dump allowed so. What had I done, or rather, what hadn’t I done?

Then I looked at the smiling faces all around me: children, teenagers and adults all singing their hearts out for God. If life was so bad, what was I missing here? What made them able to sing so freely of God’s blessing and goodness when I seemed to struggle so much? Was it that living here had disillusioned them into thinking this was normal life? I guess so – this was normal to them. But that did not stop the passion for those suffering around them to be conveyed so freely in their everyday lives. There was no hint of being disheartened that day: no attitude that things didn’t need to change. They were doing everything they could to change live for those around them. In those moments by the dump - they were worshipping God. They were telling the children who lived and worked on the dump that they needed to live for God. These young people, whose strength and determination is a constant inspiration to all who meet them, were praising their God – the God who changed so much in their lives. They were sharing the thing most precious to them. And as I stood there; I got it. Praise God.

“Oh dear God we ask for your favour,
Come and sweep through this place
Oh we desire You
I just wanna be with You, be where You are
Dwelling in Your Presence O God
Oh I want to walk with You

And I will climb this mountain
And I'll step off the shore
And I have chosen to follow
And be by Your side forever more

Tell me what You want me to do, Lord God
Tell me what You want for my life
It's Yours oh God, it's Yours
Do Your will, have Your way
Be Lord God in this place
Oh I want Your will to be done.”

‘By Your Side’ - Hillsong

[All photos from Jo Crowe (Click Here)]
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