Oftentimes when smart people travel they bring a map. But if you were going anywhere in Manila decades ago, your map might not work because the streets were changed or not yet in the map. Inner streets have no signs, some closed because young people were using it as a basketball court. So the best way was to ask around people who would likely tell you a few landmarks. Now when you say landmark , most of us may think of a church, a park or a mall but definitely not a 50 meter- high stinking garbage dump in the capital city of Manila.
SMOKEY MOUNTAIN GARBAGE DUMP
That’s our ministry location in 1989, a squalid heap billowing with smoke called Smokey Mountain where about 20,000 slum dwellers survive. Poor as a rat, people scavenge scraps, paper, and metal to sell to recycling vendors. My fancy title – Director or base leader. Job description –overseer , but at times driver of the 26 passengers Sarao jeepney for a half day (due to traffic) to pick up YWAM teams from the airport. Whereas Sandy Wilks, the leader of our Student Sponsorship Ministry often drives the same jeepney to be used as a funeral car to pick up a dead body and its dear family from the dump to the burial site. Mang Anghel, my usual cheap barber from the dump, makes express coffin out of plywood as part of the YWAM ministry. I purposely remind him not to shave the back of my neck for fear that I might end up to be his next customer in his plywood coffin business . One time, a family was able to rent a casket somewhere and they had a wake for 2 weeks to raise funds through gambling. After two weeks the corpse was gone missing because it was borrowed by the other relatives next baranggay so they could also raise money by gambling.
One funny thing, people from Smokey Mt. would not believe that my wife Cristina and I were the new “base leaders”, they thought we were the humble “katulong” (servants) of these white people from abroad serving with us in YWAM. They prefer to talk to our American counterparts and we end up to be their translators. One time we went to Malacanang Palace, the Office of the President of the Philippines all dressed up in our national costumes (barong tagalog for me) with Dra Emma Palazo to be awarded for her Botika Binhi Project. I drove the Sarao Jeepney fully packed with people attending the ceremony. While I parked the jeepney they all went ahead but the security guard would not even let me in because he said drivers like me were not allowed inside the building. Until the YWAM staff realized I’ve been gone long and they have to ask another white guy to get me outside. See, how we were discriminated in our own country.
DISEASES AND PARTIES
Tuberculosis, diarrhea, worms, intestinal and respiratory disease, you name it that’s the kind of thing we face and breathe everyday. Anyway, “Combantrin” was our excellent deworming brand. We have to take this magic pill once or twice a year especially when we have that ticklish feeling inside our tummy. Dining with the people in the dump was inevitable especially if you’re the one leading Bible Studies or when you’ve been invited at a birthday party. Filipinos are hospitable people. Imagine at times they were cooking noodles (pansit) with firewood while those blue flies flying like fighter jets were landing dead on the wok. Doug Donithan and I have to watch out for those small “raisins” in our pansit and flicked them with our finger one by one.
One day we were invited at a wedding party and the young couple borrowed utensils from our Daycare for malnourished babies ran by one of our heroes, Els Van Teylingen, from Holland. During our time, we don’t use yet those expensive disposal diaper but we have those white plastic buckets from Gleanings for the Hungry as our containers for A– soaking the dirty cloth diapers , container B– wash with soap & water and C- rinsing & ready for drying on the clothesline. There was lots of food- lechon, pansit (chinese noodles). And jeez.. the powdered orange juice drink were being mixed with water and blocks of ice in one of those Gleanings buckets. I thought my wife was trying to be funny waving her hand and mumbling … its letter A, bucket A, container A and I was not getting it. I was oblivious but my wife Cristina and our YWAM Secretary began giggling incessantly when I drank that living water, ahem, juice!!
TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
Our YWAM team of 40 targeted 1000 children for educational sponsorship, we served 24,000 people per year for TB control- immunization & the nutritional daycare. A whooping 0.5 M pesos budget per year!! Our amazing team conducted home Bible Study and also started two new churches in the dump. The best part was equipping the Smokey Mountain people with education and skills as we observed the astounding success of some friends a few years later. That was priceless. But without the gospel of our Lord Jesus we say we might be just sending an educated soul to hell. Raising up community leaders like Manuel Manarang, Dennis B, created quite a stir in the dump — they literally “turn the world upside down” for Jesus. We even saw the boldness of Manuel approaching military General Ramos during his visit to present our issues in the dump but the bodyguards prevented him. Many people drastically changed lives spiritually and economically hearing of their powerful testimonies about Jesus.
GOING TO CHURCH IN THE MALL
Although we supported the church in Smokey Mountain, most of our team members attended the Union Church of Manila on Sundays whereas we, the Ancheta family joined Victory Christian Fellowship under Pastor Luther Mancao. The crazy thing, whenever we ride a jeepney people start covering their nose as we boarded. Even if we’ve taken a shower. So we refrain walking in the dump before going to church because the stink sticks to our clothings. Later on when we afforded buying a car we enjoyed driving to Greenhills or the SM Mega mall Victory church. After church, where else you want to go– we’re already in the mall. The catch though, we always have to lay our hands on the Toyota car because every time we close the door the “balakubak” flakes starts falling, … that’s the rusted pieces falling on the ground. I forgot to tell you, our area in Balut was always flooded most of the year not because of the rain or typhoon. It’s the high tide, a salty corrosive water. Not good for cars. Every day the Earth experiences two high tides and two low tides. Could be the reason why sometimes we have more than 7000 islands sometimes less in the Philippines.
FROM SCARS TO STARS
In 1993 news headline, Cory Aquino the new Philippine President “ordered to wipe out Smokey Mt from the face of the earth” due to the stigma brought to the nation by its worldwide publicity. Smokey Mountain became the symbol of poverty in the Philippines. People relocated to a nearby government housing. YWAM ministry continue to exist to this day turning their scars into stars, trials into triumph giving them the Living Hope. We recognize also the accomplishments of a friend parish priest Ben Beltran who implemented many great projects in the dump.
MOVING TO SAN FRANCISCO, BAY AREA
In 2001, my family moved to the U.S. at Gleanings for the Hungry in Dinuba, California . We were amazed how this ministry sends tons of food to more than 40 needy nations around the world. Hosting thousands of youth to process the drying of peaches in summer were some of our memorable experiences. Later with the influence of CPA Bill Cornell we introduced Quickbooks and the Denari donor system when I was assigned working in the Finance Department. Every Monday, staff introduced themselves to hundreds of volunteers and we have to tell them our spiritual involvement, such as DTS, Bible Study, hospitality. Crunching numbers doesn’t sound religious at all, especially when we’re Religious Visa status. After much thought, I would say my ministry involvement was most biblical, –”the ministry of reconciliation ” (2 Cor 5:18) reconciling books and people’s relationship with God.
In 2007 we met Tim & Karol Svoboda in YWAM SF, a ministry reaching out to more than 3,000 homeless in San Francisco. Every time we cross the Bay Bridge, my daughter Sydney and wife Cristina holler “I love San Francisco”!!!! The Tenderloin, and the Ellis Street reminded us so much of the poor living in Smokey Mt. Except for this difference. The poverty here is spiritual not material. Most of the “poor” here receive welfare checks as compared to the poor from the garbage dump who gets help personally from the hand of a YWAM person –plus they hear the gospel. The poor we know are generally grateful, downcast and humble but the poor in SF, not all of them I believe, have an attitude problem– ungrateful, narcissistic & that sense of entitlement. That’s why we are so blessed being part of YWAM San Francisco under the leadership of Tim and Karol Svoboda in transforming this dark city with the love of Christ. People, Passion, Places. My wife one day had a frightening clash with a mentally ill homeless gal pushing her around . Later on our then 8 year old Sydney complained her ears were hurting due to the constant blasting shouts of invectives in the streets! Oh well, drug addicts, mentally deranged, alcoholic … what should we expect?
TRIBUTE TO A HOMELESS FRIEND
Butch, a Filipino homeless, was exceptional.. “was” because he just passed few months ago. He loves to be on the street with his buddies but he actually had a single room occupancy (SRO) awarded to him by the government. Although he was alcoholic, he was trying to put his life together, attending our Bible study, our church and reconciling with his loved ones. He was also one of our financial supporters for a few months when we were starting as staff in SF. He also fixed our plumbing and electrical …while he was drunk. This is quite difficult for me to understand– alcohol withdrawal is dangerous than withdrawing from drugs? So that time, too late for me to realize that I scolded him to stop drinking while he was staying in our small gettho house in the Bay Area. He obeyed. During the night his body was vibrating wildly wondering if I should call 911. Reluctantly I ran fast to buy a bottle of alcohol and it was a miracle– he was healed, I mean from that wiggling body.
My wife Cristina joined a ministry called 360 — a one year discipleship program for those homeless who are committed to change despite they still struggle with loneliness, depression, sex, alcohol or drug addiction. We started a Bible study with some homeless friends until we had a small church attended by about 30% “special needs people” ( mentally & physically challenged ). I was later ordained as a pastor with the Foursquare church. As you can imagine the atmosphere in our church could be uncomfortable and distracting to some people so I figured you should have a special calling to be a part of our church. Our vision is to reach out to thousands of Filipino immigrants in the Bay Area, we are called as a community to give the life and light of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so is our faith journey …. .