The sight of Pastor Matt making his way through the intricate maze of shanties in Lorega, brought unusual life to the place. Nang Mila* could immediately see the young pastor from afar. She then called the attention of her neighbors to gather at the small space in the cemetery. Manong Jun then helped in arranging the chairs in the Cemetery Community Alliance Church. He disappeared for awhile to borrow his neighbor’s guitar. Nang Inday was carrying her 6 month old son with her. Her son has cleft palate and was visibly suffering from skin rashes. But the condition of her son did not stop her from joining that afternoon’s fellowship.
Nang Mila, Nang Inday and Manong Jun are just among the handful of faithful individuals that afternoon. Years before they committed their lives to Christ, Nang Mila led a Mafia-like business. With just a single word, she can decide whether a marked person deserves a second chance or not. Manong Jun participated in the lucrative yet illegal arms deal in Mindanao. And Nang Inday was famous in the flesh industry.
These and other stories were not at all unusual in Lorega. It is after all a depressed community in Cebu – home to notorious criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers. Poverty is greatly magnified in every square foot in this small barangay, which is a rather different description of what Cebu is known for – white beaches and emerging IT industries. But this did not stop Cebu City Alliance Church from planting a church in the area.
That afternoon, the usual household chores stopped for the next hour or so. Everyone sat comfortably despite the swarming flies and the stench from a nearby piggery. The crowd was then very eager to hear what Pastor Matt had to preach to them.
“Naa ta bisita mag obserbar sa atong pagsimba karong hapona, (We have a visitor who will observe this afternoon’s service)” the pastor told the congregation. Looking in my direction, he jokingly added: “Diri ra ka kita na ang buhi ug ang patay magdungan ug simba. (It is only here where you can see both the living and the dead worship together.)”
At that gathering, there were many Nang Milas, Nang Indays and Manong Juns – men and women who have fallen once in their lives but decided to surrender to the lordship of Christ. Despite the enduring poverty, you could really see the unspeakable joy in their eyes; a joy that can never be bought by any currency in this world. They look at and cling in Him alone – precisely because they have nothing in this life. They have no one else to turn to.
Christ also died for every prostitute, drug pusher and cell phone snatcher not only in Lorega but also for every person in every depressed community we know of. And after more than a thousand years, He still brings good news to the poor and the oppressed. And He still transforms communities, one person at a time.
*names in this post were changed