I had one of the most excellent days of my life this Sunday.
I should first begin by explaining that I have the uncanny ability of finding the red light district no matter where I go. In Thailand we stayed at The Christian Missionary Guest House and it was smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District. I booked a nicer hotel (with a pool) that I found at a really good rate for my trip to Manila. It was just a few feet away from the Korean Embassy, the only place I had to be the whole time I was in Manila. Well, the street of my hotel was the red light district.
Also, anywhere I go I try and find a United Methodist church to worship with on Sunday. I asked at the front desk. They had never heard of the "Oobited Betherdust Church. Only Catholic." So, I went on-line. I found the address of a United Methodist church in Makati. I asked the girl working at the counter (a different girl than before) how to get to the address. She immediately recognized the address and the church and began to explain to me how to get there. This is the actual conversation:
Her: “Do you know where the bar Ringside is?”
Me: Is that the one where “ladies” box every night and they have midget fight Monday?
Her: Yes. And then next to that is High Heels, it’s the third and fourth gender strip club.
Her: And then down the street is a Korean butcher.
Me: Yes, I saw the sign for that.
Her: Good, the church is right in between the strip joint and the butchers.
Me: Good. Thank You.
Thus began my adventure at Makati UMC. I showed up around 10. I didn’t actually know when the service began, but I figured 10 was a safe bet. I arrived, noticeably late, and was directed to a pew. It was Mission and Evangelism Sunday. The District Superintendent was preaching.
Ta-golog is the native language in the Philippines. But, everyone speaks English perfectly well. People just swap back and forth from one to the other – using whichever brings more clarity to the situation. So, the DS used a little bit more English to accommodate me. It was pleasant. He preached a sermon I’m all too familiar with. Going to the ends of the earth is kind of my forte.
They had me stand up and recognized me as a visitor, which felt awkward, because – I mean – who didn’t know that I was a visitor? The average height in the Philippines is 5’1”, so I’m like Big Bird to these people.
At the end of the service we sang two songs. Here Am I was predictably powerful. Go Now in Peace (the song I sang at my sister’s wedding) was a real shock to hear. I was so surprised to hear one of my favorite songs being sung thousands of miles away from home.
After the service everyone was very cordial. After I met the pastors and the lay leaders I almost left. Almost. But, I wanted to look at the youth group’s bulletin board. In the Philippines a youth group goes to age 24, so I could still qualify! I was looking at the board when I heard a chorus of friendly hellos. The youth and young adults from the youth group had surrounded me. They held out a leaflet with a schedule and asked if I would like to join them for the days activities.
And did we ever have fun. We went to a park and played games and did Bible studies. I was very impressed by the depth of their understanding of the Christian faith. They were really challenged by their leader, 21 year old Hannah (the pastor insisted that Hannah and I get married. We are of the same age and the same mind. It was a very awkward conversation. I really felt like he might start pulling out a marriage certificate for us to sign. But, he didn’t and we’re both still happily single!) and they also really challenged back. Their names are all just terrific. Pow, Gold, Jaja, Resty, Guillermo-Patrick; just to name a few. Their faith is vibrant and bright.
They were enthralled by my call to missions and had many questions for me. Filipinos are very open and generous and they expect the same. I answered some questions that Americans would never dare to ask, and it was very liberating.
After we finished I was planning on going to the movie theatre. At $3 a ticket it’s a super cheap way to spend some time – but still prohibitively expensive for Filipino people. I felt stupid leaving my new friends to go sit by myself in a theatre. So, since I had lived within budget and still had money left over for my trip; I decided to treat my friends to a movie. Eight of us were free for a movie and we had a blast. We watched UP. After the movie they walked me to the taxi stand and we said our goodbyes. It was a perfect end to a great week.
I really fell in love with the Philippines while I was there. And, I can't wait to go back.