From the moment I arrived in the Philippines to the moment that I departed - I had zero grasp on why I was there. If I can be brutally honest, I had very little to offer. The children were poor and were facing horrible challenges - BUT - their mommas and daddies loved them. They were kept.
As much as I want to feel horrible for those who are poor and marginalized,it's difficult for me to see them as less than rich when there is monumental evidence of powerful family bonds.
I see wealth in togetherness and treasure in family. Even in bamboo huts and makeshift tents. Especially there.
There wasn't a single child that needed a hug from me. (I did get a little hug therapy, but I'll tell you about that later.) But the kids, nah, they didn't need that.
Day after day, the people of the Philippines blew me away. They are a people unlike any I've ever met. Resilient, hopeful and steady... so impressive, especially those who've seen that the gospel is the solution to the problems of the world, and work tirelessly to walk the walk.
So, I met Richard. I've been home now for 3 weeks and still processing the magnitude of his work. Richard is a former gang member.
In the area where he lives, there are 21 gangs, some of them well-known international groups. Richard's story is worthy of a book - but the cliff notes are as follows, and I'm guaranteed to forget something important.
Richard pulled away from gang life a few years ago. He'd had an encounter with the gospel and surrendered his heart to the Lord. From there, he really wanted to become a pastor. All the while, Richard was praying very specific prayers and asking God to be very specific in His answers and direction. All of Richards prayers were answered ((these were prayers for direction, not prayers for Mercedes!)) An opportunity came up for Richard to go to bible college - a new college nearby. His tuition was sponsored. Funny thing though - Richard was the single ONLY person to enroll. He attended his classes for 2 years - still the only student, and then he graduated. He was a class of one.
And friends, I need you to know, we may as well all be a class of one - because the gospel is no place for competition.
The school closed after Richard graduated. You see.... this was the way that God chose to creatively answer the creative prayers of a young guy leaving gang society and seeking to have his life hijacked by Jesus.
So what then.... well, it's just such a big story.... I'm not even sure how my little words can do it justice, but I'll try.
Richard began connecting with leaders from all 21 gangs. In his very calm and gentle demeanor, but still commanding respect - he has been infiltrating the leagues with the ways of Jesus. Over time, Richard's methods and his testimony have penetrated a culture and slowly changed it. He's teaching them that violence and crime doesn't have to be their path. (**In broken English, Richard explained to us that he used to climb walls.) <-- I really like that image.
Listen, these guys are the real deal. They have murdered, raped, stolen and assaulted. They have tattoos commemorating kills. These dudes were not friendly neighbors. But that is changing. Richard, with God on his side, is single-handedly reshaping a generation. He's leading the way in the redemption of a deadly culture.
I didn't sit in a field with Richard like I had seen in my vision. He and I didn't look eye-to-eye, hold hands and have a moment. But we are very much in a field together.... and I couldn't be more delighted to be a witness to the next bountiful harvest.
Richard is sowing seeds of redemption.
To be continued....