Final Memories from Manila… and how Manila Changed Me

As my days in the Philippines began to come to an end, there wasn’t much time to write prayer letters. But I still have memories: memories that have impacted me deeply.

There are so many memories; far more than I could write down here. Each of the people I met was so precious. And so much happened in five weeks.

But I will capture just a few:

I remember the day I went to the opening of the new home for street people. As part of the opening ceremony, a group of street people sang a song about the Good News of Jesus, and how He can rescue and redeem forever. I remember the tears standing in my eyes, watching them and knowing that He really can… and He is doing.

I remember the team there giving me a present: a simple little bracelet. They told me to keep it always, to remember. I still have it now… and I still remember.

I remember little Ronalyn (with the red t-shirt below), and how she was learning English at school. I remember the day she came up to me, shyly, and said, “How…. are…. you?” I remember how it melted my heart.

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I remember editing report after report of the children’s stories… so many stories of abuse and neglect and trauma. I am so thankful to think that God can heal broken hearts.

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I remember the Saturday morning we got up so early, climbed into the van and set off for the market: some house mothers, some girls and I. It was crazy and unforgettable: the big shed full of Asian faces and Asian foods and so many things I’d never seen before: men carrying whole pig carcasses on their shoulders; people selling all of the parts on stalls; fish still jumping on the counter; me with one of the only white faces in the market, sticking out like a sore thumb and feeling like I was at the other end of the world… It was another experience I would never forget.

I remember being so humbled by the gifts I was given by the dear sisters I had found in the Lord.

I remember the gift Ate Reah gave me: a gift I still treasure. It is a simple bracelet, made of simple plastic threads. It’s bracelet she wore to remind her to pray for Edward, one of the street people, who had tuberculosis. I remember feeling so humbled that she would give it to me. It reminds me of all I learned while I was with her.

I remember my last evening in the Philippines; when something happened that impacted me very deeply.

That was a sad last day: a day of goodbyes and gifts that humbled me and precious people I did not want to leave. During the day, I went to the office. Usually, when it was time to go home, I would be with one of the CCM team, who would go with me on a Jeepney. That night, there was no one available, so they left me with Emy, a dear girl of around 16. What none of us had bargained for, though, was rush hour.
Emy and I waited on the street, confidently expecting a Jeepney to approach. One did. We waved, asking the driver to stop. He did not. Too full. We waited. Another Jeepney came along. We waved. No answer. Too full. One by one, the Jeepneys went past. It was rush hour, and no-one had any room. So we began to look for taxis or FX’s, too. Again, we waved. None stopped. No-one had any room. I was beginning to get a bit anxious. ‘Lord,’ I was praying, ‘I’m on my own in Manila with a sixteen year old girl and my flight goes tomorrow! Please help me get back!’
‘Let’s walk,’ Emy said. Figuring that she knew the city better than I did, I agreed. We began to walk along the street, waving at the Jeepneys, and taxis. None stopped. We kept walking. I kept praying. No success.
Time passed. We were walking on and on through the streets of Manila, Emy and I, I getting more and more anxious, and Emy probably a bit like that, too!
Suddenly, I recognised where we were. We had reached the street where the church was… Where the street people lived, whom I had got to know. ‘Ate Caroline! Ate Caroline!’ They were calling. They were street people and I was a white girl with so much more than they would ever have, but we were friends. 
Animatedly, Emy explained our problem. We stood talking to our friends. It gave me a few more precious minutes with them, including some of the street children. I wrote in my journal of  “The little clutch of Princess and her sister as their dear, dirty little hands encircled mine, and they watched me with childlike love and trust. My heart ached over them. I was wearing Ate Reah’s bracelet- may it always, always remind me.”
But my friends were now planning a solution to my problem. In shock, I realised what was happening: they were going to help! Springing into action, my new friends from the streets began to gather their other friends. Running down the street, dodging the traffic, they hurried, in and out of the cars, trying to track down a Jeepney or a taxi: anything that would stop. Still amazed, and terrified that they would get hurt on my behalf, I followed helplessly with Emy.
It was surreal. It was crazy. It was so humbling. Street people risking their lives through traffic to get a lift for me? I was too shocked to say how grateful I was.
Before long, they had succeeded in getting me a lift, and were beckoning me to hurry and get into it. I wanted to tell them… To thank them… But there was no time. We had to hustle on board… And get back… To the home and my aeroplane and the rich life I had back in England.
As I sat there in the FX, I processed what had happened. God had answered in a crazy, out-of-the-box way… and with a lesson I would never forget. They were so poor. They had so little. I had so much. Why would they go out of their way to help me? They probably couldn’t afford a taxi or a Jeepney for themselves! But I knew something as I sat there. I would never forget what they had done.
I remember the last moments at the Girls’ Home: the realisation that I had to go to catch my aeroplane, and some of the children were still asleep, and I would have to leave without hugging them goodbye. I went into the rooms and looked at their sleeping faces, wondering if I should wake them up. I still wish I had; that I had woken them and hugged them and told them how much they mean to me. Maybe they don’t remember now, but I do. They’ll be young women now, going out into the world. I received a photo of some of them recently: lovely young women in beautiful dresses. And I thought of the little girls I had grown to love.

If any of them ever read this, I would want them to know how precious they are; how special they are to God. How much He longs to work in and through their lives in stunningly beautiful ways. How much He longs to forgive their sins, heal up their hearts and set them free to know Him and His incredible, healing, freeing, restoring love. And I would want them to know that I have not forgotten them… that they will always be very precious to me.

I remember the gruff, urgent way Monica clung to me and looked up at me as we said goodbye, and said, ‘Don’t ever forget’. Dear Monica who was rescued as a baby from the Mumbai streets. And I wanted to convince her; to make her believe I never could… but I was too overcome with emotion. I still want to tell her it now. I never have forgotten, and I never could. I could never forget what I saw; what I experienced. God has used it to change me forever.

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I remember sitting in the aeroplane, looking out of the window; thinking of the precious people I was leaving behind. I knew that I would probably never see them again this earth, and my heart was bursting.

But my heart was bursting with more than that. My heart was bursting with a call; with a decision.I would never forget. I was going back for people like them. I was going back because God was calling me to serve Him; to live my life so that others like them could know His love; could live forever. I looked out of the window as the plane lifted; as I began the long trip back to England. And I knew that my life had been marked.

I remember that it was strange to be back. I remember walking around a shopping centre, feeling so angry with the lavish expense and waste. I remember thinking of Manila, and how much we could help if we would only share.

I remember looking at statistics: about over 2 billion people who have still never heard the Name of Jesus even once. About 80,000 people dying every single day without a chance even to experience His love. And I remember thinking that they could no longer be statistics any more; not after Manila. Each statistic is a precious person with an eternal soul.

In time, things became clear. God was calling me; not to the Philippines (though I will always love my dear friends there) but to people who have even less access to what I have than they do: to help the billions in the 10/40 Window with no chance whatsoever to experience the love of Christ. Now I work for Gospel for Asia (www.gfauk.org ). But I will never, ever forget what happened to me in Manila.

What I found out afterwards… 

Years afterwards, I saw a Facebook post: a page about Noelyn. I remember Noelyn: how could I ever forget her? The sweet, affectionate girl of 14 who had lived as a scavenger on the streets, trying desperately to survive; the dear, warm Noelyn who had clung to my hand and chatted to me, and won a place in my heart as each of the children did.

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I had written in my journal about  “Dear little Noelyn’s sad, sad eyes as she hugged me so tightly and said, ‘I miss you’ as I said goodbye to her. I think she had been waiting for me. Oh, Lord, would You  go to her?”

What I came to realise through that Facebook post is Jesus did go to Noelyn… and He took her to Himself, too. I found out that dear, sweet Noelyn has gone ahead of me: she is with Jesus now. Health problems took her away suddenly, at only 20 years old.

This is from the report about her death:

“Noelyn left behind a diary and a half finished testimony. She had been hoping to apply for church membership. The last diary entry spoke of her health: “I know God is testing my trust in Him. But I will not give up, I will prove to Him that He is my only Saviour and Keeper and that I want to be His servant and child until the last breath of my life”. Staff had spoken with her during recent months about salvation and believe that she is one of God’s children. 

Written on a piece of paper taped to her mirror the morning she died was the reference John 3:16. Her room mates said she must have written it the night before as it wasn’t there before that.”

You can find the whole story here:

http://www.ccmmanila.org/news/noelynstatement

That brought me to tears. Little Noelyn, who held my hand. Little Noelyn, who had lived as a scavenger on the streets until CCM took her in. Little Noelyn, who is now at peace, with Jesus.

It touches me so deeply to think of that: to think of how much it means that Noelyn is with Jesus now. And it makes it all so real; so important. What matters is sharing Christ’s love with those who so badly need it.

May it wake us up. May it help us realise that, if Jesus Christ really is the only way to Heaven (and He is), then this is worth giving our lives for, no matter what the cost. It is worth doing whatever it takes to share His love.

’18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.[d]’ Matt 28:18-20

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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