Albeit not the photos of my host families, these pictures depict the neighborhood where I lived for eight days.
My past three weeks in the Philippines have been marked by two devastating typhoons, deaths of Thuy & Sr Peg, and immersion in the lives of poor families in Navotas and Tondo. These experiences are teaching me a number of important lessons about life, God, and myself. St Ignatius shared in his Autobiography that God schools him like a teacher instructing her pupil. I feel the same way these past weeks. I share these lessons in seven parts, trusting that the Divine Teacher is schooling you in similar yet unique ways.
For eight days I lived with the two families in Navotas, one of the poorest cities in Metro Manila. One family has running water, the other does not. One lives within cement walls and steady tin roofs, the other lives in a makeshift 1,200 square feet compound with partial cement walls and pieces of blue tarps patching the roof and sides blown away by Ondoy Typhoon. This second edifice has 28 human occupants, three cats, several dogs, and plenty of rats, cockroaches, and other critters. You can fill in the rest with your imagination.
To be honest, these days were challenging in many ways. I have never lived and eaten as simply in my life, apart from backpacking trips in the wilderness. Every night I slept on the floor, alongside family members, often next to children, amidst buzzing mosquitoes. Besides the physical discomfort and constant noise, I had little personal space or time, nor the ability to communicate clearly. Moreover, the nine of us Jesuit tertains were instructed to let our host families care for us, and receive whatever is given. For priests with years of advanced schooling, accustomed to a private room with first world comforts, and trained to do things for people (to help if not to “save” them), this lesson was quite a challenge.
There was little to do during the day. I can only watch TV for so long in a foreign language or talk to people whose English is only slightly better than my broken Tagalog. (It helped that I had lived in the Philippines 14 years ago). Fortunately, both families had a college student or graduate whose command of English was good. Nevertheless, the slow pace of life was a hard adjustment.
I came to the Philippines prepared to “waste” time with Jesus. But I did not anticipate the depth of this “wasting.” In Navotas, I entered a world where my ideas of what it means to be productive, to be in control, to be self-sufficient had little foothold. I had to depend on someone to fetch or prepare clean water whenever I needed to brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, or take a bath. I could not “do” very much. Just “be”: sit with, watch, listen, humbly accept whatever comes, and trust in the care of the host families … in God’s Providence.
Even at times when I was not alone or intentionally praying, I am taught this lesson of “wasting time with Jesus.” It’s like learning to pray contemplatively. Whenever I first entered prayer or a retreat, my mind would be full of noise, of plans, of thoughts about doing this or that, of how things should be. The more I would continue with that mindset, the harder things became. The more I let go of such thinking and simply “be” and trust, the easer things flowed. New meanings emerged. Through this door-opening lesson of “wasting time” with God by simply being with and depending on my host families, I am taught a great deal. Beginning with this, other lessons came, much grace overflowed.