When she walked into the clinic, ready to push out her baby, I recognized her face. I had done her last prenatal two weeks ago, at an outreach clinic held in a church building in one of the poorest slums in the city. Her face and body bear the marks of severe poverty. When I looked at her, I guessed her age to be early to mid-forties. She just turned thirty. Her four babies have all been born at our clinic. Her husband is a trysikad driver making 6-8 pesos per passenger; paying the bill at even the public, government subsidized hospital would be far beyond their means. She had no sanitary supplies for after the birth and no diaper for the new baby. The only “baby clothes” she had for her new little one was a well-worn tank top, size 2T.
One of the things I find the hardest is to try to give our senders and supporters a picture of the realities of life for the poor here in Davao when I am so far removed from those realities myself. When we lived in Ohio we rarely thought about the material wealth and prosperity that we enjoyed. It is impossible to live here and not be constantly aware that we are “rich Americans.” Within a mile of my home there are thousands of families living in makeshift one-room shanties. From my air-conditioned car I can see men taking bucket baths and women hand-washing their laundry by the side of the road at the water tap just outside their front doors. Some days it feels impossible for us to make a difference in the face of so much overwhelming need.
On the one hand, it is no small thing that there is a place here for pregnant mothers to come where their physical and medical needs during childbirth will be met regardless of their ability to pay and where they will be treated with kindness and compassion and dignity. And yet as I placed a slippery, squirming baby boy on the chest of this mother who is younger than me but has the face of a woman many years older, as I sutured her tear, as I dressed her baby in a new, newborn-sized onesie from the donation box, as I prayed with her, everything that I could do seemed so very small.
I cannot fathom what it would be like to have no money for diapers or sanitary supplies or clothes for my baby, to have nowhere to wash my clothes or my body out of the view of every passing car. I cannot imagine how people can live in such dire poverty and not be completely crushed. And yet Filipinos are a model of cheerfulness. They are always smiling, laughing, singing. The patients at the clinic thank us with heartfelt sincerity and (most humbling of all) bring us gifts. I am learning to pray that God would help me to become more like them: trusting less in what I have of “this world’s goods”, and more dependent on Him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.