Handwashing laundry at the side of the road.

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.

This entry was posted in poverty.

7 comments on “Poverty

  1. Rebecca says:

    Heartbreaking and inspiring at once. Thank you for posting this. Love, Rebecca

  2. Barbara says:

    Our son married a Filipina and she has just arrived in the states. She is experiencing overload. She tells us that her parents taught her to be content with what she has and not to desire (covet) what she does not have. When we went to Manila for the wedding, we had the same heart rending experience that you are having. I pray that all we Western Christians have our heart broken over the poor of the world and that God will wean us from our idolatry of stuff. Blessings!
    Barbara Willsher

  3. btg5885 says:

    Thanks for your touching and pertinent article. Poverty is a problem everywhere, including in America. There are many reasons, lack of healthcare, miniscule wage jobs, domestic violence, absence of birth control and education which aid family planning and others which perpetuate poverty and homelessness. What also distresses me is child poverty. Every child should have a clean and safe environment to be born into, but also live. And, we should not have children going to be hungry. Unfortunately, as you note we have too many that suffer. Bless you for sharing this story. BTG

  4. Amy West says:

    There are no words.

  5. sge123 says:

    I know where you’re coming from and its such a hard thing to comprehend – what we are supposed to be able to do in such apparently dire situations. But don’t let the accuser fool you – your acts of kindness and skilled care are gifts from God and you bless others when you share them. And you share them well. I pray you would not be hindered by guilt or shame (those are the emotions I’ve felt myself following similar experiences) but cast them off and be filled with and covered by the Holy Spirit, who can do more through us than we can ever do alone. I know you know these things. I still say them to bless and encourage you. Many blessings, Sara

  6. […] me, being an American in the Philippines; surrounded by poverty, yet also by billboards and gigantic malls – to my eyes, these things stand out as the temples […]

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