November 06 CMS
This is what ‘normal’ looks like for 85,000 children living in the streets and slums of the Philippines in the mega-city of Manila.
And the adults who are supposed to care for them? Often they are the ones who abuse the children, or sell them as servants, or to begging syndicates or the sex industry.
A huge puzzle
Three years ago, the enormity of the problem was still sinking in for Kate and Tim Lee. Having recently arrived in Manila as CMS missionaries, they found themselves sitting on the roadside wondering exactly how they could help all these children.
Then a young boy appeared, begging at their feet. He wore an old green t-shirt, shorts tied with string, and no shoes.
“He had a cut finger,” recalls Tim, “Kate had a first aid kit, so she bandaged up the boy. We thought we’d never see him again.”
Although Kate and Tim told the boy, Ramon, about their new children’s club, they were surprised when he showed up the next day. And the day after that. In fact, over the next two years, Ramon helped bring in almost all of the 200 children who now attend that club. “He was our original lost sheep,” says Tim.
In three years Jigsaw Ministries, as Kate and Tim’s work came to be known, has grown from one lost sheep to four centres that serve over 800 children every week.
Jigsaw started simply as a safe place where children could play. “They can come in and have the confidence to talk to people. And the love there is healing love,” says Tim.
It was to this safe place that Ramon ran when he had no place else to go. Kate and Tim were horrified when they found him on the steps, brutally beaten by his uncle. They realised they had to take drastic measures.
“I’ve never been so scared,” says Tim, of the nerve-wracking trip he made into the slum to get the uncle to sign a release form so Ramon could live in a Christian orphanage.
Today, 14-year-old Ramon is out of danger and free to dream. “His ambition is to one day work in a shoe shop … so he’ll always have shoes,” says Tim.
Piecing it all together
Children in Manila have many needs and Jigsaw’s programmes have grown in response to those needs. Jigsaw offers a food programme to combat malnutrition, sponsors children ‘back to school’ when they don’t meet the stringent requirements of other sponsorship schemes, and runs homework and reading clubs. They also have social response teams who go into the streets and work with children at the highest risk, like Ramon.
There’s still a lot of playtime, which allows children to just be children. “Some of the biggest changes we’ve seen involve kids who have gone from feeling so insignificant, so dirty, so bad – like rats and vermin – to realising that God created them, and they are human beings who have a role in life,” says Tim.
Through hearing Bible stories and experiencing love, many children develop a strong faith in Christ. “And we see the communities they are going back into beginning to be changed,” says Tim.
One of the most exciting aspects of Jigsaw’s work is that the Lees have built relationships with local adults who are getting involved in caring for the children. Jigsaw’s 17 staff members are all from the surrounding areas.
This delights Kate and Tim, who have come to see their work as ‘one piece’ of a bigger effort that involves social workers, orphanages, and campaigners for children’s rights – hence the name Jigsaw. “We can’t be all things, we just need to do our part, working with other pieces, trusting God to complete the picture.”
It takes a village
It took many pieces fitting together to rescue Jenny. When the Lees first met her, she was sleeping outside, uncovered. When they brought her a blanket and food, the adults who were supposedly looking after her stole the gifts and sold them to finance their drug and glue addictions.
Alarm bells started ringing for Kate and Tim one day when Jenny couldn’t be found.
They heard she’d been taken by a group known as ‘The Rapists’.
It took some convincing to get the police to take the case seriously. They finally carried out a frightening raid, as shots were fired and knives drawn.
The road to wholeness
Jenny is now in a Christian orphanage. The psychiatrist working with her says that Jenny’s memory is functioning in 10-minute slots – to blank out the unimaginable abuse she suffered.
But there are signs of hope. One morning, hearing noise, the orphanage housemother woke at 2am. She found Jenny, already dressed in her school uniform, eagerly waiting to leave for school in four hours.
It will take time for Jenny’s life to return to ‘normal’, and even more time before attitudes change as to what should be ‘normal’ for the children of Manila. Meanwhile Kate and Tim praise God for the lives and communities that are being transformed, piece by piece.
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