Generally, I don’t do book reviews because I often fail to be objective about the things I’ve read, so I’m calling it a book reflection instead.
For a news article describing the book, click here.
In case you’re too bored to read the link above, the book is about the adventures of a Swiss missionary family who lived in various Philippine slums (known locally as “squatters’ area”) for around a decade. The book was written mostly from a first person perspective of either authors, and sometimes, content were lifted directly from diary entries. There was very little anonymity in its writing, as people are identified without the use of screen names. Opinions, views, and comments from the authors are also included.
I bought this book the moment I saw it at OMF Literature. Prior to this one, I have also read “Dawn Reapers” by Patrick Hobbs; a similarly themed book on urban poor ministries. The reason for my interest in such themes is that I am currently involved in our Church’s Tagalog service, which often caters to the less affluent members of society.
Perhaps the most striking realization one would get from reading this book is that there are not enough urban poor ministries in the Philippines. Yes, the mega church is booming, but rarely are mega churches able to target the marginalized – those who live in slums, cemeteries, railroads, and the like. Our senior pastor once mentioned about the theology of “God’s preferential option for the poor”, which more or less states that God sides more with the marginalized.
God becoming man is what is often referred to as the model for incarnational ministry. Simply put, it is immersing into the culture and lifestyle of the ones you wish to reach with God’s message. The protagonists in the book, I believe, had achieved that more than most of the local evangelical community has. How many Filipino Christians do you know of have intentionally given up their relatively affluent lifestyle to be able to reach out to those nearly ignored by society?
In the book, the typical born-again congregation was portrayed as those middle and upper class people who sit and sing in their air-conditioned pews, and who often had pre-conceived notions about the urban poor. One can almost feel the author’s blood boil whenever he describes these churches and their seemingly apathetic nature towards the poor. The author tells of one scene wherein his new urban poor converts felt out of place in a typical Sunday service which was 1) conducted in English, and, 2) full of people with judgmental looks at the visitors with tattoos and who did not wear their “Sunday’s best.”
Upon reading through all these, I often felt like I was the one on the other side of the fence – one of those evangelicals who were clearly not doing enough to statistically fulfill the Great Commission of Christ. Well, I did pick up this book to help me dig deeper into the urban poor communities which our local church tries to reach out to. Indeed, ministering to people other than your “kind” always seems like a “fish-out-of-water” experience. Yet I believe God will always provide legs for the fish who dares to venture outside his pond or shore.
Another realization I’ve had is that God can change your life direction no matter what age you are. Both authors have separately spent around 3 decades of their life in other occupations and ministries before deciding to come to the Philippines. Some of the characters in the book, also met Christ much later in their life.
Perhaps another sub-theme in this book is the reality of premature death. Sometimes in the form of infant sicknesses, or curable adult sicknesses that were not treated sufficiently. Then there is also the reality of violence; of teenagers who have been continuously raped; of kids under 18 who have already killed or stabbed numerous other youths and adults. Indeed, the author did comment that things you only see in the movies are everyday realities in their context.
Overall, I find it a bit shameful that the Filipino believers are still disproportionately unable to effectively reach out the millions who are closer to the poverty line. That being said, I think the Filipino church today is not fully equipped to properly deal with postmodern issues, such as broken families, pervasive sexual promiscuity (homo and heterosexual), and various levels of brokenness.
Reading the book has, for a moment, compelled me to contemplate giving up my still-not-simple lifestyle for an urban poor immersion. Yet perhaps at this point, there are many other one-step-at-a-time alternatives to that; I could probably start by improving the relational aspect with many people in our mainly “poor” congregants, then follow where the Lord leads.
This book, and even Dawn Reapers are both highly recommended, and are worth every minute of your earthly lives that you will use up in reading.