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SE Asia #5 - Shalom from Manila - Ben Volman
January 18, 2018

By Ben Volman, Toronto Ministry Leader and Messianic Rabbi of Kehillat Eytz Chaim / Tree of Life Congregation.

(Ben was kindly invited to travel to Thailand and speak to a group of local pastors and evangelists about a Messianic perspective of the Gospel.  And, since he will be "in the area," he'll also travel to the Philippines to visit some pastors there.)

The sounds of the city from the 38th floor above Manila are absurdly loud, full of honking cars, revving motorcycles and light rail trains.  Yes, even at this hour a distant backyard rooster is determined to be heard above it all.  The city is a tapestry of street-lights and magically lit skyscrapers. Bong has explained to me that the different clusters of skyscrapers—one about three miles away, another several miles in the distance—are different cities that comprise the Greater Metropolitan Manila Area—just like North York and the City of Toronto were once separate cities forming Metro Toronto; eventually they were amalgamated into one.  Here, Manila is much more intensely urban and its garbage is picked over by the lowest of the poor—many of them in the Tondo, the area in which Pastor Joe has planted his ministry.

When we drove through the Tondo, we passed the garbage depots by the harbour where garbage trucks unload city waste and crowds of people gather to sift through it.  We drove out the wide avenue by the bay and entered narrow streets thick with grime, patchwork houses of old tarpaper and sheet-metal. We saw lots of young kids in bare-armed undershirts playing or strolling in the street by tiny stalls with wire grates or little pushcarts where sharp-eyed locals are buying cigarettes and sweets while others sit glumly smoking and talking in the middle of the day.  A few threadbare items hanging outside a window could have been laundry—or for sale.  In the constant humidity, people seem tired as they drift across the streets despite the traffic full of jitneys crammed with passengers.  In post-cards I remember seeing as a kid, the Filipino jitneys with their colourful decorations and chrome seemed exotic and lively. But up close, when the fumes pour out the exhaust and you see people literally sticking together, they seem like the worst possible transit option.

The pastor’s congregation meets in the glassed in front area of a very large, clean looking office complex on a major road wider than most of Toronto’s streets (more like Spadina south of College) or the Avenues of New York, and just as thoroughly crowded with cars and motorbikes, but no sidewalks.  People, bikes and cars are occasionally jostling for space; it seems terribly unsafe in the darkness after 6 pm.

Many of my first audience are surprisingly young.  At a later prayer meeting, they shared with me their ages (19-23) and their current situations (school, retail work, looking for work). The young men are thin and unpretentious. They are shy in front of a stranger so I walked around smiling and introducing myself.  When I started my presentation and I talked about the challenge of seeking out “the real Jesus”—the young men sitting near me nod in agreement because they are trying to tell their peers—“Jesus is for real.”

Pastor Joe encourages me to talk about Messianic congregational life and vision, but most of my talks in Thailand have been about Messianic Biblical perspectives.  I’ve cobbled together a PowerPoint presentation but, when I share my personal testimony, the people stop sitting with folded arms and they look at me with curiosity and then openness as I talk about changing from the inside-out through the grace of Messiah.

There are older people around and some of them are relatives of Bong’s brother,  Jonson, the teacher. When Pastor Joe’s daughter (she’s married to the current congregational pastor, Pastor Zaldy, a young man of 33) asks what can people here can do to connect with Israel, I mention web-sites and Messianic resources that suddenly seem very distant.  But I encourage them to go to Israel—no matter what else they experience, I know that will have a lasting impression. Jonson’s step-mother, a lovely woman with a silk scarf and gold glasses, tells me that she’s been to Israel and encourages others to go.  She’s very pleased to hear me spread the word.

When I arrived yesterday, the airline had lost my luggage (along with the luggage of others, including a tall Australian from Adelaide.)  After repeated phone calls, the airline promises to bring the luggage to the church office. (I have their address, because Freddie had attached a photo of the delivery label from one our clothing packages to one of his emails.) 

After the presentation, I go to dinner with Pastor Joe at a nearby McDonald’s (very clean and a menu that looks like no Mickey D’s you’ve ever seen, including spaghetti and rice—I get the familiar chicken sandwich special, including those shoelace fries and a coke.) When we pick our way back to the meeting place, I see my luggage has arrived. Thank you for your prayers.

Getting into the Philippines was surprisingly easy.  They don’t demand to know my exact address (which had led to a stern warning in Thailand from a uniformed official who had demanded to know a phone number where I could be reached.) But when I finally emerged—without luggage—looking for Bong or Pastor Joe, the relatively empty airport area (apart from a few professional sign wavers) was without anyone to receive me. I wait, finally, going to an information booth.

Is anyone allowed in here if they’re not getting on or off a flight?  The man asks if I’m looking for family or friends, and points across the road. The meeting place is down over there.  I follow other passengers and crew to long down-ramp and there are the waiting crowds, and the shouted greeting from Pastor Joe and the tall figure of Bong and his brother—even if I’m an hour later than the plane’s arrival time.

Now I’m on the 38th floor in Manila and with the crack of dawn I can hear church bells above the city din.  Today, I’ll present some two hours south of here.  I’ll get some sleep first. Thank you again for your prayers and heart-felt emails encouraging me across the vast distances that an electronic signal turns to elusive nanoseconds. Somehow, despite the lingering smog which will emerge with daylight, Abraham’s footprints are visible here.

Filed under: Ministry News


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