Last Saturday I had the privilege of spending the morning with Aaron Smith, the coordinator of Servant Partners’ internship experience in Manila. I have heard enough times from interns how deeply impactful the weeks spent with Aaron and his wife, Emma, in their slum community of Balic-balic are, so I was very excited to meet Aaron and hear more of his story.
Aaron is a gentle soul, and as he spoke of his community, I found myself fighting tears on more than one occasion. There was his description of babies who die because they don’t receive treatment for easily treatable illness; or the fathers who steal money from their children that was intended for school expenses; or the little girls whose life ambition is to go to work as strippers in Japan so that they can send money back to the family (a pursuit that is heartily encouraged by many parents).
I was struck too by the general economic despair that hovers of a community where the vast majority of men cannot find work, and where jobs that are given are by contracts that rarely last more than six months (the time period at which an employer must begin to offer benefits). This ensures a constant stream of needy unemployed who will work for low wages and without benefits under false hope that a job that is temporary just might become steady employment. In a word: oppressive. Aaron spoke of the ways an entire population of men copes with this reality, ranging from liberal unfaithfulness in their marriages to robbery and drug sales to abuse of their children and wives.
As I sat in comfort in our friends’ apartment across the street and listened to Aaron describe his and Emma’s life with a six-month old infant, I was reminded of the ease and security I live with here. I have never treated Elijah for cockroach bites; Mercy or Aaron have never been scratched by rats.
Aaron also told the story of visiting a family from their church in the community with some of the interns and seeing the interns moved to tears by the living conditions they saw there. Later, when Aaron spoke with the family about the interns’ visit, the mother replied: “They shouldn’t cry for us. We know Jesus. They should cry for the others who do not know Him.”
As I walked out of the apartment that day, I couldn’t help but think that everyone should spend at least one Saturday morning with Aaron Smith, or others like him who are seeking first God’s kingdom in the slums of our world.