A pastor's persistent love for children in a drug-ridden community and a connection with Compassion transform one woman from drug dealer to Christ follower.
Tomasa Casinillo was the Queen of Lorega. Her kingdom: Lorega, a cemetery-turned-squatter-community in the center of Cebu City, Philippines, filled with drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. She made a profit dealing methamphetamines.
Not even the police could control Lorega. "This was a scary place with scary people," Tomasa says. "Thugs from other squatter communities were afraid to enter. They were afraid of my son too -- Emilio Jr."
He was a thief and drug addict known as the Bully of Lorega.
But the crime in Lorega didn't intimidate the Rev. Roel F. Tabasa, senior pastor of the nearby 1,600-member Cebu City Alliance Church.
He was determined to help the community's children before more were forced into prostitution and drug dealing.
In 2001 the church partnered with Compassion to open the Loving My Neighbor child development center. Today, some 560 children are registered in Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program there.
In addition to having a safe, clean environment in which to learn and play, the children at the center receive medical checkups, tutoring and food assistance. They also attend Bible studies and learn biblical principles.
"Our staff workers love the children," says the Rev. Tabasa. "I believe it is because of their faithful witness and example that most of our children have accepted the Lord in their lives."
A Community Comes to Christ
Tomasa's journey to receiving the Lord began when her grandson Diether was enrolled in Compassion's program. Soon after, two more of her grandchildren, Stephani and John, were registered.
Reluctantly, Tomasa attended Bible studies at the church to show her support of her grandchildren. She also began volunteering in the center's kitchen as a cook and dishwasher.
God worked in her life through the center activities and her new friends -- and Tomasa gave her life to Christ. In her home she broke down gambling tables and built up a center for Bible study.
She also joined the center-sponsored Prayer Warrior Ministry. Her first prayer was that her son, Emilio Jr., would come to know the Lord.
In 2005 he received Christ as his Savior. In 2006 mother and son -- the Queen and Bully of Lorega -- were baptized together.
Christ-led changes like Tomasa's are common among family members in the community. "Compassion sponsorship paves the way for the church to also minister to the children's parents [and caregivers]," says the Rev. Tabasa. "We hold parenting seminars and classes in drug prevention.
"We also train some parents to start their own small businesses. But we especially follow up through Bible studies. � About 200 parents have already accepted the Lord in their lives, have been baptized, and regularly attend church."
A Family That Serves the Lord
Because of Tomasa's transformed life, today her entire family serves the Lord. She is now the child development center's area leader in Lorega, encouraging Compassion-sponsored children's family members to attend Bible study.
Emilio Jr., now a pastor, leads those studies in his mother's home. "Some doubted that I really changed, but I was determined to show God's transforming power," Tomasa says.
She learned to be content with the meager $15 her husband, Emilio Sr., earned each month sharpening knives and tools.
When Emilio Sr. died of cancer in December 2009, Tomasa continued to faithfully serve in her community.
"I would never regret giving my life to the Lord," Tomasa says. "I did a lot of bad things in my life. I'm amazed that the Lord still loved me and made a way for me to change.
"How can I not serve Him now? I will still serve Him as long as He allows me to live."