A Church for the People

A Church for the People

By: Edwin Estioko

Iloilo City, Philippines

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The Iloilo City dump in the Philippines is a double-edged sword to the families who live next to it.

On the one hand, people scavenge its heaps for recyclable materials like metal to sell so they can buy food. On the other hand, the dump is dirty, hazardous and riddled with violence.

The Iloilo City government has considered closing the dump because of increasing crime there. Recently, a girl was raped, murdered and thrown into the trash.

This odd pairing of dependence and danger only serves to motivate Pastor Edwin Arañ¡ ¡nd members of his Compassion partner church, Christ Centered Fellowship, to work even harder to change their community's future.

They have already sown seeds of change, and opportunities beyond the dump are sprouting.

Compassion's unique model of working exclusively through local churches like Christ Centered Fellowship which hosts a Child Sponsorship Program and Child Survival Program means that pastors like Arañ¡ are from the community, and know the children and families most in need and how to reach and help them.

Arañ¡ also knows the two-mile route from his church to the dump well. The thatched bamboo homes, plowed patches of rice fields, and makeshift shops with piles of metal scraps from the dump belong to the families he has spent the last 28 years serving.

In the 1990s when the government began using the area as a dump, Arañ¡ says, "very quickly the 'mountain' grew higher and higher. I used to hitchhike on bulldozers to reach the families."

Since community members have a great need for other opportunities, the church created a crab pond and garden where families of registered children come to work and earn extra money.

The church also lends money to parents who want to begin small businesses, which help them become self-sufficient.

"A number of our parents are now earning money from selling rice or snacks," says Hayde Villanueva, director of the Compassion-assisted center at the church.

"Some have tried food processing, others now drive their own motorcycle-taxis, while others have tried making and selling peanut butter."

These activities also help parents provide for their kids. Today, 274 children are registered at the child development center, and they, too, are learning ways to create brighter futures for themselves.

"We train our registered children to excel in academics and do well in life," Villanueva says.

"We also teach them livelihood and entrepreneurial skills, as we nurture them in God's Word."

Villanueva uses curriculum called "My Plan for Tomorrow," in which Compassion-assisted children are encouraged to think beyond the dump. They write down what they want to do when they grow up and the steps they need to take to reach their goals.

Florence Rojo wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and her sister Hannah wants to work in ministry.

Pastor Arañ¡ ¡nd Villanueva fbelieve the girls will achieve their goals and are determined to help them any way they can.

"We are a community-conscious church," Arañ¡ says. "It is what Jesus would do."