Bridges Philippines: Thanksgiving Day With Our Mission Team
In the coming weeks we will share reports from the North Georgia Conference Bridges Philippines team.
By Rev. Scott Parrish
Usually on Thanksgiving Day I’m at my home where we host our extended family. The kids would have had the week off for fall break and we would have spent days preparing the house, and the food, so that the Thursday would be a fun, festive time for a mini-family reunion. Like many U.S. families it’s a tradition of too much food and certain routine and expectations as we gather in gratitude.
This year I spent Thanksgiving in a cemetery.
Yet it wasn’t a morbid gathering about death, but instead had focus on life, and hope, and future.
I was part of a North Georgia Bridges team spending time with our conference partners in the Manila, Philippines area through the Thanksgiving break. During the week we jumped into a full immersion of their context, their ministries, and learned much about their church and community mission.
I spent most of my time with the ministry called KKFI, and that was the team that took us to the North Manila Cemetery to see for ourselves the village of 1100. These folk are the workers and caretakers of the tombs who also make a home in the cemetery.
When you exit the bustling Manila main road into the cemetery entrance it looks like a quite, maintained burial ground you might find anywhere in the world. You pass through a guarded entry gate and quickly notice that mausoleums are the norm here. The above ground crypts and buildings offer safe, dry, secure setting for both the dead and the living.
In this place there are many families who find affordable housing in the expensive, urban Manila. They also find safety, a small village feel in the midst of the massive urban area, even stores within walking distance of a residence, and generations of families who favor this place as home.
KKFI runs an alternative school at Manila North Cemetery that helps students to gain an education and the necessary skills to advance in education and profession. Our team visited while the instructor worked with the students.
If you’ve ever been to a slum, or a dump city, or similar locations, a visitor is soon struck by how clean this place is in contrast and the great advantage of concrete floor and solid walls and roof over other housing options when you don’t have enough money for expensive lodging.
At times one can even forget that the location is a cemetery.
But, then, you round a corner. Or, as happened to us, a funeral procession comes down the street.
Tita Villarosa (left)is the president of the people’s group at the cemetery. She’s lived there for over 20 years, and has children and now grandchildren who call the cemetery home. Her advocacy has her involved with both the Philippines and world leadership regarding the plight of the poor working class. She’s been to New York City and presented at the United Nations. Tita gave us a tour of her community.
Look closely at the home made inside the mausoleum. Such simplicity, and ingenuity, and closeness of life and death. And also there is hope and future. KKFI offers education, relationship, and partnership which enhances the community and creates a compelling dynamic including a future.
It was a profound experience of Thanksgiving as I, and others, were torn between being in that place and missing our time with our families.
Our team went on to a Thanksgiving celebration -- a great lunch at a nearby restaurant featuring all of the local favorites -- after spending a few hours at Manila North Cemetery. I confess I didn’t have much appetite as I struggled with all I had seen. But I did have a stronger sense of gratitude and responsibility and blessing. I’ll certainly never forget the Thanksgiving I spent in a cemetery village.
Rev. Scott Parrish is a mission specialist for the North Georgia Conference. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming weeks we will continue to share reports from members of the North Georgia Conference Bridges Philippines team. To learn more about a the North Georgia Conference Bridges mission partnerships and how you can be involved by prayer, giving or going, visit www.ngumc.org/bridges.