For the past nine years, Aaron and Ema have lived in and served the Botocan community in Quezon City, a section of metropolitan Manila. This sprawling squatter community was built on undeveloped land mostly owned by the neighboring University of the Philippines. Aaron and Ema have played a central role in the formation and growth of the Botocan Bible Christian Fellowship, a thriving community of believers that gathers to worship, to fellowship, and to experience the transforming work of God’s Kingdom. Ema reflects on the inspiring steps of devotion and worship that the young women of this fellowship have been making together as a community.
Urban ministry is messy. This messiness comes from the personal sins of the community and from the sins of others exploiting the poverty of the poor. When zealous ministries become excited about numbers without recognizing that the Kingdom of God is beyond an individual church or denomination, they also contribute to the messiness of ministry in the community.
Many churches and denominations enter our neighborhood and offer various forms of financial assistance such as scholarships, food, and school supplies. In order to receive the benefit, our poor neighbors are required to attend the associated church. Transactional ministries like these reinforce the mindset that financial benefit is the only reason to attend a church.
In our church, we want people to know Jesus and to be persecution-resistant disciples. The scholarships we do offer are not advertised, and we thoughtfully approach those students in our neighborhood who are both needy and already making an effort to pursue their studies. We do not require Bible study or church attendance in order to receive a scholarship.
"Seeing people transformed and self-empowered is truly one of the deepest joys of ministry!"
Sixteen-year old Ryca has been attending the church for quite some time now, and she helps in teaching Sunday school. However, her grandmother and mother have told her to stop attending our church because we are not giving her anything in exchange. Members of a Catholic group told Ryca’s guardians that Ryca would get a scholarship for attending their church outside of the community. Nevertheless, Ryca remained steadfast in her faith knowing that she attends our church not to get anything but solely because of Jesus.
Anndrea, another 16-year-old girl, has been a member of our church for the last two years. Recently, five older women visited her house to persuade her to join their fellowship in exchange for a scholarship. Anndrea declined, explaining that she was already a Christian and was attending a small church located here in the community; she was fine with working her way through school. When the women turned to persuading Anndrea’s mother, she replied that she supports any decision that Anndrea makes. God is so good!
Even though she is new in her Christian walk, Anndrea is strong in standing for her faith. As a church, we were all so proud of her. She continues to teach Sunday school for kids and began leading devotions for our teen’s girls fellowship. She is very responsible and really wants to serve Jesus in any way. Last week during her one week semester break she prepared for the girls’ fellowship and one morning she showed up offering to clean the church by herself.
Mae began to attend our Sunday School for children years ago. She come from a difficult background of fighting, alcohol, and experimenting with drugs. Now at 16, she is taking her faith seriously. She attends our Sunday Bible study, and it has been a joy to see her growth in faith and in character.
This year, I worked with Mae and Anndrea through a lot of conflict. Both young women were proud and did not want to extend nor to ask for forgiveness from each other. But God is truly great, and through informal counseling, prayer sessions, and surrounding them with loving community, Mae and Anndrea now have a strong friendship. Recently, Mae shared about an ongoing argument involving nine of her friends at school. She took it upon herself to mediate their conflict similarly to how I mediated her conflict with Anndrea. It worked, and she was so happy! It has only been a year since Mae was baptized into the fellowship, but even her teachers at school notice positive changes in her. God is truly amazing! Seeing people transformed and self-empowered is truly one of the deepest joys of ministry!
This past winter, I was praying for the opportunity to lead a retreat for the girls in my discipleship group, including five teenagers, and three young women, and one young mother. Living in an urban poor neighborhood is very stressful, so an overnight retreat is such a meaningful treat for all of us, including me.
Having an overnight retreat can be expensive, but God answered our prayers. We received an email from a friend asking us how they could bless our ministry. I didn’t hesitate and told them about the retreat I was hoping could happen. They joyfully sponsored all of the young women! In the end, were able to hold our retreat, and everyone had a great time with Jesus and with each other.
During the retreat we reflected on how God called Mary to be the mother of Jesus. We studied how Mary trusted God even though she may have had a lot of mixed emotions and fears inside. We asked ourselves, “What is God calling us to be and to do?” One of the girls who joined us said that God was calling her to accept Jesus in her life without doubts and without fears, even though she anticipates many changes when she commits her life to God. She hopes to be baptized this summer. We also talked about how Joseph’s actions were dependent upon and in support of Mary’s response to God. We saw how our actions inspire and support other peoples’ callings in God. We resolved to love and to support each other as a result of this reflection.
Sometimes the challenges and barriers that our young women face in the community make me sad, but I am also so proud that Jesus is really at work in the lives of these young women individually and as a community!