I have been out of the country for the past couple weeks visiting the Philippines and Guam, my first time out of the country, so some might say that I had a case of culture shock. The Philippines is a beautiful place, full of lush green landscape, Spanish-era churches, gorgeous beaches, and rolling mountains. Because PI is a third world country there are some harsher realities hiding behind the country’s natural beauty.
As my boyfriend and I were staying in a rural area, most of the attractions were over an hour away, meaning long car rides through both rural and urban areas. No matter where we went it was evident that poverty was widespread, and that resources were limited. My natural instinct is to get angry at the circumstances. I am passionate about justice, but I’m not always sure of how to act on it. While I have been back from the Philippines for several days now, I still struggle with how I can help their dire conditions. I’ve researched charities, orphanages, etc. It’s hard to navigate giving to a people with so many needs. While I work on a giving plan for the rest of the year, I am also researching the culture itself.
I ran across a wonderful stationary shop while I was in the Philippines called Papemelroti. Here I bought many gifts, along with a set of cards, each with a Philippine fact. Flipping through the cards last night I saw one that surprised me. Filipinos are among the happiest people in the world despite their level of poverty. Americans have just emptied their wallets in the spirit of a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, but how many of us are truly happy, joyful, even hopeful.
On our way to Baguio City on a Sunday afternoon we quickly pulled over to visit Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag Church. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had never seen so many people packed into a church and church grounds. The place was swarming with people of all ages crowding in to hear the sermon and to be healed. Despite the number of disabled, sick, and even physically deformed by tumor and disease, the emotion there was overwhelmingly joyful. People gathered at the shrine to light a candle for healing. I lit two, one for each of my parents. And while there were sinful things happening just outside the gates, all was forgotten in the presence of Jesus and the hope for a better life.
The lesson we so often miss or forget is that our happiness is found at His feet no matter the number on our paycheck or whether we even have a paycheck. It is found where two or three are gathered to honor our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’d like to help the impoverished of the Philippines, please stay tuned. I will be posting links to ways you can help, but in the meantime think about the source of your happiness. How does it dictate how you spend your time?