Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Cemetery in Manila


Leaving the hotel on this the second full day in Manila, I remembered reading in some of the materials that we were going to visit a cemetery of some sort. It is the rainy season in the Philippines, so for most of our trip, there was a cloudy sky and everything from a light mist to heavy rainfall.

This day was no exception.

I had somehow come to the conclusion that we were going to visit a military cemetery. A final resting place, perhaps, of some lost American soldiers that gave their lives in the service of their country and, well, this country, too.

As we drove from the hotel, we passed by different scenes in the city. Some that were visual reminders of the extremes in this country. Here, like in so many places all over the world, there are the obvious “haves” and “have nots.” It just seems like the differences are so much more pronounced here. In the city of Manila, we pass startling images of children running in and out of traffic, approaching vehicles asking for money or food, dangerously close calls between the thousands of motor scooters and cars and trucks.

There is very little road rage that I can see. They tell me it’s because everyone understands the rules. You own where you are – not where you’re going. In Houston, we drivers claim where we are and where we’re going, thank you very much and out of my way!

There are beautiful homes just a few yards from lean-to shelters made of tin and cardboard. While we were driving past these flimsy shelters, I was thinking of how unfortunate it all is and why something can’t be done to improve the station in life of these people. “How did it come to this” I asked myself. What I was about to see would make the people living on the streets seem like some kind of third world middle class.

The cemetery was not a memorial site. Nothing of the kind. We slowly drove down the muddy side road, suddenly finding ourselves surrounded by burial vaults. Stacked 8 or 9 high like bookshelves, these vaults are the final resting places of the departed from this city. At least that's the intent. It seems that family of the deceased pays a fee to bury their dead, then have to continue to pay a fee each year. If the fee isn’t paid, the grave is not only not maintained, the bones are put in a sack, thrown to the side and the vault is used for someone or something else. In some cases, as you can see from the pictures and the video, the vaults remain open – containing several sacks of bones and debris. Some are empty but are used as sleeping quarters for people that live in this cemetery among the dead.

By the way, to see the video, go to youtube and search under Wayne Watson in a Cemetery in Manila. There's another video shot by a radio talk show host from New Zeland as well.

It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen or heard of. The odor is beyond description. The thought of what we’re walking on and walking through is horrifying. All you have to do is look down, if you can bring yourself to look.

A couple of weeks before we were there, a typhoon had flooded parts of the city – of course, this part of the city, and washed up even more trash and debris into the aisles of the cemetery.

This sight and this experience struck me like a brick to the forehead. It’s one thing to see poverty . . . most of us have seen it to some degree or another. But the poverty mixed with people living among the dead was almost too much.

Still, there was the laughter of little children. They’ve known no other life and, most likely will not. There were bands of teenagers – you could tell that the life they lived was getting a hold on them. They were growing cold - their eyes steely and ferocious. The few adults, and it seems there aren’t too may that grow old here for obvious reasons, have eyes that are distant and hopeless – angry, resigned.

We talked to a few of the people that spent their days and dark nights there in this horrible place. One woman that came walking past, dressed in her black jeans, white t-shirt and Coca-Cola cap said she’d lived there for 45 years. 45 years! She spent her days as a maid then at the end of the workday, took the bus back to “her home” in the cemetery. I don’t think she imagines ever leaving.

Still, there were others that were different. Something had changed their hearts and lives.
They still lived among the dead bones of their ancestors, strangers and kin, but there was liberty and a lightness in hearts. Someone had shared the Truth of God’s Love through the scripture with them. The unstoppable Love of Christ had come to dwell in their hearts, releasing their souls from a bondage even more dark and despicable than the place they laid their heads every night. For these, the horrors of poverty took a back seat to the hope they have in Christ. The vulnerability of their dwelling was overwhelmed by the security and safety they find in the Father’s Hand.

As a westerner, my thoughts are, “How can we change this?” And again I ask, “How does it come to this?” I thought of farms with pastures and lakes and trees where animals live better than these human beings. “What the heck is going on????” The term Godforsaken takes on a new meaning. “Who Is Responsible?!?” “I want an answer!”

The depths of sorrow and tragedy have fallen to a new low for me. The wages of sin take on a new meaning. While my occasional infractions seem to have little consequence on the world, the collective depravity and our regular dabbling in dark places will certainly lead mankind further into this nothingness, this deep pit, but for the redemptive work of Grace done at the cross by our Savior.

To say this experience makes me grateful simply for what I have sounds petty even as I write it. “There but for the grace of God” doesn’t work either. I know what I deserve. And I don’t want it. I’m thankful that God doesn’t give it.

I cannot change what I’ve seen. I can’t. But I can do something. And I will.


Anonymous said...

I thought I had seen the depths of poverty when I went through Bombay India and saw people living in the trash heap in the middle of the town or people who had made shelters out of cardboard and dried cow dung but this almost made me cry to see this incredibly , awful scene. What an ominous feeling to seeing the living and the dead coexisting.

You talked about meeting or seeing people that had a light of Jeus in their eyes-- a hope. That many had dark eyes or a blank look in their eyes. I saw it India too.The Christians there stood out like rays of sunshine on a dark rainy day.

I can't get that song out of my head that Babie Mason wrote and sings called "There is a Hope".It depicts the things you experienced to a tee. I got to share it alot when I was given many opportunities to share and speak about my experiences in India and Ecuador. I don't look at anyone anymore without thinking that everyone has a story beind their eyes ---if I can I find it and try to help .

"There is a hope" by Babbie Mason

Do you see the people in the streets ...begging for a piece of bread?
They have no place they can call their own -no place to rest -to lay their head.
Do you hear the voice of children --crying for a mother's love
They have no place they can call their own -no place to rest -to lay their head.

There is a hope through all of life's changes
There is a God that overcomes all
You can stand on the promise Jesus never fails
Hope is found believing in his name

There is a hope-- a hope in Jesus--there is a hope.

Blessings to you,

Amylisa said...

This is so overwhelming.
It would be great if this video could be shown at every church in this country...

Are most of the children there orphans? There has got to be some kind of ministry that could build a home there, if not for all of the people living there, then at least for the children.

Thank you for posting this, I will be praying for Allen and also for all who live there in Manila. Heartbreaking. Definitely changes my perspective on a lot of things.

God bless and keep you and your family. ( Happy Birthday to you today, by the way.)