I am here in Manila, Philippines, for a two week vacation visiting the families of my brothers and sisters. It has been a great second day so far. I saw my sisters and their children. This weekend, I will see more siblings and their children. It has been a wonderful experience for my two children seeing their Filipino relatives. They (Carmen and Jacob) are slowly discovering their ethnic heritage from my side of the family. They are entering into a new world, my world.
One of the few things I do whenever I come back to the Philippines is that I take a long walk by myself in the city streets and village roads of the place I am staying. Today, I walked the streets of Manila, this part of Pasig City, close to the SM Megamall. I walked and tried to immerse myself in this Filipino society that I once was a part of. It was a humbling experience.
What would I do if I am stationed here in the Philippines (again) to pastor a local church? I ask myslf this question as I walk the streets of Manila. I see a lot of people, busy people, not-so wealthy. Just the ordinary working-class persons of a metropolis. I talk to a few. My Tagalog is getting rusty. I do not seem to communicate very well with them. I have suspicions that they know I am a foreigner. I ask myself, Where is the point of contact where I can have a significant conversation with them. They all seem to have no interest. Am I losing my touch? Am I so distant now?
Alan Roxburgh once said that God is taking today's church people to places where they can received hospitality from their unbelieving neighbors. He suggested that, instead of us having prayer meetings and Bible studies among ourselves, we should be going out to our neighbors and asking them questions and learning from them. I am not sure how much of this thought can be applied in our local churches in the USA. With the increased cultural diversity in the States, our church people will have their hands full of "learning" from other people. They might even have to learn other languages before they can go out into their neighborhoods and carry a decent conversation.
But one thing is for sure, Roxburgh's suggestion would be very difficult to apply here in this great metropolis of Manila. I agree with Roxburgh's thesis that every Christian should be going out to engage the world for the sake of the Christian gospel. His analysis of Luke 10:1-12 is apt for any society or culture. I think it can be done here in Manila, but finding that point of contact among the busy people of this city streets would be a daunting task. Not impossible!
Henri Nouwen used to say that we open up a space in our lives so that strangers and other people can feel welcomed and enter in and engage us on a personal level. I agree with Roxburgh and Nouwen. But I am not sure how the Manila people, most especially the poor working-class persons, can encounter the Christian gospel. What should church people do?