“Ah, it feels good to be back.”
This is always my response every time I touch back down on Philippine soil. But if you’re not ready for it, it can whack you with a fresh dose of chaos. Friendly chaos it is though I assure you- dusty roads…honking horns…bumper to bumper traffic…jeepney’s playing loud music with people hanging out the windows…halo-halo…roosters crowing in the early morning hours…shanty villages hiding in the shadows of the city’s skyscrapers…smoke, exhaust and street food…the tap-tap-tap of a poor child knocking on your car window desperate to silence the growls of her belly…bright orange sunsets…
These are some of the things have made Manila oddly beautiful and familiar to me. Like a second home. And yet, each time I come, there are always surprises to be expected from one group of little girls…
These are my little posse of girls, whom I have grown to love like my own during the four years I have known them. They come from a very poor slum area in Manila, living in make-shift shacks with their families. Power and running water are sporadic and dinner on the table is too. Their parents work as scavengers on the streets just trying to make ends meet each day.
During the two years I lived in the Philippines, we would meet every Saturday morning to do arts and crafts and just hang out. Mostly they would spend the time laughing at my broken Tagalog! Nonetheless, it was such a special time together and the bond between us grew strong.
When it came time to leave Manila, I wanted find some way to stay connected to the girls but wasn’t sure how. Then one of the girls, Justine, graduated high school and told me about her dream to go to college but she had no way of paying for it. Her parents expected her to go right to work to help support her family.
That’s when the idea for a college scholarship program was birthed. NingNing Philippines Education Fund was set up to provide a way for each girl to go to college or any post-high school program of their choosing (NingNing means bright, shining, glowing in Tagalog).
That was two years ago. Now the NingNing Fund is supporting four scholars from that same slum through college! And it will continue to support the girls who graduate as they come of age.
Its really been so amazing to watch them grow and develop over the years. As sit here in my familiar Manila room at my dear friend Akiko’s house, I remember the many prayers I’ve uttered on my knees for these girls, crying out for them and their dire circumstances. I remember the first time I had gone to visit their slum and I came back and wept a river of tears. I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t believe how horrible the conditions they were living in were. But I remember that was also the night God reminded me of His reassuring words in Jeremiah 29:11,
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
It was as if He was saying, “Don’t worry, I have a plan and future for them too Ali, and I have sent my hope through you.” Wow. Even though their circumstances looked hopeless, my tears dried up and I was somehow filled with new hope for them. That was the beginning of getting the fund up and running.
Each time I come back, I feel like a kid excited on Christmas Eve. I can’t wait to see how they are doing. As I think of seeing them face to face this week, questions fill my mind… How much have they grown? What are they facing? Are they healthy? Safe?
All I know for sure is that God has promised a hope and a future for them. Every time we get together again, God never seizes to find ways to fill us all with new hope for their bright future … and hope, according to His Word, does not disappoint! (Romans 5:5)
Dear Lord, I lift up my NingNing girls this moment – Justine, Josie, Christine, Ermalyn, Joy, Janine, Marie, Ella-Mae, Chabalita, Jenny, Mary Jane, Isabelle, Sandra – please send Your angels to surround them tonight as they sleep. I pray that you shower them with Your love and let them know You are their with them, even in trying circumstances. I pray You bless our time together this week and that You give us all fresh doses of faith of being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Thank You Lord for making our paths cross in this life. May Your perfect will be done in their lives and in mine. In Jesus name I pray, amen!