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The Balm in Gilead

January 13, 2016

The Gilead Center began with a few people going out into the community; and they addressed the children with a simple question: “Do you want us to teach you how to dream?”

From there they began to offer transportation, high protein meals, and an education where they learned such stories as Joseph the dreamer and his many colored coat. Over time, the dream center became a technical college, and the Gilead Center was born.

Every time I hear the name I can’t help but sing in my head…”There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to soothe the sin sick soul. Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole…”

Over the weekend we saw that balm wash over all of the children who came to play games with us. Massive sweeping mango trees shaded most of the rural camp, providing relief from the heat and opportunities for tree climbing. The children ranged from ages 10 to 15, but their malnourished bodies looked several years delayed. Rex apologized to our group that they may be a little shy since they weren’t used to seeing adults outside of their families, and for many of them this was their first night away from home. 

We were informed these children came from severely impoverished neighborhoods and without the scholarship program they hardly stand a chance. One group lives near a concrete bridge, with their homes carved out in pits below. When the rainy season arrives and typhoons hit the neighborhood, their homes flood and they ascend the walls to take refuge on top of the bridge, until the water recedes. The other group lives in a perimeter surrounding an endless dumpsite in tiny huts constructed from scraps of materials they find. They spend their time scavenging through trash to find any salvageable goods to sell. 

As the college students, adults and children began to interact, it was easy to see their anxiety melt away. The children had a chance to behave as children should, laughing and playing and giggling as secrets were whispered behind tiny hands amongst friends. We taught them Bible stories and silly songs, ran relay races and elaborate games of tag. We helped with their English and they attempted to teach us Tagalog. We ate together, three meals a day and two snacks, packed with protein and good nutrients to nourish those starving bodies. 

Before the evening program was even finished, the kids went off on their own to gather their pajamas and head to the showers. Twenty five of them all piled into two tents pitched under the mango trees and there wasn’t a single one who seemed to mind the close quarters or sleeping on the ground with nothing but a pillow. I was amazed at these kids voluntarily bathing without any prompting, knowing what a chore it is for most American kids back home, especially when it means cutting playtime short. We mentioned to Rex that there were still games and a bonfire on the schedule and worried the children would get all sweaty again, but he responded with ease, “Let them enjoy their pajamas. They don’t get to wear them very often.” 

That statement was enough to remind us that these aren’t ordinary kids. They have probably matured more in their ten years on earth than we have our whole lives. They have made decisions we couldn’t comprehend and seen horrors too tragic to even haunt our nightmares. Too many of them have been subject to human trafficking or are in danger of becoming the next victim. Their only hope lies in someone giving a damn enough to recognize their value and offer them a chance to finish their education. 

KKFI is giving them the tools they need to dare to dream. It makes me proud of the United Methodist Church for supporting ministries that have the power to totally transform lives and have a positive impact on an overwhelming concern. I can’t help but wonder why I was born into such privilege and opportunity when these kids are born into hell on earth. The real challenge comes now that I have all this knowledge in deciding how to respond. What can I do that will ever feel like enough?

But for the moment, I take comfort in knowing that even momentarily, these children spent a weekend putting their cares aside as they slept in a pile, full bellies and clean bodies, worn out from a day of running and singing and playing, and enjoying everything childhood is supposed to contain. Sometimes the balm in Gilead looks like a couple of tents housing dozens of tired kids under the sweet scent of the sweeping mango trees, and it does indeed soothe the soul.


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