Just across the bridge from the historic “Intramuros Manila,” families used to live on top of a trash dump. Government housing was built next to the dump, known as “Smokey Mountain.” Today, 3,000 families live in the housing units, and vegetation now covers the huge trash dump. Many of the families make their living from salvaging trash items for recycle and re-sale.
In the midst of these extremely harsh living conditions shines a bright light…..the Smokey Mountain United Methodist Church. A one-room building provides a gathering place for worship and Bible study. The church also offers its space to other denominations as well.
Pastor Marvin Bunagan, a local pastor who will soon begin his seminary studies, is a product from a similar nearby neighborhood. An invitation from a friend to visit a United Methodist church when Marvin was a teenager resulted in a profession of faith in Christ. He attended college on a United Methodist scholarship, and is now serving the people of Smokey Mountain. “He has a heart for the people here, since he grew up in similar conditions, “said Rev. Victor Melad, Jr., district superintendent of the Southwest Metro Manila District, Philippines Annual Conference.
Pictured here are Elsita Abuganda, Treasurer; Amelia Sernicola, Lay Leader; Pastor Marvin Bunagan; Angelito Buluran, Chair, Board of Trustees; and Rev. Victor Melad, Jr., District Superintendent.
The church sponsors the Shalom Children Learning Center in a building near the church. Sixty-five kindergarten students attend the morning and afternoon classes. Due to insufficient funds, a feeding program has been discontinued. However, the Guam UMC, California-Pacific Annual Conferences, contributes monthly for the salary support of the two teachers.
A banner above the chalkboard proclaims, “Jesus Loves the Little Children”. What a joyful experience to visit these precious kindergartners and exchange “high fives!”
While the Smokey Mountain area is one of extreme poverty, I experienced the community as vibrant and engaging. The people live life together in close community. Rev. Melad noted that many persons have come here from diverse rural regions, many with histories of warring factions and disputes. “But here, they have had to learn to live together,” he said.
I am grateful for these faithful United Methodist Christians who daily provide a witness for Jesus Christ amongst the residents of Smokey Mountain!