INTERVIEW BY NAOMI ROSE STEINBERG, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS
After serving with Jigsaw Kids Ministries in Manila for several years, Church Mission Society local partner Lendehl Sallidao has taken on a new role as integral mission officer in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines. His task? To equip church leaders and lay people to live out the Five Marks of Mission locally and transform lives – particularly in urban poor and rural poor communities. If you think that sounds like a big job, you’re right…
Lendehl, I’ve heard you refer to yourself as “a street boy” before. What do you mean by this?
This stems from my time with Jigsaw Kids Ministries. While at seminary I came to know Jigsaw. I had spent years in Manila without really being aware of the thousands of children on the streets. It’s such a common sight, it becomes ordinary. One day I met a young boy called Romeo. He was on the street, hungrily watching a shopkeeper eating a meal, waiting for a chance to sell some items so he could buy a little food. He had lost his parents; nobody was looking after him. My heart was melted. Every day in seminary we prayed: “Let not the needy O Lord be forgotten nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” I thought, how can I pray this and do nothing for these children? So I said I would like to live my life so that this prayer would be real, not just words. That those who were marginalised, like these children, would feel the love of Jesus and know they aren’t forgotten.
I journeyed with Jigsaw for a beautiful six years of being with children on the streets, in slum areas. And I saw the prayer become a reality. Though many people might ignore children on the streets, I see they are precious. That’s why I say I am a street boy – because a street boy is not something to be detested. When I say I am a street boy I’m saying I’m a precious child of God.
Through Jigsaw, God taught me how to feel. And I think he made me, a street boy, ready for a big responsibility. It was hard to say goodbye to Jigsaw, but I knew I was being called. And who am I to say no to God? It’s not about me, it’s about him. Mission isn’t about us, or our bosses or bishops. It’s about Jesus.
Growing up, did you think you’d be in this kind of role – an integral mission officer for a diocese?
No. In my childhood, my grandmother, who raised me, always told me that I was going to be a priest. I said no way. For high school I needed to move to the city to join my dad and I went to a Catholic school for boys. There was an invitation to join the seminary. I was trying to avoid a mathematics exam so I applied! But my dad didn’t agree with it, so I didn’t pursue it. In college I took up engineering, to try to please my dad. I ended up joining a fraternity, getting involved in drugs, different relationships, crazy things. Then I met the woman who would become my wife. We received an invitation to be part of a community called Couples for Christ (a Catholic Church renewal ministry). I didn't want to go because I detested the idea of church at that time; I felt the Church marginalised people.
But we ended up going to the group and there Jesus found me. He found me and he called me and I committed my life to him. I found myself again facing the prospect of ordination, this time with the Anglican Church.
I remembered my grandmother’s voice. My diocese is the smallest of the seven in the Philippines. But we have a big vision and desire to be directly involved with the urban poor and rural poor at the same time. So I feel like it’s where I belong.
This new role sounds exciting, but also a massive undertaking. What’s the plan for energising mission-oriented churches across the diocese?
We have to understand integral, holistic mission in our context. Our diocese is culturally diverse as we are situated in the capital. Lots of people come to the city hoping to find a better life. But so many end up in slums and that’s a big part of our context that we need to respond to. And by “respond” we mean making people know God loves them and they are not forgotten.
It is a big job but we are focusing on one bit at a time. Right now we are concentrating on building capacity for holistic mission among both clergy and lay people. For a long time there’s been classical theological seminary training, yet we want to provide training that specifically encourages clergy and lay people to mobilise their communities for transformation using resources that can already be found in the community.
We have 34 clergy covering a wide geographical jurisdiction. So empowering lay people is key.
In addition to capacity-building we are also keen on child-focused community development (CFCD). This is our core programme for urban poor communities. Whole communities can be transformed if we start with the needs of the child.
So for instance in central Manila we have organised mums and dads and journeyed with them in looking at God’s heart for children. It all started with going into the communities to develop relationships. The mums are for the most part unemployed so we trained them to run a day care centre in partnership with the local government, Jigsaw and Lingap Pangkabataan (a faith-based organisation). The community provided the space to host the CDC (child development centre) and the mothers run it alongside two teachers, who themselves are from the community. To keep the CDC going, we showed some of the mothers simple ways they can earn a livelihood.
One group of five mothers collected a small amount of money and bought a kilo of sticky rice, a kilo of sugar and coconut. They cooked and sold snacks and raised some more money, and then they bought more supplies and sold more snacks. They came to a point where they could help pay some of the CDC teachers’ salaries. Out of seemingly nothing, they pulled together and mobilised their resources. They also give some money to their church. This has been going since January. To me, this is an important story; it’s like the feeding of the 5,000. It’s a model for the whole community.
Another area we are working with, particularly among the rural poor, is disaster response. In the Philippines we are hit with natural disasters often. Year after year farmers have been devastated. We want to help people respond quickly and build resilience so they can carry on after disaster strikes.
Have you always felt mission is holistic or was that a mindset change for you?
Well my understanding has grown over time. In the past, when I thought about mission I thought of missionaries who came from foreign countries to do the amazing and important work of preaching the gospel. But over time, I started to see that mission is about the whole person. It started when I was pierced in the heart after meeting Romeo. Through working with Jigsaw, my view of mission became more holistic. I learned as I worked. I may not have known to call it “integral mission” but that’s what we were doing: transforming the lives of the poor… not so they will be rich or anything, but so that they will have dignity in their life.
In CMS we talk about mission as joining in with what God is doing. How do you see God at work in your context?
When I remember how my life was before God found me, I was insensitive to the poor. And now I am here. That’s because of God’s call. That’s down to him. I’m part of the movement that is the mission of God.
And he is working. I see it in people’s lives. There are of course discouragements. I am also leader of three churches. One day I encountered a local man who was drunk. He asked me to come out with him. I said I would if he came to services first. So he came. Afterwards he wanted me to buy him liquor. When I said, “No, I’d like to join you and spend time with you but I can’t buy you liquor” – he took out a knife. I wasn’t harmed but I was upset. “God, I don’t deserve this,” I said. So there are discouragements. But then you see people find life amid poverty. You see those five mums make such a difference. And then there is hope.
I don’t know how God does it. He works beyond our imagination. We can have strategies and goals, but at the end of the day, I have often found myself saying, “Wow. Look how God made that work.”
The Call in Action: PRAY
- For Lendehl as he implements structures that will encourage wholelife mission across the Episcopal Diocese of Central Philippines
- For good networking with churches, that they will catch the vision of integral mission
- For Lendehl’s work among both urban and rural poorer people in metro Manila
- For potential collaboration between Lendehl and CMS mission partners Eric and Sandra Read, who have a similar call to equip churches in the Philippines
- For Jigsaw Ministries, which is still being supported by CMS mission partner and project founder Tim Lee