In the Philippines, while the well-to-do families feast on traditional ham, roasted suckling pig, steak, or turkey on Christmas Eve, many other people spend the night begging.
Way back in 2009, my friend Carlos had spiritual direction sessions with a priest famed for his work with the poor. Carlos documented his own major spiritual experiences in writing and submitted it to the priest, who read it and said, “I am disturbed that despite living in a poor country, the poor scarcely have a place in your spiritual experiences.” Since then, Carlos prayed for a deep love for the poor and the opportunity to share his life with them.
God answered Carlos’ prayer by letting him work for two years in Tondo, Manila—the largest slum area in the Philippines—alongside a missionary. There, Carlos encountered the worst kind of poverty, and started dreaming of ways to help the destitute celebrate Christmas.
In 2013, Carlos’ dream came true. With the help of his mother and his aunts, he spent the day of December 24 packing sandwiches, candies, chocolates, and juice. On Christmas Eve, his team went around in a van throughout several districts in the southern part of Quezon City seeking out small groups and families of poor people who were hiding in the street corners and expecting not to eat nor receive anything that night. His team gave food to a hundred people, referring to the food not as “tulong” (“help”) but as “handog” (“offering”) or “pamasko” (Christmas gift).
According to Carlos, his team were not the only ones that night doing it. As they drove around the streets, they saw some who had already received food from other passers-by and neighbours. However, many more still received nothing and expected nothing. Carlos and his team gave food to these people.
“The most heart-warming to see were the smiles of the children,” Carlos says. “Simple “thank yous” also abounded, and these were more than enough. Most memorable for me were the startled eyes of a family that I gently woke up so I could give them some sandwiches.”
Carlos plans to repeat the project this year, and would like to spend more time with the loneliest families listening to their stories. He hopes more friends would join him in this project and that they could give food to more families. Above all, he hopes more people would, on their own, do the same thing next Christmas. However, he does not want that the project be “institutionalized.” “There is a place for institutional charity or mutual assistance, and there is also a place for small, spontaneous movements of kindness and sharing,” he said.
When I asked him for pictures of the project, he said he did not have any. Although he gave me permission to blog about the project, he emphasized that he normally does not speak publicly about his charitable efforts. Yet I believe that my friend’s story, and many other stories like it, deserves to be told—stories of ordinary Christians celebrating the birthday of Christ the way He would have wanted it.