Reach Out And Take Them - Part 2

The messages from God kept coming. One such message resulted in CFC adopting as its theme the passage “Bring glad tidings to the poor”. Another message directed Tony to John 1:5: “… Go and bear fruit that will remain” and to Isaiah 6:8: “… Here I am. Send me.” To Tony and the other elders, it was no coincidence that the Orientation talk of the Christian Life Program, the entry point to CFC, centered on Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

During the finale of the Great Adventure Weekend for CFC elders, Tony got a very strong sense that the CFC theme should still be “Bring glad tidings to the poor.” Tony finds it amazing that the Catholic Church also announced that this would be the church's theme for the new year. It was increasingly apparent that the community was being prepared for the work ahead.

“Working with the poor is a personal commitment for me, “Tony says.” Following the Lord is never easy. It was not easy for me to leave my service in Australia but I had to take to heart Jesus' admonition to take up my cross if I am to attain the peace that can only come from Him. When we started in Bagong Silang in 1995, I asked the Lord, How can I show that I care for these people? His answer came swiftly: Give up something of value. The treasure I gave up was my own daughter who was then only 16 and a student at Ateneo. It was hard at first and there were great risks involved. It was hard for me and for her not to react when she was insulted and called ugly names by the very boys she was sent to serve. But instead of getting angry, I followed the Lord's instructions to simply show compassion.”

Tony's sacrifice for the Lord did not end there. In 1996, he sent his second daughter, then also 16, to tour with the “Bagong Silang … the Musicale” ensemble. The cast and crew were composed mostly of Bagong Silang youth and many people questioned his wisdom in sending his daughter among the boys. Tony explains “Our own children have to be taught to see good in the poor. Besides, the Bagong Silang youth and the children of the poor are also our children. We can restore them with love.”

Tony received a strong message to love poor kids even more than his own. This is a message he has taken to heart. He is “Tito Tony” to all the kids in Bagong Silang. He has “adopted” an entire family with 7 kids. He visits them regularly and is planning to send some of them to school. He also plans to give the father a tricycle so that he may be better able to provide for his children.

“Let's call it a personal experiment,” Tony says, “I want to see whether I can make a difference in the life of this family. I find that it is no longer enough to say that we will pray for them. We should actually do something! We talk about the poor and their needs. But they have endless needs! We can't answer them all. What we can do is simply to allow them to see themselves as God wants them to be. When they see a person leaving his world to enter theirs, then they begin to think that there must be something special in them.”

Tony feels that this is really where Gawad Kalinga makes a difference - that we are in effect telling the poor that they are beautiful, that they do not deserve to see only ugliness. “That is why we insist on building them beautiful homes and gardens, why we insist on beautifying the entire complex and helping them develop areas for recreation. We want to make a statement that the poor deserve to live in a clean, beautiful place. We need to help them restore their dignity, to respect themselves and their surroundings. But we are also saying something else, something very important. By building all these, we are telling them: CFC is here to stay with you. We will not abandon you. You are our brothers and sisters and when we do this for you, we are asking you to do it also for one another. Isn't that a beautiful thing?”

Tony confides that he has a dream. That dream is to build model communities everywhere, to put the leaven in place, so to speak. These communities would include schools, adequate shelter, an efficient neighborhood association (the Kapitbahayan program is one such association), Christ-centered youth organizations, value-based education for the children and a group charged with maintaining peace and order.

“Bagong Silang is one such model”, Tony points out. “But we need to build much more. We hope to see a rippling effect in what we are now doing in Bagong Silang, in CAA, in Pugad Lawin, in Bacolod and Davao. In 10 years' time, my dream is to see GK areas in the entire country. My dream is to see government helping and entire communities, not just CFC, being involved in the transformation of our nation and its people. The cycle of poverty is now impossible to break because facilities for livelihood are always outside the area of the poor. We need to create jobs where the poor are. If we are to see a better future for our children, we should prepare them now by giving them value-based, Christ-centered quality education. That kind of education is right now available only for the rich.”

Tony believes however that this dream can be realized only if the transformation comes from the heart. “We need to cross barriers in our own hearts, to breach that attitude that says class distinctions are here to stay. The economic situation is a rude awakening but it was very timely because the event showed us that we have to begin changing our society right now. Poverty is not the lack of resources but rather the lack of sharing. Poverty is not the lack of generosity but rather the lack of opportunities to share.”

For Tony and CFC, Gawad Kalinga provides those opportunities. All we have to do is to reach out and take them.

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