First person: Pre-disaster trip to Islands shows God’s love

Katlyn Moncada/contributing writer

MANILA, Philippines – Whether in your neighborhood or traveling the world, there are always opportunities for followers of Christ to live on mission. I had the privilege of going overseas to Southeast Asia for a little more than two weeks at the end of the summer. Many experiences were shared with our team of five. My other team members from South County Baptist Church were John Childers, lead pastor; Joe Spicer, minister of missions; Ed Moncada, my father and international student minister; and Tessa Jasper, senior at Lindbergh High School.

Our team saw the Kingdom at work in the midst of despair. South County Baptist Church supports two ministers, Eduardo Gonzales and Ben Amar, and their ministries near Manila. Gonzales leads a church fellowship in the city of Muntinlupa. He helps Amar and his ministry at New Bilibid Prison – a maximum security facility with more than 19,000 inmates. Our team met with these ministers and through God’s grace, we were allowed to enter the prison. This is something that will never escape my memory.

As I walked through secured gates and hallways leading into the prison on a stormy day with the team, I was met by hundreds of inmates in the prison yard with umbrellas, waiting to walk us to our destination in the middle of this city bordered by walls. Going into this prison came with many surprises. Inmates are allowed to set up their own shops, restaurants and keep each other protected by gang association.

We were not allowed to take any sort of camera or electronic devices inside, but I wish I could have been able to visually document what I saw. Inside this prison, Amar has built a church and holds weekly services there. With some financial help stateside, God blessed Amar’s ministry not only with a space to worship, but pews and a speaker system. Several of the prisoners are now followers of Christ and help him lead in worship through music and Scripture reading. Childers led the service while we were there and by God’s grace, we saw ten inmates make decisions for Christ.

While the prison ministry may have been the most eye-opening experience I had throughout the entire trip, our team was also able to fellowship with Gonzales’ church and visit the University of the Philippines where one of his daughters is studying. We met with the campus ministries and many prayers were shared.

Getting to go to the Philippines on this trip with my father was another blessing. I know he has a heart for his extended family there and has only returned to his home country twice in the 42 years since he immigrated to the United States. Growing up and learning ways of the Filipino culture, I was anxious to go to a place of heritage. Ever since I first traveled on a mission trip to Manila with my family in 2000, I felt called to minister to the people not only there, but also here and everywhere I could reach out to others in need.

The Philippines is definitely a place with a lot of devastation and poverty. I was filled with sorrow every time a child came to me begging for money in the streets. So coming back to St. Louis, my heart is heavier with the longing to help people. I am constantly reminded lately that life is about two things: loving God and loving His people. There is so much despair everywhere we turn. I hope to just be able to give someone in need a glimpse of the peace I have found in Christ.