It’s easy to see how Shainah-Mae’s bubbly, upbeat personality brightens every room she walks into. The Shirley Temple-like 11-year-old is smart, optimistic, funny and friendly, and she’s always ready for conversation, eager to know more about Jesus, or learn how to better read or speak English.
But behind her sunny smile, Shainah-Mae (pronounced shine-a-may) hides a dark, painful secret we had yet to discover.
This was my first time in the Philippines, and my first opportunity to visit Heaven’s Family partner David Wilkerson, who heads Hope House, a ministry to the poor in the slums of Cebu City. David came to the Philippines in 2009, having spent much of his life running from God and reaping the consequences of his bad choices. But after witnessing the abusive environment in which children from the slums lived, and how poverty was choking out any hope for their futures, he finally surrendered to the Lord and dedicated his life to helping them.
Little did he realize 8 years ago, however, the challenges he would face trying to bring others into a true relationship with Jesus and see their lives change. For the poor, jobs are scarce and survival is one day at a time. Drug and alcohol addiction runs rampant. Hunger is an unrelenting problem because fathers are absent and mothers struggle to feed, clothe and house their children on about $5 a day. Kids are forced to cope as best they can; many are trafficked into the sex industry. But when one of these kids meets the Lord, everything changes.
That’s what happened to Shainah-Mae. As we sat together one day talking about her faith, she began to open up. “I am so thankful to God,” she confessed; then her face suddenly flushed somber—“If there was no Hope House I would not know about Jesus or the Bible…I would not be in school and my family would be hungry.” Her serious look seemed out of place coming from her pint-sized frame, so I decided to probe a little deeper. It didn’t take long for this little girl’s sparkling personality to drown in sadness and tears as she told me her story.
Shainah-Mae’s parents permanently separated three years before, and she now lives with her grandparents. Mom and Dad soon shacked up with other partners who did not fancy their previous children being around, so she and her two brothers effectively lost both parents. Her mom stops by for short visits once or twice a month now, but she never sees her dad. Voice cracking, she told me how her heart ached for them to be in her life again.
Her grandparents, Rosalinda and Petronio, have become a “dumping ground” of sorts for inconvenient children like Shainah-Mae. In total, 12 children from broken relationships now live at Grandma’s house (the other 9 are first cousins to Shainah-Mae). It’s a tight squeeze in the one-room shanty they call home.
Faced with an overwhelming situation and sometimes nothing to feed her grandchildren, Rosalinda reached a turning point 2 years ago when she heard how Hope House, which is located near her home, was helping children to go to school and providing struggling families with food. She and her grandchildren began attending Hope House programs regularly, learned about Jesus, and now they receive food provided by Heaven’s Family’s Food Ministry to make sure Shainah-Mae and the other kids have enough to eat. Shainah-Mae also met Jesus at Hope House, and now she’s on fire for the Lord! Despite her size, she’s looked up to by many other kids—a leader shining brightly, firm in her child-like faith.
My little friend’s tender heart still aches for her family. After talking we prayed. Shainah-Mae’s prayer, through tears, was for her family to be reunited, and for Hope House. Thanks to gifts to the Food Ministry, we’re able to come alongside Shainah-Mae and many children in other developing countries. By feeding kids like her, we are feeding Jesus (see Matt. 25:31-40), and helping make little hearts shine brightly for Him!