Hope Blooms Under an Acacia Tree

Story and photos by Babylene Bocayes, Philippines Field Communications Specialist

What started as an outdoor outreach program for kids and families living in poverty in the Philippines evolved into a well-attended Hope Center that offers holistic programs to help families thrive.

Pastor Zoilo gathers the kids at the Hope Center.

A few years ago, members of Greenhills Christian Fellowship church in Malolos would load their truck every Saturday with chairs, snacks, teaching materials, and other equipment and drive to the village of Sipat to set up an outreach ministry for 30 children there.

They’d set everything up under a big acacia tree with wide leafy branches to shade them from the heat of the sun.

Here, they taught the kids Bible lessons, songs, dances, and played fun games.

This ministry was born as a response to a God-given vision for the Greenhills church to reach out to kids living in poverty beyond their community.

The Children of Sipat

A child growing up in a community with no one to teach him about the Bible or even practical things like hygiene will have a hard time navigating life, especially if he is already living in difficult circumstances.

Families in Sipat face financial hardships. Parents find it hard to get a regular job. Most fathers rely on construction work while mothers stay at home to take care of their kids. Their living condition alone is a difficult situation.

“They have their own space, but it is not enough,” says Pastor Zoilo of GCF church. “A 30-square-meter [322 square foot] house for both parents and eight children would be really crowded. And sometimes, there are two families living in one unit.”

In this hard place, children suffer the most.

“The youth are facing the challenge in education,” says Pastor Zoilo. “For a house as [small] as that, how could you concentrate? Their needs are not really provided for.”

When Child Champions first met these kids, many couldn’t read or write. Some were not in school. Some were part of a broken family, and some felt hopeless and had no passion for their dreams.

How the Outreach Started

Greenhills Christian Fellowship is a 30-minute drive from the village of Sipat. Their involvement in this village began when Pastor Zoilo bought a property there. The property had overgrown plants and trees and there was an old factory on it. As soon as he saw the structure, he had a vision for turning it into a chapel.

Kids pray as part of the many activities offered by the Hope Center.

While he was developing his property, the local government also started relocating about 300 families to a housing project nearby.

These families used to live beside rivers and areas where government road projects would be constructed, so they had to leave.

Pastor Zoilo and his church saw an opportunity to reach out to the relocated children and families. That’s when they started their ministry under the acacia tree near the housing project.

Eventually they realized that their outreach needed more space to accommodate the growing number of kids and their families who wanted to attend.

“The ministry was growing; children and parents were coming,” he says. “And for me, one hour is not enough. So, we opened [a children’s ministry] on this property so children could come, and they will be taught even during weekdays.”

A Safe Haven for the Children

Out of Pastor Zoilo’s generosity and love for the children, he opened his place and made it a safe haven for the children. It is peaceful and spacious, with a rustic chapel in the former fish cracker factory. It has an open space where kids can run and play. Some big trees and garden plants are cultivated to make the place homier.

The Hope Center is a safe place for kids to learn and play.

The place is open all week; weekdays are for tutorials, and weekends are for group games, small group sessions, Bible studies, and church service for families.

Even on rainy days, children come with their umbrellas.

“For them, this place is like a breathing space. It is a place where they are cared for, and they are free. A different atmosphere for them,” Pastor Zoilo says.

The Awana Ministry

Since the beginning of their ministry, GCF has used Awana programs to reach out to the children. Not only because of the fun games included in the curriculum, but also because of the intentional discipleship program that’s aimed to train and develop children until they become adults.

According to Pastor Zoilo, who is also the Director of Awana ministry in the Southeast Asia region, Awana trains leaders to be committed to changing the lives of children ages 2 to 18 years using the Word of God.

There’s plenty of room to roam and play at the Hope Center.

Awana has three types of activities: 1) game time; 2) worship time where children come together to sing songs and listen to Bible stories; and 3) small groups where children, with the help of their leader, dig deep into the Word of God and how it relates to their lives.

“Talking about intentional discipleship, the leaders should think of it not as something that they just do every Saturday. They must think beyond,” Pastor Zoilo says. “They should belong to the life of the child. For better or for worse, from Monday to Saturday, the leaders should know what’s happening to the kids they are discipling.”

The OneChild Ministry

A year after the church opened the ministry on the property, GCF began a partnership with OneChild. They now call their children’s ministry Small Beginnings Hope Center. A perfect name to envision the future with the children’s potential.

Child Champions pass out T-shirts to kids at the Hope Center.

With the same vision of helping the children thrive, OneChild has provided additional resources to further strengthen their programs.

The partnership provides for more holistic programs like serving nutritious food, literacy programs like academics and music tutorials, spiritual and social development programs, and engaging the families through regular Bible studies and training.

Child Champions have helped in many other ways as well, such as providing groceries to families who lost their income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They survive with the help of OneChild,” says Pastor Zoilo. “During the pandemic, they just eat one meal a day. Parents are starting to come here also. We started with OneChild parents. We have livelihood seminars for them and parenting seminars. Now, we have a local pastor who goes around to follow up with those families. We … visit them and really build a relationship with them. Now, we have reached 40% of the parents.”

Transformations Starting to Unfold

“Since we started, there is a big difference,” Pastor Zoilo says regarding the observed transformation among their children. “Before, they come here ungroomed. But now, they have hygiene.”

Many of the youths who attend the Hope Center program are rising up as leaders.

As a result of the work of the Child Champions, many of their youths are rising as leaders. From helping the smaller kids to line up properly and helping them in games, they are also teaching them Bible lessons.

Vince, 13, a leader-in-training, says that his confidence has grown since he started attending the Hope Center.

“Before, my usual routine would only [be going] to school and home,” he says. “But now, I am happy that I go to Small Beginnings Hope Center and participate in programs and worship services as part of the volunteers and leaders-in-training [program].”

Rodelyn, 13, who dreams of becoming a flight attendant, is grateful that their Child Champions continue to support them and won’t give up on them.

“If it is not for them, we would not be here,” she says. “They are the ones helping and guiding us, even if they get tired.”

Reaching Out to More

Pastor Zoilo says there is still much to be done in their ministry to achieve their dream of seeing families become strong and healthy, not just physically but spiritually.

“There is a challenge to go the extra mile to have a much deeper impact on the lives of the parents and children,” he says.

With their dream of reaching out to more children, the church is constructing a building to have more space for future programs like preschool and Alternative Learning System (ALS) for the youths. ALS is a parallel learning system in the Philippines that provides a practical option to the existing formal instruction. When one does not have or cannot access formal education in schools, ALS is an alternate or substitute. ALS includes both the nonformal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.

“We are trying to build the building by faith,” Pastor Zoilo says. “We went ahead with it, trusting the Lord that it would be completed. The building will be used for many programs such as training parents in livelihood skills, and as a meeting place for children.”

What started as a small gathering under an acacia tree has bloomed into a full-fledged ministry that helps kids and their families thrive and gives them hope for a better future.

When you sponsor a child, you are joining a global community of Child Champions in changing that child’s life. Sponsor a child today!








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