Trading squalor for a mansion

In the midst of poverty, there was only one comfort for Lola—the best comfort of all.

Lola lived on the side of a mountain in the Philippines. Her home was a makeshift dwelling with mud floors and walls pieced together from salvaged wood.

She had, during her lifetime, known little in the way of material blessings. Lola’s claim to fame was the large group of grandchildren who laughed and ran, playing games outside her ramshackle, patchwork home perched illegally on property they didn’t own. She and her family, along with about 500 other people, were members of a group of desperately impoverished people subsisting on the mountainside beyond town, trapped there in hopeless, destitute circumstances.

Lola was a vibrant believer in Jesus who had eagerly brought her flock of grandchildren to the little church where she worshipped and fellowshipped. Countless times she walked for 25 minutes; up two hills to get to a road, then up two more hills to get to church services. And always with her came a happy company of grandchildren, eager for their time in Sunday School.

Hers was a typical dwelling in the shabby little settlement on the mountainside. About 200 square feet of pieced-together scrap materials housed two families. In Lola’s case, 11 of them were children.

There is no running water there and the sanitation is severely compromised. Conveniences of any kind are simply not to be found.

Lola’s makeshift bed was fashioned from an old wooden bench strewn with scrap pieces of ancient foam rubber. Nearby lay one of her most prized possessions—her Bible.

She laid quietly in the intense heat and humidity, suffering with every breath. Lola was dying and she had known it for some time.

In December, the children started going to Sunday School alone, saying the walk was too difficult for their grandmother. And the cancer had been diagnosed in January.

Lola roused at the cheerful chorus of greetings from her tribe of grandchildren. This happy welcome could only mean one thing. Canadian missionaries Kevin Stroud-Lusk and his wife, Stella, had made the long walk from their home to Lola’s place. They had come to visit.

Kevin and Stella are missionaries whose main ministry is to teach special education at a nearby school for missionary children. But in addition, for the last four years they have been serving alongside a pastor in their local church. The congregation of this church is made up mostly of people from the distressed little squatter settlement. To their joy, Kevin and Stella’s specific ministry in this church has been that of teaching Sunday School to 60-100 children and youth each week.

The little church has an enormous ministry task. The intensity and complexity of the needs that are represented in the congregation are overwhelming. There aren’t even remotely enough resources to pay for food for everyone.

Thanks to the gifts of God’s people, there are special occasion food hampers distributed by the church to the settlement’s destitute families. There are healthy snacks for each Sunday School child every week as well as a rice lunch for all of the youth who stay after Sunday School for weekly Bible study.

These compassion ministries make a good start, but for the impoverished people who live in the little settlement, life is impossibly difficult.

Kevin and Stella had, for some time, been sending special fruit home with the grandchildren for Lola. But with the passing of time, her grandson had brought them news that she was only eating sabao now—a soup made from rice and water.

There was not much to be done now for Lola. There is little to no money for doctors; the people who live in the squatter settlement spend their lives trying to get enough rice for their families each day. There is no medicare. There is no insurance. Twice Lola’s family had scrimped and saved enough to take her to a doctor. Thus, the cancer was diagnosed. And on the second visit, the doctors told them to take her home since there was nothing to be done for her.

Kevin and Stella found Lola lying on her dilapidated bed. Kevin shares the scene, a scene almost entirely empty of physical comforts, but amazingly rich in spiritual comfort. “Stella and I spent time praying with Lola and with her dear family, taking turns reading to her from her Bible. We then called in her older grandchildren, who also love the Lord, and they took turns reading the Bible to her.”

Lola would open her eyes to look at the faces gathered around her while they read. There was no food or medicine in her frail body; nothing for her physical comfort. But clearly, Lola found great comfort and peace in hearing God’s Word read. As Kevin and Stella left, her grandchildren all promised to take turns reading to her in the days and nights remaining; by candlelight when necessary.

“We left Lola’s house … feeling utterly helpless to change their sad lives. In Matthew 26:10, Jesus says that we will always have the poor with us … we might not ever be able to change much about their earthly home,” Kevin sadly shares.

But as they walked the distance back home, Kevin and Stella were comforted. They reminded each other that for Lola and her family members who are believers in Christ, there are mansions waiting.

Lola passed into glory just a few days later. Kevin learned that her grandchildren had kept their promise and continued to read to her from her Bible until she went home to Heaven. Her granddaughter shared some of the passages they had chosen to read to her: Psalm 29, Romans 6, Psalm 23, John 3—places they knew their grandmother loved. She had underlined them in her treasured Bible.

Abject poverty continues to dictate the course that Lola’s family takes. “Her body lies sealed in a rented coffin in the room where we visited her … until enough money is raised for her family to bury her,” Kevin writes.

A great sadness filled the hearts of her family, her church and of her friends, Kevin and Stella, in the loss of this faithful, loving lady.

But there is rejoicing, too. They know that Lola is not there; that she is finally past all pain and sorrow and want.

They know for sure that, as a believer in Jesus, Lola now lives in great, great glory.