He found her half-asleep on the streets of his city — unkempt, frail, hungry, the travails of life etched on her face. Gently rousing her, Roger Elosendo was surprised to know that this gray-haired beggar and homeless person was a relative of his.
Loling was one of several Ati who had trekked down from the mountains of Panay in search of food. Foraging for edibles on the mountains had become extremely hard. They ended up begging on the streets of the city.
Roger and Loling’s people group, the Ati, are the aborigines of the Philippines. They have been a marginalized and disadvantaged ethnic group for years. Because of their extreme poverty, they don’t have access to education, leaving them with no opportunity or hope for a better life.
Through a series of God-ordained events, Roger came to faith in Christ and he was able to finish high school, be the first Ati to graduate from Bible school, and eventually become a pastor to his people. He and his wife, Sylvia, a lowlander (non-aboriginal Filipino), have a heart and a burden for this destitute and underprivileged people group. They lead Ati Tribes Mission, a ministry to the Ati people on the island of Panay.
A dream come true
That very same day Roger gently told the homeless Loling, “Pray for me. The Lord has opened the way for my wife and me to go to the United States. Pray that God would give us provisions for the purchase of land. That would pave the way for us to have an Ati community where you and the other Ati beggars can have a permanent place to live.” It was Roger’s dream to set up a community for his people and somehow help improve their lives. Roger had faith that it was God’s plan.
In February 2017, a team from ANM headed by ANM Co-Founder and Global Ambassador Bo Barredo came to Iloilo City to participate in a series of events in the newly-opened Lanit Ati community. The team participated in the dedication of the Ati church building and Ati children’s center, praying for God’s blessing over 24 simple homes for 24 Ati families, water baptism of 50 Ati believers, a mass wedding of 10 Ati couples, the dedication of several babies, a ground-breaking for the future Ati orphanage building, the dedication of a new ministry vehicle for the Ati ministry, and the official unveiling of a concrete road project, a gift from the city government connecting the Ati community to the nearby public elementary school.
Now they are protected from the coronavirus
“This Ati community is truly God’s plan for us during this present crisis,” Sylvia told me in a Viber phone call. “The current COVID-19 pandemic is causing so many unforeseen disruptions and changes in people’s lives here in our province and in the entire Philippines. Schools are closed, business establishments have been shut down, curfew hours imposed, large gatherings prohibited, travel from place to place banned, and social distancing mandated. Uncertainty and fear have crept into the hearts of many.”
In a subsequent text message, Sylvia wrote, “We are in a lockdown here. Churches have stopped meeting in order to help contain the virus. But the good news is that since we are all here in our community that’s contained and set apart from other neighboring houses, we are able to be safe! And we continue our worship services. This is such a huge blessing and we are most thankful to the Lord for it. He planned it.”
With the prior permission of the head of the village of Lanit, where their community is located, Roger and Sylvia, together with the Ati families, continue to gather for worship. However, they are admonished that families sit far apart from one another in these meetings in their community.
She also voiced another auspicious preparation God had arranged for them that is helping them in this crisis. “About a year ago, Ati Tribes Mission was chosen as a pilot project beneficiary of the specialized training provided by an Asia-Pacific organization. This body sent personnel with farming expertise and modern know-how to our community. They imparted modern farming techniques and gave seeds to us. In our training sessions we passed these on to the Ati residents. We have put to good use vacant areas around our community by planting them with vegetables. The seeds grew into healthy plants within a much shorter time than usual. Our community gardens are now teeming with cucumbers, green beans, squash, edible gourds, turmeric, and fruit, such as papaya and watermelon! We harvest these for food for our community.”
Enjoying the blessings of God’s provision in the coronavirus crisis
In their most recent email to ANM on March 24, 2020, Roger and Sylvia summarized these blessings that God had providentially planned for them during this enormously challenging time. “Almost all of the Ati are inside the village because of the lockdown. With the technology we learned from the Asia-Pacific group we had good produce from our garden and we used this in our feeding program so that all of the Ati can just stay in the community and do not have to go out to find work. Some of our neighbors even come to buy vegetables from us.
“While almost all of the churches have had no meetings, we have! We were allowed by the village officials to have our worship services as the Ati are already in the community and don’t have to travel. But the seating arrangement should be one seat apart. And, most of all, because we received in a timely manner from ANM the financial help for the orphanage construction given by an ANM donor who loves orphans, we were able to buy ahead of time the construction materials needed just before the lockdown! That’s why in spite of the closing of stores we already have the materials we need and we can continue with the construction project.”
Roger and Sylvia hope to have the orphanage roof installed by April, the Lord willing.
“We also would like to thank you for your help and prayers,” Roger and Sylvia wrote. “We are always forever grateful to God for His goodness and faithfulness.”
In closing, this hard-working missionary couple cited the exhortation in Gal. 6:9, “Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not!”
Please continue to pray for these and other faithful ministry partners in areas affected by the coronavirus pandemic.