A Story of Faith Amidst Poverty in a Relocation Area

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God does not want people to be poor. Poverty can make people preoccupied with subsistence or worldly concerns and mentally busy in satisfying one’s family needs. Poor Christians usually have limited time to pray and engage in religious activities, as well as resources to travel to holy places to enrich their spiritual lives compared to the rich. But the story of a disaster victim in the Philippines named Bettylene proved that one can still be religious in the midst of hardship and poverty.

I’m a sociologist and researcher. In one of my interviews for my research work on the religiosity of Filipino women who are victims of the Super Typhoon Ondoy (Tropical Storm Ketsana) in the Philippines, I encountered one poor woman named Bettylene. Her family was relocated in a remote resettlement built by the government in the Province of Rizal. Although a very poor woman, her strong faith in God is amazing. Typhoon victims in this relocation area suffer joblessness despite the government’s assurance that it will provide stable jobs and basic social services for the poor disaster victims.

Bettylene’s strong faith in God exemplifies the strong private religiosity of Filipinos women. International surveys on religiosity consistently identify the Philippines as the most religious country in the world in terms of personal beliefs in God and the Filipino women as the most religious group of Filipinos.

Bettylene’s strong faith in God despite extreme poverty in the relocation area for typhoon victims is an inspiration for me. Her personal struggle is one of the many stories of suffering, lack of jobs and sustainable livelihood program in government-owned relocation areas.

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Photo: Bettylene  sitting on the doorsteps of the relocation chapel (courtesy of the author)

I met Bettylene in the relocation area when I went back to the site on that afternoon to see my two other key informants for my case study. She said she saw me in the morning conducting interviews with some disaster victims in the site. She said that she prayed hard in the afternoon just to see me coming back to the area.  She said that she has been at the corner of the entrance road leading to the relocation site, sitting on the entrance steps of the relocation chapel trying her luck to find me.  She said that her family had nothing to eat for supper on that evening and that she was worried for her husband and two young of her 6 children who were currently sick.  She was hoping that I could help her by providing some food for her family.

I think God answered her prayers. On that afternoon, I have brought with me some kilos of rice and canned goods which I usually give as a token of gratitude to my research informants after interviews. On our way to her home, she told me that her husband, the only breadwinner of the family, who worked as a casual construction worker in the relocation area, was just retrenched from his job, after his employer found out that he had a heart ailment. When we arrived at her house, I saw her husband had difficulty in breathing. Bettylene she said she could not bring him to the hospital. The nearest public hospital nearest to the relocation area was Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City.  But this hospital is around 30 kilometers away from the resettlement area. The family had no money even for the transportation fare. She said that urgent concern is what to eat for their next meal, especially that her husband is now sick and unemployed. She said that she was too hesitant to approach her relatives and friends for help since they too were very poor. Besides, they had already helped her many times and had lent her some money.

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Photo: The entrance of Bettylene’s relocation house (courtesy of the author)

Bettylene has no full-time or part-time job. She has no small trade in the area. She was totally dependent on the meager income of her husband as a casual construction worker.  She said she participated in soap-making seminars and other skills training in the relocation site. But there was capital or support from the sponsors or local government available to start her own small business. Asked about their future in the relocation site, she said:

I don’t know how we can continue to survive here in the relocation. God is our only hope. I trust that He will not abandon us. We are worried about our current conditions in the relocation site. The government has left us very vulnerable in the area: No permanent job, no sufficient income, and inadequate social and health facilities and services. Without God’s help, I don’t know what to do. How can our family needs be satisfied, especially that my husband now is unemployed and young children are still studying?

This story of Bettylene only illustrates that a strong faith in God can make people resilient, strong, resourceful, and hopeful even in very trying times, that extreme poverty cannot hinder poor people to continue to trust God. Indeed, faith is a great gift from God who generously provides material goods and spiritual strength to those who believe in Him. Did He not tell us with these words?

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Photo credit: Pexels.com

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).

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