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John in Philippines

John Wigley from Manchester worked with disabled people in the Philippines:

John in PhilippinesWhat a journey! It feels like 10 years since I first reported for duty unannounced at the Philippine Blind Union (PBU) massage center that first week of September. ‘Hi! My name is John from the UK’, I recall nervously declaring, ‘what would you like me to do?’ There was no response, well, not towards me anyway. I started to wonder if they even knew of my intentions; it turns out they didn’t! Some thought I was a psychologist, others a government worker and later I found out that some even thought I was a lost tourist! These first few weeks were tough, I tried to make myself useful but alone I was like a boat without a paddle. And then I met Melvin Braza. Melvin had been a sailor on a British ship before he lost his sight, he knew my language, culture and most importantly he understood my northern accent! He started to educate me on Illongo culture, PBU sub–culture and the conflicts that existed between the fractured disabled groups of Iloilo. He spoke passionately of his dream to unite the disabled under an umbrella group, PUSHER for Christ, a group that would help guide the blind and disabled persons of Iloilo to church and church-based activities. Finally a direction! Melvin had set my mission and together we would try to make this dream come true.

Our first objective was to build a relationship with the Church. This was no easy task; in my estimation the Church appeared suspicious of our group, conscious perhaps of failed outreach attempts in the past or even of the status of the disabled as beggars within the compound of the Church. We agreed to sell their out-of-season Candelaria candles for them at optimum price from 5am to 8pm every Sunday. An astonishing 88% of all monies gained through our endeavors went back to the Church. This was a small price to pay for the change in perception we achieved; no longer were we seen as a burden or as beggars. As parishioners and clergy alike acknowledged us as active members of the church, we began to earn respect amongst our peers.

In October Melvin and I established several people to continue our work outside the Cathedral whilst we focused on the organization of International Disability Day. The event was a success. Over 200 disabled participants ‘pushed’ in the name of PUSHER for Christ around Iloilo City spreading awareness of our group and showing the wider community how a blind person (the motion) can unite with a wheelchair person (the sight) to manoeuvre around the city and overcome difficulties. We believe it created a powerful image, one that can inspire all persons regardless of religion, nationality, language, disability, etc to unite to overcome our difficulties together.

John with childIn February, Melvin suggested a crazy idea: ‘I want to push from one parish to another for 40 days for the glory of God’. I couldn’t digest his request at first. How can a 65 year-old man possibly imagine he can walk for 40 days pushing a wheelchair? And why would he want to? The significance struck me later; this journey was an opportunity to develop our relationship with God and inspire others with an act that only persons with Faith would dare dream to embark on. The pilgrimage started February 17th and finished March 28th. I can’t possibly begin to explain the true meanings behind what happened during that 40 days, too difficult and too little paper! All I can say here is that it was a journey I will never forget and my privilege to walk amongst such fine men of God.

I have 2 months remaining before I return to England. Working with PUSHER and, in particular, working with Melvin has made me a better man. I thank God for giving me this opportunity and pray that AMA will send others in my path so they too can experience Jesus in the people who have touched my life. Those who have known me before my PUSHER for Christ days know I was not a very committed Christian. I do not pretend to be so now. However my relationship with my God has improved immensely since September and I credit that to PUSHER; in particular, to my dear friend Melvin Braza. This group has given me the gift of simplicity and humility; they have opened my eyes to my shortfall in an affectionate way and praised me for my virtues. I strongly recommend AMA maintain and strengthen bonds with this disabled group.