The Lupang Pangako ("promised land") outside Manila is probably one of the largest and most famous garbage dumps in Asia. As of July 10, it became one of the deadliest. On that Monday, after monsoon rains and typhoons softened the ground, one side of a 50-foot mound of trash collapsed, burying an estimated 200 wooden shacks near the bottom of the slope. More than 200 people died in the trash and mud landslide, which occurred in the Payatas section of Quezon City in metro Manila, the capital of the Philippine Islands. Rescuers managed to pull out 51 people who had been buried by the slide."There are 475 homeless families living in the 12-room elementary school within sight of the mountain of trash that collapsed on their houses and families," Southern Baptist missionary Mark Harvey told Baptist Press. "The only word that came to mind was overwhelming--overwhelming tragedy, overwhelming need, overwhelming opportunity to make a difference for the glory of God."Bonifacio Corda, 48, pastor of the independent Pingapala Christian Church in Payatas, witnessed the tragedy. "It was a tidal wave of garbage flowing like a river." Teresita Gumatay, pastor of Jesus Our Hope Church, has set up a temporary orphanage at her Assemblies of God congregation for newly orphaned children. A Southern Baptist missionary team drove supplies to Payatas-Hope Baptist Church; people from one of two Southern Baptist churches at the dump site helped pack 300 relief bags of food, soap, clothing, and the Gospel of John.

Acres of poverty

During the past 27 years, 60,000 families have built simple shacks in the shadows of a 74-acre garbage heap that rises nine stories and stretches the length of three football fields. Many residents make their living as scavengers. Yet in the midst of such desperate surroundings, Christians work to improve the quality of life. Philippine Child Care Centers and Asia's Little Ones help meet physical and spiritual needs. The Payatas outreach began in 1994 and now includes two feeding stations, each with 25 children. One of the feeding stations and schools is located at Jesus Our Hope Church. Children up to age 6 study a Bible curriculum for 30 minutes each weekday morning, then they eat lunch.Most children in the program also attend Sunday services. "We try to emphasize the need for Jesus to change our lives," Gumatay says. "We let them know that Jesus is always interested in the poor and needy."For Gumatay, who is single, the church members are her family. "This is my home," says Gumatay, 58, a former certified public accountant. "These people are very simple but very loving." Nurse Mel Umbal says several adults have become Christians because of their children who attend Jesus Our Hope. "We have four-year-olds witnessing to their parents about how to be thankful to God even if they only have a little," Umbal says. "Some of these have gone on to become leaders in the church."The prospects for closing the dump are mixed. Filipino political leaders disagree on whether the local or national government is responsible for the tragedy. Others criticize Quezon City officials for allowing scavenger settlements to spring up at will. Meanwhile, other Christian groups are stepping forward. U.S.-based Operation Blessing, which initially held a food giveaway and medical outreach in Payatas in 1997, has made an ongoing commitment. Says Christianne Debysingh, a manager for Operation Blessing in Asia: "Because of the vast need, we quickly saw that a one-day event would not be enough and that a long-term commitment was needed in order to bring about lasting change.

"Other Christianity Today articles about the Philippines include:Catholic Priest Fears Violence will Continue in Southern Philippines | "We must prepare for the worst" he says of "directionless" peace talks. (Mar. 9, 2000) Two Major Philippine Churches Sign Agreement for Closer Links | Reformed and Catholic influenced denominations working toward full union. (Nov. 31, 1999) Missionaries in Harm's Way | Filipino churches send workers to harvest difficult fields. (June 14, 1999) Centennial of Protestantism Marked | One million Christians gather to celebrate in Manila. (June 15, 1998) Muslim Separatists Sign Peace Accord | After 24 years of fighting can the new peace last? (October 28, 1996)Learn more about Operation Blessing's work in Manila.Read about Asia's Little Ones outreach to street kids .The Associated Press wrote an update about trash slide victims suing the city government for negligence .For more on the trash slide tragedy, see CNN , The New York Times , and BBC .ReligionToday also recently covered Christian aid to Payatas

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