A child’s smile, a man’s tears

“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, is how the lyric goes. It’s funny, in the last challenge, we were asked to consider words to a song, and write a story about it. Couldn’t think of a thing. When memories came up as a challenge, the above lyrics came suddenly to mind. Along with “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.”

I have had a good life. I grew up in a loving family, even though now they have deserted me. I have been comfortable, wealthy, happy healthy, but also have been uncomfortable (sometimes by choice), extremely poor (by western standards), very sad, and suffer poor health.

I prefer healthy and happy any day. Wealth and comfort I can do without.

The following memory is one of a time I was uncomfortable by choice. It also relates to the lyrics of a song as you will discover.


When I was 23, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and go on a mission trip to the Philippines, to teach the gospel to people in poor lands and tell them with Jesus everything can be better. NO, this is not a religious story, don’t turn off yet. It was an eye opener for me. At the time I was working night-shift in Sydney’s red light district, looking after runaways, underage prostitutes and drug addicts who came to the church agency, or were dragged there by police or welfare. That itself was not incredibly comfortable, but I had grown up in this city, and was able to relate to these people because I was just as young and vulnerable as them. I chose to look at all options open to me and be able to find better solutions to problems than selling myself or shoving a needle in my arm.

We arrived in the Philippines and spent two days in Manila and Quezon City to become accustomed to the heat, the people, the food, the level of security needed, and not to mention traffic. After two days, we flew to an airport near a town called Tacloban. Lucky for us we had a guide, a lovely girl who had been in the field sometime before our arrival.

Even though we saw poverty in Manila, it was nothing compared to what we saw at Tacloban airport. We were hurried aboard a jeepney, along with about 20 others for the ride into the town. We could speak none of the local dialect, and the locals could not speak English. I had made eye contact with one of the helpers on the jeepney and from then every time we looked at each other we both started to laugh. I reached into my pocket to retrieve a small packet of chewing gum. I handed it to him to see the boys face just light up. It was positively glowing. I had given him so little but to him; I had sacrificed greatly to bring him pleasure.

The music playing on the radio in the jeepney was loud, for us. I am sure that the whole of the NPA (rebel soldiers) knew that there was a jeepney passing through their part of the jungle and it had aboard rich white tourist missionaries.

It was dark as we rode. We were going very fast through the jungle area surrounding the town. Every now and then, we would be driving through a shanty, lit by a solitary streetlamp. Under the streetlamp, families gathered to see the jeepney and we noticed lots of near naked children, the smell, the simple dress of the women who always had a baby on a hip and a snotty nosed youngster clutching to the dress hem.

Suddenly ahead, I saw bright lights. The sky was lit up like day, or like a football stadium on game night. The jungle opened to a clearing and in the midst of the clearing was a great mansion. It was about 4 stories high, and the biggest place I had ever seen in the Philippines. It was very much out of place here. I asked our guide what this place was. She said it was the Marcos Palace.

 On the radio blared the hit song at the time “What a wonderful world”. I was stunned at the vast chasm that existed between the poor and the very wealthy here. I pondered on the lyrics of the song, and asked myself… Is it? Is it such a wonderful world, where children can be dying yet a woman with 700 pairs of shoes can sleep comfortably between satin sheets amidst it all without batting an eyelid.

For years after, whenever I heard that song, I would turn the radio off, or leave the room, turn my back; anything to keep people seeing how that song affected me.

Here it is 27 years later, and it’s the first memory I thought of when the challenge came up. A tear drops to the keyboard as I remember…




1 Comment

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One response to “A child’s smile, a man’s tears

  1. Greg

    Great story. Very moving. I had a great sense of the jungle, poverty and sadness. Well told Dave.

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