It was still on the first day of our visit to Manila when suddenly my eyes began to play tricks on me. It was disorienting, even a bit frightening. What if the smiles and the laughs and the sights and sounds were a mirage of my own making? What if my eyes, my whole way of seeing was only telling a half-truth? And did I really want the whole truth?
And then for a fleeting moment I saw something I didn’t expect. I saw myself as a white man in Manila. I saw the faint outlines of what is so obvious to those who were born not white and not male…that everyone and everything bends in my direction. Some call it white privilege, others call it “code switching”, but no matter what it is called, it dehumanizes and prevents trust and relationship. I was undone by a glimpse of the reality I am so privileged to ignore.
In that moment, I was lost. I was lost in a foreign land for what felt like a lifetime, but seconds later I see Nestor. He is still laughing, but his eyes have a new and knowing look. I feel as if he is inviting me to come and see how he sees, to borrow his eyes and peer behind the curtain of my birthright. Do I dare? Do I really want to see? The questions press in, but his eyes give me confidence.
What followed was a blur of cityscape and heat, air so thick it was hard to take in, and traffic, so much traffic. The skyscrapers and relentless noise fell away and suddenly, as if through a portal into another world, we were strolling on a narrow street, far off the map of our scheduled itinerary. We made our way through space and history and progress and poverty to the threshold of another place – a sacred place…a place where Fred and Nestor and their community gather. No kitschy Jesus here. They took me to a place deep inside the bowels of Manila, where they gather and meet with other grassroots leaders – a place where they find peace in a city that seeks to take it away at every turn – a place where they are reimagining a new narrative for themselves and their fellow Filipinos – a place where they call home.