Engulfed by poverty in Lucena, Philippines, I kept asking myself the question: How could anyone find joy in a place like this?

I found myself walking through narrow alleyways, up and down and in between small shanty houses. At each turn I’d be faced with roosters tied to stakes; the constant sounds of barking dogs, babies crying and children laughing rang in my ears. It was an odd emotion I was feeling: a collision of despair, heartbreak and utter confusion.

Engulfed by poverty in Lucena, Philippines, I kept asking myself the question: How could anyone find joy in a place like this? Why are children laughing?

The cause of my confusion was a three-and-a-half-year-old spark of nature called Glaysa. Glaysa lived with her grandparents, Luningning and Luisito, along with her two sisters. Her grandparents also had four children of their own and somehow, they all fit in this tiny 4x4 shack which was located in the mangroves in a typhoon hazard zone.

Glaysa’s parents had separated when she was much younger. She doesn’t know her father or have much contact with her mother. Yet she is a bright spark of joy, super cheeky and filled with a never-ending supply of energy.

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While we were speaking with Luningning, I could sense within her the determination and strength of a mother and grandmother. Yes, they lived in one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Yes, a family of eight would share one bed and sometimes go hungry. But despite all of the noise of their situation there was joy in her heart and her home. She and her family were thankful for what they had.

I walked away from that conversation in utter confusion. It’s not too often I’m lost for words, but I was bewildered by this encounter. Surely going to sleep each night unsure if the tide will rise and flood your home would give you enough reason to carry a heavy burden. Or just having the responsibility of raising six children! Trust me, that would be enough to tip me into stress mode. But no, Luningning carries the same joy as her granddaughter—it’s beautiful to watch.

That Sunday, I discovered the source of Luningning’s peace as we filed into a local church service, the house filled with mothers and children. That service shook the walls with the sound of praise from the people, and as I scanned the room, taking in this amazing experience, I saw a familiar face. That cheeky grin, that little spark of joy. Glaysa. And it hit me: they know the love of Jesus; this family knows the love of the local church. That’s where their joy begins.

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This unexplainable joy smiles in the face of poverty. Even though Glaysa has been given a rough start in life, the local church has provided her a safe place where she knows she is loved.

So, despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances that she finds herself in, the love of Jesus, the support of the local church and the relationship with a sponsor means Glaysa and her family can experience a hope more powerful than poverty. Now that’s enough to put a smile on your face!