The diagnosis was life threatening: severe dengue fever. Joy was just 5 years old. “Why did it happen to my child?” asks Edison, her father. “It should be me; I was the one who sinned.”

This article is part of a series on the Blessed in Christ Church neighbourhood in Metro Manila, the Philippines. You can also read Blessed in Christ by Grace: David's Story and Never Forsaken: Vicky’s Story.

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Nowhere is quiet in Manila.

This is especially true in Caloocan City, one part of the sprawling Metro Manila area, where 18-year-old Joy lives with her family. Cats and dogs roam the concrete streets of their neighbourhood at all hours while roosters crow in cages, waiting for their next fight. Children laugh as they play basketball on makeshift courts, at ease in the ever-present humidity. Motorbikes rev their engines as they dodge people, animals and debris.

The family home is down a street so narrow that umbrellas can’t open when it rains. And when rain does come, as it often does in the Philippines, the downhill passageway becomes a fast-moving river. A 30-centimetre-tall concrete ledge at the front door protects Joy’s home from flooding.

Joy lives with her father, mother and the two youngest of her five siblings: Jamaica, Janica, Japeth, Jamaira and Josiah. “My children’s names are J. E.,” says their mother, Josefina, with a smile, named for herself and her husband Edison. Except for Joy (with the initials J. J.), who is named after her grandmother.

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Joy loves her family, especially her 4-year-old nephew Zildjian, who she, knowing his answer, will ask, “Who’s your favourite tita [aunty]?”

“Tita Joy!” he exclaims, without stopping to consider his three other loving titas.

“I’m very grateful for my family,” says Joy. “I am close with my siblings, which is the gift you can’t find or buy. In them I have found a friend at the same time as sisters and a brother.”

When the children were growing up, however, their family relationships were not always as good, and surviving day to day was a struggle. “There were days when we had nothing to eat,” says Josefina. Sometimes, she would go without food for the sake of her children.

“My mum would just look at us and then say, ‘I’m okay, I’m full,’” Joy remembers.

The family were often unwell. “All my children were sickly,” says Josefina. “When we had no money for hospital care we just gave them sponge baths and medicine for fever.” The six children slept in the one bedroom on mats on the floor.

Edison works in a factory, but his income was not sufficient to support the family. So, to help supplement their income, the family turned to making rags. “After dinner, he [Edison] would start sewing,” says Josefina. “We work until midnight and wake up at 4 am. We then deliver the rags and use the money for daily transportation and food.” The rag making became a family business and all the children would help. They would then sell the rags for 1.20 pesos (A$0.27) each.

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“Life back then was very hard,” says Joy. “There was a time when we all got sick. My parents had a hard time because we had no money for treatment. So we had no choice but to bear the pain. Everything makes you question the Lord. ‘Lord, do we deserve for this to happen?’”

Faith in God is widespread in the Philippines. According to the 2020 Census of Population and Housing, Catholicism is the dominant religion. 78.8 per cent of the population identify as Roman Catholic, while approximately 3.9 per cent are Protestant.

“Even before knowing the Lord, we attended church every Sunday,” says Josefina. “But it's just performing rituals without learning anything. You don't remember or understand the priest's homily.”

As young children, both Joy and her brother Japeth were registered at their local Compassion child development centre. “We were blessed that Joy became part of Compassion,” says Edison. “It was a big help to our family. Her school tuition was free—everything she needed for school was provided. They also helped with her health needs.”

The support of Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program and their local church helped the family. Yet the cycle of poverty is a multidimensional problem—one not solved in a day. Though the physical, cognitive and socio-emotional aspects of Joy’s life improved, the family continued to face spiritual and relational challenges. Joy was extremely shy, always staying close to Josefina and struggling to communicate with others. “I was a very shy kid,” Joy says. “I was scared of people.”

Edison had his own personal struggles too. “At that time, I still had vices,” he says. “I had not given up my bad habits yet. I used to drink and place bets in the lottery. I relied on my own strength. I did not have a relationship with the Lord.”

His drinking also created a rift in the family. “There were times when papa came home drunk, which was hard for us siblings,” says Joy. “He’s angry; it’s very hard to be close to him at that time.”

Teacher Jane from the Blessed in Christ Compassion child development centre remembers Edison’s behaviour. “He hadn’t realised that he was doing these things to his children,” she says. “And it was passed on from generation to generation. He is doing also what his parents were doing to him when he was a kid. It’s a cycle.”

Though the family’s situation began to improve in many ways, their lives took a turn when Joy was just 5 years old.

“I can remember we were in church,” she says. “I asked myself, ‘why does my body feel so hot?’”

Josefina remembers when Compassion Project Director Vicky called her. “I went there right away,” she says. “She had a 40-degree fever when they checked. The church staff tried to bring her temperature down. I told my husband to come home from work. Then we started looking for a hospital.”

Edison and Josefina rushed Joy from one hospital to the next. One after another, the hospitals told them it was just a fever and sent them away. “We went to around eight hospitals,” says Josefina, but none would admit Joy.

“The hospitals insisted she was okay,” says Edison, though he and Josefina were convinced something was seriously wrong with their daughter.

At home, Joy’s condition worsened. “She vomited blood,” Josefina recalls. “I asked God, ‘what should we do?’ We decided to bring her to the National Children’s Hospital. I prayed that the hospital would prioritise Joy.”

When they arrived at the hospital, Joy was diagnosed with severe dengue fever, a life-threatening condition, and was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Josefina and Edison were told that Joy only had a 50 per cent chance of survival. If she did make it, she could still have permanent brain damage.

“I got scared,” says Josefina. “What was happening to my daughter? She looked dead already.”

Joy remembers how her parents tried to reassure her. “All I saw were my parents saying, ‘you’re okay,’” she recalls. “At that time, I had no idea how critical my condition was. All I knew was that I was sick.”

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Joy spent the next two weeks in the ICU. Josefina would stay with her during the day, and, in the evenings, Edison would arrive straight from the factory and sit with her through the night. “I asked God why He allowed it to happen,” says Edison. “Why did it happen to my child? It should be me; I was the one who sinned.”

Pastor David of Blessed in Christ by Grace Church, where their local Compassion centre operates, also went to visit her. “You could see her struggling for life,” he says. “And I thought, ‘maybe the Lord will take her.’”

Staff from the centre went to visit her too. “All of us were praying for her,” says Vicky. “When we visited her in hospital, I was shocked. It was difficult because she is like a daughter to us. She looked lifeless. I immediately prayed with Jane and the others. I cried then.”

“I talked to the paediatrician handling Joy’s case, and she said to pray because only God could save her.”

In response, the Compassion centre and church staff organised a prayer vigil for Joy. “The whole church prayed for her,” says Jane. “Everyone was crying and kneeling down for Joy. We felt that the heavens were coming down to us and hearing our prayers.” And when Joy needed blood donors, the church put their faith into action. “We brought everyone that we could to the hospital—more than 10,” says Jane, though some of the volunteers were too malnourished or underweight to qualify. “Yet by God’s grace, we were able to complete the blood donors.”

“Many people prayed for us: church, friends, relatives,” says Edison. “I said, ‘maybe God is testing me.’ That is how I was able to carry on.” And one night, while he was watching over Joy in the ICU, he prayed too.

“I promised God I will let go of my vices. I asked Him to spare Joy’s life. She is still very young. The Lord surely heard my prayer because my daughter lived.”

Slowly, Joy’s condition improved. Vicky, Jane and other staff from the centre continued to visit her for another two weeks while she recovered, often bringing toys. Joy eventually made a full recovery, and Compassion covered all the medical expenses. “It’s a miracle for us that she was able to survive and then grow up as a normal child,” says Pastor David. “And so, I always call her ‘miracle child’.”

Josefina knows their prayers were effective. “We thank the Lord that so many people prayed; He heard our prayers,” she says. “Before we knew the Lord, we had so many trials. Knowing the Lord brought a big change in our life. Help would come before we even asked for it.”

When Joy returned home, the family’s life began to change, and Edison held to the promise he had made to God at Joy’s bedside.

“From that time, I decided to walk in God’s ways,” he says. “There has been a big change in my life. I have a good relationship with my children. The Lord changed my life. He changed me through trials.”

Vicky saw the change in Edison and the whole family. “Before Joy was hospitalised, they attended [church] but didn’t seem interested. But when Joy was hospitalised, everything changed. They became faithful worshippers of God. Their faith protected them from negative influences in the community: gambling, alcohol and illegal drugs.”

Josefina can see the change in their whole family. “My husband leads Bible studies for fathers. I also lead Bible studies,” she says. “Our whole family is actively involved in God's work. My children are also in ministry. Joy is a tambourine dancer; my eldest plays the piano. All of them are serving the Lord.”

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“I think the change I noticed in the family is the togetherness,” says Joy. “My family back then were just attending the Sunday service just for the sake of attendance. But now it feels like we have a better understanding of the importance of church and the Word of God in our lives.”

Today, on the wall of the family’s living room, there are dozens of photos of the six children: a proud display of their graduations from high school and university. Jamaica graduated as an English teacher, Janica a psychologist and Japeth an engineer. Joy will soon follow in their footsteps.

As the family grew in faith and love, support from Compassion and Blessed in Christ by Grace Church gave them new opportunities. Compassion’s approach to child development is holistic, addressing each child’s individual physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and spiritual needs. This is done through both the Child Sponsorship Program and donations to Critical Needs funds. Joy’s hospital expenses, for example, could only be paid because of generous donations to the Health Critical Need fund.

In Joy’s life, this holistic support means that she could receive medical treatment, that her school fees and supplies were paid, that she could become socially confident, and that she could grow in faith and have opportunities to serve her church and community as a teacher, tambourine dancer and camp leader. “Joy used to be shy and thin,” explains Vicky. “Compassion helped her with vaccinations, vitamins and medical checks. Through activities like camps, retreats, sports fests and youth groups, she learned socialisation skills.”

Edison can see the difference the support has made in Joy’s life. “I could really see Compassion moulding my child's character,” he says. “She could go places and her shyness disappeared. She had opportunities to meet different people, all because of Compassion.”

Joy agrees. “What I love the most in Compassion are the youth camps,” she says. “It had such a huge impact in me. It widened my spiritual life; I had more intimate relationship with the Lord.” But, like any Christian, she is still learning and growing in her relationship with Jesus. “There are times that I am tested, and it makes me question the Lord why this is like this and that is like that. Now I’m trying to make the fire in my heart grow deeper; I grab the opportunities in the church; I don’t say no to the ministry. For me, it is the greatest feeling to see your family going to church together. It makes me very proud.”

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Now, Joy is a high school graduate and in her first year of university studying a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in financial management. “When I finish my studies, I want to work in a bank as a financial manager,” she says.

“Paying back my parents’ hard work is my dream. I want to show them that this is the fruit of your labour. I want to prove to them that they have raised us well and that they did not lack anything.”

Others in her neighbourhood can also see that Joy’s future is bright. “I knew when I first met Joy that her future is good because she is kind, hardworking, disciplined and responsible. I see in her the potential to be successful someday,” says Vicky.

“The Joy I see now is so different from the Joy we had before,” says Pastor David. “She has more confidence now than before, and she's one of the chosen delegates to be trained as a leader of the church. I think her being faithful in the church and faithful in her studies is a good example for the younger people to follow.”

As Joy goes forward into her future, she has not forgotten what God has already done for her. “For me, it is important that, as Christians, we serve, because it is our way to be able to connect with the Lord,” she says. “It is our way to give him thanks for everything he has done for us.”

You can help a family like Joy’s afford life-saving medical care by making a tax-deductible donation to our Health Critical Need fund today. You can also help transform a child’s life and break the cycle of poverty in partnership with the local church by sponsoring a child.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” —Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the way you have been at work in the lives of Joy and her family. Thank you for saving Joy’s life, for the loving support of her church community, and that the whole family are using their lives in your service. We pray that you will break the cycle of poverty in the lives of all six children as well as others in their community.

We pray now especially for Joy. Please have your loving hands over her. Help her to hold firm to you, to succeed in her studies and to look towards the bright future you have planned for her. We pray these things through Jesus’ name, amen.

Written and reported by Andrew Barker, Compassion Australia.