Home At Last- real life and death on the streets. by Travis Sharpe

I was afraid I would have to write this story sooner or later. I hoped and prayed it would be much later than now.

I was first introduced to Ronel, a very sick and frail 20-year-old, only a few weeks ago. I met him late one evening as I was visiting the homeless and poor families in the Libertad area of Bacolod City Philippines. As we approached the family who was sleeping on a wide, covered sidewalk, his mother and sister sat up from the pile of intertwined sleeping Filipinos. However, Ronel lay perfectly still on his left side at the end of the huddled family. He was too weak to sit up.

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Our Filipino staff did as they always do on their late night visits. They wore compassionate smiles and greeted the extremely poor family. Myself and Pastor Todd Crusenberry watched with thankful hearts as the Unsheltered International team dipped soup from a large aluminum pot that was positioned just inside the sliding side door of the Nissan van that they made their rounds in. I was introduced to Hermenia, Ronel’s mother. I knew about her because I had approved treatment for her a couple of months earlier. She had suffered from a sore boil on her back that had become badly infected. Her problem was healing, but her son was now very sick.

Pastor Antonio Ner, the leader of our group, explained to me that Ronel had been caught by the police a few weeks earlier. He had been part of a larger group that was using rugby, the name given to the sniffing of solvent or adhesive from plastic bottles. Evidently, the officers had wanted to teach him a lesson, so Ronel suffered a brutal beating. Days later, he still suffered from complications of the abuse.

Noticing his worsening condition, arrangements were made and our team took him to the hospital two days later. That in itself was challenging because it required the understanding of Ronel and his mother as to what was needed. As is common with families who are undereducated, they didn’t fully know how to communicate the needed information and permissions to the hospital staff. Thankfully, our patient team members guided them through the process and we were hopeful about getting him medical attention.

The doctor determined that an ultrasound was needed. The test was performed and the results were read a few days later by another doctor. It was determined that he had several large ulcer-like abscess’s in his stomach. Surgery would be needed, but he was too weak at the time. He was prescribed antibiotics and a surgery date was scheduled. We were still hopeful

When the surgery day finally rolled around, Ronel had lost more weight and was now completely unable to walk or stand on his own. Regretfully, the surgeon refused to do the surgery stating that he was too anemic to endure it. In addition, confinement in the hospital was not an option either. I was shocked when the doctor discharged Ronel, telling us there was nothing further they could do.

He was sent home to die.

By now, his mother had moved him into their dilapidated little house that was just around the corner for the covered sidewalk where they normally slept. He could not eat anymore. The heartbroken mother held her son’s head up in her lap and gave him water. It was now only a matter of time.

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Knowing that there was something else at work in his frail, sick, body, the doctors had drawn blood a few days earlier. The results were now in and Genevieve, one of our staff members, went to the doctor for the results. The testing revealed that Ronel had tuberculous. This was a deadly disease that haunts the homeless, squatters, and other poor and marginalized people in the Philippines. Quickly, the prescriptions were written and Genevieve raced to the family with what might be a ray of hope.

That hope, however, quickly vanished when she reached the little house. Ronel had succumbed to the disease three days ago. His body now lay in state at his sisters house.

It seemed that all of our efforts had not helped. We did all we could, and yet, he died a slow, painful death. To me, the saddest part is that most people will never even know that he is gone. I’m sure the same people will walk and drive by that same sidewalk each evening, never even noticing that someone is missing from the huddled group.

A Ray of Hope

Amidst all of the hopelessness that this story is filled with, I do have some good news to share with you today. A few weeks ago, realizing the seriousness of Ronel’s condition, Pastor Ner instructed our team to make certain that Ronel had heard and understood the gospel. He knew that time was of the essence and that the most important thing, even more important than the physical condition, was the condition of Ronel’s heart. Filled with a zeal for souls, these pastors were unwilling to let Ronel die without a clear presentation of the gospel.

Pastor Ricky prays for a young boy who is very ill.

Pastor Ricky was the one to make that crucial visit. He prayed, took his time, and before he left, Ronel and his mother received Christ as their personal Savior. It had been only a few days before his death. It took a few days for the news of Ronel’s death to reach me here in states, and I was saddened that his life on earth was cut short by a preventable disease. One that, if we had detected sooner, could have been curbed. But I am reminded of our first and most important purpose; sharing the gospel with the lost. We have lost the battle for his life here, but Heaven has gained another resident. It is a healing that will need no follow up or doctors. Once more, Ronel now has an everlasting home.