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Couple Risks Their Lives to Serve God in Smoky Mountain

July 30, 2019

PHILIPPINES (INS)—Nemuel and Ruth Palma have literally put their lives on the line to serve the Lord as leaders of Smoky Mountain Ministries. Despite facing life-threatening circumstances, they continue to serve faithfully with this Intercede International partner ministry based in the slums of Manila, in the Philippines.

Back in the 1980s, the Palmas were working with a church in the Tondo area of Manila, when the dump site then called Smoky Mountain caught their attention.

“We decided to penetrate ‘Smoky’ and felt compassion on the children,” explains Ruth Palma. “Many of them could not afford early schooling. Yet it was becoming more apparent that before any child could be accepted in a public school, he or she must have already learned basic counting, writing, and reading.

“By April of 1984 we had already bought our first Vacation Bible School materials and three pieces of plywood to serve as sitting places for the children of Smoky. On that ground full of garbage and infested by flies, we sat our first VBS students. After another three days, we were able to secure a tent to shield us from the sun. From then on, attendance in our tent increased. Parents of our students eventually also got interested and some of them even attended the VBS, singing the songs and participating in the interaction. We then thought about holding a Bible Study for parents.”

So, Nemuel started a Bible study for the parents, while Ruth handled the children. The work so flourished that the children and parents prayed for a bigger place to hold the Bible classes. This was answered through some gifts that praying Christians in North America sent through Intercede. A small wooden shed was put up in one corner of the dump, and was named Lighthouse Nursery and Kindergarten School. The building is also used as a worship hall for Grace Christian Church, composed of those who have come to know the Lord Jesus through the Palmas’ ministry.

Nemuel began to pastor Grace Christian Church, which became Tondo Dump Ministry Church.

“Early on, we met problems natural to the ministry but nevertheless daunting, because we were operating in an area that is considered to be the poorest among urban settlements in Manila,” explains Ruth Palma. “Our target was the seemingly hopeless squatter population, who are poor and hungry, who are into all sorts of crimes, vices. We were particularly touched by the condition of the children—who were dirty, without slippers and trousers, and generally feed on trash.”

Hundreds Saved

Since that small beginning, more than 500 souls have been brought to the Lord’s feet through SMM. One church member offered his house for a regular men’s group meeting for discipleship training. This group also grew, and an extension was built to accommodate them.

The women’s group, composed of mothers and led by Ruth, has established more than 10 Bible centres for children in the outlying slum areas. Whenever provisions are available, these children are fed by the Palmas and their co-workers.

Many of the couples who had been living together for years without the benefit of marriage came to the church to be married after receiving Jesus into their lives. Nemuel once officiated at a marriage ceremony for 16 couples at the same time!

These families are witnesses for Jesus, not only to their children, but to the entire community. Their houses are clean and well-kept, and so are their children. They serve as lights in the dark place known as the Tondo dump.

In 1993, the government closed the dump, planning to begin a commercial development in this part of Manila. While citing the health benefits of the closure, this took away the slum dwellers’ main way of earning an income. To meet this challenge, the Palmas began vocational training for the parents of the children in the Lighthouse School. They purchased sewing machines, opened a motor workshop and started training in rug-making.

Currently, there are more than 100 of children aged four to seven involved with SMM’s preschools and kindergartens. SMM also teaches some older children, who the public school won’t accept because they don’t have birth certificates. These kids are treated as inferior because they come from Smoky Mountain. Once children are educated at the preschools, the public schools will accept them, she explains. “We’ve helped more than 2,000 children already.”

 “The biggest needs of the ministry are support for feeding for our children,” explains Ruth Palma. “They really ask for food. And the allowances for our teachers. I am praying that through financial support, we can train and delegate the work to more volunteers so many more can be saved.”

On Saturdays, SMM holds Bible studies in the alley of Buildings 10 and 28. In these dark alleys, they often feed 200 or more children, after telling them stories about Jesus and His love.

Nemuel Palma’s vision for the coming years is to bring more souls to Christ. For this task he has trained many of his elders. Several are now working alongside the Palmas. SMM currently has three churches: one in Cavite, one in Bagong Silang near Novaliches, and one in the Tondo dump area.

Paying a Personal Price

But the Palmas have had to pay a price for the privilege and the joy of bringing the Gospel to the garbage dump dwellers. As they grew up, their children frequently got sick from respiratory ailments, such as whooping cough and pulmonary tuberculosis—the results of breathing in the pollution of the dump.

“Our health deteriorated, and my children became asthmatics,” explains Ruth. “Both my husband and I now have weak lungs as a result of being exposed daily to smoke from the dumps. Similarly, the people, not conscious of proper grooming and hygiene, suffer illnesses that normally would be cured but, in their poverty, would always prove fatal.

“The children are hungry and in order for them to learn their ABCs they must be fed first. Since our volunteers are themselves poor, we cannot afford to just have them work without giving them some amount to live by. God provided our early finances through supporters, mostly through Intercede.”

“Please pray for our health, and my husband’s conditions with having two times a week hemo dialysis,” requests Ruth Palma. “He is in his stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease. I have chest pain with maintenance medicine for my heart. Truly the body is weak but the spirit is strong because of God’s Holy Spirit.”

Their Lives Endangered

Both Ruth and Nemuel have had their lives endangered while working with SMM.

“I thought I’d be dead in 2001 when a truck hit me,” declares Ruth Palma. “I thank God I’m still alive.”

At that time, Palmas were living in temporary housing. “I was hit by a truck and was underneath the truck.” That accident left Ruth with a badly broken arm. Part of the bone has been replaced with metal, and she has since had to learn how to write with her left hand.

Another time, a religious leader made false allegations against Ruth and she was arrested. “I was in prison three nights at the city jail,” she testifies. “Our people went there and had a rally for me and shared money for my bail, and it was displaced because it was baseless—just to destroy me.

“Nothing is impossible with God,” Ruth states. “All I have to do is stand firm in His Word. How can I leave these people, who are relying on me? How can I forsake my God? The Lord is still there. The big challenge is to show my faith and the power of truth and righteousness, and with the love of God, and humbling myself as a servant. I’m willing to lay down my life for them. I love the people.”

Some years ago, the Philippines government decided to shut down the Smoky Mountain dump in Tondo, and forcibly remove its residents. Nemuel Palma was in the dump when policemen arrived and started shooting at people there. Some Christians Palma knew of there were shot in the chest or the hands. One policeman aimed his gun at Palma, but just at that moment, a TV cameraman ran by and was shot (but not killed). The government sent in 1,000 police and army troops to clear people out of the dump, and also shot teargas.

“It was a terrible experience,” he recalls. Yet, “we felt we were strong because of our hope in the Lord.”

“I have dedicated my life to Jesus—every day, every hour,” affirms Ruth Palma. “We’ll fight Satan [who is] suppressing the people. All the teachers, I told, ‘We are warriors for Jesus’—not only workers, not only missionaries. We really need help—prayers. We thank God that in spite of the pressures, in spite of the conflicts, our people are soaring up spiritually. Even the youth, the preschool are warriors for Jesus.”

Despite the hardship and challenges, when asked what she thinks of Smoky Mountain, Ruth Palma replies without hesitation, “This is like heaven, because this is where God is.” With prayer and financial support to undergird them, the Palmas and their co-workers will continue to build God’s Kingdom in the Tondo dump and other poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of the Philippines.


Photo: Pastor Nemuel and Ruth Palma with one of their sons in their humble home in Manila’s Tondo neighbourhood.