Thursday, November 1, 2007

The manhole man

There on the stage of Ulanbataar Orchestra Hall stood a man impeccably dressed in a western suit. He was giving his testimony to the church audience of 200 people. This man was once a drunkard who lived under the manhole in the street of Ulanbataar. The thousand of manholes are like land mines from the aerial view. They represent the underground world where the scum, the filth and the rejects who live in isolation from the mainstream society. It is like a colony. There are thousand of drunkards and homeless poor taking shelter inside the tunnels of the manholes.

It was an eye opening experience. The poor everywhere share certain commonalities. I had seen the ‘cardboard’ poor who live under the overhead bridges in Jakarta. If a heavy truck were to slam on them, hundreds would die tragically. The squatter camp condition in Suweto, South Africa is deplorable. You probably can’t find anything like that in Malaysia. Once could see thousands of tiny huts made of Zinc material where the entire family is being squeezed into 180 square feet space.

The news in the capitol city of Mongolia on the day of my visit highlighted a man who died of heart attack because of severe cold – the temperature at night was sub zero degree centigrade. Every year, many who live under the manholes world have their limbs amputated because of frostbites.

This man who stood on the stage was lucky because Pastor Nara, the senior pastor of a church in Ulanbataar found him in the manhole. The church people washed him, clothed him, fed him, and housed him. He was literally snatched from the manhole.

This redeemed and restored man told the audience that his mission is to go and save people like him. He could have died in the manhole. But he had been rescued from physical hunger, from bitter cold winter, from a hopeless existence.

I was spellbound by his sharing.

Nara, the senior pastor who introduced and prayed for this man, was his friend. Nara found his friend dying in the forsaken world.

Nara himself was once a notorious gangster who went to jail for 4 years because he stabbed 3 people. It was in the prison that he heard the gospel. Nara was deeply touched by the Bible verse “Jesus came to save the sinners and not the righteous.” It was like an arrow shot right into his heart. He wept and gave his life to Jesus. Since then Nara has gone to the fringe of society to search and reach out to people just like him – sinners who need the grace of Jesus.
Nara has gone into the manholes many times.

I never got to know the name of the man who once lived in the manhole. But his story tells me of the power of gospel in transforming lives.

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