Child’s kindness reverses lifestyle

Joseph Zanetti
Joseph Zanetti with a Badjao tribe family in their newly built home in Davao City. The eldest daughters Analisa and Lydia were students at the Isla Verde learning centre before it was destroyed by fire

Joseph Zanetti frankly admits he was living recklessly when the simple kindness of a desperately poor Filipino girl changed his life around.

During military service and his ensuing career, Joseph says he paid little attention to his selfish lifestyle because he thought, "If something happens to me I will be 'OK' because I said a 'sinner's prayer' in 1983."

That was until Joseph went to the Philippine island of Mindanao to save money on major dental work.

There he met the Badjao people, the poorest tribe in all Southeast Asia, and gained a new generous heart for them.

"The Badjao people live by the sea, but have lost their traditional fishing grounds due to armed conflict, commercial fishing, pirates and poachers," Joseph shares.

"For many begging is their only means of livelihood. They are considered citizens of the lowest class: ignorant, dirty, smelly and deprived with most people having very low regard for them. Literacy is less than 10%, as only 20% have any formal education."

On the street Joseph gave a few coins to three Badjao girls before he became bothered by their persistent begging.

"I yelled, 'Get away from me', but they didn't seem to understand that beggars can't be choosers. They probably knew their stomachs were empty and the 15 pesos (43 cents Australian) I gave them was not enough for even one kilo of quality rice."

As the girls tugged at his shirt and poked his arms, Joseph raised his voice, "Get your dirty hands off me! Go away!'"

Immediately one girl prompted the other two to return all his coins, but one dropped in a dirty puddle.

"As I reached down for it, my hands got pretty dirty. The girl then caught me off guard as she used the cleanest part of her rainbow coloured malong, a traditional 'tube skirt', and meticulously wiped the wet grime off my hands."

As the girl smiled at him, Joseph says he instantly knew "I was wrong in how I had lived and for believing I was a saved 'born again' Christian."

His ungenerous, unloving nature, Joseph says, showed him that he had prayed a sinner's prayer with selfish motives and was not a true child of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

"These three children showed me what a lifetime of church-going and countless church sermons pastors did not," he adds.

He went back to his room and prayed through tears, "God, I thank you for preserving my life until I was able to know the truth."

Joseph Zanetti with Badjao friends
Joseph Zanetti with Badjao friends who are being assisted by his food support program

As he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole heart, Joseph was so moved by what he had seen that he sold all his belongings in the USA and moved to Mindanao to help the Badjao people.

"It began with a feeding program," Joseph says, "which then evolved into sponsoring their public school education, and eventually starting a learning centre which taught reading, writing and math."

This work was massively set back by a terrifying fire in April 2014 that razed 2000 homes including a Badjao village and the Isla Verde learning centre.

Although no-one was killed or seriously injured, poor sanitation and crowded conditions in their refugee camp resulted in an outbreak of measles.

"There were more than two dozen deaths from measles," Joseph reports, "and most victims were under three years of age. I myself even contracted measles despite being vaccinated as a child."

Joseph is now helping rebuild the village and will keep on working with the Badjao for the rest of his days.

"While my eternal salvation comes only through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for all of us, I owe the Badjao for showing me this," Joseph explains.

"For this reason I have decided to dedicate the remaining years of my life to helping them with education, livelihood projects and eventually I hope, they too will receive the same gift I have through Jesus Christ.

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