August 11, 2010 – Learning to Walk Again
Being thrown back into the world of the United States this last week and a half has been like learning how to walk.
I had no idea what it would be like – or if I would actually be able to stand. Debrief was a great preparation for going home, but nothing would prepare my heart to walking off the plane seeing people in $200 jeans with Starbucks coffee in hand.
The slum communities we all spent our summer in seem so far away, yet so close to our hearts. I don’t believe any of us realized how much we had changed until we were thrown back into the societies from which we had grown up in.
My first night back, God revealed what the Trek had done to me. My mom and sister asked me to go to the grocery store with them the first night back. Wanting to spend time with family, I thought nothing of it and accompanied them. From the first step in the store, I knew I was in a foreign place – almost as if I was starting the Trek all over and trying to take it all in.
My mom described me as deer in the headlights. I could not focus; my eyes seemed to jump from shelf to aisle to fridge. There were so many colors and so much food, I felt as if my eyes were having a seizure. What began as a normal task (walking in a grocery store) quickly turned into slow and uncertain meandering up and down aisles.
I tried to fight back the tears. Manila flashed to my mind: the kids on the streets, my boys at my center only a small piece of chicken and an abundant amount of rice to fill their stomachs. At that moment I broke down, tears poured out and I had no idea what was happening to me.
I was scared. I knew this trip had changed me. I knew I would never be the same.
But God provided me with a compassionate family who helped me process and understand that what I was going through was completely normal. God had answered my (and many of our) prayers at the beginning of the summer to be transformed by giving us hearts for the poor.
I realized in that grocery store that at random times I would sense my friends from the Center in my heart and see in my mind the children on the streets.
Many of us are asked, “How was your summer?” The only response I’ve found is, “God has changed my life forever – I now know what the Gospel is.”
I’ve been a Christian for a couple years now, so shouldn’t I have already known the Gospel? To me, the Gospel used to be a passage from hell and into heaven. Now I realize Jesus was saying the Gospel is willingness to suffer for others, willingness to incarnate myself with the least on this Earth, to find him there, and to experience the Love he desires we all have.
July 29, 2010 – Poverty’s Face
“How was your summer?”
The question all of us Trekkers face in about 48 hours. Here at debrief, we are all realizing is not an easy question to answer, nor will we receive the responses we might be looking from people back home. We all imagined what it would be like for us all to take the first step off the plane into a place that has been foreign for six weeks.
A place rich in opportunity, free of smog pollution, filled with varieties of delicious food, but ultimately suffering from spiritual poverty: the United States. We don’t resent the place we came from, but we do ultimately realize its brokenness and our own that we had before we came on this Trek – something we will continue to fight against.
Much of our processing has been hard because our emotions and spirits are constantly taking 180 degree turns. I miss my family in the Philippines, but my family in America is important as well. Poverty for a long time was something I saw on the front of Time magazine or read about in National Geographic. But for me, poverty now has a face.
When we see a man asking for money we will see our Onesimo kids we spent five weeks with, and the Samaritana women we helped to get off the streets. When someone speaks of a squatter community it won’t be across the globe, but in our hearts resonating with the Manila neighborhoods we called home.
Dave, the director of the Bangkok Trek, put it simply for us: our mission is not done. We are now equipped missionaries going back to the United States to tell people what the world is like, to pop the bubble the U.S. media and culture has allowed us to grow up in, to grow people’s hearts for street children in Manila or prostitutes in our own urban cities. We all know that at times our emotions will dictate how we react to certain situations back home, but God has also instilled a responsibility in us not to remain quiet.
I believe our biggest fear is that people will not understand our experience. The truth is we realize people won’t because they did not come here. But we do pray God would place in our paths people of compassion to listen.
Many of us this week have found that the tears fall down randomly whenever the Lord sees fit. We know that praying before dinner at home will remind us of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines going hungry, but hearing Hillsong will remind us of them lifting their hearts and hands to worship the God that brings them hope.
One thing is for certain this summer: none of us will ever be the same. This trip has shaped who we will be for the rest of our lives. It is beautiful because God has been the ultimate sculptor.
July 25, 2010 – Between Two Homes
Our stay in Manila is coming to a close. It’s weird to have already entered the debriefing stage and to start processing what it will mean to reenter our own society and culture after living in one so different from our own.
Still, so much has happened this past week. From the prayer walk with the Samaritana team to Onesimo Foundation Day to our despedida (goodbye party) with our host families and organizations, God couldn’t have been more present.
I asked the team serving with Samaritana (Sarah, Sophia, Audrey, & Niki) to create a testimony of their experiences and God’s presence in those experiences. Their story is one to remember. Here is what Sophia wrote:
On our second outreach with Samaritana, we walked Quezon Avenue in hopes of befriending the women who would be working the streets. I was walking with an Ate (older sister or mentor), and as she held my arm, we walked past a building with bright lights and a sign reading, “Luxury Hotel.” She then told me that it was all a front to cover up the prostitution happening inside. At this my heart sank, and I wanted somehow to run inside with my Ate and save every single woman.
As we kept walking, I realized I couldn’t do that, but God could. I started to wrestle with God about how he chooses to work. I asked him, “Why don’t you choose to rescue them all at once? There is so much injustice, pain and brokenness here. Why don’t you just fix it? I don’t understand your ways.”
As I said this, I looked up ahead and saw two beautiful Ates who have come from that life. They are now transformed and walking with eagerness to go and share the love of God with other women. God delivered them one by one and by this has turned their brokenness into beautiful testimonies for other women.
This was a life-changing moment for me because I saw how true this story is in my own life. By sharing life with these women, who are so much like me, I was able to witness the power of the gospel lived out. At our despedida we got to share with each other just how much we have mutually impacted one another’s lives and have been Christ for each other.
We left them with encouragement from Philippians 2 and they prayed for our futures and our walks with God. It was a beautiful glimpse of what God had done in just four weeks. Having been changed, we left hoping this wasn’t goodbye, but “see you later.”
Saying good-bye to our families here in the Philippines has been one of the hardest things for each of us, because this culture has shown us what it means to have Jesus within us and to love one another. Each of us will always call the Philippines home in our hearts.
July 14, 2010 – By the Shovelfull
The Filipino road is hard (if you can call garbage piles with tire marks a road). That’s what Edmond told me as we walked the streets.
Edmond was right, but I believe hard or difficult does not begin to describe the life many people here in squatter slum communities are forced to lead. I had asked God to break my heart and to give me that “Aha” moment, but it was more like a quick punch to the gut that almost made me sick and left me gasping for air.
Ron, Monica, Andrew, and I were invited by Marvin and David to visit his family during a routine monthly family visit that the Onesimo foundation requires. A boy from our center in Tondo, Edmond, also tagged along. Little did the four of us know the journey God was leading these three young men to take us on.
We first ate lunch at David’s parents’ apartment. It was about the size of a tiny studio apartment, and housed seven children. After being accommodated there better than at a five star resort (these people take service to a new level) we made our way to see David’s older brother’s and sister’s houses.
You think you know poverty until you walk these areas. Most poverty in the U.S. does not even scratch the surface of the type of brokenness we are seeing and living in.
It took everything in us to fight back tears as we witnessed this world we had helped to create. Farm animals in America live in better conditions. As we walked, the boys explained how this used to be their life and asked what we thought of what we were seeing. We said we were heartbroken.
These conditions are not because these people don’t work hard or try for a better life, but because the world has cast them aside. My anger first was directed at God, but I realized he was in this place; on the wall in David’s sister’s small home a sign read, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
I then turned my frustration toward myself and our country and governments who have swept these prominent issues under the rug. Until this moment, it had felt like I was eating with a large cooking spoon, and now God was bringing out the shovel. My job as blogger is to share with people at home about our experiences, but 500 words doesn’t do justice and no words can explain our love for these people or how our hearts break.
We are starting to feel God here more than ever in our lives. Onesimo lives by this verse: Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
God is beginning to equip all of us in a way we may bring justice to the poor through him and bring it back home to show others.
July 7, 2010 – A Prayer that Works
If there is one thing we have taken note of here in Manila, it is the brokenness of families in the slum communities. Not every family is hurting, but we see brokenness taking over places like Payatas, Tondo, Mendez, Frisco, and Philcoa.
A common prayer for us has been for God to break our hearts for the people here and the response from God has been just that. Many of us began the trip by praying for families to stay together and for them to be reunited, but our team member Carlo made us realize we should be praying a very different prayer. We should pray for people to find God and build relationships with him.
You may ask yourself, Why would he say this? In order for you to understand, we must get to hearing Carlo's miraculous story from this last week.
Carlo is a Filipino-American who was born here in the Philippines, but left with his mother at the age of one. He's one of the three on our team of 17 that has a background with the native language of Tagolog. Since the day Carlo left he has never been able to meet his father, something I personally realized I had taken for granted after watching Carlo's story unfold.
Carlo was brought back here to the Philippines 20 years later on a mission trip. He got the miraculous opportunity of meeting his father as did the rest of the team. Carlo told us he wanted his father to understand that it wasn't by any means other than his pursuit of Jesus earlier this school year that he was able to meet his “Pop.” Carlo didn't come here to meet his father, but to show his native culture Jesus and to experience Jesus through them.
We now understood why Carlo told us to pray that people would find Jesus and said that God would take care of the rest. Jesus fixes the brokeness.
No, not everyone has great stories of reigniting a relationship as Carlo did, but here at Onesimo and Samaritana, miracles like this are happening. Teenagers who could barely read or write are now going to college. Women who used to be trapped in the prostitution system are now building families with other women because of their faith in Jesus.
As we work with our organizations we often catch ourselves wiping away tears. When we watched Carlo's story unfold, we realized that we have been overlooking the everyday things (like someone going to college) as miracles from God. We are learning still where God is present in this world and only beginning to understand how much praise he deserves.
July 4, 2010 – One of Their Own
This first week amongst our host families and centers has, at times, felt slow. But as we look back, it also feels over too soon.
Our adjustments into this new culture have had to be quick. There wasn’t much choice as we moved directly into some of the poorest communities of Manila.
We are all missing family, but still find love here in our communities. The culture is drastically different from everyday life in America, but the faith and hope of the kids of Onesimo and the women of Samaritana keep us inspired.
They have taken us in as one of their own. We have been sleeping next to one another, eating together, reading to each other, and sharing testimonies – all with our host culture. For the guys, it often feels like a bachelor pad. Boys aged 14 to 20 play guitar and sing worship songs to take minds off the heat.
These guys and girls we live with have so much faith, yet have been through so much. They come from broken families, and some live by themselves on the streets. Each woman from Samaritana and kid from Onesimo have different pasts. Many enter the programs after recovering from substance abuse and finding freedom in Christ.
Our hearts want to love on these young adults and women the world has cast aside. Hearing one another’s stories is often heart-breaking as we share during team time.
One girl at the Mendez Onesimo center had asked teammate Christina why she had to suffer. Why her? Why is she poor in a slum community with a broken family? Questions like this are often asked of us when we are with our host friends and families. For most of us, these are unusual questions – ones we are never asked back home. The only way we truly know how to answer them is with hope from God.
The Filipino culture has been accommodating to us all. Although most of us have no Filipino decent, we feel like family with the people.
From cooking with our Tatays and Mamas (center parents), to making jewelry with women leaving prostitution, learning from our Filipino friends has been awesome. Often we do all these things while worshiping the glorious God who has both brought us here and brought many of these clients out of such despair.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ with them. Though the slums look like the darkest places, we are getting to see the light of Jesus’ presence here.
June 21, 2010 – At the End of the Street
We have been in Bangkok for a week already. Tomorrow we leave for the Manila slum communities we will inhabit for the next four weeks.
Orientation was an experience in itself – from learning through simulations what a new culture would look like, to getting a taste of what it means to live amongst the poor. It’s amazing to see how much work the Lord has already done in each of us. It feels our team truly is growing as a family of God: crying, laughing, singing, praying, and eating amazing Thai food with one another.
None of this compared, however, to Monday night when we had the opportunity to walk the Red Light Districts of Bangkok. For the first time, I saw the brokenness of this world.
We were split into three groups with the other Treks (going to Kolkota and Bangkok) for a prayer walk down some of the most prominent red-light districts in Thailand. Many of us were worried and fearful before leaving, having no idea what to expect.
But God soon transformed our hearts before embarking on the adventure. We realized God was already doing work in such places. Many of these women were longing for a way out of the system they had entered just to make a decent amount of money.
When we walked down the street, it did not seem real. This red-light district wasn’t located in a slum community or down some scary alley, but in the middle of downtown next to huge skyscrapers. Bars lined the streets with women standing, waiting for an interested passerby.
As we walked, we prayed silently for God to not only enter these women’s hearts and show them a way out, but also to enter the hearts of the customers, because they too were dealing with longing for love.
We had been learning all week about ‘iconic moments.’ Never did I think mine would happen at the end of that street before we turned to walk back. A song was playing in a bar, “If I could then I would, Go wherever you will go, Way up high or down low. I’ll go wherever you will go.” A couple of us stared at one another and could not believe how present God was in that moment. He signified that no matter where we go he will be, whether in dark places or light.
We returned that night, but it was not the same as our previous days in Bangkok. Many of us were in shock because our hearts were breaking for God’s children who worked and purchased from these red-light districts. They were our brothers and sisters and we knew it was our job as followers of Christ to reach out to such a community.
We officially started to realize what God is calling us to, as we prepare for Manila tomorrow. It’s crazy to think that God called each of us together from throughout the United States to reach the oppressed and live amongst the poor. We know God has great plans for us when we reach Manila.