Walking into Kuya Mike’s* house is like stepping through a portal: on one side is the din, heat, and color of our village; the other side is an air conditioned, wood carved paradise with coordinated artwork from his travels. Kuya grew up not far from where he lives now. A missions organization sponsored his college education and now he has two good jobs. Though his money gives him the option to leave for someplace else, he chooses to stay with his family and the friends he grew up with. My ate explained that whenever her children lack shoes or food and the family is short on money, they ask Kuya Mike for help. Kuya quickly jumped in to tell us about such a time. Ate Minnie seemed unashamed to ask him for money or to plan activities with him, even if both of them knew that he would have to foot the bill. Kuya seemed proud that he could help her family and excited to spend time with her; he didn’t feel used. He opened his home for people to enjoy movies and a lavish merienda [snack]. This Acts 4 friendship has challenged my notion of flexibility and what it means to love people. I started out with the idea that it’s okay to sacrifice things for others, but there comes a point where self-preservation becomes an issue. Contrary to this is the Filipino concept of loob, the community of loved ones in which one finds identity, feels responsibility, and is free to ask for and make sacrifices without creating debts. Seeing relationships between people like Kuya Mike and Ate Minnie and those in their loob has convinced me that the willingness to give everything for a friend and the humility to receive in the same way can bring friendships to a whole new level.
During my time here, I hope to build that kind of relationship with my host family and community. Right now, that means being intentional in the mundane and choosing to “be” rather than “do”. If my host mother is tired from cleaning and cooking all day, loving her might mean playing with her three-year-old instead of having a long conversation in order to try to get to know her better. Building trust with them also means humbling myself to receive their hospitality. Including me, there are six people to feed each night; I’m usually given about a third the food. Rather than insisting that my Kuya doesn’t have enough or only eating a portion of my food because I know it will upset my stomach, I eat all I am given as a sign of gratefulness to my Ate for cooking and to the family for the food they choose to give me despite the overall lack. It is a struggle to choose into this every day. Out of context my choices make little to no sense. Why should I continue to eat after I’m full when everyone else has barely had enough? The answer lies in my Ate’s smile; when I finish everything on my plate she responds with a subtle smile that pinches her eyes and radiates pride and happiness in being appreciated. Valuing my Ate over my comfort isn’t always easy, but I never regret choosing her.
This trip has made me more aware of what I choose into and opt out of on a daily basis. Talking through my teammates’ experiences and sharing some of my own have given me insight in evaluating the thoughts behind and consequences of my choices. In planning a prayer meeting, I decided to read aloud the English liturgy from a prayer book and have some people read scriptures in Tagalog intermittently. At the time it seemed like the best I could do considering the language barrier. Looking back at that preparation time and where my heart was, I see a desire for unity. My Tagalog isn’t at the level where I could speak coherently, but the attendees have a hard time with English. Perhaps there was a better way to organize the meeting, but I wanted their native language to be a part of it and I lacked the means to accomplish that on my own. As a result, I think people sensed that my team is not here to impose our culture or our language. We’re not perfect entering into life here, but we’re trying. After the meeting, I sat and talked with Ate Daisy* and her husband. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but I felt trapped in this conversation. As a result of my tiredness, I missed out on a lot of what she said. The parts I do remember were meaningful things about her family and her lifestyle. When we interact in the future I may miss opportunities to connect white Ate because my picture of her is missing pieces. Looking back at moments like these helps me to process how I am feeling and what I am thinking as I go, which will hopefully lead to better decisions and more meaningful encounters with people as I go about my day.
Constant, honest introspection has led me to find a lot of flaws in myself. As a result, I’ve had ample opportunity to receive God’s grace. He honors the good I do, forgives the bad, and loves my desire to serve Him regardless. A friend reminded me today that here is power in naming the things we are ashamed of. There is healing and space for God to use our mistakes for His good.
*Names changed for privacy.