July 26, 2011 - Timely Reminders
“It’s your last day…last day…last day.” The women at Samaritana keep singing these words to us, reminding us that all the time we’ve spent here is finally coming to an end. It has felt long at times, but now it seems to have gone by so quickly. I feel like we are just starting to get acclimated to being here. My relationships with the women feel stronger than ever and my love keeps growing for my host family. We are very excited to go home and see our friends and families, but we also know that we are going to miss these times spent here and I am positive I will be crying when we say our final goodbyes.
It is amazing to me how quickly you can form relationships with people. These women have definitely made us feel like we are part of the community. Hospitality is very important to the Filipinos and so it was a joy for us to have some opportunities this week to serve our new friends. Yesterday we made brownies with ice cream as a merienda treat for everyone. We were worried about how they would turn out and if we would have enough, but there was actually enough for seconds and the girls devoured them and so did we!
One interaction we had with Filipino hospitality was at church this last Sunday. My teammate and I went to visit our other two teammates in Payatas where they live and go to their church in the slum community. It was our first time attending their church and we already heard about their first experience, but it was still surprising to us when the pastor acknowledged us in front of everyone and asked us to go to the front and share about how we came to know Jesus, what our experience has been like here and then to sing a song for them! After the service, which was all in Tagalog, they again thanked us for visiting, prayed for us, got our contact information and took pictures with us! We were treated like celebrities and it felt strange having all the attention, but also touching at how much joy they found in just our presence.
Much of what we have been doing in Manila has been about our presence in these communities. It has been difficult for us because it always feels like we should be doing more. However, when we had our meeting with some of the founders and staff from Samaritana, Kuya Jonathan told us how powerful the ministry of presence is in doing God’s work. He also reminded us that life is not about what you do, but who you become. Our works will come from the ways God grows us and shapes us. I pray that God will reveal to us the ways He is shaping us from this experience as our time here in Manila comes to a close and we head back to America.
July 15, 2011 - The Full Experience
We are now facing our last full week in Manila. It was such a blessing to come together as a team on our retreat this week. We had time to process and spend time with our Father, while surrounded by God’s beautiful Creation on a little tropical island. Coming back it seems like many of us have seen God in a lot of ways, but we are all craving for more of him. I can’t help but feel like this is exactly where God wants us to be.
A trait I love about the people here is how full of love and joy they are. They are always smiling, laughing, singing and joking. Last Friday my teammate and I were invited to go to Ate Michelle’s house with our host mom and Ate Jome. They wanted us to have a full Philipino experience, which consisted of barbecued chicken stomach, pig’s blood and hot dogs on a stick. When we were leaving we passed by one of the Sari Sari stores that had a karaoke machine and of course we were talked into doing karaoke in the middle of Ate Michelle’s slum community! We sang Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now!” Kids stared from the window and people came to watch and some started dancing with us. It was definitely an experience I will never forget! This was just one of the reminders of how you can find God’s joy in the most unlikely of places. He always amazes me.
Our Onesimo teammates are now at their host families and we are very excited to hear how they are doing. Hopefully tonight we will all get to join the outreach at Samaritana. Something else I have noticed about the Philipino people is how patient they are. I think coming from a culture that is always on the move from one place or task to another, it has been very challenging for us to embrace the pace here. However, it has been a huge blessing to see how patient these women are and the ways that God continues to move in their lives. When the women at Samaritana were asked how they want to grow over this next training session, the majority said that they wanted to grow spiritually. They have already come so far, but it is extremely encouraging to see them asking for even more of God. Their patience reminds us to be patient as well, while we wait upon the Lord to continue doing His work in the little amount of time we have left in this City.
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” -Ecclesiastes 3:9-11
July 7, 2011 - Even In Death
“What is a Trek?” Ate Mary Anne asked us.
“Well, it is like a journey or a big trip, but more intense.”
Everything here is intense for us-the smells, the living situation, the lack of basically everything. I often find myself asking God what it is that keeps these people going? What drives them to wake up each morning and continue each day? Life here is so hard compared to life in the US, or at least for us it seems that way. In the US we wouldn’t be covered with bug bites or have stomach problems, we have medicine and spray for that. We don’t have to haul water in buckets to the house so that we can shower, do dishes and drink clean water. We also don’t have to eat rice for three meals a day because other food is too expensive. And yet, we still have so many problems and concerns that are very similar to the ones here. How am I going to make a living? How do I provide for my family and kids? What can I do for a job? What are the best new songs on the radio? And so much more.
Something else we have very much in common with the people here is death. My host family had a relative pass away last week and yesterday my teammate and I got to attend the funeral. During the previous week they kept the body in a casket at the house while the family hung out and played cards. When we went to view the body we were able to pray with the family, who is Catholic, and join in the card playing. The deceased was only 36 and she left two daughters, 15 and 22, and her husband. They had to ask for donations to help pay for funeral expenses and sadly the ceremony was very short, we think because of the costs.
We rode in a Jeepney with the family to the cemetary. I looked around at all the cement walls that held the graves of the deceased, one on top of the other. On the ground where they placed her, there was mud and trash. Looking out toward the horizon, I saw on the other side of a wall of graves, a vast and beautiful green lawn with large stones and crosses. I was amazed at how even in death there is such a vivid image of inequality. My heart sunk, but then I was also reminded at how God brings redemption and that this section of the cemetary was marked with the graves of God’s prized children because He said that the first shall become last and the last will be first. It made me smile at the thought of how great God is and that although I have a lot of questions, He knows what He is doing. As long as we keep trusting Him, His love can never fail us…even in death.
July 6, 2011 - He Is Near
We are back at our team home after our first full week at our sites. It seemed slow at first, but now we can hardly believe that we only have 3 weeks left!
Immediately we were bombarded with the harsh realities that come with being poor in this tropical climate. The typhoon was hitting hard last Friday night and my host family asked me if I knew how to sweep. With uncertainty I said yes and asked if they wanted me to sweep right then. They said no, but if they flooded then I could sweep. We laughed, but I know inside that they were actually being serious. It suddenly struck me that I was in a place where there was very little security and absolutely no guarantees. All we could do was pray and trust God. Thankfully I did not need to sweep that night.
Sharing as a team we have gotten to see glimpses of how much God has already moved in such a short amount of time. In Onesimo some of my teammates shared about an activity they did where they had to write on a paper things they were holding onto and then were asked to give them up to the Lord. One of the girls at the site wrote down her family and my teammates could hear her crying all night long. They could see how broken the families of these girls are and how fortunate many of us are to have loving families. We can take so much for granted, but this taught us how important it is to remind ourselves of the blessings we have been given and to be thankful for them.
At Samaritana we had our first outreach on Friday. We headed to the streets of Manila excited to have this chance to come face to face with what these women deal with. That night we met Angel. She was so open to us about her situation and why she does what she does. She explained that her parents died when she was very young and she has four siblings she must care for. When we asked her whether she believed in God she said yes and that she prays to Him every day that He would help her. Although I felt like I could be little help to her situation, I knew that God was listening. I felt peace in knowing that He is already pursuing her and that one of these days He will bring redemption to her life.
It is amazing to us how much love is present in the lives of these women and girls. Even if they don’t know God yet, we can see that He is very near. God dwells in this place amidst the beggars and prostitutes and poor and homeless. He is here waiting for us to continue His work. As we head into next week I pray that His love would grow even stronger in our new communities.
June 27, 2011 - Coming Clean
Sawatdee Ka! This is how we have learned to say hello in our new home country for the next week during orientation. We arrived in Bangkok on Saturday morning, and amidst the jet lag there was a definite excitement to begin our adventure abroad.
The city was like nothing I have ever seen before. Growing up in a small town I saw the city as a place of freedom and opportunity with big shiny buildings and people in business suits. As we explored Bangkok more, it became clear that the reality is that cities are often a place of contradictions. There were still people dressed nice and big buildings, but there was also a clear picture of poverty with people lining the streets and open-air sewers mixing with the scent of humidity and guay teow (noodle) dishes.
Back at the guesthouse we were being oriented into what it means to do incarnational ministry and live among the poor. We played games like the circle of privilege to recognize our differences as a group and be thankful for the joy that we all get to experience through knowing God. Our Manila team was beginning to grow as a family as we learned more about each other and realized what God is calling us to do this summer.
I think we were most stunned by our trip to Pat Pong. This was a modern city where tourists came from all over the world to shop at the street vendors and dine at the amazing Thai restaurants. Across the sidewalk, next to crowds of shoppers and vendors, another commodity was for sale. There were girls around the same age as us who were dancing in bars with fake smiles plastered on their faces. We felt sick to our stomachs at the gross reality that seemed so normal in a busy place like this. We prayed that God would enter into their lives so that they can know true freedom and the love that He has to offer.
On our last day in Bangkok we were discussing the things that we will have to leave behind us before embarking to our host countries. We began a time of prayer for those things, whether relational or material. As Joel (a staff leader of the Kolkota trip) was praying for me there was suddenly a pounding coming from outside. The heavens opened and rain was pouring from the sky. I felt Jesus raining down on us to wash away all that we left behind so that we would have open hearts going into our new homes and country. As we begin our journey in Manila, my prayer is that we all are able to see God’s presence in the beautiful contradictions that the city has to offer us.