Friday, February 28, 2014

Spreading Gospel love

One of our primary tasks as missionaries in Sagay is to work with the youth. We are teaching all the religion classes at Holy Rosary High School; prior to our arrival, the students had no religion teachers at all! Outside the classroom, we have other ways of ministering to the young people. We recently held half-day “recollections” or retreats for the 3rd and 4th year students. The theme of the recollections was the central message of the Gospel:
  1. God loves you and desires to be in a relationship with you...
  2. ...but because of your sins you destroyed that relationship...
  3. God sent His Son to save you from your sins...
  4. ...and now through repentance and grace you can have a new life in Christ and in His Church!
I enjoyed giving the final talk (#4) to wrap up each recollection and to solidify in the students’ minds the importance of being a new creation in Christ! I even taught them a new song on my ukulele:

“I have decided to follow Jesus! No turning back, no turning back!”

I wanted the students to know that their lives truly could change from this point onward -- that they didn’t have to go home and return to their same old sins. After experiencing God’s love and recognizing the power that sin has to separate us from God, the students had the opportunity to go to confession and leave behind the sins of their past.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the retreats was the small group sharings. It was heartbreaking to hear the personal stories they told -- many have experienced the pain of hunger, sickness, broken families, absent parents.  Many feel unloved.  One young man acknowledged that he knows he is supposed to believe that God loves him, but in his heart he does not believe it; the circumstances of his life have left him jaded and discouraged. In such a harsh world, he wonders, what is there to live for?

During one of the recollections, as I was speaking in front of 40+ high school students, I broke down and wept. I cried as I explained to them that we traveled all the way from the other side of the world because we love them. That we came here to share with them the joy and love of Jesus that is overflowing in our own hearts.  And that if they are unable to feel His love at home, from their family or friends, perhaps they can experience it through our love for them.

I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit was able to speak more powerful words through me than the words I had planned to say. I know the students were moved by my honesty and by our true desire to be the face of Christ to them.

Thank You, Jesus, for strengthening the love that I have for the people I serve.  Thank You for making it possible for me to love them because You have loved me first.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lord, make me a doer!

Five girls from my 7th grade religion class stopped by our house this Tuesday afternoon during their lunch break. It was clear they just wanted to spend some time with their new "maestras," so I invited them to accompany me on an errand to the market. As we walked together, they asked me, "Do you have a boyfriend?" I told them no, because a boyfriend is a distraction to new missionaries who should be focusing only on God and on the mission. "Jesus is my boyfriend," I said with a smile. One of the girls excitedly agreed, "Jesus is my boyfriend, too!"

Once we arrived at the market, I asked the girls' opinion on whether they thought I should buy apples or oranges - I only had 25 pesos with me. One piped up, "Oranges!" and explained that they would be easier to divide amongst ourselves; everyone could have a section. For a moment I was speechless - I hadn't even considered sharing my fruit with them. After all, I had so little money in my purse, and I had been dreaming of biting into a juicy apple all day.

But the girls were right. For my Scripture meditation that very morning I read in the letter from James:
 "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror, for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like." (James 1:22-24)

How quickly I had forgotten my role as a missionary, not just to read or speak the Word of God but to act upon it. How easily the bright smiles and humble hearts of these 7th graders put my American "all about me" attitude to shame.

And so we bought the oranges. Praise Jesus, each orange cost only 8 pesos, so I had enough money to buy us 3 oranges to share. We sat on the market steps, eating them happily and discussing stories of the saints. I told them the story of my patroness, St. Agnes - a young Roman girl just their age who was martyred for refusing to marry a nobleman because she had promised her purity to Jesus. The girls listened with rapt attention to everything I told them. Finally, they walked back to school for their afternoon classes, and I returned home, grateful for the reminder that the Lord has called me to this island to be both a hearer and a doer of His Word.

Loving island life!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Home Sweet Sagay

Welcome to our balay! We live in a "missionary cottage" just a few blocks from Holy Rosary Church and the adjoining high school.

In typical Filipino style, our house is very open, and our front porch makes up much of our living space. To provide a little more privacy, Fr. Joe asked his maintenance team to build us a fence. They did a beautiful job -- the men are hard workers and built the fence from all raw materials, using bamboo and wood. Since we have no front door, we especially love having a locking gate!

Romel (far right) has a son and a daughter enrolled at Holy Rosary High School. We enjoyed getting to know him and are excited to be his kids' new religion teachers!

Our open front porch is very welcoming to our new friends and neighbors. Some of the neighborhood children saw us cleaning and bandaging our feet yesterday and immediately showed us their own scraped knees and wounded feet. We were only too happy to lend a hand! This is Wendel.

Last Sunday afternoon we invited the church youth group to our house for snacks and some outdoor games. This is the street in front of our house (see our new fence to the left?). The kids taught us how to play "bon bon" and "open the basket."

 Please pray for our team as we continue to settle into our new environment and mission field! Be assured of our prayers for you!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

First days of ministry

It's a beautiful (and rainy) Monday afternoon in Camiguin! We've been here for 2 weeks now.  Everything is strange and foreign to us, so we are learning quickly how to be both humble and patient with ourselves as we grow accustomed to this new world.

Children are anything but shy about coming over to our house to play! They are so friendly and eager to teach us Visayan words.  

This is Mary Grace, one of our favorites.  She visits us nearly every day and enjoys reading Gospel stories from our English/Visayan Bible. The first story I read with her was about Jesus welcoming the little children.  I told her, “Jesus loves mga bata (children). Jesus loves Mary Grace.”

One of our ministries is visiting barangays or mountain villages with Fr. Joe.  The past two Sundays we have attended special Masses celebrating children’s first communions. What a precious opportunity, to share in this special moment, to remember my own first communion, and to appreciate even more the amazing gift of Jesus in the Eucharist!

Last week, walking along the beach, we met two older women, Nini and Virginia.  They asked us for money to buy bread. We gave them some pesos and offered to pray with them - both are sick with a cough. Nini said, “You heal me.” I told her no, it is God who heals us. Both women were grateful for the money but much more visibly moved by our prayers and the love we showed them. Our encounter with them reminded me once again that my primary job is not to give money to the poor but to bring them Christ.

I have many more stories to share but the internet connection is very slow here. Thank you for being patient, and I hope to write again soon!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sowing the Word

Hi everyone! Sorry I haven't posted in quite some time -- traveling and overcoming jet lag was more difficult than expected. I have many pictures to share, but the internet connection here doesn't seem to be strong enough to upload them, so that will have to wait.

I'll be sure to post details later on what we've been doing since we arrived (meeting the youth group, visiting the barrios or villages with Fr. Joe, getting to know our new neighbors...), but for now I wanted to share two Bible passages that have been on my heart.

As you probably know, the Philippines is a Catholic country. Sometimes we're asked why missionaries would be serving in a place that's already Catholic. Wouldn't it be more worth our time to serve in a non-Christian land? Well, Jesus recently answered that question for me through Scripture.

Isaiah 5 begins with a love song about a man with a vineyard. He carefully tends to his land, hoping it will yield good grapes, but in the end it produces only wild grapes and must be trampled down. As I prayed with this passage, I felt that the Lord was telling me that the Philippines is His vineyard; it has the potential to be a ripe mission field, to produce an abundant harvest, but it desperately needs the witness of zealous Christian evangelists.

I then read from Mark 4, the parable of the sower. It says that the sower sows the word on all different types of soil. Some seeds fall on rocky ground where they cannot take root, and the plants quickly wither in the sun. Jesus explains that this signifies people "who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away." It seemed that the Lord was trying to tell me that people all around the world, Filipinos included, need more than just an initial proclamation of the Gospel. Just having an outline of the basic beliefs of the faith is not enough to sustain you through a lifetime of daily trials and struggles. We must have a living relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must allow the faith to take root in our hearts.

So who will bring new life into the vineyard? And who will till the rocky soil and prepare it to receive the living Word of God? Isaiah 6:8 holds the answer:

"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'"

O Lord Jesus, let us not be afraid to answer Your call. Help us to first cultivate Your Word in our own hearts, and then give us the courage to proclaim it to the world!