Sunday, March 30, 2014

Traveling, Filipino-style

Question: How many missionaries can squeeze into a jeepney?
Answer: More than you can fit in the camera!

These are some (but not all!) of my fellow missionaries serving here in the Philippines. Check out their blogs (linked in my sidebar) to learn more about our ministries and the people we serve here on the island of Camiguin and in the city of Malaybalay.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Being "with"

Such a simple word. Say it too many times and it begins to sound a little funny.

I met this little girl at the orphanage in Malaybalay. As you can see, when I first sat down next to her, she was not at all interested in talking to me. She wouldn’t make eye contact and gave very negative answers to all my questions. No, she doesn’t like to sing or dance. No, she didn’t want to join in the game of frisbee with the other children. And no, she doesn’t like talking to people.

After a few minutes of sitting together, though, she began to open up and even started smiling. See the difference? 

All she needed was for someone to be with her, to show her that she is loved, that she is wanted. By the end of the afternoon, she didn’t want me to leave and kept hugging me tightly, calling me “Ate” or big sister.

While in Malaybalay, I also had the opportunity to visit the city jail. Unlike any jail you might imagine or see in the movies, the inmates were very orderly and polite and so grateful for our presence. We began by celebrating Mass in their community room; in the Eucharist, we are all united as members of the Body of Christ.

We then spent some time just talking with them. Some of the missionaries initiated a game of basketball. Just the simple action of us being with them spoke volumes, that we treated them as our friends.

I think God chose both of these experiences to teach me something about Him. In yesterday’s first reading for the Annunciation, Isaiah prophesies, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us!’” Just like the girl at the orphanage and the inmates at the jail, we need to know that we are not along in our troubles and sorrows. 

Ang Dios uban kanato. God is with us!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Camiguin girls

I am so grateful and blessed to be on mission with three wonderful women! We are all so very different; we complement each other well because each of us has unique gifts to share.

Genevieve has a big heart and an exuberant spirit. She keeps us laughing all the time and brings us back down to earth when we get caught up in the busyness or worries of daily life. Genevieve and I co-teach religion classes at Holy Rosary High School, and while I’m prone to take myself (and our lesson plans) very seriously, she can usually be found joking around with our students -- this makes us a great team in the classroom!

Breana knows how to love well. It doesn’t matter if she is talking with someone in the market or praying with someone who is sick, she always takes the greatest care to show Christ’s love to every person. Our ministry here would be lacking something without her gift of music. Breana has impressive ukulele skills and a beautiful singing voice, both of which she uses expressly for the glory of God.

Alex is our fearless team leader. She brings so much wisdom to our team, both from her past experience living in missions and from her docility in listening to the Holy Spirit and heeding God’s voice in prayer. Alex is bold and doesn’t shy away from doing difficult jobs that need to be done. She is an excellent listener and always seems to know exactly what we need, whether that means scheduling extra time for prayer and praise and worship or setting aside an evening for team fun!

My team is truly a blessing from the Lord!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Called to this life

"Today you are making this agreement with the Lord. He is to be your God and you are to walk in His ways and observe His statutes, commandments, and decrees, and to hearken to His voice. And today the Lord is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly His own, as He promised you; and provided you keep all His commandments, He will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations He has made, and you will be a people sacred to the Lord, your God, as He pronounced." ~Deuteronomy 26

How thankful I am that You created my heart to yearn for you and for a life serving your people, with no permanent residence and few possessions, apart from my family and the comforts of home and all that I loved in the past. But now there are new and different loves.

Love for the children - from the littlest ones with dirty clothes and feet who are nevertheless joyful simply because they are alive and can play in the afternoon sun - to the elder ones who just want the attention and friendship of an "ate," a big sister who will take the time to smile and talk to them about their lives and about Jesus.

Love for the beggars at our gate, several with mental disabilities, asking for money but accepting with gratitude the rice, bread, or bananas we have to offer them.

Love for the fishermen living in little shacks down by the seashore, who work both early in the morning and late at night to provide enough food for their families.

It doesn't make sense, I suppose, that someone blessed with a happy, comfortable life would then choose to take a more difficult road, encountering inconveniences and struggles and often a hurting heart along the way. But I did, and it is always and only because of You. Because You loved me first. Because You gave me everything, free of all cost.

"For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? .... If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." ~Mark 8

Singing praise and worship on the beach during one of our weekly "desert days" set aside for prayer. Spend time with the Lord every day in prayer, and I promise He will pour His graces and abundant blessings upon you!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Meet my new friend Caleb. He is five years old and lives in a children's orphanage in Malaybalay. Caleb cannot walk or move his legs much at all, and his caregivers believe he may have cerebral palsy.

When I first saw Caleb, he was sitting in a stroller, so I sat down on the ground beside him. He doesn't really talk yet, so trying to hold a conversation with him didn't seem like the best option. I pulled out my ukulele and began to play...
"He loves us! Oh, how He loves us! Oh, how He loves!"

Then it was Caleb's turn to play. I helped him at first to strum his fingers along the strings, and he quickly got the idea. Suddenly, a seemingly motionless and expressionless little boy came alive. It was obvious that the sounds made by his gentle touch on each string entranced him, because he plucked them over and over again.

Caleb continued to strum as I positioned my fingers on the frets so he could hear different chords.

People stopped to watch and listen, and some even joined in the fun! My teammate brought her uke to play along with Caleb's song.

After a while, we headed over to the hair-washing station. Other children were having their hair treated for lice, and even though Caleb didn't need it, he was very excited to have his head scrubbed. We warned him that the water would be cold --"tugnaw!" But Caleb didn't mind at all. He just laughed!

And after a nice, long, head massage...

...and another rinse....

...he was clean and ready to go!

Caleb taught me so much even though he spoke no words. He reminded me that joy can be found in unexpected places, and that God values every life regardless of age, intelligence, or skill. Tonight I thought of Caleb as I read this passage from St. Paul's letter to the Romans:

"No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised."

My God, I know that you can do all things. I trust in your promise to Caleb -- I trust that you will give him a future full of hope! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pictures from the mission

Sorry I haven't posted many photos recently! For your viewing pleasure...  :)

Our neighbor Richard gave us a ride on his fishing boat. He loves to read the Bible and learn about different religions, so he had many questions for us about the Catholic Faith.

Handwashing clothes takes longer than you might think! We usually save our laundry for a day when we are not very busy with teaching or ministry projects.

Fr. Joe took us to visit a family whose house burned down on Christmas Day. They lost not only their home but also all of their possessions, including all their savings -- around 2,000 pesos. Here we are at the site of their old house...

...and here is Fr. Joe's maintenance team (the same men who built our fence) constructing a new home on the family's plot of land. Salamat sa Dios!

We were walking across town one day and met Eileen and her aunt, who were drying their fish out in the sun. As soon as we stopped to say hello, Eileen ran over to give us all big hugs -- and she didn't want to let go! Her aunt told us that she is mentally challenged. Eileen's joy was infectious, and we were all blessed by meeting her.

The altar servers-in-training came to our house one afternoon for fellowship and a series of talks by the missionaries! I spoke on the Eucharist, explaining that Mass is not a chore for us to attend to but rather a sacramental celebration - a wedding feast in which Christ offers Himself to the Church, His Bride.

My team was blessed with the opportunity to visit the Divine Mercy Shrine outside of Cagayan de Oro. Jesus, we trust in You!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Barefoot and blind

There are so many moments in missions that go unrecorded, that happen so unexpectedly that they could never be caught on camera. I wish I had an applicable photo to accompany this story, but instead I have only the memory to carry with me.

My team spent this past week helping the missionaries in Malaybalay lead a spring break medical mission trip for American college students. This afternoon we headed to the bus station to begin our trip back to Camiguin.

As we were unloading our bags from the back of the car, a little girl ran up to us, hand outstretched, begging for pesos. We've been cautioned against handing out money on the street; adults often use children to beg money for them and then turn around and spend it on themselves, even for alcohol or cigarettes. A better option is to buy the children food, but this is not always feasible, such as this afternoon as we hurried to get our bags on the bus.

I stopped what I was doing to look into the face of the little girl; one of her eyes was covered with a milky white sheen -- probably blind. As I glanced from her to my luggage and back, wondering what I could possibly give this child that would bless her, I caught sight of her feet. They were wrapped in little plastic bags. It's not uncommon to see barefoot children here, although most of the kids in our neighborhood own at least a beat-up pair of plastic flip-flops -- slippers, they call them. But somehow, seeing this girl with bags on her feet made my heart sink. I wondered in that moment about the condition of her feet -- were they cut up or infected, that she was trying to protect them from the rough and dirty pavement?

And that's when Jesus blessed me by opening my eyes which, like this little girl's, are often blinded, not to the physical world but to the spiritual reality of how God wants to use me.

"And the multitudes asked him [John the Baptist], 'What then shall we do?' 
And he answered them, 'He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none."

I am overwhelmed as I write this by God's goodness, that He gives me opportunities to live out the Gospel in a literal way in my everyday life. You see, I brought two pairs of shoes with me to the Philippines. And this precious daughter of God had none.

"Slippers? Gusto ka?" I asked her as I pulled them out of my backpack. She looked a little confused, then nodded and gingerly moved one foot forward as I placed my flip-flops on the ground in front of her. After sliding her feet into them, she turned around and ran off.

I'll never know her name or whether she has food to eat or a roof over her head, but I pray that the shoes are a blessing to her. May Jesus hold you close tonight, little one.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Joy of the Gospel

I love playing with the neighborhood kids here in Sagay. Even though I am a full-time missionary, not every moment of my day is spent doing official “ministry projects.” I am learning that one of the best ways to share the joy of the Gospel is by sharing myself.

I met Giami this week when she and a few other children were playing in front of our house.  I joined in their game of tag and then invented a clapping game for us to learn each others’ names. “Ako si Rebecca! Uno, dos, tres! Ako si Giami! Uno, dos, tres!” 

Although the children of Sagay have become very dear to my heart, I realize that my love for them is only a tiny fraction of the love that Jesus has for each of His littlest ones. I hope that I can be for them a channel of His love.

“Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thes. 2:8

Monday, March 3, 2014

Speaking her language

Today I spoke with a little Filipino girl -- not in Visayan, not in English, but in sign language. Her name is Shaira Eunice, and she is deaf.

Our mission team accompanied Fr. Joe to a barrio chapel for Mass this evening. After nearly a month of living here in Sagay, it has become the norm for us to attend Mass in a language we do not understand and afterwards to meet parishioners and dine at their homes, capable only of communicating with them in simple phrases.  My dinner conversation in Visayan generally includes “good afternoon,” “delicious food,” and “thank you very much,” but not much else.

After tonight’s Mass ended, we filed out of our pew, and some children came over to greet us. I noticed one girl in particular about 10 years old wearing a pretty pink outfit. I felt compelled to say hello to her, though I didn’t know why. “What’s your name? Unsa imong ngalan?” I asked. She put one hand to her mouth and began gesturing to get the attention of another little girl. And then I understood.

“Deaf you? Your name what?” I signed to her.

“S-h-a-i-r-a  E-u-n-i-c-e.”

“She your sister?” I signed, motioning to the other girl.

“No, friends,” Shaira replied, explaining that her siblings were at home. A few moments later, when some women entered the chapel, she excitedly pointed out one in particular and signed “my mom!” by way of introduction. Seeing the smiles on the faces of both mother and daughter filled my heart with joy.

Sometimes as a missionary, you wonder if your presence can really make a difference in the lives of the people you serve. Aside from the retreats we give and the classes we teach, does our daily existence actually have an impact on the people of Sagay?

And tonight I know that it does. The smile on Shaira’s face as she waved goodbye to me said it all. To her, I was not only a pale-faced missionary from America; I was someone who could communicate in her own personal language, surprisingly better than I could communicate with the people around her.

I never knew exactly why I took sign language classes in college, but I loved learning to sign and hoped that someday I would be able to use it. Turns out God had a plan from the beginning. When you give your life to missions, be prepared for Him to make use of all your gifts and talents -- nothing goes to waste.

“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth”; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak.’” - Jeremiah 1:6-7

How grateful I am that He chose my voice and that He is giving me opportunities to speak!