Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jesus loves the little children

...and so do I! Here are just a few snapshots of precious moments I've shared with the children of Sagay.

Mary Hart and her little brother Gibo were slow to warm up to us,  but they're not so shy anymore!
My teammate's birthday breakfast shared with Sherry, Danica, Junmar, Mark Vincent, Mary Grace, and Windal.
Picking lice from Mary Grace's hair...and trying to protect my own hair in the process!
Playing tag with Giami and her friends.
Windal, Mark Vincent, and Mary Grace hamming it up on our front steps.
Mark playing under a leaf in front of our house during a recent typhoon rainstorm.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Called to teach

On Palm Sunday afternoon, I headed to the church to pray. I love the busyness of Sagay and the ever-growing posse of children who have become my dearest friends, but on this particular afternoon I was really looking forward to having some quiet time with the Lord. The church was empty other than a group of devoted parishioners gathered in the front pews, and I felt almost victorious for having successfully walked the few blocks from our cottage without being seen by any of the kids.

But my victory was short-lived. After some moments of peaceful prayer, I noticed a little scraggly-haired boy approaching each of the parishioners to “bless” them, a traditional Filipino custom to show respect to elders.

Guess who it was? None other than Mark Vincent, our friendly neighborhood “little rascal.” Annnnd here comes the rest of the gang....and now they’ve spotted me.

Of course they jubilantly hasten to surround me. It’s Jonas and Giami, as well as everyone’s favorite sibling trio (Mark, Mary Grace, and Mark Vincent), all munching on green mangoes. We have broken conversation in both English and Visaya for quite some time before I announce that it is time for me to pray.

“Shh, simbahan...balay ni Jesus,” I say, reminding them that racing around the pews is not appropriate here in the house of God.  But they can’t stay quiet for long, so I take them out of the church. Once outside, I notice that several of them are concealing pieces of chalk in their shirts.

 “Gikan asa?” I ask. Where is it from?

From the church, they admit. Providentially, I see before us the stone tablets gracing the front yard of the church property and bearing the Ten Commandments in Visaya.

“Numero syete...Ayaw kamo pagpangawat,” I teach them. You shall not steal! And so they return the chalk with my promise that we will head to the store to buy some for ourselves.

Along the way, they ask me for breakfast -- they all attest that they have not yet eaten, and now it is early afternoon. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not, but my heart has already melted into a puddle on the street. Wala bugas, they say; there is no rice at home. And so, holding hands and dodging motorelas, our happy band skips along to the store. We purchase the desired chalk, as well as bread and bananas for all of us to share. Bystanders on the street shout good-naturedly to us, remarking about “my” many children. I just smile and call “vamos!” whenever the kids’ pace begins to slow. There is still a lesson to be learned!

“Numero syete?” I urge them to repeat the commandment several more times, hoping it will sink into their minds and hearts. 

As a missionary, I don’t always see the fruits of my labor, but sometimes the Lord generously blesses me with visible proof that my work is not in vain.  And such was the case on this Palm Sunday afternoon. When we arrived back home in front of the cottage, I supplied each child with a piece of chalk, and little Jonas immediately knelt down on the pavement and began to write...

7. Ayaw pagpangawat

As I recall this experience with the children, I realize that Jesus sent them to find me in the church, not as an interruption but as an invitation. He is inviting me to a ministry of teaching young children the Catholic faith.

How appropriate that the first reading at Palm Sunday Mass came from Isaiah 50:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught. Morning by morning He wakens, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

Every day in prayer, the Lord opens my ears so I can hear what He wants to teach me. He trains my tongue with the words He wants me to say. Finally, He gives me opportunities to share what I have learned.

I am blessed to have such a captive audience that is hungering for knowledge of God. Please pray for me as I continue to learn more Visaya so I can better communicate Christ’s love to these children.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Missionary packing list

When you decide to become a foreign missionary, don’t leave home without:
  • being 100% sure that the Author of the universe has called you to this life. It’ll be far too easy to give up if you think you’re here of your own accord.
Swimming with Junmar on an outing to Mantigue Island

  • a watch. Cheap enough that you don’t mind giving it away to the first person who asks you for it, but hardy enough that it will survive anything (and waterproof is a must, especially for island missionaries).

  • your Bible. You’ll be going nowhere fast without the living Word of God, so don’t even consider leaving it behind.
Throwing a birthday party with some of our new friends!

  • Chacos (or Keens, if you like that sort of thing). If I’m only gonna own one pair of shoes, I’m really glad this is it. In this case, good quality is worth it.

  • a sturdy water bottle. Again, if you’re an island missionary, it'd better hold at least one liter.
Meeting children at the St. Augustine Cathedral in Cagayan de Oro
  • a notebook. You should probably carry this on your person at all times, since it serves as a prayer journal as well as a place to record the names of everyone you meet and common phrases in your new language.
Having a restful day of prayer in the mountains outside Malaybalay
  • an awesome team! You’ll need holy missionary friends to challenge you when you’re growing lukewarm and to remind you that there’s nothing that prayer and a carton of ice cream can’t fix.

There’s a whole host of other items you should probably have on hand, but these are the bare necessities. And I realize every day how grateful I am to have them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A night for giving

To me, generosity means not how much I can give but rather the spirit in which I give it.

Mark and Windall came to our house on this particular evening asking me to buy a new pair of flip-flops for Mark, who had none. So I took them on a quick trip to the market. Townspeople often tend to stare at the lone white girl walking down the street, and even more so when she has several Filipino children in tow.  Once inside the store, we didn’t make too much of a ruckus, although one of the boys did manage to knock some food onto the floor; thankfully, the shop owner didn’t seem to mind. 

On the way back, they began begging me, as little children do, to buy them food. I considered it for a moment, but when I realized they had their eyes on snack bags, I thought better of it.  “Let’s go back - paingon sa akong balay para kan-on.”  They agreed to the idea of returning to my house for some rice, so we headed home. While my team prepared dinner, the boys and I read from a picture book about Jesus. I couldn’t understand the words written in Tagalog, but I could help Mark, who is still learning to read, to pronounce them.

Finally, it was time to eat! Both boys were thrilled with their bowls of rice and soy sauce, and I’m so grateful that my teammate caught their beautiful smiles on camera. Jesus tells us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and yet when I give of myself I receive so much in return. Thank you, Mark and Windall, for teaching me to be generous with my time, my patience, and my love.