Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I have called you friends - John 15:15

When our team arrived in the Philippines, one of our first prayer intentions was for friendship - that we would become real friends with the people we served. It only took a few weeks for God to answer that prayer. We quickly met Reymond, Reyvise, and Richard - three of the young adults working on the Holy Rosary parish staff and living at the convento or rectory. All three boys are originally from a tribe located in the mountain villages of Magsaysay, Mindanao, but when they were young Fr. Joe adopted them into his household. Living with Father provided them with adequate food and shelter, a good home environment, and a better opportunity for high school and college education.
Reymond, Reyvise, and Breana enjoy singing and playing music together
Over the past four months, we have grown to truly love these remarkable young men who inspire us with their devotion to Christ and to the Catholic faith despite difficult life circumstances. They were among our first Bible study attendees and loved singing both English and Visayan praise songs with us. They taught us how to cook Filipino dishes, which were at first so foreign to us. They were patient with us as we began learning our first Visayan words and phrases.
Richard joins us for a picture in our faculty robes at Holy Rosary's high school graduation
This week we said a tearful goodbye to the boys. They made the decision to return home to the mountain to find work, ideally in their field of study (electrical engineering), to provide financial support for their families. We can’t know God’s plan - if or when our paths will cross again - but we do know that He placed them in our lives at the perfect time to bring us the joy of true friendship during our first months in a new home.

Thank you, Vise, for your kind and generous heart and for sharing with us your gift of music on the guitar.

Thank you, Richard, for your untiring work for the church and your great knowledge of both English and Visayan.

Thank you, Mae, for your humor, your words of wisdom, and your love for little children.

We love you and miss you guys! God bless you on your newest adventure!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Father's farm

As part of our ministry here in Camiguin, we enjoy helping Fr. Joe with his “livelihood projects.” The goal of all these endeavors is to provide for those in need and to supply people with the resources and knowledge necessary for them to provide for themselves.

The first of the watermelon crop -- freshly picked and warmed by the sun!
In addition to fish ponds and a salt plantation, Fr. Joe and his maintenance team have established a fully functioning farm on the side of a mountain. The land is generously lent to Father by a church parishioner, and the crops harvested are sold at a very low price to parishioners and townspeople. The farm itself also provides jobs for men who might otherwise be unemployed.

Planting a highland, low-moisture variety of rice: take a step forward,
measuring 8 inches with your foot, drop rice grains, use your toes to cover them with dirt, repeat.
When Fr. Joe was first assigned as a priest on Camiguin, he asked the local people why, if they were lacking in food, did they not grow food for themselves. He was told that the island is too wet and rainy for some crops but too dry for others. Never one to take no for an answer, Father set out to prove that farming is not only possible but a very practical solution to the problem of hunger.
The caribou used to plow the fields -- yeehaw!
So far we've helped to plant rice and to harvest melons and string beans (each about 2 feet in length!). Even with successful harvests, there are still some losses and obstacles along the way. Many melons still on the vine split open after an unusually hot morning due to the drastic temperature change. Currently, we are facing a drought, which has already caused rice fields on other farms to dry up. The maintenance team is working with Fr. Joe to devise a new irrigation system for several of our crops, and in particular for the rice.
My brother Paul enjoying his first coconut at the farm.
A visit to the farm wouldn't be complete without our favorite treat: buko! Our friends help us cut open the young coconuts with their machetes so we can drink the sweet water inside.  Once it is empty, we eat the gelatinous meat of the coconut using a makeshift spoon carved from the coconut itself.

Please pray for the continued success of Fr. Joe's farm, for rain for the fields, and for God to pour out His abundant blessings on the farmers who work so tirelessly in service of the greater church!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Semana Santa: Holy Week, Filipino-style

It's a little late, but I wanted to share a few pictures with you from our very eventful Holy Week. As we quickly learned, "Semana Santa" is the most anticipated week of the year here in the Philippines. There was no shortage of processions, some in the very early morning and others late at night.

The week began with Palm Sunday. Unlike in the U.S., people bring their own beautifully-crafted palm branches from home to have them blessed and to carry them in a procession through the streets. We stopped several times along the way to listen to children dressed as angels and singing songs of praise.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, Fr. Joe invited our mission team to accompany him to the cathedral in Cagayan de Oro for the Chrism Mass. The bishop celebrated Mass, and over 100 diocesan and religious priests were in attendance. After Mass we joined some of the priests for dinner at the bishop's house. Through our work with Fr. Joe, we are blessed to have met quite a few priests in the archdiocese, and we are always glad for a chance to visit with them.

Many Filipinos and even international tourists come to Camiguin during Semana Santa for a pilgrimage walk around the island, ending at "the walkway," a set of life-size Stations of the Cross that wind up the side of a mountain. We didn't complete the entire 63km trip, but we and a few of our friends from the parish staff did walk the 20km from Holy Rosary Church in Sagay to the walkway.

Holy Saturday morning was an opportunity for us to serve the parish altar servers and sacristans, many of whom are also students in our religion classes at Holy Rosary high school. We gave them a short retreat, teaching them about the importance of building a relationship with Jesus through prayer and Scripture study. My stick figure diagrams demonstrating how we should make Jesus the center of our lives were a hit!

Easter vigil Mass is always my favorite Mass of the year, packed with symbolism, special traditions, and Christian rituals, and this year was no different. I was grateful for my English missal so I could follow along with all the readings and prayers. Adult lay ministers and experienced altar servers had an opportunity during Mass to renew their commitment to the Church, and newly-trained altar servers were formally initiated and received their vestments for the first time.

After a busy-yet-very-blessed week, Easter Sunday finally arrived! I never thought I'd be wearing my heavy-duty hiking sandals to Easter Mass, but then again I never thought I'd be a missionary in the Philippines, either. I guess God has other plans sometimes!

Christ is risen, alleluia!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Being served

Sometimes we try too hard. Sometimes we create in our minds an image of what it means to be a Christian or a missionary, a person who is flawless in every way, minus the actual halo. And while it is true that God expects much of us (“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” ~Mt 5:48), He does not expect us to shed our our very selves or that which makes us human.

All of this to say, I’m missing home this week more than usual. Friday afternoon you could have found me in church, sitting on the floor in front of the first pew, looking at the crucified Christ and asking Him why life seems hard sometimes. But, as usual, my intended “silent” prayertime was slightly disrupted by little voices that emerged in the pews behind me. I ignored them for a while until I began hearing words that referred unmistakably to me (“missionary......Bible.....”). So I turned around, smiling albeit with tears in my eyes, to say hello to three curious young girls.

“Are you crying?” one asked me with great interest.

“Yes, because I miss my family, akong familia” I replied, struggling to find the Visayan words for what I wanted to say. “They are dili doul, far away in America.”

We all sat quietly for a moment until I recollected my “missionary face” enough to ask the girls their names and ages. As it turned out, they had arrived in the church early for “Flores de Mayo,” a daily Catechism lesson held for children during the month of May. A few minutes later, two teens from the parish entered the church and began preparing day’s program, so I said goodbye and walked home.

A little embarrassing, I thought, for me to be found crying by the very people I came here to serve. I wondered what they must think of me, an American girl with comparatively few worries in life when you consider the broken families and neglected children that abound in our small town of Sagay.

How grievously I underestimate the human capacity for empathy and compassion! The following afternoon, my teammate brought me two cards that she received from girls who ran up to her in church looking for “Ate” (big sister) Rebecca.

The cards read:
“Dear Ate Rebecca, Don’t be sad, because we will love you as we can, and don’t missed your family because were here, to love you as more as more as more. Love, Julymae”
“Dear Ate Rebecca, Don’t be sad, because you will see your family soon if you will go to America. And don’t be sad, because you have three friends that loves you..... And I love you too..... Jiean’s B-est F-riend F-orever is Ate Rebecca!!! When I first time see you I feel that your a good missionary... Love, Jiean”

The last sentence of Jiean's note is the most comforting to me because, in our encounter at church, I did nothing "missionary-like." If anything, I allowed the girls to serve me as they asked with concern about my sadness and about my family. But perhaps being a missionary is not about having my entire life under control or always looking put-together. Maybe the best missionary is the one who acknowledges her humanness and offers it to the Lord as a pleasing sacrifice, tears and all.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Loving His children

Once the neighborhood children discovered that we have a supply of band-aids and hydrogen peroxide, they began coming frequently to our house to show us their cuts, blisters, and burns. This picture was taken Easter morning -- as you can see, I'm still wearing my Easter outfit. :)

I have no medical background, and growing up I was always afraid of doctor visits and would shy away from blood and needles. But God has a funny way of proving his omnipotence over our human weaknesses. All my "little friends" in Sagay know that, when they bring me their hurts, I will treat them will love and gentleness. What a beautiful reminder of how Jesus cares for me in my sickness, how He heals my wounded heart.

Thank you, sweet Jesus, for loving me. Thank you for letting me love your children.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Where I call home

“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay His head.” - Matthew 8:20
Our first in-house Bible study!
I live in a great house. Though primitive by American standards, in my neighborhood I am quite rich. I have a shower head in the bathroom, a gas range in the kitchen, and a floor mat to sleep on.

Every morning I step onto the porch and am greeted by the most beautiful island view. The cracks between the floor boards mean there is no need for a dustpan when I sweep. Having a dining room and living area without walls make it easy to toss banana peels and mango pits over the porch railing.

Sometimes, when the termite dust and ant trails through our bedroom seem never-ending, when stray dogs and cats manage to make their way into our house following the scent of last night’s dinner, when the neighborhood water line is turned off in the middle of your cold shower, you might long for the comforts of an American home. But only for a moment, because secretly, you love being inconvenienced and having to learn new ways to live. You love being in solidarity with those whom you previously labeled as “less privileged” than yourself. You love understanding a little more clearly through lived experience what Jesus meant when He said He had no place to lay His head. 

The earth is passing away, and so we live not for this world but for the next. Let us not make our houses abound with such pleasure and comfort that we will be loathe to leave them when Jesus finally calls us home.

Monday, May 12, 2014

April 28: A happy birthday post :)

I am 25 today.

If you had asked me 5 or even 10 years ago, "Where do you see yourself at 25," my answer would have been a far cry from today's reality. How different my life is than I expected it would be!

Friends coming to serenade me for an early morning "mananita" birthday celebration!
I anticipated never venturing farther than the east coast of the U.S.  My home is now an island in the Pacific Ocean.

I imagined that I would be married by now. As it turns out, Jesus is my first and, for the present, my only love.

I thought that, at 25, I might already have one or two children of my own. Though not technically mine, God has brought more children than I can count into my life for me to love and care for.

I used to dream of sipping caramel lattes in quaint coffee shops. These days, I drink fresh coconut water straight out of the coconut, standing in the shade of its tree.
Learning how to scale a coconut tree -- harder than it looks!
I thought I might be well-versed in classic literature or subscribe to women's magazines. The Scriptures are instead the fodder for my mind and soul.

My life is nothing like I imagined it would be, and praise the Lord for that! Life on mission is always an adventure, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Improv praise and worship session with a ukulele and makeshift drums
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." ~Isaiah 55:8-9

To my family:

Thank you for understanding when you do not hear from your daughter for 2 or 3 (or 4) weeks at a time. Thank you for praying for me every single day. Thank you for saying yes and standing beside me at each yard sale, at each airport, at every step along the way in preparation for this mission. Thank you for being patient as I struggled to transition from your world into the unknown, to stand on my own two feet, and to find out who God created me to be. I love you so much more than I can say.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When a missionary fails

Gigi with my teammate Breana
God never stops asking. This morning I awoke at 5:50am. For some reason, just before opening our bedroom door onto the porch, I peeked out the window onto the street, and there was Gigi. Gigi is a mentally challenged woman who comes to our gate everyday, usually more than once a day, to ask for bugas (dry rice). Still having sleep in my eyes and wearing pajamas, I decided it would be permissible to wait a few moments for her to give up and pass by our house. Surely Jesus wouldn’t mind if I took some time to prepare myself for the day and then served her whenever she returned later in the morning, right?

And so I hid out of view for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, justifying it with every reason I could think of. But Gigi didn’t move. Finally, feeling the guilt that comes whenever I try to deny my missionary calling in favor of my own selfishness, I relented. I put on some clothes and met her at the gate with a sleepy “Maayong buntag!”

“Hello!” she said. “Nga-i bugas?

“No, kan-on,” I corrected, and went to the pantry to get a bag of leftover cooked rice from the fridge. This is our usual practice with Gigi, giving her precooked rice (kan-on) rather than the dry bugas to ensure that it is actually eaten, but today the kan-on was all gummy, like mashed potatoes -- I had forgotten that I’d overcooked it the night before.

It will be fine, I thought to myself. It’s just Gigi; this is good enough.

But I had that sinking feeling in my heart as I handed her the bag, and something inside me wanted to shout “Wait! Let me take it back!” because I knew I was only giving her second-best. Thankfully, she provided the opportunity for me to redeem myself.

“Energen?” she asked, looking at me with hopeful eyes. I headed back to the pantry for a packet of her favorite powdered drink and then, not by chance, found in our box of ministry supplies a perfectly-proportioned bag of dry rice. Great! I smiled to myself. I’ll just swap her these bugas in exchange for the kan-on.

I proudly carried both the drink and the rice back to the gate, gave them to Gigi, and then moved to take back the old bag of overcooked rice out of her hands. But as I did so she just smiled, pulled both bags closer to herself, and walked off down the street.

Our breakfast guests one morning: Gigi, Mary Grace, Windal
I typically choose to blog about the picture perfect moments, the times when I say “yes” to Our Lord and do what I know He is asking of me. But today I wanted to share an honest example of failure in the real life of a missionary. After Gigi walked off, I sat down on our porch steps wanting to cry -- for myself and my lack of true generosity, as well as for this woman and the poverty she experiences on a daily basis, a reality which I will never fully understand.

Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks and to give expecting nothing in return. What kind of missionary hides from the beggar literally waiting at her door? What kind of missionary keeps the best for herself and her household and gives away that which she was reluctant to serve at her own table? What kind of missionary views generosity as a transaction in which the poor are entitled to exactly one bag of rice, as if giving away two bags to a hungry woman would be excessive?

This missionary does. Because this missionary is still in need of a Savior. Because this missionary heart does not yet break for everything that breaks the heart of Jesus.

There are those who are easy to love -- the adorable children, the teens who seem to soak up your every word, the little old ladies who can be found praying their Rosary in church at any hour of the day. But Jesus did not send me to the other side of the world to love only them. 

We’ve all heard the stories of Mother Teresa seeing the face of Christ in the dying poor on the streets of Calcutta. Today I saw the face of Christ in Gigi, right here on Alvarez Street. And today I ask you to open your eyes, to see Christ in both friends and strangers, but most especially in those who are not so easy to love. 

Please pray for me, that I may never again keep Jesus waiting at the gate.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Still there?

This is just a quick post to let ya'll know that I'm alive and well. We haven't had an internet connection in weeks so I've been unable to blog. My apologies!! Thank you for your support and prayers and for following my blog so faithfully. I promise to write soon and share pictures with you.

In the meantime, please keep my brother Paul in your prayers -- he is visiting me for the month of May! He has only been here for a few days but already has experienced much of our life here in the mission field. I'm so grateful to have him here!