Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Asa si Pablo?

My favorite brother, Paul, came to visit me here in the Philippines! He stayed with us for the month of May.  I loved getting to share my life-on-mission with him. There are some things you just can't explain in words, some experiences that have to be lived. I'm so happy that we now have those memories together. 
Hanging out at Fr. Joe's farm...
...and at Tuwasan Falls.
This is where man-skills (aka driving a stick shift) come in handy.
All dressed up for an ordination after-party...congratulations, Fr. Eliud!
Celebrating Lord's Day with the whole gang.
Surprise substitute guitarist at a fiesta chapel Mass. Good thing he's a pro!
Just strummin' his guitar and lovin' island life.
Every kid in Sagay wanted to be friends with Pablo.
It didn't take long for these strangers to become brothers.

When Paul returned to the states, he left many new friends behind. Teens, little children, and old ladies alike want to know where he is. "Asa si Pablo?"

Paul, you will always have a home here in Camiguin. Come back again soon!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Save your spoon

I once heard a story of a woman who was known to say at the end of her meal, "Save your spoon - something better is coming!" I guess she must have loved dessert as much as I do, but the woman was also very wise and, before she died, asked her family to bury her with a spoon as a reminder that "something better is coming."

It's not about this life, folks. Yesterday I was reading from Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus says:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Visiting Franciscan sisters on the island of Samar - learning how to be poor in spirit.
On mission, it's easy to recognize how attached you are to material possessions by how upset you are when they are stripped away from you. Although Camiguin is a very safe and peaceful island, petty theft is still a common problem. In the past 5 months, my team has "lost" from our clothesline one top, five pants, three shorts, and one towel - quite a bit when you didn't bring much clothing into missions to begin with. We've also been battling the problem of mold. In the constant humidity, books and shoes and other items grow mold and sometimes can't be salvaged. Every time something disappears or is ruined, there is a temptation to grumble or get angry, but ultimately we try to respond in gratitude. Thank You, Lord, that I have enough clothing to cover my body and still more to share with others. Thank You, Lord, that my real treasures are not here because You are laying them up for me in heaven.

The Franciscan brothers in Samar are working hard at their monastery - ora et labora.
If our hearts are set on heaven, we will not be disappointed when our material wealth is destroyed because we know with certainty that we are living for more than this life.

Save your spoons, everyone! Something better is coming.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"And the prostitutes believed Him..."

This is a re-post from the blog of my dear missionary friends, Sammy and Lindsey Romero (www.romerosonmission.com), who are serving here in the Philippines in Malaybalay City. My team is beyond blessed to be hosting this beautiful young woman at our cottage in Camiguin for a few weeks as she continues to gain strength in following the Lord!

And the prostitutes believed Him... 
~by Lindsey Romero

She came to our house crying last Sunday. I knew her, but I didn't know.

She said she had seen us at a wedding recently and felt like she should come and talk to us. So, I listened.

She wept as she told me her story. Six years ago her already very poor family hit rock bottom, and a neighbor asked her if she was willing to do anything for money, and at the time, she was. She's only 20 years old. You do the math.

Customer after customer, night after night her life spiraled out of control. Partying. Drugs. Drinking. Cutting. Six years later, sitting on my front porch, she was broken, used, beat down, crushed, and nearly destroyed by sin, evil, and bad decisions.

She said she wanted to change. She said she hated herself and couldn't live like that anymore. She wanted to ask God for forgiveness but that she was "too dirty."

I took a deep breath, prayed to the Holy Spirit for the words I didn't have, and told her how much God loved her. I told her the story of the prodigal son and St. Mary Magdalene. I told her that Jesus came for sinners, that He had been waiting for her all these years with open arms, loving her and waiting for her to turn around and come back to Him. 

We hugged and cried, and I asked her if this was that moment, and she said yes. Right there on the porch, she gave her life to Jesus. Heaven rejoiced!

The next morning, she made her confession with a priest. She gave Sammy the SIM card out of her phone and moved in to our spare bedroom for a week. 

The kids loved having her here, especially Evie. Our eldest daughter has a special way of letting the Lord use her, and when they would talk I'd get goosebumps sometimes. Jesus was speaking healing and value and appreciation and love into the life of this wounded young woman through my child.

"Wow, you're such a great artist!"

"You're really smart."

"Wow, you're such a great cook!"

"You look so beautiful this morning!"

"Thanks for helping me pick up my toys. You're really helpful."

"I'm glad you're here. You're so nice."

Sammy and I stayed up late at night teaching her about Jesus and the Bible, about her beauty and value in the eyes of God, sharing our testimony with her and answering a million and one questions. She was hungry for all of it. We never saw her without her Bible and journal. She jogged to Mass every day at 5:30 a.m. She joined us in all of our ministries and brought down the house last Thursday when she shared her testimony at our weekly Bible study in front of all her neighbors. It was super powerful. There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

She is bold and unashamed. She's a missionary now. She doesn't miss the chance to tell someone, anyone what God has done for her. After a great week staying with us, our holy team of single women missionaries on Camiguin Island invited her to stay with them for a while. She is eager to learn from them and serve with them, and we are excited for her to have this opportunity to learn and grow in her new relationship with the Lord!

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him." 
-Matthew 21:31-32

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 
-Luke 15:4-7

"So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: everything old has passed away; 
See, everything has become new!" 
-2 Corinthians 5:17

Please pray for our friend! She needs all of our prayers as she continues to run towards Jesus and away from her past, and as she seeks to restore relationships and trust within her family!

Thank you, Jesus, for coming to save sinners all!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Spirit-filled encounter

A missionary is never without her cross! :)
I was walking along the beach in Mambajao last Wednesday when I noticed three young men sitting further up the shore in a concrete shelter.

“Maayong hapon!” I called, because it is a missionary’s nature to be friendly to everyone, and because friendliness is an expected and much-appreciated virtue in the Philippines.

“Init!” one of them called back - it is very hot!  This is a common conversation starter for us, and I didn’t want to miss my chance if Jesus was providing me with this opportunity.

*Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. ~1 Peter 3:15*

I began speaking with them, only in Visayan as it quickly became clear that they knew little to no English. They are fishermen from the island of Leyte, they explained, and I happily told them that I am a Catholic missionary and that I visited their island at the typhoon-affected area of Tacloban just two weeks ago with my priest.

“Lingkod!” they said, inviting me to sit down and join them, and not two minutes later another man appeared, this one quite a bit older.

“Asa ka gikan?” he asked me, wondering where I am from, so I began telling my story for the second time -- how I am a Catholic missionary living in Sagay. This man knew English, however, so our conversation flowed easily along. His name is Dudong, and his uncle was the first priest to be assigned to a parish on Camiguin. Dudong tells me that he, too, was raised Catholic, but no longer.

“I learned all that before, all the prayers and even the Rosary, but I am just Christian now -- spiritual, not religious.”

“Too many rules?” I suggest, knowing that this is a common excuse among those who have left the Church.

“Too time-consuming,” he replies. 

Hmm... I pray silently to the Holy Spirit for guidance as we speak.  

*It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ~Matthew 10:20*

“You’re right," I agreed, "it can be time-consuming. For example, I have given up my time, even my whole life to come here, but I do not mind making this sacrifice because Jesus gave up His whole life for me, on the cross.”

Dudong’s eyes grow wide, and I suspect that he was not anticipating such a conversation to unfold on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. 

“Very impressive,” he says. “That is just the right answer.” Thinking for a moment, he then queries, “So you are like Peter the fisherman, out to catch?”

I smile at his reference to the apostle; it seems so appropriate in light of the three young men still here in our midst. Dudong points at the “no trespassing” sign on his property and explains that he often makes exceptions, as he has for these fishermen who have no place to stay for the night.

“If I do not help them, my conscience will bother me all night,” he tells me, and behind his words I understand that he wants to assure me he is still a good person, even if not a “religious” one. “Much has been given to me, so I have to give to others,” he explains. 

But now he looks at me, puzzled: “How did you come to be talking with these men,” he asks. “Were you not apprehensive, being alone?”

We are in the light of day on a public seashore amongst fishing boats and residential homes, but I give him the answer that I hear the Spirit prompting in my heart. “No, I am never afraid because I am doing the work of the Lord, and I know He will protect me. And the Holy Spirit always guides me - like today, He led me to walk down the beach here to meet you.”

“Mmm, probably so, probably so,” he mumbles pensively, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought or wonderment. “Where did you get your crucifix?”

I instinctively reach up to touch the wooden cross around my neck - it is my favorite, my only accessory besides my watch, and I have been wearing it constantly since I received it at the missionaries’ commissioning Mass before we were sent out to our assigned posts. “It’s from America,” I tell him.

“If you have any more, I would like to buy one.”

Until this moment, I have been rather protective of my cross - a memorable marker of the day I became Christ’s littlest missionary. But the Holy Spirit is still moving in my heart, and a sudden energy impels me to remove it from around my neck.

“You can have this one,” I say, and place it in his hands. 

He is somewhat bewildered and then even resistant. “No, I cannot; this is special to you!” (How did he know...?)

“It’s yours now,” I insist. “I would be honored if you would wear it. It is a missionary cross, and you are a missionary if you share the love that Jesus has given you with others.”

“Yes....” The man is nearly speechless at this point. It is a simple gift of little material value but we both know it is worth much more than it would cost in pesos.

“I would like for you to come back sometime and talk about the Bible with me,” he says. I assure him that I will return and, remembering his comment about not approaching strangers alone, add that I will bring my missionary companions along to meet him next time.

I can’t help smiling as I say goodbye and walk back through the sand -- how good God is to set up this divine appointment, giving me the opportunity to share my faith with a man who is open to hearing it. 

St. Paul exclaims, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” It is true that the example of a Christian life is a powerful witness, and a person’s actions can speak volumes. But all too often we make the excuse that our example of living is enough. We must not be afraid to say the name of Jesus! We must not shy away from sharing our faith, and how wrong it would be for us to leave our brothers and sisters in darkness when they, often without their own knowledge, are searching for Christ.

If I hadn’t walked down that beach or spoken to those fishermen, I would never have met Dudong. The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization. Allow Him to stir in your heart today, and you will be happily surprised to see what encounters God has planned for you!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Giving God control

Letting go is hard sometimes...
As a first-world missionary to college students, I believed my life was within my control. I had a planner to schedule meeting times and Bible studies and lunch dates with the girls I mentored. So, too, was my prayer life scheduled. Every morning, I would spend my holy hour in Eucharistic adoration, meditating in nearly complete silence. I taught myself to believe that this was the best way, the only way to pray.

Then I became a third-world missionary, preaching and living the Gospel in a little island town, and lost all sense of control over my own life. There is no planner or even a desk to put a planner on. There are no meeting times; only “Filipino time” exists here. Instead of restaurant lunch dates, I prepare vegetables and rice to share with any visitors who may come to our door.

And what of my prayer regimen? This morning I walked to church an hour before Mass, anticipating a rare, quiet chance to pray. I wasn’t there for very long when I was joined in the pew by Gigi, a daily visitor to our cottage. We have a funny friendship, Gigi and I. At first, not knowing any Visayan, I wasn’t really able to communicate with her. Now I have learned much more, and yet still our conversations are very basic and broken because she is mentally handicapped. Every day she comes to our house to ask for rice and money, and every day we gladly give her the rice and remind her, just as before, that we have no money to give.

Today, when I spotted Gigi coming towards me in church, my shoulders immediately tensed. No, Jesus, I wanted to spend this time with You! Whyyyy? my face crumpled. But when everyone around you is watching your every move, you must quickly recover.

I greeted her and showed her that I had no money, only a Bible in my bag. We sat together for a time, and I knew it was Jesus. Once again, He was teaching me that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Better to give of my time, to give of myself, to give of my smiles and love especially when my introverted personality just wants to be alone. Because Jesus is found in the needs of others just as He is found in the silence of my heart. Because in this moment He is asking me for just one more offering of love.

I watched a video on St. John of the Cross today. I find it so beautiful that God calls men and women to the contemplative life, and sometimes I wish I were called to it as well - who wouldn’t be drawn to the mysticism of the saints who find such deep union with God in prayer? But Jesus has chosen me instead to be His missionary, and He knows me best.

“He that seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.” Please pray for me, that I will seek the cross of Christ with gladness, and that I will not hesitate to give up my desire for control and give it all to God!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Delopere family needs your help!

Meet the Delopere family! Elma is a first-grade public school teacher, and Renati is a stay-at-home father. They have three children - Jane Rennoit (9), Clark Reniel (4), and Johnreel (2) - and another baby due in September.

Renati, Elma, Jane, and Clark with Fr. Joe
Two years ago this family experienced terrible tragedy when Jane, then 7 years old, was critically injured. On August 2, 2012, Jane was walking past the gate at her elementary school when she was hit by a truck. She suffered a broken skull and spent 10 days in the ICU, some of that time in a coma. She has had a total of four surgeries and spent three months in the hospital, followed by a year of recovery at home.

The doctors inserted an artificial bone in Jane’s skull to protect her brain, but they are not sure yet if this procedure was 100% successful or if it is a lasting solution. Elma told us that the right side of Jane’s head is still soft to the touch, like a baby’s skull that is not yet fully formed. Another operation may be necessary for further healing and recovery.

Because the truck driver was only able to pay a small portion of the damages incurred, Elma and Renati were left with the majority of Jane’s medical bills. They currently owe P380,000 ($8,500) in hospital bills -- as a teacher, Elma earns only $400 a month, making it nearly impossible for them to make payments on these loans and still provide for the family's needs. Jane’s last operation was in January, and she is supposed to have a monthly check-up, but the family has already had to miss three of her check-ups because they cannot afford the doctor’s fee, which is P500-P1000 per visit (between $11 and $22).

We asked Elma to share Jane’s story with us so that we could share it with you! Renati has begun working as a fruit vendor to provide a little extra income, but it is not enough. We assured Elma and Renati that we would pray and ask for benefactors to help with their family’s needs.

Jane (far right) with some of her cousins and my teammate Genevieve
It was touching to see how deeply these parents love and care for their daughter. Elma said, “We do not have money to spend for our child, for her security. ... I don’t care what God wants her to do when she gets older. If she is to be a sister [nun], okay!” 

Even though they have experienced great hardship over the past two years, they are not bitter or angry at God or at the truck driver. Their main concern is for Jane’s health and their family’s well-being as they struggle to pay for these expenses.

Elma and Renati were so blessed at the thought of our “friends back home” sending financial support to help them through this difficult time. Your donations will allow Jane to receive the medical care she needs as soon as possible! 

Please click here to donate to my fund and write "For Jane" in the comments section to ensure that your donation will be given to the Delopere family.