Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just call him "Pods"

Properly spelled, it would be Pads, but in the English language this spelling doesn’t lend itself to the correct pronunciation. “Pads” comes from Padre and is just one of the many nicknames we have for Father Joe, the parish priest with whom we work here in Sagay. 

Blessing a parishioner's newly-purchased motorella.
Pods is nothing if not the visible representation of Christ to the local people. Through his words from the pulpit, his work in the trenches, and his untiring fidelity in his vocation to the priesthood, Father offers his people hope, bolsters their faith, and constantly reminds them of their duty to their fellow man -- that Christ’s second most important commandment after love of God is love of neighbor.

Pods with some of his biggest fans.
It is a great honor and a privilege to serve alongside Fr. Joe. Although I have known and loved many holy priests in dioceses around the U.S., I have never met one who cares as generously and tenderly for the sheep of his flock as does Fr. Joe. No need is too great or too small. As Pods frequently jokes when he presents us with just one more alms request, it’s our fault that he comes to us for financial support for the needs of the people -- we’re the ones who signed up for this mission in the first place!

Rebuilding homes, giving sacks of rice to hungry families, providing scholarships for students who cannot afford an education, buying medication for people with every disease or ailment -- these projects and countless others have been accomplished during our months here on Camiguin. Every time Father brings a new need to our attention, I realize again how crucial this is, our relationship with the parish priest. Without him, we would be feeding the few townspeople that regularly come to our door; working together, we can accomplish that and much more. Thanks to your generous hearts and Fr. Joe’s knowledge of the land as well as his impressive networking skills, the money that God gives us is being put to great use!

Like any good father, Pods is instructing me on the process of sea salt production.
In his six years at Holy Rosary Church, Fr. Joe has made many improvements to the school and to parish life. Yet even with everything that has been done, Father recognizes that there is always more work to do. “No rest for the wicked,” Pods often quips when we encourage him to take a short break from his work. Life with Father is never boring, that’s for sure. I have been on more adventures in the past seven months than in the previous 24 years of my existence. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Fr. Joe with us and a few of his children who are currently living at the convento.
Father often tells us stories of close calls and moments of divine providence when it is clear that God has a hand in the undertakings of His humble servant. “Someone’s looking out for us up there,” Pods will say with a smile, but my team sees it more as a direct line connecting Fr. Joe to the Holy Spirit. He’s evaded a rebel ambush, recovered from a brain operation when he had just two days left to live, and raised over 60 children all on his own. We’re never concerned for our safety when traveling with Pods, whether on foot, in a jeep, on a ferry, or in a small fisherman’s boat. We know Jesus will keep Father (and us) safe.

What are Fr. Joe’s secrets to life? In no particular order...
  1. “Lazy man’s coffee.” Instant 3-in-1 packets of coffee/creamer/sugar are a necessity for his morning routine.
  2. Coca-cola. After 9am, Father switches from coffee to ice-cold coke, and he continues drinking it throughout the day, concluding with a midnight snack of a sandwich and a half liter of coke. Absolutely no water, though he’ll take pepsi if coke isn’t available.
  3. Crossword puzzles. Father doesn’t have much spare time on his hands, but when he does you might find him puzzling away, or perhaps watching the news.
  4. Prayer. Sometimes when we show up at the convento unannounced, we’ll run into Father praying the liturgy of the hours. He also takes advantage of the peace and quiet in rare moments such as his weekly ferry rides to pray and take a well-deserved nap.
  5. People. Fr. Joe is the priest everyone knows. When we’re traveling, we sometimes run into Father’s old parishioners, and they are always thrilled to see him. Pods has a great affection for the Filipino people, but he also has a particular love for missionaries and a special tenderness for little children.

God bless you and keep you, Father!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Anak sa Dios

Last year, I became a godmother for the first time to my precious niece Felicity Rose. This summer I was blessed to become a godmother again to two children here on Camiguin Island.

Baby Janice is the daughter of Jona, one of our best friends here in Sagay. Janice was born December 17, 2014. When we first met her, she was a tiny three-month-old weighing just 8.3 pounds. Today she is a very happy seven-month-old with a beautiful smile! God bless you, Janice!

Happy Baptism day, Janice! Now you are a child of God!
Two days before the baptism, my teammates and I attended a preparatory seminar required for all godparents. There we met two adorable nine-year-old cousins, AJ and Philip John. Their grandmother told us that she is their guardian - both boys' parents have either died or moved away - and asked us if we would like to be their godmothers. (In the Philippines it is common to have multiple godparents, both relatives and friends.) Of course we said yes!

Watching as Fr. Joe anoints Philip John.
I was so happily surprised when the boys' grandmother asked my teammate Alex to be godmother to AJ, and Genevieve and me to be godmothers to Philip John. My two favorite apostles are St. Philip and St. John!

I have always loved St. John because of his closeness to Our Lord. The Gospel tells us that at the Last Supper, he laid his head on Jesus' chest; how many others, besides Our Blessed Mother, were so close to Christ as to hear His heartbeat? St. John also boldly declares himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved." What confidence and trust he had in the Lord, that he would dare to claim this love for himself!

St. Philip has also become dear to me as I grow in my spiritual life because of his words to Jesus - "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied" - and Jesus' reply - "Have I been with you for so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip?" Often I imagine myself to be like Philip, desiring so much to know the Lord and yet frequently not seeking Him where He may be found or not recognizing Him when He is so near.

Happy Baptism day, AJ and Philip John! May you, like the child Jesus, grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. We love you!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lending a hand to fix an arm

Having grown up in America, I often take medical care for granted. Whether it’s an emergency situation or just a routine check-up, doctors and medications and other health needs have always been accessible and readily available to me. Living in the third world, I now understand what a luxury medical care can be.

Jezreel, looking great in his school picture.
Last Tuesday, our 7th grade student Jezreel fell on the basketball court and fractured both bones in his forearm. We took him to the main hospital on Camiguin, but x-rays revealed that he would need surgery to prevent any deformity, and the doctor who visits each week from the mainland would not be arriving for a few days. My teammate Genevieve and I accompanied Jezreel and his father Sonny to Maria Reyna Hospital in Cagayan de Oro. Imagining that we would just drop them off and return to Camiguin that afternoon or the following day, we packed very lightly, bringing just one spare change of clothing. We were wrong...

Jezreel was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday afternoon. We brought him children’s religious books to read, and I couldn’t help but think of St. Ignatius of Loyola (His conversion occurred while he was on bed-rest after being injured in battle and had no form of diversion or entertainment except to read the two books left at his bedside -- the Bible and the Lives of the Saints!). 

X-ray of Jezreel's right arm with stainless steel implants.
On Thursday morning, we prayed with Jezreel before he was wheeled into surgery. Four hours and 13 screws later, Jezreel’s arm was back together again. Although Genevieve and I had planned to leave earlier, we soon realized that this would be impossible. Hospitals here require that you purchase your own medications, IV fluids, etc. on the spot, so we had to walk to two local pharmacies in order to fill his prescriptions. Another rule is that the hospital and doctors’ bills must be paid in full before the patient can be discharged. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford to buy medical insurance (about 300 pesos or $7 per month), making the cost of surgery incredibly high and virtually impossible to pay! Praise the Lord that, through your generous donations to our mission work, we were able to sponsor Jezreel’s operation and hospital stay.

Post-surgery, all smiles.
Throughout this 4-day adventure and many hours spent in a little hospital room, we were blessed with the opportunity to get to know Jezreel’s dad as well. Sonny is a caring husband and father who used to be involved in a charismatic prayer and praise group, although he is now kept busy working as a carpenter to support his family. He loves the Lord and told us that he teaches his children to say their prayers every night before bed. One day in the hospital, Sonny was struggling to read the small print in a Bible and told us that his glasses are not the correct prescription because he found them on the side of the road. We brought him to the eye clinic in another wing of the hospital and he was able to have his eyes examined and get a new pair of reading glasses. You can see him proudly holding them in the picture above.

Tomorrow we will be taking Jezreel to the local hospital here on Camiguin for a follow-up appointment. It amazes and humbles me to know that God uses even a simple little missionary like me to provide for the needs of His people. Thank you once again for your prayers and support that make God's work possible!

Riding back on the ferry, happy to be going home at last!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What I've been up to

We have been in and out of town for weeks, so I haven’t blogged in a long time. Pasaylo-a ko! I’m sorry! Here’s a quick run-down on what we’ve been doing:

1. Teaching: We are now officially teaching religion, values education, and English to the students at Holy Rosary High School. There are nearly 350 students, so it is quite a challenge for us to learn all their names! 

My teammate Genevieve and I enjoy team-teaching -- my strengths are in lecturing and translating into Visaya as much as possible, and Genevieve’s gifts for keeping the students’ attention and enforcing discipline in the classroom are indispensable!

2. Asia Summit: This year, Family Missions Company has more missionaries in Asia than ever before! Our friends posted in India and China joined our team and the missionary families in Malaybalay City for a 5-day gathering of prayer and fellowship. The theme of the retreat was: “Go where there is greater need.” Please pray for all missionaries, especially those serving in countries who do not enjoy freedom of religion. 

With so many missionaries, it was hard to control the excitement!
3. The China team dropped by Camiguin for a 3-day visit prior to the Asia Summit. We gave them a tour of our beautiful island, and they participated in the fiesta for St. John the Baptist -- a Mass followed by a procession of fishing boats in the ocean!

4. Following the Summit, Team India came to Camiguin to experience a little island time before returning to their busy city life. 

They joyfully joined in our ministries, visiting every classroom at HRHS and telling the students about their mission work in a non-Christian country -- an inconceivable concept for Filipino youth who are growing up in an almost-entirely Catholic population. Team India also gave talks to every class regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality and our irrefutable identity as sons and daughters of God.

It's hard to believe it's already July, meaning that we've completed the first half of our year here on mission in Camiguin. Thank you for being patient as we transition back into a regular weekly schedule. More blog posts coming soon!!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A day in the life of a missionary

6:00am Wake up! Feeling a little under the weather so I snooze til 6:13. I get dressed and then sit in the hammock on our porch for my morning prayer time.

7:00 Team breakfast - oatmeal!

7:30 Team prayer - reading and sharing on the psalms from Liturgy of the Hours.

8:15 Gigi comes to the door so we invite her in for a cup of coffee and rice.

8:30 Arrive at Holy Rosary High School to teach our first class of the day - 8th grade Values. Sing praise and worship with the students and give them a lesson on breaking the bad chains of sin and building a good chain as a Christian community within the classroom.

9:45 Teach 7th grade, section A.

10:45 Teach 7th grade, section B.

12:00 Finally home and it feels like it's time for a nap! Hang out with the team and eat lunch - fried rice and leftover squash from last night's dinner.

1:15 Meet up with our friend Jona who will guide us to the home of MJ, a teenage boy currently not enrolled in school. We are hoping to speak with MJ and his parents and encourage him to return to Holy Rosary High School for a Catholic education.

1:30 Four of us are riding a motorcycle to MJ's house up in the mountain. I'm in the back riding sidesaddle in a skirt - I pray for safety and hold on tight!

2:35 Return to school for a meeting with the principal. Stop to chat with our friends, the team of carpenters who are renovating the entire school. Some of the 10th grade boys are currently sitting on long wooden benches since there are not enough chairs for all the students, so today the carpenters are scraping and repainting old rusted chairs that were in storage.

3:00 On the way home, we spot a neighborhood boy, Oceaus, riding his bike in the distance. He is another boy like MJ who we are encouraging to enroll at Holy Rosary; we try to chase him down but he doesn't see us and disappears from our sight. We pray that he'll turn his bike around to give us the opportunity to follow up with him.

3:15 Walking further up the hill towards the mountain, we stop to chat with a lady in front of her house, and a few moments later Oceaus comes riding up! We walk and talk with him for a while, and he smiles as he admits that he has decided to return to HRHS - salamat sa Dios!

3:30 We approach the Catholic cemetery at the base of the mountain and Oceaus tells us that his grandfather is buried there. He leads us to the gravesite and we stop to pray for the soul of his Lolo.

4:00 Heading back home, we meet an elderly woman, Rosalinda, who asks us for money to buy food for her family - 10 people live in her house, she says. We bring her to our house for some dried rice and a prayer.

4:30 Our 17-year-old neighbor and her adorable 3-year-old brother drop by for a visit.

5:00 Friday night Bible study at our cottage! Teens start arriving and we chat and sing a few songs to break the ice.

5:20 It's our biggest Bible study yet! Fourteen of our students have shown up for prayer, praise and worship, and Scripture sharing. Tonight's reading is from John 6 on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I was worried beforehand about how we could discuss such a complex topic with the language barrier, but in the moment the Holy Spirit gives me with all the Visayan words I need to say. Many of the students also share their thoughts on this passage. Praise the Lord!

6:45 After jamming out on our ukuleles (Filipinos love to sing and learn songs quickly), everyone gives us hugs and heads home, excited for our next Bible study.

6:50 We hurry down to the market to buy some rice and veggies to make for dinner. On the way we get a phone call from a friend and past student who has just begun her first year of college on the mainland. She sounds a little homesick and I am glad to be able to offer her some comfort and share a Bible passage with her over the phone.

7:45 Finally sit down for dinner with the team. It's the eve of my teammate's birthday, so we surprise her with a few gifts and enjoy laughing together as we share funny moments from our day.

10:30 After taking my nightly shower, tidying up the porch, and writing this blog post, I'm ready to sleep. Perhaps I'll be able to keep my eyes open long enough to read a little of the Bible before passing out on my bed mat. Goodnight, everyone!