Monday, March 30, 2015

Jesus at the blackboard

With the arrival of final exams and graduation ceremonies last week, I’m reflecting on the past school year, the hard times and the happy times, and especially on the lives on particular students with whom I’ve had the privilege of journeying as they complete their high school career.

I’d like to introduce you to two of my 4th year students (now graduates!) who hold a special place in my heart. Elza is a beautiful young woman, affectionate, and extraordinarily intelligent. Last year she shared with me that she desires to be a nun, although she is torn because she also feels a sense of loyalty and responsibility to financially provide for her family.

Elza, class salutatorian, and her proud parents at graduation.
I love Elza because she is unashamedly in love with Jesus and willing to talk about her faith in front of her classmates.

In the final writing assignment I gave to my English class, each student could select his or her own topic. Elza’s essay touched my heart:

“A perfect day with my best friend”
The place I want to go always is the church, you know why? Because the church is God’s people, people He’s called and gathered. The church can bring a lot of good things into our life - friendship, fun, and comfort, for example - but in the end, there’s a bottom line, and this is what it is: the Church exists to continue Jesus’ ministry on earth. The church is my perfect place to talk to my best friend. Every time I feel bad, anxious, or discomforted, I pray to God sincerely and tell Him all my doubts and hesitancies in life. Every time I pray to God it makes my day perfect, wonderful, and full of hope. Does God already know how I feel? Sure. And God is everywhere, all the time. I want to express my deep and true love to God. God is my best friend. I love God and I’m dependent on Him, and I can’t really stop thinking about Him or talking to Him. That’s what my love is. It may not seem like it, but God always answers my prayer. The problem I sometimes, okay, usually have is that I can’t see the big picture. God’s answers may not fit into my plan. They may seem to go against what I think is best. The problem is like little kids begging from their parents; I don’t always know what is best. It’s hard, and there is no easy answer, but in the mystery, there’s trust. I know that Jesus Himself felt abandoned by God on the cross, but that God Himself told Jacob that everything works together for the good in His plan.
If I really believe that God created me an that God’s love for me is beyond reason, then I have to trust that God isn’t going to abandon me. God is my best friend of course; I should trust prayers that have helped others draw closer to God. I talk to my best friend sincerely and from my heart.

I am in awe of Elza’s growing relationship with Jesus! And I was surprised to find that she was not the only student in the class to focus her essay on her Catholic faith. The following essay was written by Melchoir. He is a 21-year-old student and a little behind in his studies, but he is very motivated and has worked hard to improve his grades in my English class.

“If I could live anywhere”
Everybody wants to travel to other places. We have different ideas in choosing what is the best place to live. If God gave me a chance to live anywhere, I would prefer to live in Heaven.
My one and only wish is to live in Heaven, for I would absolutely live with Jesus. I know that in Heaven there I could find the everlasting happiness, the everlasting joy.
I know it would be so great if I could live in Heaven, but before anything else there are so many sacrifices and trials on earth in order for me to go to Heaven. For now it is only in my imagination, but one thing I can say is that I will do my best to enter the gates of Heaven.

Melchoir (left) and his friends hamming it up at graduation.
I’m very proud of Melchoir’s academic improvement (completing a high school education is no small accomplishment!), but beyond that I am inspired by his great desire to be united with God in heaven. Even as a young man, he recognizes that the most important element of this temporal life on earth is preparing for his eternal life with Jesus.

I love being a missionary teacher because every day I have the opportunity to bring my Catholic Faith into the classroom. What an unexpected but welcome blessing it is to hear my students professing their love for the Lord!

Congratulations to Holy Rosary High School, Batch 2015! God bless you and guide you always!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

He makes the dumb to speak

I met a boy today who couldn’t speak. 

His name was Kiking, and he was about eight years old. I suppose the typical response to meeting a mute child would be to locate his parents and take him to a specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment. But as missionaries, we rarely respond in a “typical” way.

When my teammate Joanne and I met Kiking at the ferry port, he was drooling just a bit, and his arms were mottled with discoloration and warts. Although we spoke to him in his native dialect, he would not respond vocally, not even to tell us us his name, which we later learned from some bystanders. “Do you know Jesus?” Joanne asked him, and he nodded yes.

What affected me most about this little boy was not his physical skin condition as much as the fact that he could not say his own name. I wanted so badly for him to know his identity, that he is a son of God. Perhaps he has no parents or no place to stay at night, but he has a place in this world and more importantly a place that God has prepared for him in the heavenly kingdom.

A little first aid and a lot of love for some neighborhood friends at my house in Sagay.
We prayed over Kiking for healing, for Jesus to loosen his tongue so that he might speak, and we gave him my cross and Joanne’s “Jesus loves the Philippines” tshirt, so he will remember who he is and Whose he is. I know this was just one of many encounters God has in store for us this year, and I pray that, with my teammates’ courageous initiative, I will become a bolder witness to Christ and to the Gospel.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord.” ~ 2 Tim 1:7-8

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Putting His Word in her hands

This afternoon I was in the mall bookstore buying a Bible diary for my friend. It includes the daily Mass readings, a simple reflection for each day, and a place to journal your thoughts and prayers.

Taking time to meditate on Scripture is a daily practice for every missionary.
Having the jungle as a backdrop is just an added bonus.
The young woman behind the checkout counter examining my selection commented, "Wow, it's so nice."

"Do you have a book like this?" I asked her. "Oh, no," she quickly responded.

"Will you buy one for yourself?" I probed.

She giggled a little nervously, probably wondering why this white American girl she had never seen before was taking such an interest in her personal life. "Maybe later....after my pay day."

I knew immediately this was just a polite way of saying "no." The book cost 250 pesos, about $5.50, but here in the Philippines that same amount can easily pay for several complete meals, or even 5 kilos of rice. Obviously this woman's hard-earned money would be spent on essentials like food and rent before considering an unnecessary purchase such as this book.

"Would you like to have one? I'll buy it for you," I offered nonchalantly. This was a bit of a gamble on my part, but she seemed so sincere in expressing her desire for it that I figured she just might accept.

"Oh, no! That's so generous of you. I can't...."

I grinned like a little child who has for the first time experienced the pure delight of giving a gift and being rewarded by the gratitude of the receiver. "I'm a Catholic missionary," I explained. "I like to buy these books for my friends so they can read the Bible every day. What's your name?"

Her name was Eunice, and she didn't quite know what to do with herself or with me, for that matter. I purchased both books and returned one to her, watching the expression on her face transform from bewildered to happily surprised.

"Are you all friends?" I asked her two coworkers who were shyly smiling and observing the whole exchange from behind the counter. "You have to share it with them, okay?" I instructed her.

She willingly agreed to do so, and I caught her grateful smile one last time as I walked out the door. What a simple, unadorned moment of evangelization! For five dollars, I had the supreme privilege of making the Word of God available to a soul seeking to know Christ. What more should I desire but to make Him known and loved?

My sweet Jesus, thank you for reminding me again of the mission You have given us to spread the Gospel to all the earth!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Faith enough to see

Our friend Rose, a woman who lives far up in the mountain, walks almost weekly to our house to ask us for rice and other basic necessities. We are only too glad to help her, but in addition to feeding her body, we also desire to provide food for her soul.

On her most recent visit, we opened our bilingual Bible and invited her to read a particular passage in Visayan. Only then did we discover that she is slightly farsighted and in need of reading glasses. Of course, for a woman who frequently goes hungry, such glasses would be quite a luxury. 

In that moment, I recalled that, while packing my suitcase to return to the Philippines, I had at the last minute tossed in a donated pair of glasses. 'These won't be of much use,' I remember thinking. I didn't even know the grade of the lenses. 

As Rose squinted to make out the words of Scripture, I jumped out of my chair and with growing excitement ran into the bedroom to dig said glasses out of the bottom of my suitcase. There they were, in a purple animal print case that perfectly matched Rose's outfit of the day. 'Dear Jesus, please let these glasses be the right prescription for Rose,' I prayed under my breath as I brought them out to present to her.

She tried them on, murmured "Ooh," and at our urging turned her gaze back to the words on the page. Now she read the words aloud, seeing them clearly for the first time.

I don't know why, but it still amazes me every time the Lord performs a miracle in answer to my simple prayers. Why is "I can't believe it!" automatically my first thought and the first words out of my mouth? I can just imagine Jesus smiling down on me and lovingly shaking His head: "O ye of little faith! Did you not believe that I would do this for you?"

This Lent, let's try to pray with greater faith. Let's pray, trusting that God will answer us in big ways. Let's expect miracles.