But God…

In the months between deciding to come to the Philippines and my arrival here, I was so often asked, “but aren’t you scared to go?!”  My answer was always, “Yes!…But God…”

Yes…moving to the other side of the world on my own, I would have been terrified!  But with God I am never alone.

God was with me from the moment I got on each plane, where for my first LAX to Manila flight I had a window seat with no one next to me, and slept through the night with minimal discomfort.  My second flight, returning for the wedding, I sat next to two of the friendliest Filipinos who had been living in the States for over 20 years.  One lived in Louisiana and had a German husband.  They met when he came to her money exchange booth at the airport in Manila!  On my third long-haul, my seat-mate was a Filipina who now lives in San Diego with her new husband and his two children.  She is a widow and he a widower, and they were college sweethearts!  They reunited after their spouses died and were married a year ago.  She was coming back to Manilla to try and secure the green cards for her own two children to move to the States with her, where they will all live together as a new family.  I told her I’d pray for her children to be able to move to the US, and she told me she would pray that I’d find a husband!  God answered the prayers of so many who faithfully prayed for me (about my safety and comfort during travel, not the husband part!)

Yes…not knowing anyone and leaving my loved ones behind, I would have found any and every excuse not to have come!  But we are part of the huge family of God.

Upon arrival, Penny from CCT greeted me with open arms, a big “Mabuyhuy!” (welcome!) and placed a handcrafted shell necklace around my neck.  Penny has since become a close friend, and I have been taken into the fold by the rest of the “single ladies” group!  All of us are, yes, single, around 30, and bond over our common joys and struggles of living out our faith. 

Yes…relying on my own ability to stay safe and healthy, I would have turned the other way and run!  But God provides for all my needs. 

When I’ve gotten sick, I have an office full of Ate’s (big sisters) who’ve brought me gatorade, crackers, and fruit and constantly checked in on me.  When I fell headfirst into a black trench of the dirtiest water imaginable, Ate Nida scrubbed my bag by hand until it was spotless.  When I’ve been slightly lost in navigating, friendly Filipinos have steered me in the right direction.  Although it’s not safe to go for a run alone at night, I’ve found running partners to go with! 

Yes…facing the heartache of poverty, malnourishment, and despair, I would have said it was hopeless!  But God loves the little children.

I have seen so much poverty, so many dirty, sickly children roaming the streets.  Seen the sad eyes of mothers who don’t know where their children’s next meal will come from.  CCT is helping to address the needs of so many, and I have met countless individuals and families whose livelihoods and lives have been restored and renewed.  The joint CCT-PEER Servants Child Sponsorship project that I’m working on is also instrumental in helping with what can seem like such a hopeless situation.  One of my responsibilities within this project is writing the stories of the children residing at CCT’s  Visions of Hope Christian Schools (VOHCS) in Magdalena and Puypuy.  It’s such bittersweet work as I write about their transformation.  One boy was abused by his father his whole life, as were his mother and six siblings.  As the eldest he always begged his father to just beat only him, and hated his father so much that he wanted to kill him.  This desire led him to instead run away from home where he found a new “family” as part of a gang.  He was always involved in gang fights, and during one of these, at 12 years old,  he killed a rival gang member with a knife.  He was befriended by a now CCT staff member who used to live on the streets and brought to a CCT feeding program.  He was given the opportunity to attend the VOHCS boarding school in Magdalena, where he is now thriving!  He’s a leader among the other boys and an A student.  His family was also discipled by CCT, his father has stopped beating them, and even apologized to his son for the years of abuse.  There are hundreds of similar stories of transformation resulting from the physical and spiritual nurturing that the kids receive when they are given the chance to start new lives at the boarding schools.  Jesus loves the little children, and I’ve gotten the chance to be his hands and feet in small ways.  One morning, I was really craving a real cup of coffee (or as close to it as I can get here) and went next door to Dunkin Donuts.  Coffee shops do not have brewed coffee readily available but instead brew to order.  As I was waiting for my cup o’ joe, a little boy came inside and started asking me for money.  I brushed him off as sadly I often do, because it’s usually the parents sending the children out begging, and there’s no way to know that if I give them money it will actually result in any of their needs being met.  He left and I kept waiting, but a little while later the little boy returned.  Again I told him no.  I was sitting there staring at the case of donuts, thinking of the fun I’ve had over the years bringing my nephews to Dunkin Donuts and watching as they excitedly picked out their favorite.  Suddenly I jumped up, asked the barista if I could add a donut to my order, called the little boy over, and told him to pick one from the case.  His whole face lit up, his smile reached the far stretches of his cheeks, and his eyes grew wide.  He pointed to a donut while saying, “thank you Ma’am, thank you Ma’am, thank you Ma’am!”  The barista also had a big smile on her face, as did a couple who were sitting at a table.  I got my coffee, went outside, and found the little boy sitting on a perch just outside the door, happily devouring his donut.  He thanked me even more, and I eaked out a “Jesus loves you” as I fought back tears.  I don’t know who was touched more, the little boy or me, and you should have seen the smile on my face for the rest of the day!

Yes…with the possibility of encountering super-typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, I would have hid under my bed like scared child!  But God is even more powerful, and his peace passes all understanding.

I made the mistake of watching that movie about the family from the UK who goes on holiday to Thailand and is swept away in the tsunami.  They spend the whole movie fighting for their lives while trying to find each other.  I think being caught in one of these storms was my greatest fear in coming to the Philippines.  I was so convicted of God’s call for me to come here, so excited for the ways that he would grow my faith, and so terrified of being swept away in a flood!  Another project I had been and am working on is recovery from Super-Typhoon Yolanda.  After watching the tsunami movie, and as I learned more about the storm’s strength, magnitude, and devastating effects,  I would have nightmares that I was being swept away in a flood!  Plus my doomsday-prepper brother Alexei had the thoughtful idea to make me a typhoon “prepper” kit complete with a water purifying straw that I could use to drink from anywhere – even a dirty puddle, a solar-powered lantern,  and other survival gear.  This both comforted and terrified me even more!  While wrestling with this fear prior to leaving, we sang the most amazing and fitting song at church one Sunday.  It became my anthem for this trip, and emboldened and empowered me to face any storm enrobed with God’s peace, power, and strength.  The day in July that I was leaving for Manila, what was hitting the Philippines, but a typhoon!   My plane touched down just after Typhoon Glenda brought widespread devastation, damaging both of CCT’s boarding schools and their training and retreat center, and just before Typhoon Henry threatened to do the same a few days later.  I just missed the floods in Manila, the howling winds, and heavy rain, and only had to hear about it from coworkers and maneuver through the branches and debris left on the streets.  Other typhoons have struck but none in Manila, until one hit the city in September, while I was back in the States for the wedding!  There’s still over a month of rainy season left, and November marks the one year anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda.  And will I be scared if one hits – for sure!  But God.  Here’s the song that spoke to me so much, that I often hum while going about my day.  I hope the words wash over your mind like they do mine, and bring you peace! 

“Oceans”

You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown, where feet may fail.  And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep, my faith will stand.

And I will call upon Your name , and keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

So I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me.  Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.

I will call upon your name, keep my eyes above the waves, my soul will rest in Your embrace, I am Yours and You are mine

Hillsong United

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