Did I really live in Manila? Was I really called “Elsa” and asked to sing Let It Go by complete strangers on a daily basis? Did I really ride in jeepneys instead of buses; motor scooters instead of taxis? Did I really wade in knee-high water after a rain storm and pay enterprising boys to use their makeshift bridges in order to cross the street? Did I really high-five children who once lived on the street and now attend a Christian boarding school; play soccer with young boys who once scavenged and stole for food; taught “Ring Around the Rosy” to girls who were rescued from trafficking? Now that I’m back in the states my life in the Philippines sometimes feels so long ago and far away that it seems like it wasn’t reality, but rather a really vivid (and long!) dream. But then all it takes is for me to picture the smiles on the faces of those precious children, or to remember the sounds of my friends’ laughter when a guy tried to snap a selfie with me, or for Let It Go to start playing on the radio. I did live there, and it was amazing. Here are just a few ways God chose to use me – a stubborn & selfish, tattoo wearing, sometimes swearing, chef and completely unworthy Christ-follower.
I had been volunteering with PEER Servants for 2 years and was working as a chef in Boston full time. I joined team Philippines and learned about how God was using CCT to transform both the material and spiritual lives of those it serves and I became ever more excited and passionate about being a part of it. I also witnessed the way that CCT employees and PEER Servants volunteers alike were really living out the call to become true disciples of Jesus, deny oneself, and be servants of Christ. When CCT requested an intern I felt God calling me to “go”. I quit my job, sold my car, used the savings I was blessed with to cover all my expenses, and entrusted everything to God. This was the biggest leap of faith I’d ever taken in my life, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I arrived in Manila in July, and spent the first part of my time there seeing first-hand how God was using CCT to extend His Kingdom. While CCT has its roots in microfinance, they do so much more. I traveled to both of CCT’s boarding schools for former street dweller children and their technical-vocational school for idle young men. I handed out over 200 meals to street dwellers at one of their many weekly feeding programs and visited CCT’s half-way house for those looking to start a life not lived on the streets. I toured a garment factory that had closed because of poor performance, and now under CCT’s management is operating 200 times more efficiently. I visited CCT’s beautiful retreat center which hosts guests from all over the world, and sat in on fellowship groups of micro-entrepreneurs and heard testimonies of how loans from CCT are enabling them to provide for their families and employing others in their community. The common thread amongst all these experiences was that Christ was at the center, and his love was proclaimed first and foremost. Everyone I talked to said that while they were so thankful for the material blessings, they were even more thankful for the spiritual transformation in their lives and in the lives of their families.
I then moved on to projects that PEER Servants was partnering with CCT on. The Nehemiah Project is CCT’s response to Typhoon Yolanda that devastated much of the Visayas region in November of 2013. CCT responded by meeting with local officials in some of the hardest hit towns, and partnered with aid organizations and churches from all over the world to align resources. Through PEER Servants’ partnership, over $50,000 from Grace Chapel’s Christmas Eve offering was used to support this endeavor. A fleet of skilled workers needed to be trained in order to rebuild homes and cities, and the teachers for this training are the graduates from CCT’s technical vocational school. These young men whom the world would have looked at as nobodies, are now trained instructors who are equipping Yolanda survivors to rebuild their lives and communities! I attended graduation ceremonies of over 200 skilled workers who would be employed by their local governments to build-back better than before. The government officials shared that they had never before witnessed this kind of rebirth. I was so in awe of the way God is using CCT’s presence to make his mercies known, and bring people to himself! Over 150 houses were also donated. I joined CCT pastors and staff trekking door-to-door thanking God and praying for His continued blessings. PEER Servants will now help CCT develop a Project Nehemiah blog to capture and report all that God is doing.
In September, CCT assembled a team to start working on the Transformative Economic Empowerment or TEE conference that takes place each November. CCT’s partners from all over the world come to this conference to experience first-hand how God is using CCT to extend His kingdom. PEER Servants has an integral part in the planning and execution of this week-long event, and I was able to serve as the TEE liaison. In addition to assisting with last November’s conference, I’m now able to use that experience to help with next November’s event, called Pagdiriwang, or “celebration” in Tagalog.
While I definitely missed being away from home over the holidays, God filled me with such joy and thanksgiving as I was able to help with many Christmas parties for precious children who had never know the kind of Christmas I grew up with.
Finally, I worked to develop a crowdfunding program to help raise funding for CCT’s boarding schools for former street dweller children. Over 100 children who once had no home, sometimes no family, empty stomachs, and no hope for a brighter future, are now learning about Jesus’ immense love for them while receiving a stellar Christian education in a nurturing home-like environment. A group of us from team Philippines have been and will continue to work with CCT in developing a crowdfunding website in order to allow the schools to continue to flourish and grow. Stay tuned for the launch of this exciting endeavor!
My experience in the Philippines and with CCT was immensely rewarding. Living in a third-world country was far from easy, but God used all my experiences to make himself so real to me, to show His unfathomable love for me, and to teach me to fully rely on Him. He is all I need. I am so thankful for the way that God has used PEER Servants to give me this incredible opportunity, and am excited to continue serving to extend His kingdom!
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Hi Ashley! Loved reading this! God bless you as you continue to serve Him wherever He brings you to next.