Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meet the Leanos!

Ramon, Kring, Rham (2), and Laress (1) 

This family literally saved my sanity! This beautiful Filipino couple is responsible for finding our new house and making it our new home before we ever arrived on this side of the world.  Kring made sure that we had beds and bedding, pots and dishes, soap and shampoo, and even made sure to have a few home decor items hung around our house to welcome us when we arrived.  Ramon hauled it all to our new house and built us some shelves for our prayer books.  They spent weeks traveling all over the Malaybalay and surrounding areas searching for items not only for our house, but for the other missionary family and Mr. Ed.  And made sure that it would fit our missionary budgets.  They are one of the main reasons that our family had such a smooth and easy transition and that we didn't have lots of emotional meltdowns.

Since we arrived, they have been at our beckon call (Thank God they are just down the road from us!).  Anytime we have a question, we can count on them to come over to help us.  They have taken us where we need to go, taught us where to shop and where NOT to shop, what to buy and what NOT to buy, and what is expensive and what is affordable.  $1.00 = 45 pesos, so things sound like they cost a lot more here. For example, my first grocery bill was almost 2000 pesos!  (I'm an English teacher; it takes me a while to figure out math!) They have been teaching us how to say all the much needed words that we need to communicate with our motorella drivers to get to where we need to be and have taught us how much we should actually be paying!  They have laughed with us and at us many times. We've even shed a few tears together already.

Most importantly, Ramon, Kring, Rham, and Laress have become part of our family.

The Leano's story is amazing!  Three years ago they were living a life far from God.  "Kring was a self-proclaimed Buddhist. Ramon was a bad boy. He spent his nights out partying with friends and had had multiple run-ins with the police." (From the Romero's blog) Then one day they met the American missionaries, and their lives were tranformed!  You can read all about it on the Romeros blog linked above.

Today, Kring and Ramon are dedicated to serving the poor and bringing Christ to all they meet.  They are so full of joy that at times I think Ramon might burst!  He comes over to borrow books about the faith and devours all of the information that he can find.  We've watched him write pages and pages of notes, so that he can go to his Jehovah Witness friends to bring them the truth.  His goal is to convert all of his old friends and save them from the path that he was once on.  He is so passionate about saving them, and his thirst for the Truth is so inspiring! 

Kring is also dedicated to bringing everyone to Christ, but has a passion for the poor.  We have already witnessed her giving away money that was given to them specifically for their personal needs to someone who needed it more.  She never tells anyone "No."  I have watched her give away her very last peso knowing that she needed to buy food for her own family.  She is one of the most giving and generous people I have ever met.  Her generosity and love for the poor humbles me on a daily basis.  I know that God sent her to me to teach me many things besides how to shop in the Philippines and speak Visayan.  I pray that one day I can truly give out of my need and completely trust in God's providence like she does.

The boat their family took to
the island loaded down with
rice for the typhoon victims.
Imagine riding this with
TWO babies!

Their family of four lived in this tent
while helping with disaster relief after
Yolanda devastated Cabulauan.
They have also made it their personal mission to bring relief to the November 2013 Yolanda Typhoon victims.  Their family along with Father Joe from Camguin Island were on the ground delivering supplies to one of the most devastated islands almost before the storm finished passing.  They have been back to that island several times sleeping in a tent in order to help the people there.  (Yes, even the two babies!)  They are planning a trip back to Cabulauan Island next week to get things set up for the rebuilding of the chapel on the island.  Travis and some of the other missionary men will travel with them at the end of March to help with the actual rebuilding.

The Leanos desired to travel to the USA this past fall to join us at Family Missions Company in Abbeville for In-take to receive training to be full time missionaries, but they weren't able to get the needed paperwork to bring their children to the USA.  God had other plans for them here like saving my sanity!  But that didn't stop them!  They have become full time missionaries anyway!  Family Missions Company has been working with them to get them "officially" trained to be sent out to spread the Gospel to the other parts of Asia.

The Leanos, like us, have quit their jobs to serve the poor and bring the Gospel to the Philippines full time.  They rely on God's providence to provide for all their needs just like us.  But unlike our family, they do not have the resources from home that we do, especially since their closest friends are the poor they serve.  I am asking all of our friends, family, and followers to pray about sponsoring the Leano family monthly or making a one time donation to their mission fund. Even just a few dollars a month would help their mission here tremendously, and it would bless us to know that they are taken care of.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hard at Work in the Philippines

Last week, we hit the ground running.  We followed the Romero family, an FMC missionary family that has been living here in Malaybalay on and off for the past two years. We followed them around to meet all the people they have been working with and to see what kinds of ministry they have been doing and to join in the work!

On Tuesdays, there is a jail ministry that the Alveraz family, another FMC family, began last year.  The first time we visited there were about 40-50 men that came to listen to what we had to say.  We sang a few praise songs with them before we began.  Slowly, tears began to stream down my checks as I heard the voices of these inmates next to me singing to the Lord.  When I opened my eyes for a peek, I saw that the man standing next to me was holding the Romero's baby as He sang his heart out to Jesus.  I was so humbled by these men.  We shared a little about who we were, where we were from, and how we ended up as missionaries in the Philippines.  Then we shared a snack that we had brought.

The following Tuesday when we showed up at the jail, we were informed that another 50 or so men and women would be joining our group this year.  That brings the total number to 101!  Most of our time was spent doing roll call and having each of these men and women sign the official list, so that they would be released each week to come to the meeting place for our ministry.  Since there were so many new ones, we told about what Family Missions Company was and what we did.  We told them about all the other missionaries around the world.  We showed them the FMC 2013 video and then reintroduced ourselves.

 We shared the snack that we had brought for them.  Once they returned back to their cells, the adults were allowed to go back to deliver all the soap, shampoo, and toothpaste that we had brought for all 250+ inmates there.  This was so sickening.  There were at least 50 men per room.  They were piled on top of each other.  The last cell we came to had some very young boys.  They didn't look much older than our boys who were waiting for us on the other side.  It was heart-wrenching.  But the smiles and "thank yous" that everyone gave us solidified the reason that we were there.  They are God's children too!

Wednesday is our work project day.  Friends of the Romero family began a project called Floors for the Poor after hearing about how sick all the kids in Isla Bonita were partly due to the fact that they were crawling around on dirt floors in their homes.  Isla Bonita is a very poor community in the mountain area near our house.  The project is almost completed!  Praise God!  There are only few more families waiting for their cement floor. Once the floors are complete, we will begin repairing roofs and building entire homes. See more pictures on our Facebook Page! (I've discovered that FB uploads them much quicker than Blogger!)

On Thursday nights, the Romeros host a bible study for the people of Isla Bonita.  Two years ago when it first began, they had only one person show up.  You can see in the pictures how much it has grown since then!  We once again introduced ourselves and our families and told how God had called us to be missionaries and how we ended up in Malaybalay.  We then share a meal with all that come.

These are just some of the projects our family will continue to be involved in while we are here.  We will also be starting new ministries of our own and have a few leads on new team ministries that we will be sharing with you soon.  If you feel called to join us in any of these ministries, we could definitely use your help!  As always, we could definitely use your prayers for each of these ministries---for God's guidance not only for us but for the people who we minister to.

We could also use your financial support for each of these ministries.  Each Tuesday we bring a snack to the jail with us.  We also try to bring items that the inmates need.  They have to purchase everything for themselves from soap to clothing to food.  We would like to purchase flip flops for them soon since many of them have asked for them.  We are also going to be starting a bible study with them next week and want to purchase notebooks and pens for each of them to write reflections and take notes in.

We would like to purchase notebooks and pens for our bible study group so that they can do the same thing.  We also hire some of the local women each Thursday to cook a meal and clean up after the bible study.  We are also trying to come up with ideas for the 40+ kids that come with their parents.  We'd love to be able to buy some crafts, art supplies, and children's ministry books for the children. 

Our work project list is already filling up especially since all of the recent storms here have damaged many of the bamboo roofs and homes in Isla Bonita.  Many families are in great need of a secure home that won't leak or get washed away during a heavy downpour.

We also have several very sick people here who are in need of surgeries, dialysis, medicine, insulin, etc. Several have approached us already for help paying for these things.  Many people here can barely afford food for their families much less the medical care to keep their loved ones alive. 

You can donate to any of these projects online by visiting our Family Missions Company page.  Just type in the name of the project you'd like your money to go to (Malaybalay Jail Ministry, Isla Bible Study, Work Projects, Medical Needs) in the comments box.  You can see more pictures from these and other projects/ministries/life on our Family's Facebook page

Again, thank you all for your support and most importantly your prayers!  We could not be here doing what we are doing with out you!  We thank God for each of you and pray for your intentions daily!

Salamat sa Dios!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Home Sweet Home, Part 2

As you can see from the pictures in Home Sweet Home (part 1), God truly blessed us with an awesome mission house to live in for the next year of our lives.  I love my new house even with all the inconveniences like having to take ALL my pots out to reheat leftovers, not having hot water to wash dishes, having to use a kettle to boil water to make tea and coffee, not flushing toilet paper, not having AC, waking up to ants everywhere every morning, not having cabinets, Internet that takes hours to upload one picture or send one email, etc.

But after seeing other houses in our neighborhood, I felt bad that we had such a nice, large home.  Then after visiting a nearby village and seeing the bamboo huts that most of them live in, I felt very sad.  Why would God give us such a nice house with so many conveniences and so much room when our neighbors are living in such poverty in homes as small as our bedroom and some even smaller?  I felt like a spoiled American even though we are living much more simple than we were back home and our rent is pennies compared to what we would pay in the U.S.

I was ashamed and embarrassed to have people come over to our house.  I didn't want the local people to think that we were spoiled, rich Americans.  I kept questioning God about this in my prayer time...wondering if we should try to find a smaller, more simple house.  After prayer, I would feel much better about my house knowing that God knew what I could handle and what would break me.  Even though I'd like to think that I am ready to live among the poor like the poor, God knows what I can actually handle better than I know myself.

Knowing me, God knew that I would need some modern conveniences to be able to thrive in missions.  He knew that in order for me to remain in missions that I would need some comforts.  He also knows how much it blesses me to have a house full of people.  He knows how much I like to host gatherings at my house.  He knows how much it blesses me to be able to feed and entertain others.

Last night, God allowed me to see a glimpse into why He blessed us with such a spacious home here in Avinca Village.  Our house is walking distance from a mountain community called Isla Bonita.  This is the place where the Romero family has been working for the past two years.  It is where most of our new friends are from.  And last night we were able to host a Lord's Day Meal at our house and invite six of the new families we've met to join us and the other two missionary families. 

Light of the World
Bread of Life
Fruit of the Vine

Once again, I felt right at home with a packed house!  We praised God in song, prayed together, and shared a meal together. We had over 50 people and at least 30 of them were children.  I was so overjoyed to see the kids' faces as they gobbled pizza and drank orange soda and Sprite.  And to hear all the laughter coming from outside as they played hide and seek and chase in the dark.  It truly felt like home last night.

After all the sweeping and mopping and cleaning up, I collapsed into bed just like old times back home, truly blessed to have such an amazing life.  While thanking God for all the wonderful unexpected blessings, including this amazing house He gave us for to use for ministry, Satan decided to try to steal my joy, making feel bad for enjoying my house again.  I felt ashamed once again to be a missionary living in such a nice place when other missionaries are living amongst the people with only the bare necessities.  I hated the fact that I had shared the pictures of our house on my blog.  What would people think?

Then, in God's perfect timing, Travis came to bed and shared the following scripture with me without knowing what I was struggling with. He had been reading 1 Timothy during our desert day the day before at the Jesuit Retreat Center and shared these three verses with me.  It sums up exactly why God has blessed us so much---it was given to us to share!

1 Timothy, Chapter 6: 17-19
Right Use of Wealth.
Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Home Sweet Home

God provided us with the perfect house for our family and included a few of the modern conveniences that we thought we'd miss the most---a real stove/oven, hot water, and a yard.  He even threw in a few extras like nice beds, cool looking bamboo furniture in the living room, a large refrigerator with a small freezer, a garden, and a beautiful spot to drink coffee and have morning prayer!

Avinca Village:  Blue house on the corner
(That's what we say to the motorella driver to get home.

Who wants to come over for coffee and morning prayer?

Beautiful garden of greens already planted for us!
(Too bad I only recognize the green onions!  But I'm learning!)  

Our Living Room

Dining Room across from Living Room

Very Spacious Kitchen
With large (for here) fridge and four burner stove (rare here) with oven (extremely rare here)

 Comfort Room (CR)  aka the Bathroom
Three small separate rooms

Stairs up to the top level:
Master bedroom and girls bedroom

Master bedroom

The girls love their new turquoise dresser!
Girls bedroom:
Pullout bed for Olivia

Isaac's Camo Room

Philip's Camo Room

The boys' rooms are down in the basement.  Don't feel sorry for them...they are the coolest rooms in the house!

For two weeks the neighborhood kids have lined up like this along our fence. They were too shy to come into our yard to play. And ours were too shy to go out to play. 

Today, our kids finally made it out the gate to play in the street with the neighborhood kids (after I forbid them to play ball under our carport.  Moms have to get drastic sometimes!).  They had so much fun!  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Journey to the Other Side (of the World)

We made it!  We are now in our new home in Malaybalay, Bukidnon in the Philippines!

It was a very long journey, but a miraculous one in many ways.  In the days leading up to our leaving, an arctic front pushed down causing snow and ice in Louisiana which is a rare happening.  Roads and bridges had to be closed down since we Cajuns are not equipped to drive in such conditions.

The forecast called for even worse conditions the day we were supposed to leave.  Our group of 23 decided to head to Houston a day earlier to avoid the possible road closures the next day.  We arrived safely on Monday night and watched as many of the flights out of Houston were cancelled throughout the next morning.  We prayed for enough sunshine to melt the ice on the runways by the time our flight was to leave that afternoon.  Miracle number one---our flight was not cancelled or delayed!

Since we were already in Houston, we decided to make our way to the airport early to try to get all 23 of us including 11 children through security in plenty of time to de-stress a little before getting on our 11 hour flight.  Another miracle---no crowds or lines at the airport!  Since most of the morning flights had been canceled, the usually packed airport was empty.  We walked right up to the counter to check in.

Have you ever seen the Houston
airport this empty?
When we got to the counter and the lady discovered that we were a group of missionaries traveling to the Philippines, we were treated like royalty.  The lady in charge allowed one person to go up and check us all in.  Another miracle---our luggage was not weighed and was all packed together in one crate to ensure that it all arrived together safely.  Next came the security check point area which again was EMPTY!  No lines.  We walked right up and went through extremely easily---another miracle.

Once we were through security and after we prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for all the miracles, we were able to sit, lay, walk, and stretch out in an empty waiting area.  When our plane arrived, we were able to board first.  Again, the plane was empty which allowed us to move around after takeoff and stretch out for the long ride---another miracle!

The eleven hour ride was smooth and easy.    Each seat had it's own TV with tons of movies and games for the kids to watch and play.  The airline staff was amazing.  They learned the names of the kids and were very friendly.  The food wasn't too bad either.  And they had Dr. Pepper for Travis!  He considers this another miracle.

Last Dr. Pepper for a few months!

We landed in Moscow, Russia and had to exit the plane while it refueled and was restocked with food and drinks.  We got off stretched our legs a bit and then had to go through security once again.  This airport was very crowded and a bit intimidating, but again God blessed us with a quick and easy security check-in---miracle!  The line to board the plane this time was very long and crowded with people who just stared at our large American group.  But we were once again allowed to board first and get the kids situated and seated near us.

The next ride from Moscow to Singapore was about 10 hours.  The plane was packed, so there was no stretching out this time.  The kids and I slept a good bit of the way, so it didn't seem so long.  The food wasn't as good and there was no Dr. Pepper on this flight, but it was just as easy and smooth as the first one.  All eleven kids were very good and no one got sick---miracle especially since we had several kids that normally get car or air sick!

Our next stop was in Singapore on Wednesday!  We had a 6 hour layover at one of the world's largest and best airports in the world.  It was about 6:00 am Singapore time and 4:00 pm back home.  The kids found a Subway in the airport and had subs for breakfast/supper.  Travis and I found a McDonalds and had an American breakfast, sort of!  The airport had lots of indoor gardens, play areas for the kids, lots of shops and restaurants, and rest areas.  Miracle---another miraculously easy security checkin!

The flight from Singapore to Manila was four hours.  And again was a very easy one.  Miracle!  We arrived in the Philippines in Manila on Thursday afternoon.  Manila was crazy busy!  People were everywhere.  Everything was different; even the English sounded different. That's when it hit me---we were now foreigners in a foreign country!  We prayed hard for an easy customs check.  Another great miracle ---we walked through customs without a hitch, glitch, or hiccup.

We lost a day somewhere along the way and were exhausted.  We arrived at the hotel about 5:00 pm Manila time which would have been about 3:00 am our time.  We checked in and began taking showers so that we could go site seeing and grab some supper.  But each one of us fell asleep while waiting for the next person to shower, and we slept through supper.  Another small miracle---everyone slept through the night and awoke very refreshed the next morning for our fourth and final round.

We arrived at the Manila airport and once again we were allowed to check-in as a group.  The big worry was that our luggage would be over the weight for this smaller plane.  They weighed all the luggage together.  Miracle---we were under the allowed weight and were able to check in some of our carry-ons! This plane ride was a little bumpier, and Olivia got a little airsick and

a little homesick as reality began to set in, but it miraculously disappeared when we landed!  Another miracle--we landed on the island Mindanao in Cagayan de Ora safely and with new excitement.

We were greeted at the airport by Father Joe from Camguin island where four single missionaries will be living and serving and some of our new Filipino friends Kring and Ramone.  They had made a welcome home sign and leis for each of us.  It was so awesome to finally meet the people that we had heard so much about and had been talking to online for so long.  We loaded up into three SUVs/vans to head to  the Convent at the Cathedral in Cagayan for a few days of rest and retreat.

It was about a forty-five minute drive to the city from the airport.  It was a crazy ride!  There were motorcycles, motorellas, and jeepneys everywhere.  There were no stoplights, traffic signs, or traffic rules, yet there seemed to be no accidents and more importantly no road rage.  The drivers beeped the horns to let each other know where they are and when they are about to make a turn, and it all worked out as they let each other turn and pass.
Motorella:  Our main means of transportation
 23 Americans + 7 Filipinos = 1 packed Jeepney
Miracle---arriving at the Cathedral and convent safely!  After four days of traveling, it was nice to rest in Cagayan, yet it was hard not to finish the trip and head to our new home.

"Cajun" Chicken Salad
Filipino Root Beer

Mocha Coffee Cake

While in Cagayan, we were able to begin being inculturated while surrounded by lots of English speaking people that wanted to help us.  We were also able to celebrate Emily's 12th birthday on Saturday in an "American" way with a trip to the very American mall including lunch at TGIFriday's followed by a Filipino supper and some delicious Filipino cakes!

After spending three days in Cagayan de Ora, we were more than anxious to get to Malaybalay to see our new home.  We loaded up on a bus with the Leano family (Filipino friends) for our three hour bus ride up the mountains to our new home.  Think rollercoaster, tilt-a-world, and the scrambler all in one!  Up and down! All around!  Twisting and turning!  Emily got sick and vomited a few times, but eventually was able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery that we now call home---miracle!

There were many more miracles along the way both large and small---way too many to even begin to count or write about.  God was with us each and every step of the way.  I know it was mostly because of all of your prayers!  The first time I got on Facebook after landing and saw the hundreds of people praying for us and following our journey through my mom's posts, I cried!  It is only through your prayers and God's grace that we have made it to the other side of the world and are ready to begin this new life.

Please continue to pray for us as we continue to adjust.  We pray for you all daily!