Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Kids that Stole My Heart

I've written about the awesome house that God provided for us here in the Philippines.  I've shared about how much I feel at home here in Malaybalay.  Well, here's a glimpse as to why He sent us to the big blue house on the corner in Avinca Village and why my heart is so full of JOY here...

From the day we arrived, there have been kids gathered at our fence from sun up (5 am) to way past sun down.  At first, they just gawked at us and made us feel a little uncomfortable.  They would yell things that we didn't understand through our open windows when we would go inside, but run away when we'd come out to try and talk to them.  We had to keep our curtains closed to get any privacy which really didn't help much since the windows had to be open to let in the cool air.  We could still hear them, and they could still hear us.

But one day, one little girl didn't run away when we came outside.  She stayed at the fence and smiled the most beautiful smile.  I walked to the fence and found out that her name was Jessica.  I offered her a banana that I had, and we became fast friends.  She was the window into our neighborhood.  She is now the first one to call our names in the morning from the gate to tell us "Good Morning."  And she's usually the last one at the gate at night to tell us "Good Night."  And she's not afraid to ask for her daily banana anymore either! 

Once Jessica made friends with us, the others slowly became less shy.  They still gather at our gate each morning, but not to stare at us.  Now they tell us "hello" on their way to school.  They stop back by on their way home for lunch to make sure we will be waiting to play with them after school.  If we aren't home when they get out of school, they wait for us to return always questioning where we have been.  After a few weeks, of answering them with "at a bible study" or "at our friend's house praying" or "at a prayer meeting," they finally said, "Hey, we want to go to a bible study.  Can you have one for us?"  And that was when they captured my heart!  And the moment when I knew exactly why God had sent us to Avinca Village.  Their first official children's bible study will be next week!  Please pray for us as we prepare and discern where God wants to begin.  (To help us purchase supplies for this new ministry, click here and type "Avinca Children's Ministry" in the comment box,)

Our afternoons, evenings, and weekends are usually spent playing with all the kids in the neighborhood---from the littlest ones to the teenagers.  Our house has become the neighborhood hang out.  We have learned to play many of their games and have taught them some of ours.  Everyone loves to play "Duck, duck, goose" which has become "Duke, Duke, Ghost" with their accents.  Even the "too cool" boys joined us for a game one afternoon!

The older ones love to play "1, 2, 3 Red Light" and "Simon Says."  But the all time favorite game of  is "Oh No" aka "UNO"!  They are constantly calling through the gate, "Auntie Melissa, UNO now?"  The games are intense, and they love playing skip, reverse, and draw cards.  "Sorry po" (a respectful way to apologize to an adult) always accompanies a draw 2 or draw 4 card.  And "Bye, Bye, skip you" followed by much laughter can be heard as they play a skip or reverse card.  But my favorite is when they yell, "OH NO!" when they only have one card left!

One of the things that I love most is the simplicity of the kids and the games here.  The kids are happy to just roll an old bicycle tire down the street and chase it.  They don't need to have the newest sporting equipment.  They are happy to play street basketball on a very old basketball rim with a warped basketball.  They really love to play with "Big Baka."  (That would be "Big Cow" which is what they call Travis either because he makes "mooing" sounds out our window when they gather at our gate or because he's so much bigger than most men here. Either way they LOVE when he comes out to play with them!)

We don't have to have a big screen TV or surround sound.  They don't mind gathering around our little laptop to watch a bible cartoon on Saturday mornings which they can barely hear and understand.   They actually greet us very early on Saturday mornings to find out when they can come over to watch the next one!


We don't need to have expensive outdoor toys to play on.  They can spend hours playing with my bamboo clothesline "holder-upper stick". (Email me if you don't know what that is. lol)  They began with the limbo and then made up several new games to use the stick for and then decided it would make great monkey bars!

Last week while shopping, I debated about buying sidewalk chalk for them.  I picked up the box of chalk and put it back several times.  I'm not sure why I didn't spend the 60 pesos (a little over a dollar) except that God made me put it back so that He could teach me a lesson.  The next day I come out of the house to find them writing on our cement driveway----WITH STONES!  They didn't need fancy sidewalk chalk; they used what God had provided for them, the rocks in our yard.  

Yes, once again they stole my heart with the messages in their drawings which showed that they loved us just as much as we have grown to love them in these short two months.

This past Sunday evening about 20 of them showed up at our gate in the rain wearing their best outfits asking if they could come with us to Mass.  Again, my heart melted, so, 30+ of us marched down the flooded streets of our neighborhood to the church during a torrential downpour!

And after Mass, the only sounds that could be heard over the pouring rain was laughter and squeals of joy as we all ran splashing through the sometimes knee deep water on the dark streets of our neighborhood!  People kept looking out of their windows to see who was crazy enough to be out in the dark, flooded streets. Yep, it was those crazy Americanos and their herd of followers!

All I could think about that night as I went to bed was how much I've changed since I've been here.  Never would I have trampled in knee deep water with 30 kids in the dark by myself (Travis was helping rebuild a church on a different island).  I would not have laughed as my kids ran through the muddy water splashing and ruining their "good" Sunday church clothes and shoes.

Never would I have known what true happiness was if I hadn't moved to the other side of the world and met these precious kids who have taught me so much in just a short amount of time!  Here are some of the faces of the kids who stole my heart....

Friday, March 21, 2014

Home IS Where Your Heart Is

Two years ago, on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, our family walked into Our Lady of the Bayous Retreat Center for Family Missions Company's  Wednesday night "Mission Formation".  There were two reasons for our hour long trip to Abbeville:  
  1. to check out the facilities for a youth retreat that our parish would be hosting soon
  2. to find out why Family Missions Company was coming up so much in our recent lives 
When we walked through the doors, I immediately fell in love with the place and the people we met. I had no idea what God’s plans were for me or for our family, but I knew I was right where He wanted me to be at that moment.  I knew that He had indeed called us there for something more than to book a retreat center.  I knew that my heart felt at home there which was crazy because I have never liked new places or crowds especially crowds of new people!
That night at Mission Formation, FMC was sending off a family and two single girls to the Philippines.  I was in awe of this family of four, which included one toddler and one infant.  They were leaving behind their families, their friends, their jobs, their HOME---everything they knew and loved.  And in a small corner of my heart, I was jealous.

At the end of the night, we laid hands on them and prayed over them.  We prayed not only for them, but for the people of Malaybalay that they were being sent to.  I had no idea where the Philippines was and couldn’t even repeat the word "Malaybalay" correctly if my life depended on it.  But I knew that my heart was somehow connected to both now, so I became a missionary stalker!

For months, I read everything these missionaries wrote on their blogs and stalked their Facebook pages too.  My heart grew more and more in love with the Philippines and the people of Malaybalay.  I laughed at all the stories of their mishaps wondering if I would actually be laughing if it were me on the other side.  I cried at all the stories of poverty they shared.  I rejoiced with them after reading all the conversion stories.   My heart yearned to be there in Malaybalay with these missionaries. Little did I know what God had planned for my family.

After almost two years of attending “Mission Formation” and going on two short term trips to Mexico , our family joined In-take 2013 and were commissioned as a full time missionary family in December.  Then on January 22, 2014, almost two years to the date from our first Mission Formation, I found myself in awe once again.  This time our family was one of the families standing in the middle of that room at Our Lady of the Bayou Retreat Center. We were the ones surrounded by family, friends, and strangers praying for our trip to the other side of the world, for our first mission in the Philippines, and for the people of Malaybalay that we were being sent to minister to. 

I can’t begin to describe the feelings I had seeing the place that I had read so much about.  Nor can I describe how I felt meeting all the people that I had already grown to know and love.  We've been here for almost two months now, and it feels like I lived here all my life.  It's odd to feel so at home in a place so far from "home" and in a culture so different from yours.  I have never liked being away from home and my family for any length of time.  And even though I do miss "home," I can't imagine living anywhere else at this moment than here in Avinca Village, Malaybalay, Philippines.

It is true what they say---Home is where your HEART is.  And mine has been here in Malaybalay for a long time!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kids ARE the BEST Missionaries

From the first time we stepped foot into a Family Missions Company function, we've heard that phrase over and over.  I knew it was true when our kids jumped right in to mission life on our very first mission trip to Mexico while Travis and I were a little more cautious about EVERYTHING.

Here in the Philippines, our kids continue to amaze us each and every day.  I am so humbled by the way they just jump right in and serve without flinching, blinking, or thinking twice.

I have watched them as they picked up small toddlers that are bottomless (no diaper or shorts) without thinking twice when the child ran up to them with arms outstretched.  I have watched them sit next to hardened criminals at the jail and not flinch when they begin to ask them questions.  I have watched them continue to carry bags of gravel up and down steep hills after falling and getting hurt.  I watched as the shirt they were wearing was used as a Kleenex by a small child.  I watched as they gave away the snack that they just purchased for themselves.  I have watched them give away their clothes to others who needed it more.

But this week really made my heart melt and helped me to realize just how awesome raising your kids in missions is...

This week a group of nursing students came to Malaybalay for a short term medical mission trip.  While the other kids were running around and playing, I found Emily helping some of the missionaries as they shampooed all the kids from the community that were infected with lice.  I had wanted my girls to stay clear of that area for fear of them getting lice, but Emily had no fear.  She saw that help was needed and just jumped right in without being asked or without giving it a second thought.  After shampooing, she sat down with the little girl and picked out all the lice and eggs. I can't imagine any 12 year old girl that would chose to do this.  It was a task that I had tried to avoid, but after seeing Emily's example  I, too, jumped in to help.  She taught me the true meaning of service that day.

Here is Isaac and our friend's son, King.  King had been sick for two weeks, running fever off and on and having severe headaches.  After a visit to the doctor last week, he needed to be admitted to the hospital to have tests run.  When I sent a text to check on him, I found out that he was scared and wanted Isaac there to hold his hand while they put the IV in.  We were on a fun outing with the short term medical mission group, and Isaac was looking forward to the next stop which was showing them the native shops and letting them try some of the native foods followed by a game of dodge ball.

But when he heard that King wanted him there to hold his hand, he said, "Let's go."  He didn't even think twice about missing out on the fun.  We arrived at the hospital and found King and his mom outside the ER.  He had cried so much that she had decided to just take him home, but when he saw Isaac he got a little brave.  We went inside, and Isaac held his hand while several of us held him down so the nurse could start the IV.  After the IV was started, Isaac crawled into the bed with King and laid with him until he fell asleep. 

KIDS truly ARE the BEST MISSIONARIES and mine have taught me so much about serving the poor since we have been here.  I hope to one day be able to serve as they serve, see as they see, and love as they love.

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:3)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Very Blessed Birthday

My birthday here began with sleeping in!  I had not set my alarm clock because I had heard that the Filipinos love to wake you up at 5:00 am singing to you on your birthday outside your window!  But my friends knew that I had been battling a migraine all week and did not want to wake me in case I still had it.  Praise God that I was able to sleep in and sleep off the migraine!

This is what I found when I did wake.

The girls had set their alarm and had gotten up early to set up this surprise.  They each picked me flowers, made me a card, and gave me a giant heart-shaped comote (sweet potato) they found at the market earlier this week.  Travis had also gotten up and headed out to the bakery to buy breakfast so that I wouldn't have to cook.  (There's no cereal and milk or canned biscuits here for a quick and easy breakfast.) He showed up with cinnamon rolls and chocolate swirl cupcakes that he thought were a different kind of cinnamon roll!

After breakfast the guys left for a work project, and the girls and I had time to kill before meeting the other missionary moms for "home visits" later.  We decided to invite the girls gathered at our gate in for a little spa party.

My friend Marsha showed up carrying two huge bags of gifts for me!  She had made us five beautiful pillows for our very hard bamboo sofa and chairs.  She also gave me two more homemade cards that her two girls had made for me.

After Mars left, the girls and I headed to Isla Bonita, a nearby mountain community, to make some home visits.  Home visits are one of my favorite ministries.  We usually bring a dispensa bag with us filled with food and other goodies for the family.  We visit for awhile and read the bible and pray with them before we leave.  So, I was happy that this was the ministry planned for my birthday!


When we arrived at the zone center, we were greeted by lots of our new friends. When they found out it was my birthday, they ran to the little store in their community and bought a few liters of Coke.  One man worked at a bakery far away and had just returned home with a few boxes of pastries.  He handed them out for everyone to taste.  So, we had mini celebration!

We visited two families and delivered the bags of food after our birthday snack.  Then we met up the guys who were helping to change a roof on a nearby house.  (Nearby meaning up the hill, down the steep path, over the foot bridge, and back up again.)  The Filipino men in charge of the work project wouldn't allow the Americans on the roof to help ("too big" is what they kept saying), so Travis and the boys were able to come home with us for lunch.

Our friend Irene had cooked two of my favorite dishes:  bihon, a noodle dish, without the pork since it was Ash Wednesday and fried Ramen noodle patties.  (Yes, that sounds crazy!  But they are delicious!)  She even shaped all the patties into hearts for my birthday to show me how much she loved me!

After lunch, I decided to treat myself to a reflex foot massage at the Cathedral with the birthday money my mom had sent.  But it's no fun to go alone, so I took my friends Irene and Mars.  For the first time, we left ALL the kids behind and went to town for a girls afternoon!  They were so excited to get away for just a little while without their little ones.  And it blessed me so much to see them enjoy themselves even for just an hour.  Both of these ladies work very hard to help support their families and are always putting others before themselves.  And both of these ladies have been a HUGE help to me since we moved here!

Travis went to check on a friend of ours who was hurt and snuck off to town while I was gone.  He returned with a giant birthday cake!

We decided to open the gates and let ALL the neighborhood kids in.  They sang their Filipino version of "Happy Birthday" to me and then devoured the cake!  They even licked the icing off my knife and the cardboard box!

I don't think he knew what to do with the cake when I gave it to him!  He sat like this for a half hour!

Even some of the neighborhood parents scored a piece of cake! Even though they were too shy to come into our yard.

Later that night our mission team showed up with another cake and ice cream!  They sang to me and then prayed over me.  And this time I actually got a piece of cake!

I went to bed that night feeling so blessed and so undeserving of all the love I had received!  I am truly living the best life in missions!