Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Teacher Heart Breaks

I know that it's hard for all of our USA friends to think about Back to School---tuition, book fees, technology fees, school supplies, and uniforms!  But that is what we are knee deep in right now here in the Philippines since their school year runs from June to mid-March.

I know that back to school time is dreaded by parents---the school fees and the cost of school supplies, uniforms, shoes, etc. causes much anxiety.  It's the same here.  The only difference is that, here, some parents have to decide how many children they can afford to send to school this year.  Yes, you read that correctly!  It's not about what brand or how many pairs of something you can afford.  It's how many of your kids can you afford to enroll this year.

Often times the older kids have to drop out so that the younger ones coming up can begin school or in order to get a job to help support the family.  Many of the kids in the poor villages only get to finish elementary school (6th grade) if they even get to attend at all.  It is a great privilege for the poor to get to attend high school and an even greater accomplishment to actually graduate high school.  And for most of these kids, college is only a far off dream.

What makes this even worse is that the all the kids WANT to go to school.  They WANT to learn.  They WANT an education.  They WANT a better life for their family.  This is heartbreaking to me, a teacher, to see how hungry these kids are for an education and know that some will never have the funds available to go.  It also pains me to know just how many American students are throwing away the education opportunities that so many here would give anything for. 

The past two weeks God has sent so many people to our gate asking for help.  Some needed help paying last year’s fees in order to enroll their kids this year. Some needed help paying this year's fees.  Most needed help purchasing school supplies and uniforms.  They came asking for help and offering their services to us in return---washing our clothes, working at our work projects, cleaning our house or yard.  Most of the ones that come to our gate aren’t looking for a handout; they just want a little piece of hope for their children’s future.

I feel that this is one of the many reasons God sent our family to this particular mission post---to help break that cycle of poverty by helping to educate the poor.  I felt a little jealous of the single missionaries that were sent to Camguin, another island in the Philippines, when I found out they were going to be teaching at the local Catholic high school.  I miss teaching. Not the paperwork nonsense, but the actual teaching and making a difference part.  But God had other plans for the "teacher" in me.

God began to send all these hungry kids to our gate not long after we arrived.  At first I thought they were all hungry for food.  But as I began to get to know each one of these kids, I've learned that they are hungry for so much more.  They were hungry for love and affection.  They were hungry for knowledge,
from English and Math to Jesus and the Bible!  They asked for their own bible study when we couldn't fit all of them on the motorella to go to our Thursday night bible study in a neighboring barangay.  They would sit with me for hours drilling math facts and playing spelling games. 

During our "tutoring" time, they began to share their dreams with me---their dreams of going to college, getting a good job, and supporting their parents so they wouldn't have to work and suffer so much.  Some dream of going to the USA to make lots of money to send back to their families here.  Yes, a few wanted to get a good job and have nice things, but every one of them wants to be able to help their families (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) have a better life.  

We have talked to them about praying and asking God to help their families.  We talked about how God hears the prayers of children and how much He loves them.  They have responded by showing up for morning prayer at our house to pray for their families and showing up at our gate to join us for Mass on Sunday evenings.  The best part is that the kids are beginning to see changes in their own families.  They know God is listening.   Now, they are waiting for their prayer for a school sponsor to be answered.

The past two weeks have been so overwhelming.  They were probably the most exhausting weeks we've had so far here.  We were gone so much that our own kids forgot what we looked like.  But the look on this fourteen year old's face when he put on his new uniform and new shoes and went to school for the first time in 6 years, makes it all worth it.

If you'd like to help kids like Joshua attend school, please email us at  We have many others who are in need of a school sponsor.  Or make a donation to our school supply fund online at Just type Avinca/Isla School Supply Fund in the comment box. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Back to Where It All Began

We left the Philippines about three weeks ago to fly home for my baby brother's wedding.  I was in high school when my mom found out that a God had sent our family a little surprise.  From the moment he was born, he became my baby.  He came everywhere with me---even on my dates!  So, I sat in the pew at the wedding prepared to have an emotional breakdown seeing my baby brother all grownup and married.  I was so proud of the man he was growing up to be. But I didn't breakdown into a blubbering blob of tears that night. 

Actually, it wasn't until I sat in that same church the following Sunday that the emotional meltdown happened.  It was Mother's Day and our 18th wedding anniversary.  The Mass had just begun when I realized that this was where it all began.

This was where I was baptized and made my First Communion.  That was the altar where Travis and I promised to love, honor, and cherish each other all the days of our lives.  That was the altar where our children were baptized and made their First Communions. Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church was where we had come each Sunday and many days in between for the "help" we needed to get through the week, the day, the moment...

As I began to think about the past 18 years, the good times and the bad times, the tears began to fill my eyes.  It had been a very long and hard 18 years.  We had had our share of bad times and worse times.  We had struggled at times to just stay afloat.  There were times when we thought we couldn't make it another day.  But we had persevered through it all because of the promise we had made to each other before God 18 years ago on that very altar.  And that was the altar that we had come to time and time again for the strength we needed to keep those promises.

And then it hit me... that altar is where our journey into mission life began 18 years ago when we dedicated our family to follow Christ.  It was the promise we made to accept and bring our children up in the faith.  It was the promise that we made to put Christ first in our marriage.  It was the promise we made to follow Him.  These promises that we made 18 years ago on that altar to each other and to God led us to where we are now---a Catholic missionary family living on the other side of the world.

And that's when it began---the emotional meltdown that I had been prepared for two nights before came full force.  There is no way that 18 years ago we would have ever agreed to such a life of ourselves much less our (future) children.  We probably wouldn't  have even agreed to "follow Him" back then had we known where He would take us.

But the amazing part of it all is that He knew this of us.  He knew that we weren't as "committed" to what we were promising as we imagined we were, but He still wanted us anyway.  He wanted us in our immaturity, our selfishness, our materialism, our stubbornness, and with our tiniest morsel of faith.

He would send us the trials we needed to grow more dependent on Him.  He sent us the good times that we needed to keep going beyond the bad times.  He spend 18 years molding us into who He needs us to be right now, and He will spend the next two years molding us into who we need to be beyond the mission field.  More importantly, He will use the rest of our Earthly lives molding us into who He meant us to be from the moment He created us.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

From a Horse to a House

This is Doc.  Doc was our favorite horse.  He was the kindest, most gentle horse we had.  Even I, the "animal hater" as my kids call me, loved him.  He was the horse that was the hardest for us to part with when God called us to "sell everything and follow Him."  Many people came to see him and "test ride" him, but no one passed our approval.  Then one day this lady showed up to look at him and the horse trailer we had for sell.

Almost immediately, we felt at ease.  We knew deep down that this was the lady that was suppose to have Doc.  We were heartbroken when she left with the horse trailer, but not Doc.  For weeks, we kept trying to find the right buyer, but no one seemed to be a good fit for him.  We kept thinking and praying for the lady to come back and get him, but we knew that she had found a different horse and that this was one wish we'd have to give up on.  We were almost to the point of trying to figure out where we could keep him until we returned from missions when we received an early morning phone call.

It was her!  She explained to us that as she was sitting having her morning coffee looking out into her pasture, she knew that she had to buy Doc.  She was calling to see if we still had him and if he was still for sale.  She drove over and picked him an hour later.  It was hard to see him go, but we were so happy to know that God had heard our prayer and was continuing to take care of all of our worries.

Fast forward to the Philippines over a year later.  It was April 13th, and I noticed on my calendar that it was Doc's birthday.  I wondered how he was and thought about the family that had bought him.  I smiled as I thought about how we knew from the beginning that that family was suppose to have him and how great God was to work it all out.  Little did I know that God would soon reveal the rest of His plan and purpose for Doc.

Three days later, Wednesday of Holy Week, Travis and I realized that we were out of funds. We had had more people than usual coming for help those first two weeks of April and had unknowingly spent our entire monthly stipend in just two weeks.  We were discussing how we were going to pay our share of the next day's work project and the ct scan that one of our closest friends needed to have.  Plus, we still had lots of people depending on us for food for the rest of the month including our own four kids.  We were kind of in panic mode, when another good friend came over to ask for our help.

Her widowed aunt was being evicted from her home and only had four days to be out of her house.  Our friend told us the story of how the government destroyed her aunt's first home to build the highway.  They gave her a piece of land next to the city jail to build a new one, but being a widow with two children, she was afraid to live next to the jail.  So, she rented some land and build her home.  Now, she was being told that she had to be out by Easter Sunday, so the land owner could build a business.

The good news was that she had land to build a new house on.  The bad news was she had no money to build a new house and neither did we.  With our funds depleted, we told our friend the only thing we could, "We will pray about it and see what God wants us to do."  All evening we kept trying to figure out where we could get the money to build this lady a house, pay for the ct scan, pay for the work project, feed our family and all the other families in our neighborhood that count on us. Key word "we" were trying to figure it out!

We finally decided that the priority was the lady's house.  We knew we had extra in our FMC fund and could request additional money for our regular monthly needs.  And we planned to fundraise for the CT scan once home for the wedding.  So, I sat down at the computer to write a "beg letter" to send out to some of our mission partners (you!) but instead I found a message in my inbox from the lady who bought Doc.  She was writing to let us know that they had sold Doc to a very nice family and really felt like the money should be given to our family.  "Wait? What?"

As I continued to read, I knew that God had already taken care of everything!  Not only was it enough for to build the house, but for the CT scan, the work project, and food for the rest of the month!  The goosebumps began to cover my arms and the tears began to fill my eyes!  How awesome is our God!

And if that wasn't enough... I message her back immediately to tell her that we would be using some of the money to build a house for a widow lady that was just evicted.  She immediately answers me back telling me how she and her husband had tried several times to build a house for someone in need, but how it had never "worked out." They had finally just given it to God and told him to find the person they were to build the house for.  "Are you kidding me?"

Now the goosebumps covered my body and the tears covered my cheeks.  As we frantically emailed back and forth for the next few minutes, I was in total awe of how God works!  We purchased that horse in order to sell it to so that it could be sold to build a house in the Philippines!  We couldn't have come up with a better or more perfect plan! 

From a Horse

   To a House.


A home like this one only costs $500 (US dollars) to build.  There are many families here in need of a home.  If you or your group/organization would like to sponsor a home, you can visit our donation page to make an online donation.  Just type Build a Home Project in the comment box.  

Our newest project is Replace a Roof.  Many homes have grass roofs which are easily damaged by heavy rains and have to be replaced often.  We have begun to replace the grass roofs with tin roofs that will keep water out of the house and will last much longer.  This project costs around $200.  You can donate a roof by typing Replace a Roof in the comment box when donating online.

We also have a project called Floors for the Poor.  For just $75, you can help give a family a cement floor in their existing home.  We have already witnessed the benefit of a cement floor in one of the local communities.  The kids are overall healthier since they are not crawling around and playing in the dirt everyday.  Just type Floors for the Poor in the comment box when checking out if you'd like to sponsor a floor.

Visit the Seilhan Family Missions Donation Page to help with any of these projects.