Monday, July 28, 2014

My Husband, the Missionary

It's no secret that Travis did not want to be a missionary.  FMC's director jokes about how he's memorized Travis's essay "Why I Want to Be an FMC Missionary?" Travis's essay was just one line, "I don't want to be an FMC missionary, God wants me to."  That was it.  Short, simple, and 100% honest.  But even though he did not and still does not really want to be a missionary, that does not stop him from doing all of the things God is calling him to do here.  And not just "doing" them, but doing them with love---the love of Jesus.

Last week, as we were driving our friends home from the hospital, we passed a man laying in the road full of blood.  We weren't sure what had happened or what was going on, but it didn't seem like anyone was stopping to help the man.  We circled the block and saw that he was about to get run over by all the traffic passing by.  Travis quickly got out and pulled the man to the sidewalk as our friend began to ask the bystanders what happened.

We found out that he was "just" the local drunk and that he had had way too much to drink.  He had fallen off the sidewalk and his beer bottle had broken during the fall and had cut up his face.  As he tried to stand again, he fell into the road where we saw him.  It was the real life Good Samaritan story.  His fellow Filipinos were just walking past him ignoring him as he laid there in the road.

Travis tried talking to the man while our friend found some wipes in her bag to clean his wounds.  A crowd began to form to see what these "white" people were going to do with the drunk man.  One older man knew where the man lived and offered to show us how to get there.  So, Travis loaded this very filthy, very drunk, very smelly, and very bloody man into our van to take him home.  Unable to understand the older man's Visyan, we parked very far from where we needed to be.  But Travis had already unloaded the man when we realized it, and the man was too heavy to load up again.  So, they began to practically drag the man back down the street.

Finally, we were shown this little cement path to take.  We began to venture down the path into a small little village on the outskirts of town.  One that you would never know was even there unless someone took you to it.  We kept walking down the path down the hill, and Travis kept stumbling every few steps with this man who couldn't carry his own weight.  I followed behind praying that the hundreds of dogs barking at us didn't attack, and listening to my husband talk to this man about God.

I listened as he told the man how much God loved him and wanted to help him.  At one point the man mumbled something, and I heard Travis tell him, "I know He loves you, because He sent me to pull you out of the road before you got run over by a car."  I was in tears as I followed, watched, and listened.  This man who never wanted to be a missionary had become one of the most kind and sincere missionaries that I know.

We finally arrived at the man's house to find his daughter and her child there.  We explained what had happened and offered to bring him inside and get him cleaned up.  She was too shy and/or too embarrassed to let us in and assured us that she would clean him up.  Travis reluctantly turned the man over to his daughter and stepped away, but not before laying his hands on the man and praying for him---for him, his addiction, his health, his daughter, his grandchild, and for all their material and spiritual needs.

We slowly turned and made our way back to the van where I saw Isaac, our oldest son, sitting waiting for us.  I had forgotten that he was also with us.  He had stayed in the van with our friend's little girl while we tended to the man.   As we got in, he wanted to know what had taken us so long. As I retold the story to him, I smiled at the great witness that Travis had just provided not only to this man and to all the by-standers, but to our fourteen year old son.

I used to think that the greatest example Travis could have given our kids was to say "Yes" to missions when he really wanted to say "No."  What greater way to teach your kids to follow Christ, then to follow Him into to foreign missions when it's the last thing on Earth you want to do. But these last seven months in missions has shown me that the greatest example he can give our kids is to love the people here like Jesus does---no matter how young, how old, how drunk, how dirty, how smelly, how sick, or how unworthy they seem.

Please pray for this man that Travis's witness will lead him to Jesus's mercy and healing.  And for Travis to continue to have the strength he needs to continue to be the missionary God has called him to be.  And for the rest of our family to have the courage to follow his missionary example.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Meet Joshua

This is Joshua.  He was one of the first kids at our gate when we arrived in the Philippines back in February.  He spoke no English, but his smile captured my heart from the very beginning.  He was always at our gate waiting for us to return from where ever we had been no matter what time of the day or night, so that he could come in the yard to play with our kids or work for us.  He was constantly offering to sweep, clean the yard, cut the grass, trim the bushes for just a few pesos or for some food.

Sweeping the driveway
(Yes, that is a Filipino broom.)
Joshua had a bad reputation in the neighborhood and was one of the kids that we had been "warned" about, but there was something in his smile and something in his eyes that told me he just needed some love and guidance.  We were told not to let him in our yard and especially not our house, because he couldn't be trusted. But of course, he was one of the first ones to be invited to come into the yard.  And was one of the first ones to join us at our table inside for a meal.  He quickly became a regular at our house and at our table.  And eventually began sleeping over often.

I soon found out that he was not enrolled in school and hadn't been to school since second or third grade.  I also discovered that he had a great desire to learn, so I began teaching him Math a few times a week.  Yes, the English teacher started with Math!  He spoke NO English, and I spoke NO Visayan.  Teaching addition and subtraction was easier!  We soon moved on to learning colors especially while playing UNO, his favorite game.

Playing his daily game of UNO!
I knew from the very beginning that Joshua was one of the reasons that God had sent us to the Philippines and had put us in the big blue house on the corner in Avinca Village.  But being the teacher, I thought that it was to help him get back into school.  So, that became "my" mission, to get Joshua back into school.

But as I began to question him about meeting his parents to get him back in school, he shut down.  He stopped coming around for a few days.  I began to question the neighbors, and I found out that his mother had died shortly after delivering him leaving behind five other siblings and this newborn.  Joshua's dad lived in another town far from Malaybalay in order to find work to support his family.  Joshua had been raised by an aunt as a baby, then lived with his dad for awhile, and was now living with one of his sisters who was struggling to support her own family.

Joshua on his first day of school.
I finally got Joshua to introduce me to his sister, so that I could talk with her about helping to get him back in school.  She was so grateful for the change she had seen in Joshua lately and was eager to get him back in school.  We found an alternative school with an elementary program for Joshua to enroll in so that he could catch up to where he needed to be in order to enter high school next year.  We agreed to help with transportation, school fees, lunch, etc.  Mission Accomplished!

Or so I thought.  By the time all of this happened, Joshua had practically moved into our house and had become part of our family.  Our kids began talking about adopting him and taking him back to the US with us.  We told them how crazy that was even though Travis and I both secretly longed to do that very thing.  One day while we were discussing it, we recalled the family retreat that we had had not long after we had arrived in the Philippines.

During that retreat, we received many verses about taking in strangers, taking in foreigners, and helping widows and orphans.  And several verses from the book of Joshua.  We remembered how even way back then during the retreat our kids had mentioned that God wanted us to adopt Joshua.  After recalling this, Travis and I decided that we needed to really pray about this and whether it was God calling us to adopt again.

Swimming at the cold spring for the first time.
Soon there was no doubt that God was asking us once again to accept another person's child as our own which we had done already.  But we had no idea how to even approach the subject with Joshua's family, but God had already taken care of that too.  Just as we were wondering how to get in touch with Joshua's dad that lived far away, he showed up in the neighborhood for a visit.  God had sent him right to our street.  We set up a meeting to talk with  Joshua's father, one of his sisters, and one of his brothers about his schooling and his living arrangements.

We were worried that his dad had come back to town to get him or to tell us that he needed to move back in with his sister.  He had already become part of our family, and we didn't want to loose him.  Our biggest fear was that all the signs leading us to wanting to adopt Joshua had not actually been from God but from our own longing for more children.

Opening his first piece of mail from the US
and finding Chewy Sweettarts!
But as the "meeting" began, God revealed that He had already set this idea in the hearts and minds of Joshua's family.  Our wanting to adopt Joshua was a relief and an answered prayer for their family.  This family had been struggling for so long just to put food on their table each day.  With everyone working or searching for work, Joshua had been shuffled from place to place. And with no one to really look out for him during the day, he became a wanderer and eventually quit going to school and began to hang out with a not so good crowd.

His family had all seen the excitement he was now showing about learning and going to school, but also the change in his attitude and behavior.  Everyone was in agreement that the best thing for Joshua would be to be adopted by our family.  They all wanted a better life for him.  It was one of the saddest things I have ever listened to.  Because they loved him so much, they were willing to give him up so that he would have a chance at a better life.  By the end of our visit, there wasn't a dry eye.

The next step was to talk to Joshua about all this.  Again, we had no idea how to bring this up to him, especially since we had the whole language barrier thing still going on.  But again, God had a plan already set in motion that helped us approach the subject very easily.  After an emotional wedding ceremony where the priest talked about what a Catholic family should look like, Joshua told us that he wanted a family like the priest had talked about.  He told us that we were the only people to show him love and kindness no matter what.  He shared how we were the first people to invite him into our house and to our table.  He explained how much it meant to him that we trusted him, invited him into our family, and loved him despite what others had said.

Then he told us that the only thing he ever wanted was a mother to hug him and love him.  And then added that he wanted me to be that mother.  I can't begin to describe my emotions at that point.  Those were the saddest, most heart wrenching, yet the most beautiful words I have heard come out of a child's mouth.  I could not speak, so I did the only thing I could do, the thing any mother would do,  I grabbed him and hugged him.

In the past few weeks, we have been meeting with a lawyer to figure out if this adoption is possible and what we need to do to make it happen.  We have run into several roadblocks and speed bumps this week.  We are asking that you add us and Joshua and his family to your prayer list.  Please pray that God's will be done and that the transition will be a smooth one for all of us involved.  Pray that God will guide the lawyer to the quickest and easiest route for this adoption.  We know that God has already planned another Day the Lord Made Just For Us.

Our new missionary family!

***We have also discovered that international adoptions cost a lot more than our domestic one did.  If you feel called to help us with application processing fees and court costs that we will encounter along the way, you can donate to our mission fund at  Just type Adoption Fees in the comment box.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Do 11Xs

While most of you were celebrating the Fourth of July, we were celebrating the wedding of eleven couples who got married in the Church.  (We are a day ahead of you guys!)  We started out with a few couples from our neighborhood who has told us while visiting with them before the baptisms of their children how they were never actually married because they couldn't afford the license or the required classes (both civil and church ones) much less afford the cost of a wedding ceremony and reception.

We knew that missionaries before us had done "mass" weddings and the wheels began to turn back in April.  After talking with Father about why so many couples weren't able to receive the Sacrament of Marriage, the wedding train was full speed ahead.  Father was just as anxious as we were to give the couples in our neighborhood the opportunity to receive the nuptial graces that come with the sacrament.  After witnessing my own brother's wedding back in the USA in May, I knew that God was calling us to begin planning a wedding!

We had only two months to plan a wedding, but with God as the wedding planner it all fell into place.  We had our wonderful Filipino missionary friends, the Leanos, running all over the island getting birth certificates, baptism records, etc.  They stood in lines waiting for all the proper documents for each couple.  They had "people" for everything----a ring guy, a dress lady, a flower lady.  And we knew a caterer!

They only problem that we had was trying to figure out exactly how many couples we had.  Word got around our neighborhood and Father began announcing it at church.  We had couples sign up and drop out daily.  We just continued to pray for who ever was supposed to be included!

Finally, the BIG day arrived and we had eleven beautiful brides and eleven gwapo (handsome) grooms and a church full of very happy moms, dads, and children!  And the Filipino wedding traditions made the day just perfect!

The color was red.  The color of the Holy Spirit.
And boy, could we feel HIS presence!

Father blessing all the couples.

Blessing of the rings
Vows and Ring Exchange
Filipino tradition: Cord and Veil
A reminder that they are "bound" together as "one."

Another Filipino Tradition:  The couple administer
the Holy Eucharist to each other.

First "Official" Kiss

Making it officially official!

The head table

To Us!  Finally!

First Dance

Thank you to all the sponsors and donors that helped make this dream come true for so many!  Please continue to pray for each couple as they begin their new lives together.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Cry of the Poor

This past Wednesday, Travis and I found ourselves at the hospital at the orthopedic surgeon's office again.  This time with a two day old baby whose left foot was twisted and deformed and needed to be set in a plaster cast.  While there we met a little girl with metal rods sticking out of her leg from a surgery that she had had five months ago after breaking her leg at school.  Her leg had become infected around each rod, because they had been in her leg too long.  Her parents could not afford the instrument fee for the surgery to remove the rods and the infection was now spreading all over her body.  After hours of waiting, we talked to the hospital director who agreed that she must be admitted, put on antibiotics, and have the rods removed as soon as possible.

This was a typical day for us...Bring someone to the doctor, end up at the hospital for hours, and meet someone else in greater need than the person we brought.  And the cycle just continues with each visit to the hospital.  It pains me so much to see the poor not get the medical treatment they need, so even though this is not the ministry I dreamed of, this is the ministry we seem to do the most of lately.

The next day we went back to the hospital to check on the little girl to make sure she was getting the antibiotics that she needed.  We were "accidentally" sent up to the third floor.  As I walked up to the nurses station to ask which ward our little friend was in, I noticed that there was some commotion going on behind me.  As I turned around, my heart sank.  There were nurses performing CPR on a baby right in the middle of the hallway.  There is no ICU, so patients needing special care and attention are placed in the hallway right in front of the nurse's station.

I immediately turned around and motioned to Travis and Olivia and the two other missionaries with us to pray.  We all stood around that bed and prayed.  We prayed and prayed and prayed for a miracle.  We begged God to save this baby.  All the great scripture quotes flooded my head as we prayed, "Ask and you shall receive, lay hands on the sick, whatever you ask in my name will be given, signs and wonders will accompany you..."  I knew God was going to save this baby.  That's why He sent us here.

After about 10 minutes, which seemed like years to me, the baby was pronounced dead.  Right in front of us.  Travis and the two other missionary men immediately knelt down by the bed and prayed over the lifeless body of that baby.  I stayed back with Olivia and begged God one last time for one breath, just one breath, one movement, just one movement. But there was no movement, no breath.

I stood watching in disbelief.  I think I went through all the stages of grief in a blink of an eye.  I was in denial.  Surely, God would not have sent us up here to watch a baby die.  Then I became angry with Him for not saving that baby when we prayed so hard for a miracle.  Then I tried to bargain with Him to just revive that baby.  Wouldn't a miracle like that draw all these people around closer to You?  Wouldn't that be an awesome way to take away everyone's doubt?  I was just about on the verge of breaking down into a heap of tears when I finally realized that God was not going to bring this baby back to life.

But right at that moment I heard the most heart wrenching cry that I have ever heard---the cry of a mother for her baby.  As I opened my eyes, I saw her sitting on the floor screaming for her baby.  I looked around for the father who was just standing there next to the bed in disbelief.  I waited for someone to comfort this mother, but no one moved.  The dad was in shock, and the nurses had returned to their duties.  The other by-standers just watched.  That's when I knew why God had sent us to the third floor.

I sat down on the floor and held this mother as she screamed in my ear and cried on my shoulder.  She clung to my clothes and sobbed a sob that I will never forget.  After what seemed like an eternity, she got up and went to the bedside to see her baby and her husband took over.  I didn't think that I could manage another moment there, so I scribbled my name and phone number on a paper and handed it to the doctor and left to check on our little girl who was actually on the second floor.  Things after that seemed to just be one big blur.

We arrived at our regular Thursday night bible study and things were more chaotic then usual.  The other two families that usually "run" it weren't there, so we were in charge of the night.  Thankfully, the visiting missionaries had agreed earlier to share their testimonies and give the teachings.  All we needed to do was set up and lead the music ministry.  Isaac and Emily were leading the Praise and Worship that night for the first time.  I was so proud of the two of them, but as they began to play and we began to sing about how great our God was, all I could think about was that poor mother crumpled on the floor of that hospital.  And how my God had failed to show up that day.

The more we sang His praises, the more upset I got, the more I questioned what I was doing here in the Philippines.  Jesus cured all kinds of people while on earth and raised people from the dead, then told His disciples in John 14 that they would do the same.  He also tells them that whatever they ask in His name, He will do.  Was my faith so weak that I was unable to be the missionary that He called me to be here?  Was my faith in Him not strong enough to save that baby?  But didn't He say if we had faith the size of a mustard seed that we could move mountains?  Was my faith less than a mustard seed?  So many scriptures ran through my mind and with each one came more questions?  But ultimately they all came back to "WHY?"

Why am I here? Why did you send me to the third floor? Why did you not save that baby? Why did you let my child witness this baby's death?  Why should I believe? Why? WHY? WHY?  And while all of these questions are racing in my head, the screams and cries of that mother still rang in my ears, and the vision of her on that floor still burned in my eyes.  I was mad at the nurses, the doctor, the other by-standers who just walked away like nothing had happened.  I was mad at myself for not having enough faith.  And I was mad at God.

I went home that night and cried myself to sleep.  I cried for that mother as I thought of her going to bed that night without her baby.  I cried for my lack of faith, for my lack of trust, for my unbelief.  I cried because I felt that the God I had given up everything to follow had abandoned me when I needed Him most or worst of all didn't even exist.  I have never felt so alone and empty in all my life.

I woke the next morning to my phone ringing.  It was an unknown number.  My heart sank as I realized that the events of the previous day were not a dream and that it would be that family on the other end of the phone.  "Dear God, if you are real, give me the words to speak."  I answered to hear a man's voice on the other end asking if I was the one from the hospital.  I muttered out a "Yes."  Then he asked if we could come to their house and meet with them.  Again, the word "Yes" came out of my mouth.  He gave me directions, and I hung up the phone.

Later that day, we took our two good friends, Ricky and Irene, with us and made our way to a neighboring town to actually meet this couple.  We prayed on the way for God to give us the words to say, the courage to say them, and the strength to stand.  We arrived at the uncle's house where the couple was staying and entered the living room to find the baby laid out on the coffee table.  I had told myself that the baby would be there because I had already heard stories about the hospital sending deceased babies home in a box.  But I was not really prepared to see it laid out that way right when we entered the house.

We all knelt down beside the body and prayed.  I prayed again for God to give me the words that needed to be said.  But again words were not needed, the young mother sat next to me and hugged me.  She held my hand, and I wrapped my arm around her shoulder.  We sat like that for awhile.  Then the owner of the home explained to us that the baby's name was April Jay, he was one year old, he had had pneumonia, and his parents were so poor that they couldn't afford to bring him to the hospital.  And by the time they found enough money to go to the hospital it was too late.

I didn't think my heart could break any more than it was, but to think of the suffering of this child, of this mother, of the poor around the world, it crumbled to pieces.  Knowing that your baby is sick and dying, but not having enough money to get the help that could save their life...I can not even begin to imagine how that must feel.  As a mother, there have been numerous times that I felt helpless when my children were sick, but never have I experienced the helplessness that this family felt.  And the little bit of faith that I had found again earlier, quickly vanished.

All the way home I couldn't think of anything but how much the poor of the world suffer.  A mother is about to bury her child because she couldn't come up with enough money to get to the hospital.  Doesn't the bible say that "God hears the cry of the poor?"  Then came all the emotions again.  I went from being sad and heartbroken to mad and angry again.  I was mad at the government. I was mad at our world.  I was mad at all of the rich of the world who have no idea what suffering really is.  I was mad at myself for all those years of turning a blind eye to the reality of the poor.  And I was mad at God again.

Throughout the next day, I tried to pray. I tried to read my bible.  I tried to find answers.  I tried to mustard up the smallest bit of faith.

On Sunday morning our family, along with Ricky & Irene and their family, piled in the van to make the 45 minute trip to the chapel for the funeral.  I still didn't really understand God's plan or why He didn't hear our prayer and the cry of this family.  I was strictly going for moral support and nothing else.  But God had other plans, of course.  During the ceremony, I was called up to give the funeral "message" aka the homily since there wasn't a priest available.  Are you kidding me?  I was the least qualified person in that room to give a "message" from God about this particular situation.  "OK, Lord, you better work a miracle now."

I stood up and walked to the front of the chapel praying for words of wisdom.  I introduced myself and our family and told of how we came to meet this beautiful couple.  Then all these crazy things started coming from my mouth like "God put me there on the 3rd floor for a reason, that His plan is always better than our plan, that He can bring so much good from suffering, that He uses tragedy to bring us closer to Him, that He does hear their cries, that He wants them to completely turn their hearts to Him, to trust Him completely, etc."

These were all the things that I had known and believed a week ago, but had buried down in the bottom of my heart the past few days.  When I sat down, I realized the "message" I gave was exactly what I, myself, needed to hear.  God was speaking through my mouth directly to my heart.  He was answering all my "Why's?" and reminding me that He had not abandoned any of us that He was right there in our midst through it all.  He told me that He does hear the cry of the poor and that's why He sent me---to be His shoulder that they cry on.

It was so humbling to think that He chose me for this great mission.  He sent me, with all my faults, with all my failings, with all my doubts, with all my sins, to be His hands and feet and His shoulders. But not only is He calling me, He is calling each one of us to be the body of Christ here on earth to all those we meet: the sick, the suffering, the poor, the rich, the old, the young.