Monday, September 15, 2014

Mission Life is Hard

The Philippine motto is "It's More Fun in the Philippines!"  I changed it to "Everything is Harder in the Philippines!" after our first week here.  Everything is physically harder to do here: shopping, cooking, bathing, sleeping, eating, homeschooling, driving, etc.  (I'll save the emotional and spiritual hardships in another blog.)

Shopping is harder.  There's no super Wal-mart here.  Instead, we have a million little Sari Sari stores lining all the streets.  Imagine your neighbor selling you the two eggs or the 1/2 cup of oil you need to borrow out of their living room window.  Yep, that's what we have here.

My friend and neighbor LingLing

We do have one large store in town called Gaisano which I've grown to hate as much as Wal-mart and try to limit my time and budget there.  The music is blaring so loud that you can't even hear yourself think.  And the music is so random.  You can here "I Need You Jesus" followed by some song too inappropriate to even mention to some old Journey.  It's the best and worst of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today.  At closing time, they blare "Closing Time" by Semisonic as all the workers try to rush you out of their department by singing very loudly.  Yes, sometimes, it's hard to keep a straight face here.

Gaisano is several stories tall.  Groceries on one floor.  Cosmetics on another.  Clothing on one.  School supplies and housewares on the top.  And you have to check out in each department separately.  Then you must "check" all your bags in before entering the grocery part.  Yes, I avoid it as much as possible.

We also have a few local open markets that sell everything from fresh meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables to flip flops and garbage cans!  Just the smell the first time was enough for me!  Having to shop at so many different places to get what we need for the week is such a pain, but I have come to realize what a blessing this really is.  First of all, I lost a lot of weigh when we first got here from all the walking!

Secondly, shopping at our neighborhood Sari Sari stores and local fresh markets helps support the families that we have grown to know and love.  It also keeps me from over spending and keeps us from indulging in things that we really don't need to buy (like the pack of Oreos that sometimes appear in Gaisano). My nose has also gotten used to the market smell, and I am so grateful to have an unlimited supply of fresh fruits and vegetables two blocks away from our house.

Cooking is harder, too.  There are no easy fix meals.  You can't just throw a meal together or run to town to buy something.  (Well, you can, but we still have no idea what a lot of the food that they sell on the side of the road is!)  Every meal has to be cooked from scratch.  I can't just open a can of something and heat it up.  You can't even pop the leftovers in the microwave to heat up.  You need to get out separate pots for each dish and heat it over the stove.

I know, I know.  This sounds pretty silly to complain about, and each time I proofread this part, I think about how "spoiled" I sound.  But try it for a month.  Make every meal from scratch (3 a day), never pop open a can, a jar, or box of anything, and never use an electric appliance.  Don't get me wrong I cooked a lot in the states and rarely used my microwave.  And I LOVE to cook, but some mornings I just want to say, "Just fix a bowl of cereal or grab a pop tart. Momma is sleeping in!" And somedays, I just want to say, "Fix a sandwich for lunch. Mom has too much to do today to cook."

Cooking also takes forever.  I only have two small functioning burners on my stove (oven does not work).  Making a simple breakfast such as eggs and toast takes up to an hour sometimes to cook enough in my small pans for all seven of us plus any guests we may have.  And the pots and pans are so paper thin that if you take your eyes off of them for just a second, your meal is scorched and you have to start over.  But I'm blessed because many of our friends and neighbors don't even have the two burners or two pots.  They use one pot on an open fire.  

And having to cook every meal is also a huge blessing.  I am in total control of what goes into my family's mouths.  No more temptation of junk food meals especially at breakfast.  I am not a morning person and therefore, relied on cereal (semi-healthy ones), pre-made waffles, frozen biscuits, etc. Now everything is fresh and very few things are packaged.  And everything is freshly cooked.  Even breakfast!  Another blessing is that everyone is learning to chop vegetables and cook!  Even Travis is learning his way around a kitchen.

Sleeping is even harder in the Philippines.  The bed and "mattress"---think kindergarten rest mat on a wooden platform--- was a little "hard" to get use to.  I didn't think I've ever be able to sleep without AC!  Those first few weeks were a bit uncomfortable until we saw that many of our friends and neighbors slept either on a mat on the floor or on the wooden platform without the mat.  And thank you, God, for putting us at the end of the street on the side of a mountain where a nice cool breeze blows through our house most nights. But now I find myself reaching for the lightweight "comforter" that was purchased for our bed (the one that I laughed at and said we'd never use).

But having open windows to let in the cool night air, also lets in ALL the sounds of the neighborhood all night long and very early in the morning.  Filipinos stay up very late and get up extremely early.  There can be a basketball game going on until midnight, and those same people are playing again at 5 am.  I now fall asleep listening to the sounds of my neighborhood---the drunk man singing karaoke down the street, the men playing basketball outside my window, those drinking too much, to the babies crying in the nearby houses.  I now know these people.  I now know their needs, and I can fall asleep praying for them.  And they have helped to make me a "somewhat functional" morning person.

Doing laundry is harder here too.  We have no washing machine, no dryers.  Everything is handwashed and hung out on the line.  Thankfully, I have helpers that wash all the laundry each morning.  But it is the rainy season here.  That means we have to constantly "put the laundry out, take the laundry in, put the laundry out, take...), sometimes ten times a day.  And then it may take several days to dry.  Need sheets or towels, and it rained all day?  Too bad.  Our clothes are not lasting as long under these conditions, and we may be naked by the end of the year.

The blessing was very hard to find in this one, but it is one of the big ones.  There were three ladies that came to us needing money and offering to do any kind of work we had in order to buy rice to feed their children.  We were able to give them each a wash day or two each week.  Giving them a little salary each week in order to feed their family.  They aren't getting a hand out which none of them wanted in the first place, but are each able to help provide for some of their family's needs.  And I don't have to waste my entire morning/day (It only takes them 2-3 hours.  It would probably take the unskilled person (ME) all day.) washing laundry when there are so many other things God wants me doing here.

Homeschooling the kids is also harder here.  Again, our house is open to all the sounds of the neighborhood---all day and all night.  Besides the distractions out on the street, we are constantly having to stop what we are doing to answer the call at the gate. Or to answer a text message. Or to head to the hospital to bring someone who is very sick or deliver food or buy medicine for our patients.  Our day gets interrupted so many times that sometimes I feel like giving up on school work altogether!  (Shh! Don't tell the kids I said that!)

But then I stop and realize that some of the most important things my kids will learn are from those very distractions.   I've watched them stop their schoolwork and the answer the gate. Then come in to get a bag of rice for a neighbor or a stranger who is hungry. Or ask if they can give away their such and such or our last bag of beans.  I watched them give up their school time in order to go to the jail for a bible study with their dad.  I've seen them stop their school work to help our helper with laundry.  I've seen them put their assignment aside to ride to the hospital with a sick child to help comfort them.  All while knowing they are going to have to do their schoolwork in their free time later.  The lessons they are learning are far greater than the ones in their school books.

Yes, mission life is hard.  But the blessings far outweigh all the struggles we have.  I had two choices when we got here: dwell on all the hard things or find the blessings in it all.  If I would have continued to look at all the things we didn't have or things that I couldn't do or how hard everything was, I would be miserable.  I would have already packed up and headed home.  But instead I CHOSE to look for the positives, the blessings, both big and small, and be happy where God has me at the moment.

That's my challenge to all of you: Chose to be happy.  Chose to count your blessings.  Chose to have a positive attitude.  Chose to be thankful for all the blessings God has given you.  Chose to embrace the hardships and learn from them.


  1. Praying for you each morning when I pray for our church's missionaries. Keep up the good work.

  2. I read your article this week on Ignitum Today and then found you again through CWBN. I stumbled upon you twice in a week! Praise God.

    Bless you and your mission with the poor. St Therese, pray for this blessed family.

  3. I miss my adopted country, The Philippines. I was there over two years from 2008 to 2011, mostly Cebu and Panay. Gaisano were my favorite stores. Each of them has a shrine with a Crucifix and a statue of Senor Santo Nino at the enterance and the Angelus is played on the PA every day. They didn't have music that you described. They played mostly Filipino popular songs.