Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fruits of the Unplanned Ministry

Last month we traveled back to our first mission post in Malaybalay to welcome our newest goddaughter into the Church.  Our Filipino friends and mission partners, the Leanos, had asked Travis to be the godfather to little Zephaniah.

While in Malaybalay, God blessed us so much.  First, we got some much needed relief from the heat of Camiguin.  The cool air of Bukidnon felt so wonderful.  We even got "cold" at night and had to get a blanket and turn off the fan in our room.  (To think that I thought it was so "hot" there last year!)  Secondly, we got to spend some quality time with another American family, the Romeros.  Our single missionary partners are great and so is the Filipino family, the Mardoquios, that are now serving with us on Camiguin.  But there's nothing like talking with another American missionary mom who just "gets it."

Ricky and Irene Redondo
Another blessing was that we got to jump right back into the daily blessed chaos of ministry, from visiting our old friends and neighbors to helping whoever called or texted needing help whether it be prayer, food, medical assistance, or some odd request like false teeth. We also got to check in on patients at the hospital, join the weekly jail ministry, and attend the men's group (Travis and the boys not me.)  The best part was we got to do all this ministry again with the our good friends the Redondos!

Irene had been our house helper from day one in Malaybalay.  We hired her to help us with the hand washing of the laundry, the lunch cooking, and food shopping which were all totally "foreign" to me when we first arrived in the Philippines.   But Irene quickly became part of our family and a later HUGE part of our ministry.  She helped us so much with our gate ministry, from translating for us to telling us what/how/where to get what the person needed.  It didn't take long before she was handling the gate alone when we weren't home---praying over the people, handing out the rice, taking them where they needed to go, inviting them back for morning prayer or to the bible study, etc.

Irene was so eager to learn about Jesus, the bible, the Catholic faith; she wanted to know everything.  She was constantly seeking to be a better wife, mother, daughter, friend, and Christian.  Irene always prayed for her husband Ricky at morning prayer.  Ricky was a heavy drinker and was sometimes violent and unfaithful when he drank.  We joined her prayers for her husband's conversion and begged God for Ricky's conversion.  Slowly, he began to change, but the temptation of alcohol was so abundant in their community.  But he was determined to not only change himself, but to help his friends change also.

In June, the missionary men along with some of the men from Ricky and Irene's community of Isla Bonita including Ricky decided to do a Jericho march around the mountain community to put an end to the alcoholism.  You can read about it here.  After the Jericho Project, Ricky became a different husband, father, son, man, Christian.  He began to attend the weekly bible study.  He helped round up the men from the community for the men's group each week.  He started to attend morning prayer at our house when he didn't have work.  He even began helping us with lots of ministry including helping us with and accompanying us to the funeral of this baby when I didn't have the strength to do what needed to be done.

Soon after Ricky's conversion, the other missionary families left Malaybalay leaving our family as the sole missionaries at our post.  Ricky and Irene stepped up without us even asking.  They became our mission partners.  Ricky took over all of the work projects and ever-growing list of needs that was becoming overwhelming for Travis to tend to alone.  The needs were so great; there were houses to be built, roofs to be replaced, floors to be poured, bathrooms and kitchens, walls.  Ricky was a self-taught carpenter and was able tell us the best way to meet each person's need.  He quickly became Travis's righthand man.

Ricky sharing his testimony about how
reading scripture changed his life.
The best part was that because he was working for us, we were able to make his work schedule around our ministry schedule so that he could join us.  He wouldn't begin work until after morning prayer each day.  We would let him get off early on Thursdays to help with the bible study where he shared his personal testimony with his friends and neighbors.  We also gave him Tuesday mornings off so that he could join Travis for the jail ministry where he once again eagerly told his story of how God had changed him.  We also started a small group study of the Acts of the Apostles with the Redondos and the Mardoquios, the other miracle conversion due to the Jericho Project.

It was so awesome to see God answering Irene's prayers for her husband, but we knew that Satan would not give up so easily and that he was going to use everything in his power to tempt Ricky back into a life of sin.  So we continued to pray for God to help him stay on the right path.  It worried us so much when we left at the end of the year to return home to wait for the baby to be born.  We hated to leave Ricky and Irene behind without support.  We begged the Redondos and Mardoquios to stick together, to continue to pray together, to continue to hold each other accountable, and to continue the bible studies.

We tried to stay in touch with both families as much as possible after we left and later got updates from the Romero family when they returned to Malaybalay in January.  The Mardioquios had stayed the course and just finished training to become full-time FMC missionaries at the first ever Asian Intake.  The Redondos had had some struggles, but were still trying to keep their eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus.  Satan had indeed tried leading Ricky astray a few times, but he always returned to the cross seeking Jesus's mercy and forgiveness.

When we returned to the Philippines in July, we were able to visit with them and hear about their struggles.  It was hard for Ricky to find work to support his family and even harder to find a job where the men he works with don't tempt him to go out drinking after work.  He had slipped up a couple of times, but he was back on track again.   Irene was only working sporadically washing laundry and giving Visyan lessons the last several months, and they had been barely able to feed their family. But Irene told us that they would rather have no money then to have Ricky working at higher paying jobs where he is faced with so many temptations.

Irene had contacted me several times while we were stateside asking for help for others, but had rarely asked for anything for her own family.  I always sent extra to "pay" her for taking care of others, taking them to the doctor, going buy and deliver what they needed.  But it was not nearly enough to provide for their family's needs since I thought that they both had steady work.  My heart ached for them.  I was so upset with her for not telling me.  Mad at myself for not being a better friend and checking up on them more thoroughly.  Angry with God for not helping this family who were so dedicated to helping others.

But then Irene told me in the same breath all about the times that God provided for them when they had absolutely nothing left.  The little miracles that He provided to help them keep the faith and keep relying totally on Him turned my anger into complete awe.  He knows better than me.  And more importantly the Redondos know better too!  Irene then excitedly told me that when God did provide they always had someone more in need come to their house.  And so they shared with their neighbors--- the little food they had, the little money they had, they shared.  Not from their abundance, but from their need, their REAL NEED.  I sat in awe as I listened to all that had been happening in their lives since December.

Ricky and Irene at the
Couples for Christ dinner.
Irene and Ricky also shared how much they missed being able to attend morning prayer and the jail ministry regularly and how they missed our weekly Acts study.  It was just too hard to find work that allowed them to both fully participate in the ministries that they loved participating in.  They longed to be able to join in the "mission" fully again.  But once again, they praised God for the times that He did provide and they were able to participate.  They told us all about sharing their testimonies and praying with the community.  Again, they saw the positive when all I could see was the negative.

We only got to spend a few shorts weeks in Malaybalay before moving to Camiguin.  It was so awesome to be able to be back in missions with the Redondos as our partners again.  It was almost as if we hadn't left.  We just picked up where we left off: morning prayer, bible studies, feeding the hungry at the gate, tending to the sick, etc.  I was so sad to have to leave them again.  I wanted to take them with us to give them jobs again that would allow them to feed their kids three meal a day everyday and allow them to participate fully in ministries again.  I wanted to take care of them, because unlike them, I didn't fully trust God to take care of them.

When we returned to Malaybalay for Zephaniah's baptism, we were able to visit with Irene and Ricky.  Again, we were humbled by their faith.  Still without steady work, they had taken in two of Ricky's cousins. Yes, barely able to feed their own two kids, they took in two grown boys to feed and care for.  They had put the younger one in the alternative learning school, and Ricky had been teaching the older one carpentry skills by day and to read by night.  But more importantly they had been sharing the gospel with them, teaching them how to pray, how to read the bible, and how to live as followers of Christ.  I say this all the time, and I will keep saying it.  The poor are the most generous and giving people you will ever meet.

We were so blessed to be able to once again jump right into ministry with the Redondos during our short stay.  Irene assisted us with several of our old neighbors who needed to see a doctor and/or needed medicines.  She once again jumped in to help translate and gather what each person needed.  She also accompanied us on some home visits.  It was just like old times!  We laughed so much at how we had all changed in the last year.  She thought it was so funny to hear that our kids ride all around Camiguin on motorcycles and on top of the vehicle, something the old me would never have allowed.  I laughed when I heard my own words come out of her mouth and repeated to me.

We also checked on some finished work projects with Ricky and Irene.  We had hired Ricky after our visit in July to work on some of the projects that we still had on our list from last year.  The Romeros were overseeing the projects, but Ricky had taken charge of them just as he had done last year.  He was in charge of making the material list, hiring the workers, and being the lead carpenter on the projects.  He rotated the workers each day, so that different out-of-work men in their community could have a salary at least once or twice during the week.  He led the men in prayer at the work site before they began each day just as he had witnessed the missionary men do.  He was also able to make the work schedule around morning prayer and the jail ministry again.

We also visited the families that are still on our work project list from last year to find that not only is their home still in of repairs or additions but that many are much worse off than they were when we first put them on the list last year.  Our plan, if it is God's will, is to raise enough money to finish all the projects on the list and hire Ricky to be the lead carpenter and project leader.  This will not only provide for the needs of the people on our list, but also provide jobs for Ricky and some of the out-of-work men in Isla Bonita. And Ricky will be able to have a flexible schedule that allows him to participate in other ministries with the Romero family.

We ask you to pray with us for the Redondos who are expecting a new baby next spring.  Pray for the health of Irene and baby. Pray for their other two children, King and Princess, and the two young men they have taken into their home.  Pray that God will continue to provide for this beautiful family.  Pray that He will continue to lead and guide them and draw them closer to Him.  Pray for their call to missions.  And please pray about sponsoring one of our work projects. (Use this link to donate.)

Ricky, Irene, King, and Princess

UPDATE:  Before I was able to publish this blog, I received a phone call from the Romeros about Ricky and Irene's newest self-appointed ministry.  The Romeros recently noticed that the lives of one couple that was in their mass wedding a few months ago had changed drastically.  They have baptized their children.  They have been attending the weekly bible study as a family and have been attending the separate men's and women's groups that alternate each week.

The Romeros told us that Ricky and Irene had been a huge part of this family's change.  They have taken this couple under their wing and have been walking their faith journey with them closely giving them the support they need to continue on when things get tough.  Ricky has even made this husband his "right hand man" on the recent work projects, so that he can keep him busy and help him fight the same temptations he had encountered when he first had his conversion.  This made my heart sing for joy!

 Mrs. Genie, FMC's founder, had told me to hire a helper when we got to our mission post.  She told me that it would save my sanity because running a house and a mission in a foreign country was overwhelming.  Boy, she was right! Secondly, she told me of the fruit that would come about as the "helper" watched how we prayed as a family in the morning, how we prayed before meals, how we handled stressful situations, how we disciplined our kids, how we treated each other, and more importantly how we treated the people who would come to our gate.  I was scared to death at the thought of having someone "watch" my every move during the day. Scared of what they would witness in our crazy chaotic family life!

But again, she was so right!  I didn't see it last year, but I can see it now in Irene and Ricky and also in Lilay and Jerome.  They have indeed learned so much from watching and listening to the missionaries they worked for, and both families have become missionaries in their own way, in their own communities.  And both families have grown closer to the Lord through our witness despite all our faults and failures and the messiness of our imperfect, crazy, chaotic life!

Thank you, Lord, for letting me see the fruits of this unplanned ministry!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Angels in Disguise or Missionaries in the Making?

If you don't know who Reymark is, read this blog FIRST about his amazing story!  Then come back and meet Lilay!

Jerome and Lilay Siapo
I first met Lilay and Jerome when our family visited Camiguin Island in July.  Lilay was working for the missionary family that was hosting our "Welcome to Camiguin" dinner that first night.  Our first impressions of each other are pretty funny.

I had been traveling for days on planes, in taxis, on motorellas (motorcycle carts) and had been staying in a convent's bunk room.  And had just gotten off of an hour long ferry ride.  All with a three month old, four teenagers, and a pre-teen!  As an added bonus, I had just returned to the Philippines after being in the U.S. for 7 months where I had become re-accustomed to the air conditioning.  I was HOT, tired, hungry, HOT, and had a massive migraine.  I also had an infant who was tired, HOT, and hungry.  Did I mention HOT?  

I was not in the best mood and wasn't really expecting to meet new people.  Having dinner with other missionaries that knew the stresses of traveling to the other side of the world with kids is one thing, but having dinner with new people under these conditions is another thing.  I tired my best to put on my smiling missionary face, and I thought that I had done a fairly good job.  Until Lilay and I became friends and talked about that first night!  Lilay told me that she thought I was "very strict" which translates to "mean, not nice, serious, not a good person."  I thought she was obnoxiously loud and a little overbearing.  My head was pounding that night, and she made it pound even more as she seemed to yell over all the noise of the kids to people at the other end of the table.  

We eventually got a chance to bury those first impressions when the Bolle family came to visit us in Malaybalay and Lilay came with them.  You can imagine each of our thoughts when we realized we'd be spending a week together under the same roof.  But it was great!  She got to see the real me---the rested, happy to be back in missions me; the laughing, playing with the neighborhood kids me, the semi-adjusted to the heat me.  And without a migraine, she wasn't that loud. ;) We had a great time laughing and getting to know one another.

Shortly after that week in Malaybalay,  we moved to Camiguin.  Lilay was there waiting to help me get the house cleaned that first night, get our things put away and organized the next day, and has been right there beside me as I suffered through the heat and tried to learn the ins and outs of life in a very, very small town.  I knew that she was an angel sent from Heaven not only be my "helper" but to become my friend just as He had sent Irene to me last year.

It didn't take me long to figure out that God had big plans for Lilay and her husband Jerome.  They quickly became our ministry partners.  They began helping us with the kids' ministry and the men's group---gathering the people, setting up, translating.  They are also so very eager to learn about the faith.  They constantly seek to grow closer to the Lord.  They want to do what is right and don't mind being corrected about something that is not becoming of a "Christian."

Lilay learning how to use the
exercise ball with Reymark.
It was Lilay who first told us about Reymark and brought us to him.  It was Lilay who helped us convince Reymark's mother to let us take him to the hospital.  It was Lilay who volunteered to stay at the hospital with Reymark when his mother refused to stay.  It was Lilay who became the angel sent from God to Reymark and the missionary sent to help others during that week long stay at the hospital.

I will never forget that look of pure exhaustion and joy on her face when I arrived at the hospital the morning after Reymark's first night there.  She had not slept at all because of the constant "watch" that Reymark needed in his delicate condition and all of the unexpected happenings that came about throughout the night.  But she was so full of joy as she told me about all that happened during the night.

A mother whose baby had died earlier that evening came back to the pediatric ward in the middle of the night screaming and crying and searching for her baby.  Lilay was there to help the nurses with her.  She then returned to the room to find several of the other mothers upset by this and led them in prayer for this grieving mother.  Later in the night, some of the moms were crying about their own children's illness.  Again, she led them in prayer and taught them how to pray for and over their children.

Exercising at home.
The other mothers were impressed with her prayers and her faith and told her that they wished they had what she had.  She then shared her testimony with them.  She told them about her past sins and how she is a changed person now.  She told them about the missionaries that came into her life and taught her about Jesus, how to pray, and how to be a better Christian.  She told them that they "could do the same." As she described the evening to me, I knew without a doubt that she was "the one" that was meant to be Reymark's watcher that night.  God had put her there not only to take care of Reymark, but to be the angel/missionary the others needed that night.

The next morning, I arrived to find that one of the families in the ward had lost their house and all of their belongings in a fire the previous night.  Lilay once again prayed with them after they received a call from their neighbor.  By the time I arrived, the mother was thanking God that no one was home at the time of the fire and that they were all safe.  We offered more prayers and asked to help the family buy food, clothes, or any other necessity that they needed, but the mother said that they had lots of family and friends already taking care of them.

Lilay and Reymark at Mass.
As the week went on, Lilay became the fulltime pediatric ward angel/missionary.  She gave me the full report each time I arrived:  whose baby was getting sicker and needed to be prayed over again, whose baby was getting better and would be discharged, whose baby needed medicine that the parents couldn't afford, which mother had not eaten all day or all night, etc.  We were able to take care of most of the needs of the families in the ward each day.  She also told us about the Muslim mothers who shared a husband and both had babies with serious pneumonia.  We silently prayed extra hard for these women and their babies.  By the end of their stay, their children were coloring in the "I love Jesus" coloring books we had passed out earlier in the week.  :)

When it came time for Reymark to be discharged, Lilay offered to become Reymark's caretaker.  She had talked to her grandmother who she lived with and her husband Jerome about Reymark moving into their house.  I had been praying for God to show us what to do with Reymark after his discaharge.  I knew that he could not go back to the environment we had found him in.  I knew that Lilay would make sure that Reymark got the love and care he needed, but I also knew that she and Jerome could barely support their own five kids.  I did not want to ask her to take own this "burden." But God had already moved in her heart to trust Him to provide.  And He has in a mighty way.

Lilay and Luke
aka "coffee and milk"
The night we brought Reymark home for the hospital, Lilay had all of her family and all Reymark's family including both of his parents gather around Reymark's new bed in her grandma's living room to pray in thanksgiving for Reymark, the missionaries, the sponsors from the U.S. who had helped to buy all of the things Reymark needed.  It was then that Reymark's parents broke down and cried because they didn't know how to pray.  Once again Lilay, the angel/missionary, began to teach and pray just as she had learned.

In the weeks and month following Reymark's discharge, he has made tremendous progress because of Lilay's care and love.  She prepares his food in the blender each day.  She bathes him.  She talks to him.  She sings to him.  She reads to him.  She takes him out for walks in the stroller.  She takes him to church.  She goes with him to physical therapy and does the exercises with him at home. And best of all is that she's teaching his family to do all of this, and they have begun to help with his care!Lilay does all of this for Reymark and still continues to be my right hand.  She helps hand wash the laundry a few times during the week.  She helps prepare meals for us when we are too busy with ministries and/or aren't home to cook (there no fast food or grab a sandwhich here).  She takes care of our kids when we have to travel to the mainland (too expensive and time consuming sometimes to take everyone).  She massages my head and neck when she sees that I have a migraine.  And she tells me how beautiful I am and what a good mom I am just at those moments when I feel ugliest.   She always knows when and how to cheer me up.  (Everyone needs a Lilay!)

Giving haircuts to our neighbor's
sons after cutting our boys' hair
in our backyard

Jerome, who goes by Siapo ("Sha poe"), has shown up with a weedwacker when we mentioned that we needed to cut the grass and trim the bushes around our driveway that scratch the car.  He shows up with his clippers to give haircuts when the boys start to look shabby.  He came to my rescue when a water pip busted and Travis was on the mainland.  He gives the kids free rides on his motorcycle when they need to go to town.  He plays basketball with the boys.  He helps Travis gather all the men for the Tuesday night men's bible study at our house.

 If we have a problem of any kind that we can't figure out (and there are plenty when you live in a foreign country), we can call Lilay and Jerome.  They are always just a phone call or text away.  And will always drop what they are doing to lend us a hand whether is for our own personal needs or to help us with ministry.  They are both truly Heaven sent to us and many others here on Camiguin.

We found out that it was Jerome and Lilay's  9th anniversary last month.  Travis and I wanted to bless them with a date for all that they have done not only for Reymark but also for the blessing they have been to our family.  We offered them money to go on a date alone, but they wanted us to tag along because they had NEVER been on a date.  They had NEVER been to a restaurant before. They didn't know what to do.  We had such a great time and shared many laughs. They were so giddy the entire time.  Thank you to the benefactor that sent in a donation specifically to bless this beautiful couple!
Celebrating 9 years of marriage
on their very first date
with a big bowl of chocolate ice cream!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Boy Who Is Saving Many Souls Including Mine!

A month ago our friend Lilay asked us to pray for her nine year old bedridden cousin whose feet were swelling.  We prayed for him and then went on about our "other" missionary business.  The next week our friend thanked us for the clothes we had given her to hand out in her neighborhood.  Her aunt was excited to have clothes for her 9 year old bedridden cousin.  We had only given Lilay some newborn clothes that our baby had outgrown, so we were confused and thought maybe her cousin was actually nine months not nine years. But he was indeed a nine year old.  We began to ask questions and eventually decided to make a home visit to the family to see this nine year old who wears infant clothing.

What we found WAS a 9 nine year old boy wearing our five month old's hand-me-down clothes. He was so weak and so feeble that he could only wimper in his mother's arms when I touched him.  It was obvious that he was in pain.  My gut instinct told me that the boy was starving to death. I tried asking questions, but with my limited Visyan and the family's limited English, we didn't get much information, just that he had "always been like this."

I offered to take him to the hospital, but the mother refused. She said that the hospital had refused to help him because of "his condition."  How could anyone refuse to help the poor and weak especially a child?  I was furious.  I thought of just grabbing him and running back to the U.S. with him where I knew doctors who would help him, but I knew that wasn't an option.

I didn't stay long.  I couldn't.  I was so sick.  I felt so helpless. As a mother, I couldn't bear to watch this child whimper. Nor could I watch the mother's blank stare and lack of emotion. So, we prayed over him, gave them the milk and diapers we had brought, and left feeling heartbroken, helpless, and angry.  I was angry at myself for not coming sooner, angry at the mother, angry at my friend, angry at the neighbors, angry at the hospital and doctors, angry at the Philippine government for not taking care of the poor, and angry at God for allowing this child to suffer like this for nine years.

I laid awake in bed several nights tossing and turning with the image of Reymart in my mind.  I had many "conversations" with God about Reymark.  I was so angry that this child had suffered so much.  This couldn't possibly be God's plan for this child.  I questioned why He had brought me to Reymark. What was it that I was suppose to do?  I asked why He would send that kind of child to the poor who couldn't afford to properly care for him.  Why give us a healthy baby boy and not this poor woman?  I begged him to miraculously heal this boy. At times, I even joined the family's prayer for God to just take him.

Unable to get Reymark off my mind and heart, I visited again bringing more milk and diapers for Reymart.  The mother told me that he drank a lot of the milk we had given them the first day, but that he had begun to throw it up.  She then asked for a "cream" for the bed sores that he had on his bottom. After seeing the huge hole on his bottom when they removed the diaper, I knew that I had to figure out how to get this baby to the hospital.  I called in Rebecca, another missionary and our team leader who had been living on Camiguin for the past two years.  She knew a lot more Visyan than I and had more knowledge of the kind of medical care available on this island.

She was able to get a little more information about Reymart's past condition.  Reymark had developed tetanus from the instrument used to cut the cord after his home birth.  He had spent some time in the hospital as an infant.  He had a sponsor to help pay for his needs, but they had quit receiving help several years ago.  Reymark could never suck or chew food. He only "drank" the milk they poured down his throat.  After the sponsorship ended, the family could not afford the milk and other supplements he needed.  They had also received help from the social services office in our small town, but they had also stopped helping a few years ago.  Basically, the parents of 6, had to decide between buying rice and feeding the rest of the kids or buying milk to feed Reymark.

How does this happen in our world today? How could people...? How could God...? But before I could finish my angry thoughts, I recalled how much food my family had consumed just that morning at breakfast.  It sickened me to think of all the Reymarts in the world literally starving to death while we had our fill not once but several times a day.  Yes, we had seen the commercials with the photos of starving kids and had listened to the stories of people coming to our church looking for sponsors for children like this.

Before missions, we had donated to many of those feeding programs and still sponsor two of the children.  We thought that we had done "our share".  As missionaries, we discovered that "our share" was simply a tiny drop in the ocean.  We have handed out thousands of pounds of rice to the "hungry" in our two years of missions.  We have fed numerous "hungry" kids at our table.  We pray for the "hungry" before most meals.  Again, we thought we had done "our share." But that week during our family Desert Day (a time of personal prayer with the scripture), God showed me that "our share" was not enough.

He first led me to 1 Corinthians chapter 11.  At first it seemed to be the same old stuff he repeatedly sends me to in scripture, "be imitators of me", "maintain the traditions", "the head of a woman is the husband", "women should veil themselves", etc. These are many of the tough things that He continuously calls me out on.  I almost closed my bible with an eye roll, but then I got to verse 23 and the breath was knocked right out of me.  "For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry..."  I cried the rest of my desert day time and most of the day as I thought about Reymart a few miles away literally starving to death while I sit down to my own meal.

All that we have done has always been from our abundance.  Even in missions, we have always had enough for ourselves.  We have rarely missed a meal even if it was only rice or bread.  We may have been "uncomfortable" at times, but it has never hurt.  Reymark's story hurt...it hurt deep down in the pit of my soul.  I knew that I was sent to Reymark not only to save his life, but to save my soul from my own selfishness and greed.  That night I cried myself to sleep again thinking of Reymart, but this time my tears were for myself, my family, my friends, and all those back home in America who thought they were "doing their share."

The next day we spoke to a social worker who knew Reymark and some of his histroy.  We found out that Reymark had Cerebral Palsy and that he had a sponsor that helped with his needs years ago.  We learned that the sponsorship was taken from him and given to another child who was in need because Reymark "didn't make progress" because the mother wasn't doing what she was told to do at home. We found out that as Reymark's condition worsened over the years the assistance from the government social services office also stopped including giving them milk for Reymark.  They quit helping him because his parents were "not doing their part" to help provide for his needs.  This was almost too much for my heart to hear.

Reymart at the ER

We made another visit to Reymark's house after talking to the social worker.  We asked his mother about his cerebral palsy. It seemed as if she had never heard those words.  As we questioned her regarding all the things we had heard from the social worker, I realized that not only was she financially unable to care for Reymark, but that she was mentally incapable of understanding what Reymark needed.  We finally convinced her that the bed sores needed to be cleaned and properly bandaged by a nurse or doctor.  She agreed to let us take Reymart to the hospital on the other side of the island.  It was the longest 45 minute ride of my life.  Reymark whimpered the entire way there.

When we arrived at the hospital ER, it was discovered that not only was Reymark literally starving to death, but that he had very severe pneumonia.  He was too weak to cough, so know one had known that he was sick.  The nurses immediately began an I.V. and started a breathing treatment. The doctor told us that Reymark would not have lived much longer and that even with the medical care they would give him, it would be a miracle if he survived.  But we knew Reymark was already a miracle in the making!

The doctors and nurses began yelling at the mother for letting this child get to the brink of death before bringing him in.  I knew exactly how they felt, I had been just as angry as they were last week before I knew the whole story. This was exactly why she had refused to bring him in all the times I mentioned it.  She had been yelled at many times in the past nine years for not properly taking care of Reymark, but no one had taken the time to find out why.  She was so upset that she refused to stay with him after he was admitted. Our friend Lilay offered to stay with him in the hospital.  (That's a whole other blog!  Read it!)

Genevieve proudly displaying her "O."

When the breathing treatment was finished and the nurses came to address the bed sores, it was discovered that he actually had four very large, very deep, very infected bed sores on his fragile little bottom.  We were sent out to buy a swimming ring for them to prop him up on to keep him from sitting on them any longer.  They told us that he would need to have a debridement surgery on them once he was strong enough.

He was also in need of type O blood which happens to be an uncommon type for Filipinos; therefore; there was not any type O in the hospital blood bank.  We began searching all over the town for someone with type O; literally asking people on the streets if they were type O.  We began to panic, but God had already planned this out way before we found Reymark.  One of the single missionaries sent to Camiguin last year was type O!  The next day we drove Genevieve to the hospital where she happily donated blood to Reymark.
Once he received the blood, he began to get some color back into his little face.  After a few days of I.V. antibiotics and breathing treatments, Reymark was ready to for the surgical team to clean out his bed sores.  The surgical team was awesome.  They took their time to teach Lilay how to care for the sores until they were healed and how to make sure Reymark didn't get any more.

Reymart after receiving Genevieve's "O"

Actually all of the nurses and staff in the hospital took their time and taught Lilay how to properly care for Reymark.  They taught her how to cook and blend foods for him and gave her recipes for different nutritional shakes and smoothies.  They taught her how to properly bathe Reymark and clean his mouth and teeth after each feeding.  They even helped her come up with a schedule for his care which included when he should eat his meal shakes and when he should have his PediaSure smoothie snacks.  They also added when he should be held and for how long and when he should be put down and when he should be rotated.  Everyone wanted to make sure that Reymart never ended up in the hospital again with bed sores or malnutrition.

As Reymark's discharge got closer, we worried about putting Reymark back in his home where he may not be cared for properly.  We prayed and prayed for God to help us know what to do once he was discharged.  We were really hoping that Lilay would continue to be his caretaker, but wasn't sure how that would work since she and her family of eight were homeless and living with her grandma.  But God had already moved in everyone's heart before we had to bring up the subject.

Reymark's AWESOME physical
therapist's first words to me were,
"Do you believe in miracles? Because
I believe God sent this boy to you
and me to show us a miracle!" 

Lilay, her husband Jerome, and her grandmother had already discussed and prayed about Reymark's situation.  They were all in agreement that he should live with them where there would be plenty of people to care for him.  And they had already discussed this with Reymark's parents who had also agreed that they could not care for him and provide for the rest of their family. We knew that Lilay's family wasn't going to be able to financially support Reymark and his extensive needs either.  But we knew that God would provide in time.  And He did!

Reymark was discharged and is now living with our friend Lilay at her grandmother's house.  His mother and his father come over to help with his care often.  He's eating drinking some very delicious smoothies and shakes that Lilay prepares for him with his new blender.  She is now able to make a large batch for others to feed him while she is at work or at school because he now has his own refrigerator!  He's attending physical therapy daily on the other side of the island thanks to another donor.  We were also able to buy him a baby bed and get him out of the rice sack hammock that he had lived in for nine years.  He is starting to move his head and limbs a little on his own now, and the bed allows him room to stretch out.

Reymark at home in his stroller ready
to go explore his neighborhood.

Lilay, her two youngest kids,
Luke, and myself with Reymark

Reymart on our second visit September 12 compared to our visit yesterday on October 7.
What a difference a little bit of food and a WHOLE LOT OF LOVE makes!

Reymark has changed so much in the last month.  He is starting to fill out and even getting some pudgy little cheeks.  There seems to be a little "meat" now between his skin and bones.   He's much more alert.  He even seems to smile at me when I talk to him now (probably because he has no idea what I am saying).  Reymark's entire demeanor has changed.

But the most important thing that has changed is hearts and most importantly---MINE! 

They say that he is blind, but I'm pretty
certain that he sees a lot more than the
rest of us.  When I hold him, I'm sure that
he looks directly into my eyes and sees my soul,
the one he is helping to heal.

If you feel called to help with Reymark's care, you can click the "Donate" link at the top of our blog page. The PediaSure formula, the nutritional supplements, and the food Reymark needs daily along with the transportation to physical therapy on the other side of the island each day is very costly.  We would also like to one day be able to bring Reymark to the mainland to see a few specialists including an occupational therapist and an eye doctor.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

We live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with lots of mountain springs and waterfalls.  We are surrounded by water, yet, a large number of people here do not have access to clean water to drink, cook with, water their crops, bathe with, etc.  Many people have to climb several kilometers up a mountain to the water source and carry buckets back down several times a day.  Sometimes there is a water source nearby, but it is under the mountain rocks and unaccessible.

Father Joe, the priest we work under, is working to provide water to as many people as he can on his beloved Camiguin Island with the help of unusual gift from God.  Father Joe has the "gift of finding water."  He can "sense" where water is in an area.  He then uses two sticks to find the exact spot.  He's explained it to us several times, but we wanted to see him in action.  So last week we loaded up and headed to one of the water source projects he has.

When we got to the end of the road, and I use the word road loosely, we were told we had a "little hike" up to the water source that Father had discovered some time ago.  Travis decided it might be best if he carried Luke in the carrier instead of me carrying him.  Best decision ever!  Once Luke was all strapped in, we were ready to hit the trail.  And again, the word trail is used very loosely.

The journey up to the water source was tough for two old out of shape people who grew up in flat Louisiana.  We are not mountain climbers. We got left behind and resorted to playing "Marco Polo" with the rest of the gang.  Soon our "Marco" wasn't answered with a "Polo."  We were too far behind.  Thankfully Father Joe had told one of his workers to stay behind to help us old folks along.  He didn't speak English, but kept smiling and pointing with his lips (that's how Filipinos do it) each time we turned back to ask him which way.

Travis trying not to slide down the edge while Emily tries
to keep an eye on the rest of the group ahead.

We finally reached the rest of the group at the water hole and were amazed at what we saw.  The men had dug through the rocky mountain to find a small spring.  The hole was about 8 feet deep.  They were emptying the hole with a bucket and pouring it down the mountain into a small pipe that they had run down the mountain.

Here's a video showing what has to be done each day in order to get the water from the source to the farm reservoir.

You can see in the pictures below the bamboo that they had originally used before Father was able to buy the black piping.  This particular water system travels down the mountainside to water the crops on the farm that Father has to help feed and care for his parishioners.

While at the site, Father told us that there is another larger water source higher up that they will try to get to soon since a long drought is predicted for this area in the coming months.  The majority of their crops were lost during last year's drought.  He wants to prevent this from happening again.

He also told us of several mountain communities that he has located the water for.  He just needs the piping to run the water down through and the tank to store the water in for the people of the area to use.  The total cost of the pipe and water tanks for these four communities is over $10,000.  As Pope Francis stated in his lastest encyclical Laudato Si', "access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights."

He also stated that it is our job to help provide safe drinking water to the poor.  "Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor."

If feel called to help  with the Sagay Water Project, please visit our donation page or call Family Missions Company's office at 337-893-6111.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paradise After Dark

In our last blog Finally! Settled in Paradise, I shared about how God had called us out of our comfort zone and moved us to Camiguin Island.  Yes, he rewarded our "Yes" with a house on the beach, a gorgeous view of the ocean, and a nice ocean breeze.  And for that we are so grateful.  But like I said in the last post, life is definitely harder on Camiguin.

A gorgeous view of the ocean from our backyard taken by Olivia.

We arrived at our new house about 2 o'clock in the afternoon to find that it was on the ocean! We were even more grateful to find that it was fairly clean, had a decent bathroom inside and a second Filipino style one outside, nice stained cement floors, screens on the windows, and a refrigerator. The downside was that it only had two bedrooms.  But thankfully both were very large and all 8 of us would fit easily not comfortably since there were only two beds.  But we knew when we became missionaries that things would not be easy or comfortable.

The master bedroom and nursery complete with a napping baby!

The kids' room: one bed, one "couch", and three floor mats.

The "luggage" room in the hallway.

The kids were a little freaked out about having to share a room.  Three fifteen year old boys, a thirteen year old girl, and a twelve year old girl---all in one room!  I was a little concerned about that too, but they have all been exceptionally good about it.  The bedroom is only for sleeping.  We have small area in the hall where all of their things are kept.  And they change in the bathroom.  We quickly discovered that the key to a peaceful bedtime is to have them begin a rosary immediately upon laying down.

Our porch/living room that overlooks the ocean.
After unloading the car that first day, Travis and I ran to the town on the other side of the island 45 minutes away to buy a few things at the main store only to find that there was not much more of a selection than we had in our small town.  We picked up a few necessities---rice, oatmeal, drinking water, and toilet paper.  We also picked up some bug spray to spray around the outdoor living room to keep the mosquitoes away.  Little did we know that that bug spray would be the best purchase ever made!

We returned home just before dark.  Just before the nightmare began. As we ate our supper that night, the other occupants of the house began to come out.  First came the geckos.  Slowly they began to creep out from the ceiling.  I told the boys they would have to catch them and put them out while the girls cleaned the kitchen after supper.  But by the end of the meal, there were FOURTEEN of them over our kitchen table.  There was no way the boys would be able to catch them all.  I took a deep breath and thanked God that they weren't in the bedroom.

The tokay lizard: picture courtesy of Wikipedia!
I was too busy freaking out to get pictures
of the one looking in our window!
Just then we look out the window and see the giant tokay ("TOE KO") lizard staring at us through the window.  We had heard many stories about the tokay and how they will "rip your skin off."  We also knew that the single missionaries who had been living here for two years with several in their house had never been bothered by them.  But we still had that original story stuck in our heads.  But we thanked God that it was outside our window NOT inside our house.

Again, not my photo!  Too busy

As it continued to get dark, more unwanted roommates began to show themselves as we began to turn on the lights in the house.   The first was the GIANT spider that came out in the dining area.  It was the size of Travis's hand.  He and Joshua decide to tag team it.  But just as Travis goes to swat it, Joshua realizes that it has an egg sack.  But it was too late!  As the dead spider falls to the floor, a million tiny babies run out of the busted egg sack.  We all begin stomping and sweeping franticly.

As we all sit down to laugh, yes laugh because there's really nothing else you can do, we see more spiders and geckos emerging from the bamboo walls that they have been hiding in.  The bamboo amakan walls that I loved, I now hated!  I got out the spray and began to spray the base of the walls where the floor and wall meets as I realize that their are cracks between them to the outside, so I spray them from the inside and from the outside.  I thought "We may die from the fumes, but we won't have anything crawling on us tonight!"

As we began to start taking showers, I once again thanked God for the shower head and a flushing toilet.  We had been taking bucket baths and bucket flushing the toilet for almost a week at the convento we stayed at before arriving.

The best part about the bathroom is that the water at the sink turns on when you flush the toilet. You can never forget to wash your hands! :)

We didn't have hot water like in our house in Malaybalay, but we were so hot that the cold shower sounded good.  That is until the cockroaches began to come out in the bathroom and shower!  All of my spraying for spiders had disturbed the cockroaches living in the amakan too!

Travis ran to rescue Emily from a cockroach in the bathroom.  He swatted it with a flip flop and then grabbed a piece of toilet paper to pick up the dead roach.  Emily begins to scream, but is too frightened to talk.  As he tries to figure out what is wrong now, he sees that one of those GIANT spiders had crawled into the roll of toilet paper and is now hanging on to the piece he has just torn off.  THE PIECE IN HIS HAND.

Our sweet baby sleeping naked under his
After that, we all go around the house searching for more spiders and cockroaches.  (We have given up on the geckos whose numbers have now reached about 20.)  We find one of the giant spider's egg sacks in our bedroom.  Travis and Joshua carefully devise a plan on how to get it without releasing the millions of babies into our bedroom where Luke is already asleep under his mosquito net.  They ended up capturing egg sack in an empty plastic coke bottle and then taking it outside before smashing and spraying it with the insect spray.

I sent a quick "Please pray for us that nothing comes out and crawls on us especially the baby while we are sleeping and that we can all actually get some sleep" message to some of our family.  My mom is in shock that I'm casually joking about our adventure so far beings that I cried not to go camping at my dad's camp my entire childhood and teenage years because of the possibility of spiders.  (Even as a married adult, I HATED going to the camp because of the spiders.)  My reply was that God can and does perform miracles of all kinds!  I prayed that He would work a miracle on Emily right at that moment.  She is definitely her mother's daughter!

Just as all the kids finally get settled down on their mats on the floor of their room, Travis turns on the hall light to find another one of those ginormous spiders and a few cockroaches crawling up and down the wall.  As he goes to smash one, the rest scatter.  One runs straight to the kids room  and straight to Emily's bed!  She had positioned her mat in the middle of the room so that anything that crawled out of the walls would get the others first.  Well, this roach maneuvered around Isaac and Joshua and headed straight for her.  (I have promised her that I would not post what she did, but use your imagination!)

The next hour was spent with more spraying, more killing, and a lot more praying!  We finally all settled down again and tried to get some sleep.  I woke the next morning thanking God that everyone slept through the night and that we had no encounters in the dark of the night.

The following night the same adventure began as it got dark, and we began to turn the lights on.  Travis and the boys chased spiders and cockroaches as the girls and I pointed them out.    The third morning I decided to spray the house in the light of the day. I sprayed the amakan walls from top to bottom on the inside and outside of the cottage.  Again, I thought that we may die from the fumes, but we will not be eaten alive by spiders and cockroaches!  (Did you know that cockroaches bite? Just learned that recently.)

Anyway, our nightly nightmare finally ended after a few days.  We still occasionally see a roach or two in the morning dead or dying in the bathroom or shower.  We haven't seen a giant spider in almost a week.  The tokay lizard has only been spotted one other time outside in the rafters.  And the 14 geckos have become our friends as they eat the mosquitos and other flying bugs that get into our house through the holes in the screens.

I saw this on Facebook last week and found it the perfect summary of our life lately.  We have definitely been uncomfortable with the heat and insects, but we have definitely grown by leaps and bounds these last three weeks here!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Finally! Settled in Paradise

After an 8-month long unexpected "furlough" in the U.S. and a month of unexpected traveling around the Philippines, we are finally getting settled in our new home on Camiguin Island.  When we left Louisiana the first week of July, we planned on moving back to Malaybalay.  We did not feel like we were supposed to move back to our old house though, but our friends there were unable to find us another house.  So, we figured God must want us to back in our old neighborhood to continue the ministries we began there last year.  We never actually took it to prayer; we just assumed this was His plan.

Ronabel and Luke, our little ham
We left Houston on July 7th ready to get to the Philippines to show off our newest little missionary and continue the work we had started last year.  We arrived in Manila, Philippines on July 9th and literally crashed at a nearby hotel---the time change and jetlag had gotten the best of us.  We spent the next day trying to get ourselves awake and functioning while trying to adjust to the heat.

We were able to travel to a neighboring town while in Manila to meet a little girl that we began sponsoring through an organization called Unbound several years ago.  This was a miracle that you can read about here (An Answered Prayer: Four Years in the Making).  After meeting Ronabel, it was time to get on our last flight to head to "our island" and to return to our "home away from home."

But our house in Malaybalay was not ready for us.  Some renovations were being done.  Luckily, we had already planned a quick trip to Camiguin Island to visit another FMC mission post and deliver some U.S. goodies. So after spending a night at the Cathedral convento (rectory) in Cagayan de Oro, we took a two hour drive followed by an hour ferry ride to Camiguin, the "paradise island created by fire".

Since our stay was going to be longer than originally planned, Father Joe found us a house to stay in for the week---on the beach!  It was the perfect place to relax after a week of traveling, to adjust to the heat and time change, and to have a family retreat before heading to the fast paced mission life in Malaybalay.

While there, we were able to get our "feet wet" again as we joined the Camiguin team and Father Joe in some of their ministries.  The kids loved joining the single missionaries' weekly praise and worship.  Travis and the boys joined the men's bible study.  And Travis, Luke, and I joined Father Joe on his hospital rounds.  We were also able to visit some of the organic farms that Father Joe has started to help feed and support the parish community.  Little did we know that God was preparing us for life on Camiguin!
Travis visiting patients at the small hospital
on Camiguin Island.

Visiting one of Father's farms and eating fresh coconuts
that his workers climbed up the trees to get for us!

A Packed House for Praise and Worship Night!

During our family retreat that week, God reminded us of our call to missions and the ministries He had called us to---caring for the poor, the orphans, and widows, preaching the Gospel and not straying from what we have been taught, being good stewards, etc.  He also reminded us to be humble, gentle, and loving at all times to one another and towards those we serve.

But He also reminded us of the call to move to Camiguin that he set before us last year.  The one that we put out of our mind and ignored because it didn't seem practical at the time because of my high risk pregnancy and the lack of medical care on the island.  The call that we stopped praying about because it was "too hard" and not what "we wanted" to do.  The call that we didn't even consider as we planned our return to the Philippines because it would be too hard now with a baby in tow and not practical since we wouldn't be staying long due to the adoption.

Cantaan: One of the beautiful beaches on Camiguin
As beautiful as Camiguin is, life on the island is harder, a lot harder, than on Mindanao.  First, it is a lot hotter than Malaybalay.  Secondly, it is more isolated from the rest of the Philippines (and the world) as it's only accessible by ferry.  Living is more simplistic than what we were used to in Malaybalay---mostly bamboo "hut" type housing, no real stores to buy supplies that we consider necessities, no restaurants for those crazy ministry days when you aren't home to cook, very little food choices, and then there's the fact that there is only very basic medical care.

Life for us in Malaybalay was tough, but we had found our "groove" there; life would be much harder on Camiguin even more so now with a new baby.  But it was very clear that He was once again calling us to put aside our desires of the flesh and move out of our comfort zone.  We prayed about and discussed this for days trying to find some way "out".

We loved Camiguin, loved the mission team there, and loved Father Joe. We loved VISITING Camiguin, but didn't want to live there.  It wasn't practical for us to move and begin again when we'd only be in the Philippines for a few months this time because of the adoption of Joshua.  Plus, we had promised our director that we'd be a support for our Malaybalay leaders who were about to begin the first ever Asia Intake to train two Filipino families to become full time foreign missionaries.  And there was still lots to do in our old neighborhood.

But we had learned that when God wants us to do something, we must do it even when it does not seem practical!  He's not a practical kind of guy!

After talking with the Camiguin team leader and our Malaybalay team leader and our FMC leaders back home, the decision was made.  Our family would join the three single missionaries and the Bolle family in Sagay on Camiguin Island.  The Bolle family had just discovered that they were expecting a new little one.  It was thought that we would be a support to them and their ministries as the pregnancy, like ours, was a high risk one.

Some of our old friends and new ones at the bible study.
We had to return to Malaybalay to interview with Joshua's social worker regarding the adoption.  We also wanted to see our friends and neighbors, and of course, to show off our new little missionary.  We packed up our things and took all our luggage and belongings with us to Malaybalay just in case God changed His mind and allowed us to stay there.

He didn't.  He just kept confirming what we already knew, it was time for us to move on and let someone else water what we had planted.  But before loading up again, God allowed us two very blessed weeks in Malaybalay with our missionary team, our neighbors, our friends, and our ministries.  It was so awesome to see some of them still going strong, but we were even more blessed to see so many new faces in attendance.

A month after leaving Louisiana, we loaded up again, said goodbye again to everything familiar and headed to back to Camiguin Island via a three day stay in Cagayan de Oro at the convento.  We needed to get Luke's visa, wait out a typhoon, and get the Bolle family off to the airport.  During our time in Malaybalay, the Bolle family had determined that it would be best for their family to return to the states to await the birth of their new missionary baby. So instead of joining them in their ministries and being a "support" to them, we were now going to be the ones to fill their "shoes."  God always has a bigger plan than what we imagine or plan for ourselves.

Finally, after five weeks of traveling, we have arrived at our new home away from home in Agoran, Bon Bon, Sagay, Camiguin Island.  And once again God has rewarded us for saying "yes" when we didn't want to.  Our house, although quite a bit smaller and a lot more native than our last, is awesome!

Our new "Home Sweet Home" and our new mission vehicle "St. Patrick, the Tank".
FYI: the boat has a giant hole in the bottom. :(

The view from the our backyard

Yes, our back yard is actually the Pacific Ocean!  That was a very unexpected answer to the prayer I had. "Lord, if you want us to move to Camiguin, you are going to have to help us with the heat there."  Well, the kids are enjoying cooling off each afternoon, and we are all enjoying the nice ocean breeze.  It's not the cool mountain breeze of Bukidnon, but it's moving air!  Thank you, Jesus!

We have begun to join in and take over a few of the ministries here. The weekly praise and worship at the single missionary girls' house is one of kids' favorites so far.  The weekly children's ministry at one of the local chapels was our first "take over" and the first one was awesome!  The men's bible study is will meet for the first time this week.  Travis has also jumped right into the medical ministry which includes visiting patients in or taking patients to the small hospital on the other side of the island.  We hope to be able to begin a jail ministry and a women's bible study soon.

Our First Children's Ministry Group

Although life here is definitely harder and hotter, it is also a lot slower paced and much more laid back than Malaybalay which has given us extra time to try to figure things out here.  The slower paced life has also been a blessing as we continue to adjust, not only to life in missions with a baby, but life in general with a baby after twelve years!