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!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Answered Prayer: 4 Years in the Making

A Miraculous Meeting

I remember the day we chose Ronabel like it was yesterday.  It was a Sunday in July in 2011. A representative from CFC, now called Unbound, gave a talk at our church about all the underprivileged kids around the world who can't go to school because their parents can't afford to send them. He talked about the poor who couldn't afford to feed their children much less send them to school.  He talked about how much we have in America and how little it takes to make a difference in the life of another child in a foreign country.

After Mass, our kids insisted that we sponsor a child.  We walked to the back table where all the pictures of the children needing sponsors were laid out.   Olivia looked over all the pictures carefully and chose a girl her age that shared Isaac's birthday.  Her name was Ronabel, and she lived in the Philippines.  Olivia immediately asked when we could meet this little girl and give her the school money.  Travis and I tried to explain how this sponsoring thing worked and that we would never be able to meet her because the Philippines was on the other side of the world.  (Yes, I know. God is very humorous.)

Olivia, 8 years old at the time, did not like that answer at all.  So right there in the church foyer, she told us that she would just pray and ask God to get our family to the Philippines.  I smiled sweetly at her and told her to go ahead and pray for that.  I loved the matter of fact, childlike faith she had.  But my realistic, grownup faith knew that this was one prayer that would not be answered.  (Boy, did I have a lot to learn from my 8 year old!)

When we got home we put Ronabel's picture on our prayer board.  During the following year, we prayed each night during family prayer for Ronabel and her family.  The next year we received an updated picture for our board.  Olivia continued to pray that our family would one day go to the Philippines and meet Ronabel.  And I continued to believe that that was impossible.  I may have even discouraged her from continuing to pray for that, so that she wouldn't be disappointed and lose faith when it didn't happen.  (I know!  I've added that to my long list of parent fails.)

Well, fast forward to December 2013.  We were in Mexico finishing up our missionary training when we found out that we were being sent to the Philippines for our first year as full time missionaries.  One of Olivia's first thoughts was Ronabel!  She said, "Now we can meet Ronabel!"  My adult like faith still said that this was going to be impossible.  I explained to her that the Philippines was like the U.S., very big, and that just because we are going to the same country doesn't mean that we can just travel to any place in that country.  Plus, we didn't even know which island Ronabel lived on.  (Yes, I know. I still had a lot to learn!)

Fast forward again, July 2014, we were living in the Philippines and received an email update on Ronabel from Unbound.  Olivia said, "Let's go find her!"  The thought finally crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe this could be possible.  I logged on to the website and did some research just in case it was possible to find her.  I found that Ronabel was part of the Quezon project which was located near Manila, the capital city that we fly in and out of.  (Now, this is where I begin to believe.)

I emailed Unbound and inquired about meeting with Ronabel.  They sent back a lengthy application for us to fill out and send back.  The application required a specific date, flight details, hotel reservations, etc.  We soon realized that a visit was still out of our budget even thought we were now in the same country.  We decided that we could try to schedule a visit the day before we flew back to the U.S. the next time since we usually end up spending a night in Manila anyway due to flight schedules.  Well, we had to leave the Philippines unexpectedly due to issues with the pregnancy.  We didn't have enough time to schedule the meeting with such short notice.

Fast forward, June 2015, we were about to leave the U.S. to return to the Philippines.  Olivia reminds us about meeting Ronabel.  Again, I tell her that I don't think there is enough time to set it all up just as a letter from Ronabel arrives in the mail telling us how excited she is that we live in the Philippines now and that we are going to be visiting her soon. (This is when I finally decided to join Olivia's praying for a miracle meeting.)

On July 11, 2015, 4 years (possibly to the day) later, God answered Olivia's prayer.  We met Ronabel, her mother, and three of the social workers that work in Quezon.

 "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”  Matthew 21:22 
"For nothing is impossible with God."  Luke 1:37