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!