Comfort For The Soul

I have talked in past blog posts about serving the poor by providing food, clothing and shelter but this is a story about the need for spiritual comfort.

Below is a message I received about the Ebola outbreak from a friend that we met during our 2007 Liberia mission trip…

“Yesterday we experienced a terrible and serious situation in Johnsonville. Saturday morning about 10 am, we saw a convoy of about a dozen vehicles driving in from the city. The convoy of Armed Forces of Liberia, The ministry of Health, Internal Affairs, Justice, Police and Red Cross ambulance. We were caught by surprise. We were asked to go indoors. They told us to stay indoors because the convoy contained dead bodies of Ebola victims. We went indoors but later came out. Little did we realize that the district commissioner and the land Inspector had given permit to the Ebola team to bury dozens of dead bodies which were being carried in a KIA Motor truck. A chain caterpillar began to fix the damaged road. Following that, a long convoy apart from the first started approaching. They came to bury all the dead bodies collected from various hospitals in Monrovia. Villagers protested and refused to let the government officials in. A heated argument ensued and this resulted in the firing of guns for several minutes. They beat residents wounding several and then buried the bodies. As I write, there are a few among residents that collect water from unprotected wells.

There is complete fear upon us as there are lot of gun men around. Today, the faces I saw in church made me cry. Our people are in complete desperation and suffering. They cannot do their normal activities for fear of catching the Ebola sickness. We are thinking about providing relief and continue to feed hungry children who are cracking kernels for food. Tell the world that we need help. Our country is falling apart.”

Not being able to help someone in a tangible way is a bit disheartening and requires us to be dependent on God for his mercy.

I know we can’t all serve in missions, but we should all try to understand; and therefore, have compassion for those in need around the world. The reality is that the poor will always need our help. We need to respond when we can whether that is moving our hands and feet locally, sponsoring a child, sending someone who can go overseas, sending any form of encouragement, or praying. To help us understand the suffering of the poor who have no voice, this would be a good time to ask ourselves “what would we do if the government wanted to bury bodies with deadly diseases in our neighborhood?”

A Journey to the Philippines – part 1

I am glad I kept a journal of our two week mission trip to the Philippines because so much happened every minute of every day that even the best memory would not be able to recall all the life changing encounters we experienced.

Our flight to Cebu, Philippines took off July 9, 2000. Jessica and Rachael (16 years old at the time) had never flown before and this was my first international flight. There were 30 people on this mission team. We were traveling with 30+ suit cases, 30+ carry-ons, and 30 seventy-pound boxes of supplies. As you can imagine, traveling to the other side of the world with that many people and that much baggage was quite an endeavor. To complicate things more, our very first flight was overbooked and we were 40 minutes late taking off. Therefore, we delayed every flight we were on thereafter.  We had to run from one connection to the next but what really delayed the planes was transferring those 60+ pieces of luggage from one flight to the next. Although we had to wait a couple hours for our luggage to catch up with us in the end, it was amazing that every piece of luggage made it to our final destination.

To keep costs down, we had four stops along the way and it took almost 27 hours to get from Minnesota to Cebu, Philippines. I still have a hard time figuring out the math with time changes and traveling from East to West against the rotation of the earth. All I can say is that we lifted off from Minnesota at 4:55pm Sunday July 9th and landed in Cebu, Philippines, at 8:40am Cebu time Tuesday July 11th (that was 7:40pm MN time on July 10th). Therefore, we lost 13 hours! To make it even more adventurous, we had to endure turbulence from the first flight to the last. I found out later that my husband was closely watching the weather during our flight because we were flying behind a typhoon and a couple other weather systems. God had us covered but what an experience for first time international travelers!

The first thing I noticed when we landed in Manilla was the extremely strong smell of mold. That is when we first heard that the typhoon had just gone through. This was the heaviest humidity I had ever had to inhale. There was so much moisture on the windows of the plane and airport that it was as though we had landed inside a huge greenhouse. The newspaper was full of stories about the typhoon, crooked police, and a garbage slide in the squatter’s village.  Jessica’s first words after that final take off from Manilla to Cebu was “and we have to do all this again in two weeks!?”

When we arrived in Cebu, the diesel pollution combined with the smells of mango, lye and sewage were nauseating. By the end of the trip, we were used to the smells only enough to stop complaining about them but not enough to be numb to them. To this day, when I smell diesel, my mind goes back to the Philippines.

The coolest thing to me about the eight bedroom guest house we stayed in was the banana tree right outside the porch windows. I was surprised to see that the inside of the bananas in the Philippines are more yellow than the ones we get in the States. And, even though the smell of mangoes permeated the air and mixed with all those foul smells, I still fell in love with their sweet smooth flavor. It is disappointing that the mangoes are just not the same here in the States.

After unpacking, we went to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu to meet the kids and drop off some of the supplies. The kids at the shelter were so welcoming and excited when we arrived. Considering the children we saw on the streets, I was surprised at how happy and well adjusted the kids at the orphanage were.

That evening, we needed a distraction to stay awake and get acclimated to Cebu time. Therefore, we climbed into our hired Jeepneys and headed for the mall. Jeepneys are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They are made from US military jeeps left over from World War II and are known for their flamboyant colors and crowded seating. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the two Jeepneys we used during our 11 days in the Philippines:

The pollution was so bad that when we rode in the open air Jeepneys, I got dots on my glasses and, in the evening, when I wiped my face with an astringent pad, it was black. From the first day of the trip to the last, I had problems with my eyes. By the end of the trip, my eyes felt like sandpaper and I could barely keep them open.

Our trip to the mall was an opportunity for us to get some good old American fast food. But when Rachael and I approached the Pizza Hut, we had to step back trying not to cringe from the smell. It seems they use goat cheese on their pizzas. Therefore, we ended up going to the good old reliable food chain — McDonalds.

WEDNESDAY
This was our first of four mornings working with the kids at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu.  We sang together, performed puppet shows..,

tutored them on the computers, played games, and did crafts.  The kids loved the attention and learned quickly.  Here are photos of Jessica and Rachael with some of the kids:

 

In addition to the orphanage, we worked with the local churches to reach out to families in the squatter’s villages. Wikipedia defines squatters as: “extensive slums or shanty towns consisting of self-constructed housing built without the landowner’s permission. There is no sewage system, drinking water must be bought from vendors or carried from a nearby tap, and if there is electricity, it is stolen from a passing cable.”

That night we went out by twos among the shanties to hand out fliers and invite the people to a gathering the following evening.
In my journal I wrote: “The children, stray cats and dogs, roosters leashed to poles, and mothers cooking over open fires were just like the pictures I’ve seen on TV.”

There was one particular girl who captured my heart because she reminded me so much of myself. She was a young teen intently watching everything we did and with a trail of the little ones behind her. Her name is Michelle. Here is a picture of her standing behind the pole:

The hardest thing about a trip like this is that we left part of our hearts with the kids.  Michelle is still a part of my memories. Unfortunately, I will never know where she is or what she is doing now but I am thankful that I can trust God with my prayers for her.

THURSDAY
After our morning with the kids at the children’s shelter, we went back to the Cebu Alliance Church in the squatter’s village. One hundred children responded to the fliers we distributed the day before.  

They were awed by the puppet show so much so that even the adults watched with their mouths hanging open. We each brought a relational activity to help us interact with the kids which included butterfly gliders, bubbles, balloons, wipe boards, jacks, jump ropes, and beaded bracelets.

Around dinner time, we lined up the kids and sent them home with care packages that we had brought from the States. The packages contained rice, soap, a wash rag, candy and other things donated by the church.

As this happened, more people came out from the shanties. It was difficult to stop the distribution but we had only 85 packages to hand out to this group. We had to save the remaining 200 packages for the other three villages that we would visit over the next seven days.

After the children left to bring their packages home and invite their parents out for the evening video, we rested and enjoyed our dinner from Jolli-Bees which consisted of two pieces of chicken (the chicken in the Philippines is much leaner and less meaty than that of the United States), a mound of rice, container of gravy, mango pie, and coke.

That evening, the villagers responded to the flier invitations and filled the church… 

It was standing room only so our team had to wait outside. While their parents watched the Jesus video, we entertained the children with nothing but our bodies serving as monkey bars and entertainment for two hours. Here is a photo from that night:

By the end of that evening, we had pushed ourselves to stay up late again and we were 30 very tired, crabby people still suffering from jet lag. However, to remind us of the importance of what we were doing, we noticed that some of the kids were digging through the garbage and eating any leftover chicken they could find from our evening meal. Therefore, it feels like an oxymoron to say that this was one of the most fulfilling nights of my life. We had served (as many as we were capable of reaching) the orphans, physically ministered to and fed the poor, and ended the evening by providing for their spiritual needs.

FRIDAY
After a morning at the shelter, an afternoon of socializing and ministering with a group of college students, and riding on man powered tricycles back to the guest house,

we went to the Cebu Evangelical Free Church to help them reach out to the squatter’s in their area.

No one arrived for the 7pm start time so our team once again walked the streets and invited people to come see the Jesus video. By the time our team returned, people were streaming in, we started singing, and we were able to start the video at 8pm.  Here are some of those kids:

During the movie, I had a conversation with young man named Angelo who believed his ancestors and tradition would get him to heaven. After some discussion, however, he was very interested in the fact that he could actually talk directly to God himself. That evening Angelo prayed and asked Jesus to be his savior and we gave him a Bible. Afterwards, Angelo looked as though he could use some refreshments but the kids had already taken all the juice and snacks. Thank goodness I had a bottle of Gatorade in my backpack so I could give that to him. After assuring him it was okay to accept it, he downed the entire bottle faster than I had ever seen anyone do before.

As I write this and reflect on the fact that I kept saying in my journal “the Filipinos are very friendly and eager to become friends,” I wondered if that observation was real or just my perception because I was experiencing gratitude from the people we were serving.

Then I think about the Filipinos I have met, and worked with, here in the States. I can confidently say that the Filipinos are naturally friendly and hospitable. That being said, however, I have to admit that we encountered a few people who did throw brief angry comments and attitude our way. We were told that some of that was coming as a result of “unwanted Americans from the nearby naval base.” However, these encounters were far and few between.

This trip was so moving and life changing that it pains me to leave out so many details but it would just take too long to describe everything here. However, I would like to invite other team members to help out by posting their experiences and comments as well.

Since this account is already getting so long, I will post the second week of stories about visiting the school and other squatter villages in my next post.

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