Inspired to GO... Part 1: The Philippines
It's 4:30 AM in Cataning, Bataan ... and I'm wide awake, partly because the room is muggy and hot.. mostly because of the 15 hour time difference between the Philippines and California. I'm sharing a bed with two other women, and on the floor of our room, three others lay fast asleep. I wiggle out of my middle space in the bed to go use our host home's only bathroom. It's here that it hits me just how luxurious a shower head and flushing toilet really are...As I walk back to my room, I catch our host mom and one of her daughter's children sleeping on the hard cement floor in the living room. I am in awe at the kindness and hospitality she has showed us...As a household of 5 ( 7 on the weekends when her two youngest daughters come home from Manila, where they work)...rooms are limited.
Another realization hits me.. "alone time" and "personal space" are first world privileges unheard of in most parts of the world.
Even with a tight living situation, our host mom offered 6 foreigners she's never met, the largest room in her home for the next week. Her house: a one story, three bedroom cement structure-with no front door, minimal mismatched furniture and a makeshift kitchen - might be considered unlivable by most in the United States. But in this country, it's the norm and conditions could be far worse.
I climb back into bed, careful to not wake up my roommates, and reminisce about one of the first meetings we had, 8 months prior, in the beginning stages of planning this trip.
Pastor Phil: O.K guys.... If we get 5 people... all we need is 5 people to commit. We'll go.
Kat and I: ( responding hesitantly and with doubt in our voice) Sounds good
Pastor Phil: And if it doesn't work out next summer, we can just start planning for June or July 0f 2018. We will definitely go in 2018...
Fast forward to July 1st 2017
47 of us are in the Philippines.
Our group traveled to Bataan with our church, Inspire, with the intent of showing the love of Jesus by serving, hanging with, teaching and feeding the children of the community. We also had 12 individuals joining us from Project church in Sacramento ( whoop whoop) - it was so awesome getting to meet and build friendships with these guys!
Our goal was to host a vacation bible school with arts and crafts lessons, English lessons, bible lessons and games, all while feeding the children (however many came) dinner for each night. We stayed in local families' homes in order to build a deeper relationship with the community we were serving, and to get to know our brothers and sisters in the Philippines on a deeper level. We didn't want to simply show up, do a little charity work then pat ourselves on the back for our good deed. Relationship building was our objective- who are these people in Bataan? How do they live? What are their dreams? Goals? Values? Struggles? Fears?
How are they doing... really?
And what could we do to show them how much they were truly loved and cherished?
My commute =)
Immediately on my first day of working with the children, though, it hit me.
What am I doing here?
Yea, I had a heart for volunteering and serving abroad. I always knew I wanted to do it- but of what use was I on this particular trip? I spoke absolutely no Tagalog so I couldn't work as a translator or MC the camp. I really had no prior experience in working with kids (like many of the teachers and children's ministry helpers that came)... I was actually pretty uncomfortable surrounded by so many children I didn't know and was hesitant on how to act around them. I never really considered myself motherly so why would they be drawn to me?
I wasn't a preacher by any means. I wasn't creative enough to come up with crafts or games for them to play. I wasn't a talented videographer or photographer so I couldn't help document and put together a video of the trip. I have a terrible singing voice so I couldn't lead any of the songs they danced to. I mean I was literally just there. Awkwardly taking up space. At least that was what it felt like.
Walking around the streets of Cataning with the neighborhood kids- hands down one of my favorite parts of this trip was waking up each morning and walking to the tricyle stop ( their version of a bus stop) and exchanging smiles, hi's and good morning's with all the neighbors.
One of the groovy busses our group took to Pilar- a region with no electricity or running water, where a church plant was being established
Then I came to the realization.... Wow, I am being incredibly selfish.
If I really believed that the God talked about on Sunday mornings back home, in our air conditioned and four walled building, was real... and He is more than capable of using anyone, regardless of their limitations, why was I so focused on my weaknesses in that moment?
Not only that, but why was I cheating the children of Bataan by taking away my full attention and presence from them, and instead giving in to a self-absorbed preoccupation with my lack of talent or capabilities.
The kids greeting us by placing our hand on their forehead- a sign of respect
At that point, I made a promise and commitment to myself that this trip would not be about me.
As soon as I let go of this obsession with my weaknesses, I felt a weight lifted off of me. Not only that, but I felt the freedom of simply being present- and immensely enjoying the place where I was at and the people that I was meeting.
And what a blessing that was!
I could go on and on about the kindness, humility, strength, resilience and love shown to us by the locals. But there really are no words to give justice to this incredible people. Filipinos are the type to take off their own shirt to clothe those in need. They are the ones willing to go hungry as long as their guests have a meal to eat. They sleep on their own hard floors so that visitors have a bed to sleep in. They go above and beyond to show you how grateful they are for your presence. They cry with you through the painful valleys and laugh with you on the joyous mountaintops. They are the real deal when it comes to servanthood- a pure and true representation of how we are to treat one another... regardless of our differences or even of our financial situations. No matter how little we think we may have, there is always enough to offer a helping hand to a brother or sister in need.
And their children!
The first day of VBS, we had about 90 kids. By day 3, we were almost at 250. Word spread fast through Cataning that a group of foreigners were in town and hundreds literally flocked to see the spectacle. These kids were such a joy to work with! They were crazy (hah, in a good way), overflowing with excitement at the activities we had planned for them. They were generous, compassionate, affectionate and so easily grateful! Even a gifted pencil or pen would put the biggest smile on their faces. I cannot express the happiness I had waking up every morning, knowing I got to hang out with them. Like many of their parents, they understood at a young age the value of hospitality and treated us as if we were their family. They still do! Every couple of days, I receive multiple Facebook messages from these kids telling me how much they miss and love me. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and aren't afraid to love the stranger.
There are very few places I have traveled to that feel like home. The Philippines is, without a doubt, one of them and its people are forever ingrained in my heart.
If I could summarize this trip in a nutshell...
I very simply and joyously spent my time in Bataan playing with, getting to know and doing life with its residents. And I was so content in doing so. I may not have been providing life saving medical treatments, building schools or raising up female entrepreneurs (yet) ;) ... but something tells me this is just the beginning and I'm barely scratching the surface of my life as a missionary... and this trip to the Philippines is only one of many to come.
I want to give a very special shout out to my host family and the other 46 missionaries on our team! You guys were amazing and I'm so happy to have gotten to know you more and share this once in a lifetime experience with you.
Some of our incredible host family! Absolutely love them!
And of course! I couldn't't skip the food !
It wouldn't really be a blog of mine if I didn't dedicate a small portion to food hah.. Below I added a few pictures of some of the delicious meals that we ate. Literally a team of mamas would make us homemade filipino food every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner- it was such a treat and such a warm welcoming! Our hearts (and tummies) were so full!
Fresh organic mango!
Feasting on grilled pork, chicken, shrimp, fresh crab and mussels
A delicious chicken stew
Avocado ice cream! So bomb- this was my favorite dessert !
The above was my absolute favorite meal! We had rice, fried pork, lentil soup, fresh pineapple and a white fish stuffed with tomato, onion and other spices, wrapped in a banana leaf.. This combination was so delicious!
Fried rice, sweet pork, tuyo (fish) and salted egg- a very traditional Filipino breakfast
Here are some final pictures of a gorgeous sunset we caught in downtown Bataan, on one of our first nights exploring. (Because everyone loves a good sunset!)....
Am I righttttt? ;)
Yes, the sky was purple! Amazing!
" Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I, send me.'" Isaiah 6:8