Missionary Life

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The life of a missionary

There are such ideals of missionary life. And I think going into this, or when people look at missionaries, there are certain pictures and images that people have of what life as a missionary must and should look like. And although there are times that as I speak to people I realize that my life is not exactly “normal”, there are also moments where I laugh and I say to myself… “I don’t remember signing up for this!”

One such moment was the other morning as I rode in the back of our van/truck. If there are shock absorbers in the back of that vehicle, they are most definitely, almost non-existant. And the roads of Manila are the worst, so you can only imagine the jostling you get when riding that vehicle. At one point my entire body, from my jaw, to my ribs, to my stomach, to even my feet rang with each jump. And as I “sat” there, or bounced there more like, looking out the window with the rainy wind blowing on my face, cooling me down, I thought with amusement that this is not, I think, what people think of when they think “missionary life”. And there are so many moments like that. Moments that are not necessarily picturesque and could be captured for a cover of a book, but are oh so real.

Moments like writing down the to-do list every day for my team on our whiteboard. Driving visitors to the grocery store. Hoping the loose and stray dogs that are hairless because of some disease don’t bite me while on visitation. Getting stares because I’m the only white person on the Jeepney (local public transportation). Looking at my shirt subtly after I put the naked and dirty kid down after holding him because he was crying, to check if I got poop on my Metro shirt. Getting frustrated at my slow learning of Tagalog verbs and sentence structure. Laughing hysterically when I realized I said “turn at that song” instead of “turn at that corner”. (In my defense, song is “kanta” and corner is “kanto”) Trying to memorize names of the workers and having to ask them to repeat it to the point of embarrassment. All of those moments are my missionary life too.

But then I get to have moments where I truly am amazed and honored at what I get to do.

Moments where a mom on visitation thanks you with tears in her eyes for helping her buy medicine for her daughter with cancer. Moments where that crying, dirty, toddler learns to recognize you and comes running into your arms. Moments that you go on visitation and you hear kids calling out your name from everywhere, and the people in the community look at you like… “Who are you?” Moments when you see your team teaching a lesson, and a kid on the tarps is really “getting it”. Moments that you specifically remember that girl who can’t speak properly on visitation, and go out of your way to visit her family and she won’t let go of you until you literally pull her off and tell her you’ll be back again.

And perhaps one of the most underrated, and certainly under talked moments is moments with our visitors. Moments that they show you how privileged you are to serve such a wonderful, mighty, and loving God. When a group of teenage visitors who the world might say cannot trust people, extend their trust to you by telling you what an impact you made in their lives. To them I say, you were the ones to impact my life. You reminded me of why I do what I do. And I love you too.

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Windows of the Soul

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It’s been a while since I had written about my life in the Philippines. And I wasn’t sure exactly what to write about. It’s hard to put into words some of the thoughts and feelings that I have.

 I remember one meeting I had with Pastor Bill. (For those of you that don’t know, I work for Metro World Child under Pastor Bill Wilson) I was crying as usual, and although I’ve gotten a lot more tough since this journey began, Pastor Bill just has this way of bringing the tears out of me. He jokingly called it his gift when I complained about how I always cry when I’m with him. But in that specific meeting, I remember him saying to me. “You’re very emotional. I am too. And you’re going to have to be careful not to let that control you. But watch out for the other extreme too.” And at staff meeting once, he talked about how easy it is to get hardened when you are confronted with certain terrible truths all the time. I honestly thought I knew what he was talking about when I lived in New York, but here I understand it on a different level. Whether it’s because of where I am, or the number of years I’ve been doing this, I’m not sure. But either way, I notice myself at times choosing to be numb to a situation, and having to pull myself out of it. 

And last Sunday, I had a moment. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was just… a moment.

We were picking up our workers for an overnight outing. We had picked up from three of the four sites, and the only one we had left was from Smokey Mountain the garbage dump where we do Sidewalk Sunday School every week.

But the one worker that was coming for the outing wasn’t at the gas station right outside of Smokey where we were supposed to meet her. So Darwin, one of the other staff went to go get her, jogging off, and calling out “I’ll be back in about 10 minutes.” So there I was at a gas station with 15 workers. We were having a good time just talking and laughing. It was hot of course, so I told them they could keep the back door to the van open. And from the front I see this kid maybe 9 or 10 years old walking up to the back of the van. I’m sure he was curious to see why so many kids were in the back of this vehicle in the middle of the “ghetto”. And as he got closer, it was obvious that he had been scavenging through the trash.

One thing I didn’t really understand until I got here, is that even within squatter areas, there are the poor, and then there are the really poor. They look different, dress different, act different… And there is a sort of discrimination between the people living in the squatter areas. And this kid was one of those really poor ones. Super dark, super dirty. Wearing shorts way too big for him tied up only by a rope obviously taken out of the trash. Those are the kind of kids that come to our site. But even when they come, some of them linger at the entrance not sure if they’re allowed to come when they are so dirty until they see that there are others just like them having fun and playing with us. I had never seen this particular boy, but I figured he came over to ask for change.

As a general rule, we never give the street kids money. If they get to keep it, they don’t usually use it for good. But more often than not, they don’t even get to keep it, but have to give it to some ring leader. So we just, don’t. All of “my” kids in the van are wearing their “Sunday best”, to go on this outing. But one boy in the back of my van who we picked up at one of our other sites, but is from Smokey Mountain, just shrunk into the back trying to disappear. I’m fairly certain he knew that kid who had come up to our van. Maybe they have scavenged together in the past, played together, eaten together. Enrico, my boy, would have only been a few years older than him.

So this boy, whom I don’t even know the name of, kept talking to the kids in the back until he got in trouble by some random stranger in the parking lot. At this point, I interjected something and he must have noticed me, because he came around to my side of the van and climbed up onto the wheel so that he would be eye level with me. And that’s when I saw his eyes. They were completely glazed over, and he was high off of who knows what. Probably paint thinner. It’s cheap. He had a plastic bag that he was huffing it from. And he angrily asked me for change, to which I, as kindly as I could, said no. My kids in the back of the van are yelling at him to stop talking to me, and I’m trying to hush them, but this boy was getting so aggressive in his asking that I basically had to gently push him off the tire for fear he was going to try to come in.

Once he was down, he went to the back again, but I told the kids to close the door. I was starting to sense that something bad could happen, and I didn’t want anyone getting hurt. I’ve seen enough people high to know that they are stronger than normally possible. But I don’t know what the kids said to him that made him so angry because the next thing I know, he’s trying to come to the front of the van again towards me, as angry as can be. But before you knew it, one of the teens, Ivan, a 13 year old from one of our sites had jumped out of the van and was blocking this boys way with his body. I had never seen Ivan look so angry before that I was afraid he was going to hurt this kid. I had not realized how protective Ivan was, or how, in a way, it was so normal to him that he would have to protect the people he was with from… a child. I then quickly got out of the van and told Ivan to get back in the car. I went around quickly, running after the boy who now had a concrete rock bigger than my fist aiming to throw it at the van or me, I’m not sure. My teens are yelling at me to walk away, in a calm but sure way, I’m telling the teens to stay in the van, and trying to slowly walk towards this boy who has suddenly turned violent. I kept asking, “What’s your name?” To which he kept responding angrily “Give me change!” “What’s your name, buddy?” “Give me change!” Until I had gotten close enough to grab the rock. It was at that point that Darwin came back, spoke to the kid for a second, and he ran off.

But all I could think about were his eyes. But as he refused to get off the back of the van as we were driving away, I had to get out to force him down for his own safety. And as he’s backing away, he kept yelling at me in English, and giving me the finger, “F*** you! F*** you!” Oh but his eyes… And if I had had any food at all with me, I would have given it all to him, but I had nothing.

His eyes… Such hatred, and so, so high. And he was 11 at the oldest. Maybe 12, but doubtful.

I think one of my first posts since I got to the Philippines was about the boys rehab we volunteered in. Some of those boys were his age, so it’s not that I didn’t know that kids that age got high. But it is so different to have that knowledge in your head, and seeing it with your own eyes. 

I’ve tried to find him since, with no luck. But hopefully soon, I’ll be able to find him. I want to give him a hug, and give him food, and tell him there’s someone that loves him. And maybe this time, he won’t be high so he’ll understand what I’m trying to tell him. I hope so. I pray so. Because he is why I’m here. He is why I do what I do. To be able to change the eyes filled with hate to eyes filled with the knowledge that he is loved.  

The Naked Truth

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People often ask me how I’m able to do what I do. And this the long, but simple response to that question.

All I can do in life, in response to Jesus’ love, is to love Jesus more than I love myself. That’s all any of us can do. More than you love your reputation. More than you love comfort. More than you love your family, or your spouse. And that sounds like a great thing to say, but an extremely difficult thing to do. But let me just say – it isn’t as difficult as it sounds when you love Jesus.

When I was born, as far as I know, I did not love Jesus. My parents did of course, and maybe even my sister. But I was completely ignorant of who Jesus was, or what He did for me. As well as I should have been. I was a newborn. But it is true that I had a head start on people. My parents loved Jesus more than they loved me. In fact, I can tell you of a specific time that I learned this.

We had a guest speaker come to our church, and he was conducting some amazing, Holy Spirit filled meetings. It was probably one of my first experiences with the sweetness of His love. I remember just feeling so happy and content – like nothing could ever get better. I certainly did not understand that what I felt was the wholeness of the Holy Spirit, but that is what that was. And after a meeting one night, I went to my Daddy. I have always been a Daddy’s girl, and since I wanted to feel spoiled, I went to Daddy. I went, and sat myself on his lap, and leaned against his chest. The safest place I knew. And the conversation that took place shortly after is eternally stamped on my heart. I asked my dad a question – thinking I knew the answer. “Daddy, if the house was on fire, and there was a Bible in it, and I was in it, which would you save?” I honestly don’t know if I would have had the strength that my father did that night, because he said softly but very surely, “If it was the last Bible on earth, I would save it, and then you of course.” I’m sure he said more after that to reassure me he wouldn’t leave me stranded in a burning building, but that answer is all I specifically remember. That is what was stamped onto my heart. My dad loved Jesus, and the Bible more than me. I don’t even know if he remembers that night. And maybe for some other kids, they would have needed years of therapy for that. But now, as I write this, I know something as surely as I know I have ten toes. God ordained that conversation. It shaped me not into an insecure little girl, but one that was secure in the knowledge that her parents followed God with their whole heart. And for me, that is what I needed to know in that moment. Not whether my dad would save me – I always knew he would. But that he would put Jesus before me.

I come from a line of rich, Christian, spiritual heritage. But sometimes, if people could have heard the cowardly, or angry, or jealous thoughts in my head, they may have thought twice before saying that I would love and serve Jesus full time. And I don’t just say that to “sound humble”, but to prove a point.

As I grew, I started understanding Jesus more and more. And let me make one thing abundantly clear. Especially for those who might be Christian home kids that have struggled with this in the past as well. I never remember accepting Jesus into my heart. I don’t mean I’ve never prayed the sinner’s prayer, I’ve been to church enough years to have prayed it probably literally hundreds of times. But I mean, the first time, conversion experience. I don’t remember mine. Take that as you will. It could be a great thing, it could be a sad thing for some. But I have come to accept it in my life. I’ll never know that feeling of being washed clean, and being flooded by the Holy Spirit for the first time. And for those of you that do, I hope you understand what a blessing that actually is. I have a set of blessings that is true, you will never know either, but both are blessings in and of themselves.

But as a child, and unfortunately my mother would be more than willing to attest to this, I was quite the little devil child. Not in the cute, pulling pranks kind of way, but more in the making your mom pull out her hair kind of way. I don’t know why or how I got such a horrible temper, but I do know, that as a ten year old, I did not know how to control it. I would explode on a moments’ notice. (Mostly I remember getting that way when having to do math – thank you school.) But I’m sure there were other triggers too. All I really know is that if I ever have children, I hope they don’t take after me in that way. My poor mother had to deal with more than she should have had to.

I remember specifically one fight with my mom. Maybe I was about 12? And I think it may have been the beginning of the end. We were yelling at each other. Probably more me than her. And as usual, I was saying things I regretted. And I hated myself for that. I hated that I was hurting my mom, I hated that I couldn’t stop the words pouring out of my mouth. I hated that every time I got frustrated, this was my answer, and that I always threatened to run away, knowing I never could. I was half way out of the house, and I remember yelling at my mom, “I hate this! I hate that I have a temper!” (Remember, I’m was just spewing hateful things out of my mouth almost seconds before) And this is another one of those stamped moments in my heart. I don’t think I realized until right now, but I think this might have been the first miracle I ever witnessed in my own life. But as I shouted that at my mom, she shouted back “Well, pray about it! God can take it away!” And I was like, “I have! It hasn’t helped!” And even though I probably had in passing, that was the first time it really occurred to me that He actually might, if I asked sincerely. All I really ever thought when I had my temper tantrums was how much I wanted a punching bag. So after that fight, I prayed. Not some Holy Spirit filled, amazing, prayer warrior child prayer. I don’t even remember the words. But I can almost guarantee it was said through a clenched jaw. Some simple, “Please just take this away if You can. Amen.” – type prayer. But He did. Not right away, but He did. And He taught me something monumental that day. He cares. 

I hope that you see that I was, and am, in no way perfect, or even special. If you wanted to see special, you need to look at my brother or sister. I loved them both from the bottom of my heart, especially when I was in my “angel mood” as my mom called it. I’ve always been so proud of them, and that I was their sister. And God blessed me with a unique and close relationship with both of them. As I grow older and realize how unusual that is, I realize how blessed I am. As a teenager, my brother grew closer and closer to God, and as his big sister, I couldn’t have been more proud. I would often say, and genuinely mean, “He is the type of preacher or famous Christian that you read about his childhood and think it’s impossible for that to be true!” He collected versions of the Bible, he had a prayer life stronger than mine, and his level of intimacy with God at the time seemed unachievable to me. I really thought “I’m going to be related to some famous Christian evangelist, or something!” And I truly was so unbelievably proud of him.

And my sister! I don’t even think words could ever do justice to either one of them! Ever since she was little, she’s always managed to be the star of everywhere we go. It probably helped that she was the blonde haired blue eyed beauty in an Asian country, but… She has this natural ability to just command authority and attention when she walks into a room. Not only does she have an amazing musical talent (as well as does my brother!), but she is a natural born leader. That is a gift that God has given her. She can lead worship, she could lead a group of people towards most any goal, and everyone wanted to be her. Including me. Her heart of worship is one that is a gift to strive for. And I was so proud to be that little sister that had such a cool older sister. Even if she didn’t want to always wear matching clothes.

I was so proud of them both. But simultaneously I was so jealous. Please understand how normal I am. I just wanted to stand out too. It’s not that I didn’t want that heart of worship, or the prayer life that they had, but I was just jealous of normal things. I wanted to be the star of the party. I wanted to be that famous Christian. It’s embarrassing to admit such normal things, but it’s so true. I don’t have the “routinely” dark past/ testimony. I’ve never done drugs, never been drunk, I’ve never slept with anyone… But these little deep, hidden feelings I’ve had, and know that others have had too, are sometimes the most private, and what the enemy keeps against us for years. I didn’t want to be Holy – I just wanted to be known as Holy. Not to say that I didn’t truly want the real holiness and righteousness, but… 

As you grow in Christ, I think this is actually one of the biggest lies of the enemy. He mixes all of your feelings together, gets the mean, and tries to convince you that that is who you are. You are not. We are sinful beings to begin with. We will have moments of sin, moments of scathing truth to our real nature. But that does not define who we are. The moments that we are in His presence, and basking in His love, soaking in His truth, and earnestly yearning for more of Him – that is undeniably us too. Each of their own, and separate. They are both us, but the mean of the entire sum is not the “real” us. But satan will try to convince us, he tried to convince me that if at times I just wanted attention, and the spotlight, then surely, when I was worshiping Him with my whole heart, then that heart of worship was tainted with the thoughts of before. And oh, I can’t tell you how many times I let that thought enter into my heart so unfiltered. And I let it change the way I worshiped Him. Instead of boldly approaching the throne, I all of a sudden came ashamed. Came apologetically, came with my head down, and asked for permission to be with Him. How this must have saddened Him. Don’t misunderstand me. When we have those worldly and fleshly thoughts, we need to repent. We need to be cleansed of it. Purged of it. But once we do, it does not need to mix with the new. Each time we repent, we are a new creation. Not an average of all of our thoughts. 

Then there was school. Ah… This has entered into my “testimony” many times. And I have yet to nail it. I went to school the first day (mind you I was in 5th grade) in an elementary school I had never gone to before, naturally assuming I would be the star of the class. Am I embarrassed to admit this? Yes. It’s not the image of humble Hannah I’d like to portray. But it’s also the truth. I was the white girl, the American – surely that would win me some points. And maybe it did, and would have continued to if I had been able to seize the moments’ momentum like my sister surely did. But no, I was much too intimidated. My life’s grand schemes were much more grand in my mind than in actuality. I was so intimidated. So I waited for them to make the first move, and the second, and the third, and the fourth… What most people don’t know about this part of my life even if I’ve shared about it, is that for the first few days, my new classmates really did make an effort to get to know me. But I did not seize it. I stayed shy. I stayed back. I don’t really have a great, philosophical, psychological reason for why I acted the way I did, I just did. And that lead to me being made fun of. Not because I was the only white girl. That only came later as a result. An object that they picked out after they decided to make fun of me. And I am truly embarrassed to admit this. Because by admitting this, I am admitting to a few things. One, that I was definitely partly to blame for the beginning of the resulting bullying, (I would like to add, that I am in no way excusing bullying or casting blame on the children getting bullied. I am a huge advocate for bullied kids because I have been there, and there is no excuse for someone to bully another!) and two, for portraying my classmates as monsters and always omitting this part of my story. Because you see, I am a liar. And not just in the “I am a sinner” way. Do I still lie? Yes. Far less, but let’s be honest… We all do. Because we are not perfect.

Most of my lies, if not all, have been to save face. And I realize that this probably is a very common truth, and most people probably do this too. But I’m exposing the truth, and I’m taking away satan’s authority to blackmail me with this, by exposing my own sinful nature. I can’t even think of specific examples, but when questioned about something I was supposed to do, but didn’t – I lied. When asked if I finished something, but didn’t – I lied as to why. When asked for a good story – I embellished. Why? To look good. Is it that simple? Yes! A hundred times, yes! Because that’s who I am. A sinner.

People look at me and think I’m some sort of special person to be able to serve God. But I am here to tell you, anyone can. All God asks of us is to love Him. And that is all I did. My answer to go to NY, my answer to go to the Philippines, and ultimately my answer to go to Japan, is all only a result of my love for Him. I did not wake up one day and suddenly feel inspired to follow Him across the world. It came in small steps. It came in me merely obeying Him when He asked me to repent of my lying. It came in my love responding to His telling me to admit the truth to someone about my raw thoughts even though it cost me my “humble” reputation. It came when I gave a hug to a person I knew needed it, or when I gave my hymn book to someone who came to the service late, or when I picked wild flowers for my mom, or when I listened to Him when he told me to forgive the kids that tortured me, or when He asked me to wake up in the morning and to simply spend time with Him. All those things added up to me packing my bags and leaving for the unknown.

So many times people think that you have to take such giant steps to somehow prove that you love God. You don’t need to prove anything to God.  You have nothing to prove to Him. He proved love at the cross. He proved anything that needed to be proven on the cross when He took every little embarrassing truth, and dirty little secret for you. When he looked at all those imperfections and said He didn’t see them. When he caught you cheating, and instead of condemning you, He turned everyone’s eye on Himself, and He said “Forgiven” So in response to that, what do we do? Do we deny that kind of love any attention? Or do you wake up in the morning and acknowledge the one and only person willing to take the blame for every single thing you did? Do you take for granted that even your own family would not take the fall for you like He did, but He does? Or do you love Him in return? 

That is it. That is all that He asks – Love me. How is it that we can owe people “favors” for tiny little things, but we don’t even owe Jesus the time of day for all the little secrets He is willing to keep, forget, and erase for us. He has not asked you to go to another country. He has only asked you to love Him. So love Him. With all of who you are, worship Him. With all of who you are, adore Him. With all of who you are, believe Him. With all of who you are, trust Him. With all of who you are, take joy in Him. With all of who you are, love Him. The rest, I assure you will follow. In response to the ever growing love, you will obey. But first, just love. 

Beauty with Wrinkles

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I realized a while ago, as I was putting on my make up in the morning that I now have wrinkles. Not many, and nothing to be over dramatic about, but I’m 27, and it’s a part of getting older.

But what I realized then about my thought process, was so shocking to me, that I could not help but start laughing at myself.

I have never felt more beautiful than I do now. Do I have perfect self-esteem? No. There are still parts of me that I wish looked different. I could lose a few pounds, work out my arms to lose the flab, and go running to get a thigh gap. (Is that even achievable for someone with my body type?) But when I look into the mirror now, I feel as if I am more beautiful than I did ten years ago.

According to all that society tells us, I shouldn’t feel that way. But I do. Why? Is it because I know how to do my make up better? (Which I do, considering I didn’t really know how to put make up on until I was 18, and even then it was iffy) Is it because I know how to do my hair better? (Thank you pinterest for the simple styles that I’ve started to learn just this year.) Perhaps. And if I had a picture of myself at 17 in front of me right now, it’s possible that I would notice that. But more than anything else, I think I would notice the self-assuredness.

Not an arrogant self assurance, but more of an, “I’m comfortable.” self assurance.

Somewhere along the line, I just started thinking less of what others thought, as important. Or perhaps I can re-phrase that. I started realizing more and more, that what I thought people thought of me, people didn’t actually think. And I chose to listen to the compliments I received and not to the voices in my head comparing myself to what only I thought was the epitome of beauty.

No guy has ever actually told me what I should look like. And although I am sure media played a part, I don’t actually recall waking up one day and wishing I looked like “so-and-so”. They probably did define what I imagined to be beauty, but my biggest enemy was the voice inside my own head telling me what I was supposed to look like and act like, and not a voice from the outside.

The logic in my head knew that what was portrayed on TV was unattainable, and that no one expected me to look that way. But what my insecurities said, were different.

What did play a roll in developing my self-esteem, or lack there of, which would be unique to me, is my Japanese peers. No matter what way you look at it, (or at me) I do not look Japanese. I am short, but that’s about the only thing I have going for me there. I am not built like a Japanese girl. And as a young, developing teen, I didn’t like that. I didn’t care what “beauty” was, I just didn’t want to be a different kind of “beauty” than everyone else. I felt like the ugly duckling – but reverse.

You see, as a little girl, all sorts of strangers used to tell me how cute I was. I was a little foreigner girl with white skin, and long brown hair, and big brown eyes. I was adorable. But any teen is awkward. And when I became a teen, I didn’t look like what other teens and pre-teens around me looked like. But here is what I would like to point out as to what happened in my life around that time…

What changed was not necessarily me, but what stopped happening around me.

I stopped receiving compliments.

For some reason, society has said that you can compliment a five year old all the time, but you cannot do that for a twelve year old.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all girls (or people in general) should get their self-esteem from compliments. Far from it, and I’ll expound on that in a moment. But I realized something recently that changed my perspective on this.

My good friend Lina came to visit me here in the Philippines. I constantly learn things from her, and this time was no different. You see, often times I will be ordering a beverage, and notice that the cashier in Starbucks as has beautiful eyes, or that the lady security guard I always see changed her hair and that it looks really cute. But I never say anything. Because I don’t want to look like a creep. But when I was with Lina, she complimented everyone! (Well, maybe not everyone, but it seemed that way!) She would tell our waitress that she loved her makeup. She would tell the cashier what a lovely smile she had. She would tell people how nice they were. And here’s the thing… Not one of them looked at us like we were creeps. In fact, they all seemed to deeply appreciate it.

I remember a few months ago, we had some visitors from Switzerland here. And in this group, there was a gentleman about my dad’s age. He was very sweet, and kind. (Although I never told him that.) One day, as we were getting into the car, we were waiting for one of the others, and he looked over at me in the driver’s seat, and said in very broken English, “You do your hair differently everyday. It looks very nice.” I had just started experimenting with different hair styles just that past week, and not one person had commented. (I hadn’t necessarily expected them to) But he had noticed, and it made me feel… special. And pretty.

So I decided to try this complimenting thing. And not just reserve it for those I know, but for everyone.

We walked into the grocery store we go to every Friday and Saturday, and as I was walking into the restroom, I noticed that the janitor lady had done her make up so nicely! So I told her so. If a person could literally shine, she would have been. She beams at me every time I see her now. It was as if I somehow validated her.

An usher at church was so happy on Sunday, that it was contagious, and made me happy! So I stopped in front of her, and told her she had a beautiful smile. She smiled even brighter. I hope it made her day.

I was walking through a souvenir shop and I saw this teenage girl behind the counter. She wasn’t the “typical” Filipino beauty. She was a bit bigger, and had a darker complexion (which for some reason they hate!), but there was something about her that was so beautiful. So I stopped at the booth, and although I felt awkward, I told her I thought she was beautiful. As I was walking away, I could hear her tell her mom a little bashfully, but excitedly, “She told me I was beautiful!” I have a feeling she might have needed those words.

Complimenting our friends, or co-workers, comes pretty naturally to some people. More so for some than others. But I’ve realized that so often we think things that are positive about others, but keep them to ourselves. What if we just… said them? What a world of difference that may make to some people.

To the men that may have patiently read through this very girly outburst of mine: you can compliment too. I think maybe some guys are afraid of looking like they are either creepy, or hitting on the girl they compliment. It’s true, some girls may take it that way. We’re just not used to genuine compliments from guys that don’t have a hidden agenda sometimes. (especially guys around our age) Some girls, more than others, have had bad experiences with that. But I can only imagine that if men gave more genuine compliments, there would be less assumptions of hidden agendas. It’s less about remembering when we cut our hair, or noticing when we bought a new dress, and more about noticing that we’re simply just, pretty. Your gentle compliments (for outward beauty as well as inward beauty) could save a girl’s self-esteem.

In addition to compliments possibly revolutionizing the way girls think, in the last few years I feel as though I may have discovered something else about beauty entirely, that I would like to share.

In I Peter 3, it says “don’t focus on the outward appearance – on your apparel and hairstyle – but let it be your inward beauty…” (The Hannah paraphrase version) When I read that when I was younger, I now realize I read it, or understood it wrong. I always kind of took it as a consolation prize. Like, “Don’t worry if you’re ugly on the outside. It’s what the inside looks like that counts.” That was the message I felt like was being conveyed when this verse was spoken about. The ever so famous verse in 1 Samuel for me held the same twisted message. “For God is not like man that looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (The Hannah paraphrase version) Again, it seemed to say to me, “Don’t worry about the outside (even if it’s AWFUL.)”

What I didn’t realize, (at nobody’s fault) is that the inward qualities IS beauty. Not in addition to, not “if that’s all you got, don’t worry!” It IS beauty. And when your insides, your heart is beautiful and pure, it has a way of showing itself physically.

I’ve read so many things online with the quote from Audrey Hepburn “Happy girls are the prettiest girls.” I agree. But the one ingredient that is missing, and the most key of all, is Jesus. Girls with Jesus are beautiful. Because beauty is salvation. Beauty is purity. Beauty is compassion. Beauty is God given joy that exudes out of us.

So I leave you with these challenges.

1) Notice what is beautiful about someone, and tell them.

2) Define what you have always thought was beauty, and ask God if you’re right. The answer might surprise you. Because we might find that wrinkles have absolutely nothing to do with beauty after all.

Alone with Jesus.

It has been about a year and a half since my last blog post. For those of you who were reading it regularly, I do apologize. And this blog post will hopefully help – not in filling in the gaps, but in explaining why I had such a hard time writing.

For many years, I have enjoyed writing. It was a relatively easy way for me to convey my thoughts and feelings. But it got very hard to put into words what I was going through. So let me try to take you back on this journey, and bring you back to the present and how I find myself sitting in front of my desk writing this.

When I first moved to the Philippines in June of 2012, I experienced bits and pieces of homesickness. Moments of doubt, and short little seasons of trials. But up until about the end of fall, (about the time of my last blog post) I think I was able to run on pure adrenaline. The excitement of moving to a new country, the thrill of doing Sidewalk Sunday School in a different culture, learning phrases and words in a completely new language, and let’s be honest… The thought that I was doing it all for Jesus – it kept me going. But that sort of excitement does not last forever. Reality sets in.

I want it to be abundantly clear that I never hated being here, nor did I doubt my decision in coming. But it got really hard. Really really hard. And really lonely.

I didn’t want to have a terrible attitude. I didn’t want to be that missionary that complained. But when the internet stopped working upstairs where my room was, that’s exactly what I became. Maybe not out loud. I was too “holy” for that. But in my heart. In my mind. I had a terrible attitude some days. And of course I knew that it was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it. I used every trick in the book. Everything all good Christian girls knew. Declaring joy, declaring scriptures over my life. And yet there I sat, on my day off, not knowing why I was so sad. Not understanding why I thought that I was fine with just Jesus, but finding out that I didn’t know how to be alone. At least not without Facebook to cover the truth. Or Netflix. Or Pinterest. Or email. Or Skype. The distractions of life.

I hated Wednesdays. That was my day off. In New York, I used to love Mondays. But here, I dreaded my day off. Because I would be alone again. Maybe I would go out, maybe I wouldn’t. But either way, I would be alone. Don’t get me wrong – the staff here were SO friendly! So loving and accepting. But unlike New York where everyone is away from family, most of them have family that live in Manila. If my parents lived in the same city, I’d be over there on my day off too! Not to mention we don’t all have the same day off, so it doesn’t always work out to hang out with other people.

During work hours, especially on Sidewalk, I would forget my woes, and I would be so excited about life and ministry! With the team, I remember sitting and coming up with new ideas and plans for the future and bubbling over with excitement for the coming months and years. Doing trainings with the team for the partner churches was such a joy! But then when I would be alone in my room at night… I watched my movies over and over again until just the sight of them made me sick. I dreaded the dark hours.

Spending time with Jesus in the mornings was my lifeline. But instead of it being something that filled me for life, it was as if I was just changing a bandage everyday. Without it, the wound (of being alone) would have become infected and unbearable. But my quiet time, it wasn’t fixing the problem. And I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong. That “failure” in and of itself was something I wasn’t sure how to tackle; how to admit.

But then in February of 2013, God answered my biggest prayer. There was no formula. I didn’t do anything differently. But on February 3, 2013 at church, I was pouring out my heart to Jesus. And I just kept telling Him… “I’m so scared Jesus. Every time I go to church, I feel complete and whole, but when I leave, it’s like that feeling has left as well. And I’m so scared that as I walk out of church today, the same thing is going to happen…” There’s no real way to explain what happened that day, except to say that it didn’t. It didn’t leave. The feeling of being complete and whole stayed with me. It didn’t end when I finished my quiet time, but it kept on coming – day, after day, after day. He whispered into my heart “Remember, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Walk on that promise.”

Life didn’t become perfect overnight, but I had the One that was perfect guiding my steps. I have no way to describe what happened except to say that I learned how to be alone with Jesus. It’s been a little over a year since then, and I wasn’t sure how to share this with my “readers”. But through multiple people asking me recently about my blog or lack there of, I realized it might be time. Time to be honest about my struggles and victories.

And now, I will walk to my room. Where I will happily go, to be alone with Jesus.

The Road to Site

ImageEvery Friday and Saturday we drive to Tondo. Friday for visitation, and Saturday for site. And my prayer is always the same. “Lord don’t let me ever get used to this.” It’s so easy to just stare out the window and become familiar, to become numb to the poverty around me. 

I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately I’ve never been able to capture with my camera the true likeness of what I feel. Maybe if I was a better photographer, or if my heart could take pictures, I would be able to show you what I mean. But for now, let me do what I know best how to do. Let me paint it with words. 

As we drive and I stare out the window, at first things appear normal. There are jeepneys, pedestrians, other nicer cars. We drive by the second largest mall in all of Asia, the American embassy, hotels, multiple Starbucks… But then it’s not just when you pass those things, but when you take the time to look past those things when you start seeing the unthinkable, unimaginable, and certainly the inexplicable contrast between the rich and the poor. 

What is seemingly right across the highway from the Mall of Asia is Baclaran. An area full of push carts where people are selling anything from fish and vegetables, to toys and clothes. And if you look closely enough, you see people between those other people, slightly out of site who are still sleeping from the night before on their precious cardboard mattresses – in the midst of that loud chaos. But the people sleeping, not quite yet in the roar of the hustle and bustle around them are not just homeless men, but homeless families. Moms swatting flies away from their babies as they still sleep, the elderly trying to find a comfortable position. And yet to the people just walking past them and making the best deals to take that fish home, it’s just a normal site. Even to the ones still sleeping, even if it was pouring the night before…even to them, it is normal. 

As we drive further down the highway we start entering the heart of Tondo. An area of Manila that is known for their poverty. But should the expectation of poverty ever make it a sight that does not hurt our hearts? That’s the question I ponder as I silently stare out the window. 

The whole three lane side that should have been the right side of traffic has turned into one big squatter area. And outside of these scrap metal and pallet homes with old tires on the roofs so that the wind won’t blow them away, you see children playing, men pushing along their scavenged garbage scraps, and mothers selling bananas to the car passengers that are passing by. Most of the kids, especially the boys, are either naked or partially naked, and if it is raining at all they are all run outside excited that they get to take a shower. And that’s exactly what they do. They run out with their buckets, and soap, and start showering on the side of the highway. Even if it starts flooding, at least rain water means they don’t have to haul water from somewhere. As I drive further in, I see moms putting their dishes out of their “windows” and washing their dishes with rain water. A minute later you see kids squatting on the side of the road – because not only is that where they shower, it is also their bathroom. 

And as we pull up to our Sidewalk Sunday School site, and all those kids that live in the conditions I just spoke of, come rushing out of their make shift houses excited to hear the Word of God, and to get two slices of bread, I am again reminded why I’m here. I am again reminded that it is okay that my heart hurts when I see those things. Because if it were not for that, we would stop being effective. 

And so my prayer remains the same. “Let don’t ever let me get used to this”. 

Aside

Treasure

One of the first weeks on my site, I met a little girl and her little siblings. That Saturday, the weather had been unpredictable, and because of severe flooding that happens in that region, we had to change the time of site very last minute. We had to start almost an hour earlier than usual. And although we blitzed the area, she had never gotten the message. So by the time she came to site, we had already finished, and were giving out the bread for the kids. 

I noticed her coming into the court from the corner of my eye as I was trying to get more bread. She just stood quietly. Her little brother behind her, carrying her little sister on her hip, and a bottle in her other hand. They were so quiet that they almost blended into the chaos behind them. I’m pretty sure that’s what she had wanted. To not be noticed. 

I walked over and tried to talk to her. But because of the language barrier, there wasn’t much I could get out of her. Only her name and her age. And from the longing in her eyes, that she had come so that her and her siblings could eat something. They were so little, and as I asked all of their ages I was in complete shock. Looking at her, I had guess her to be around 6 or 7. She was 9. Her brother who looked about 3, was actually 5, and the baby that looked about to be 6 months old just looking at her weight, was actually a year old. Malnutrition I’m sure. 

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Even though they were late for the lesson, which technically meant that we don’t give them the bread, I just motioned for them to wait there. I would give them some bread after all the kids that had been there had gotten theirs. But in a minute, I thought I had lost her. She so easily faded into the background, but after a minute or so of looking, I found that she had just quietly taken her siblings to a corner to sit down. When the distribution of the bread was done, I went to go get whatever was left, but of all days, we had completely run out. We had candy in the van, but that really wasn’t what they wanted or needed. So I asked one of my co-workers to tell the three that if they would wait just a few more minutes, for the other kids to go home, I would go buy them food. They nodded their heads with understanding but very little emotion. 

As soon as the other kids had gone, I ran to a little eatery with my co-worker and bought them rice, fish, and soup. Then, begging a box off of the lady, tried my best to hide the food so that the other kids wouldn’t see it, headed back to the court where the little girl was waiting. We walked her to her “house” which was no more than some wood stacked between two other squatters and a curtain that was there as a door. I met their mom, and explained (through translation) that we ran out of bread so we gave them this instead. She thanked us, and we left. But that little girl had stolen my heart. 

The next week, on Friday when I went to visitation, much to my surprise, she was shyly waiting for me. And until we went to her house, did not leave our side. Although she never came too close, I believe she had felt the love that we had for her. 

She was there on that Saturday with her brother again. When I tried to hug her, she stiffened and ran away, so I stopped trying to approach her too obviously. I would smile, call her name, come close, but not too close. 

Every week it was the same slow progress. But then two weeks ago, there was a significant change. On Friday when I went on visitation, she was again waiting for me, but this time as I walked on expecting her to follow at a close, but safe distance, she slipped her hand into mine. I tried not to hold her hand too tightly for fear that she would flutter off again. But slowly as the minutes went by, her hand was more secure in mine, and her hand wasn’t just resting in mine, it was holding onto mine. By the end of visitation, she was still shy, and any sudden movement would mean her hand would be gone, but in seconds it would be back, and she would swat away any other little kids trying to take my hand. This hand was hers. And it was so gladly. I wanted so badly to hug, and tell her how much I, and how much more Jesus loved her, but I held back. 

Then just yesterday, as we drove in to the area where we do Sunday school, and swarms of kids surrounded us, she was there again. Quiet, but smiling. And I noticed she had something in her hand. A little plastic flower that she was so purposefully holding. I caught her eye, and her smile grew even wider. Then she pointed at the flower, and then at me. The flower that she held so carefully, was for me. 

That yellow orange flower that she may have even picked out of a pile of garbage is now my most prized possession. It sits on my desk and is now my treasure, and reminder of why we do what we do. I still can’t really hug her, or reassure her with words that she is loved, and is a treasure in God’s eyes, one day I might. But even if I don’t, I know that she knows. She now knows that if one person can pick her out of a crowd, then surely Jesus notices her too. And that in God’s eyes, she is like that flower, She is the treasure. 

Funny Little Things Part II

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There are so many things I could post about the great days here in the Philippines, but I’m in much too much of a giddy mood to write anything too serious. So here are a few more things I realized really made me laugh since I’ve come here.

Burping is not really considered very rude. I suppose it’s not the most polite thing, but within a group where you know each other, burping is fine. Even for girls. Haha. Too bad I don’t burp more often. 

Damit. – is not a swear word. It means clothes. heeheee

Really, really large bull frogs outside your window sounds like construction going on. Take my word for it. I honestly didn’t even know they were bull frogs. 

Roosters do not only crow at dawn. I give credit to Disney for making me think this. I think most of us who did not grow up with chickens/roosters can identify with this one. Imagine the scene from Cinderella where she has fallen asleep I think in front of the fire place and all of a sudden she hears the rooster crow – once. She looks out the window and she realizes it’s morning! The hues of the sunrise beautiful as she rushes out the door. But oh no. Not in real life. In real life they crow at anytime they want to. The first week or so of trying to sleep with roosters crowing from 2AM forward… Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t have a shotgun. They also crow in the middle of the day too, although not quite as much. 

There are certain fruits that seriously make me wonder what people were thinking when they first tried it. Take the durian for example. (Look it up if you don’t know what it is) I had only seen it on tv shows before I came here. But it is relatively large, and full of horns. Not just prickly little things, but really mean looking things. If it falls on you in nature, it can be really dangerous although I’m told they only fall off the tree naturally at night. It must be God’s way of protecting people. But not only does it look dangerous, it also smells (I’m sorry my Filipino friends) awful. So imagine. The very first person however many years ago that came upon this fruit. It looks dangerous, and smells like cooking gas. “Let’s try to eat it” is not exactly the first thought that would have come into my mind. Hungry much? Hahaha… Now it is a delicacy and here in Manila can be quite expensive.

Manila is a very crowded city. It puts NYC to shame honestly. And there are outside shopping areas that are so filled with people on these little paths, and yet they still have petty cabs. Those are bicycles with the person cart on the side that you can pay for them to take you from place to place. And when I was walking down those paths for the very first time, I heard a guy whistle and make kissing sounds behind me. For those of you from NY, you can really understand this, but of course my first thought was that of disgust. “Guys…” And then I realized, it was just the petty cab drivers wanting me to move out of the way before they hit me. Hahahaha! I felt pretty silly. Now, I know to just move out of the way when I hear that. 

And then, in my opinion is the funniest of them all. And I hope this does not offend anyone, but it just makes me laugh every time this happens. Here in Manila, there is a huge transvestite community. So I often pass and or talk to these ladies/men. And then I have these awkward moments when I see a transvestite and realize they look better than I do. Hahahaha! Awkward..! And to my embarrassment, this happens quite often. I laugh every time. I remember once in NY at “Night of a Hundred Stars” I asked a beautiful transvestite advice on putting on mascara. Maybe one day I’ll do the same here. 

I hope this put a smile on your face. It sure did mine. 

Salamat!

My Miracle Camera

Before I came to the Philippines, I had an iPhone. It was an old one, but it was great when it came to taking pictures. So I had all but forgotten about my old camera that I had bought right before internship in 2008. It had started giving me problems a few years ago, so I had stopped using it. But knowing that when I came here I wouldn’t have an iPhone anymore, I dug it out, and to my surprise it worked! Yay!

So I packed it in with my stuff of “to go to the Philippines” and sure enough, I took it with me and used it almost everyday. Then in the beginning of August, I had to hold a little funeral for it. I tried to bring it back to life, get it repaired. But to no avail. It was past the point of no return. So now, I was without a camera. 

At about the same time, I had been reading about a missionary from Holland “Brother Andrew”, and he had mentioned how he would pray for things, but hated when people would “hint” about the things they needed. And as he said, God was more than capable of providing without us hinting to people. There are of course times and places when you just need to simply tell people your need and ask, but then there are other times when you don’t. So I thought, why not put that into practice? And I had secretly been really wanting a nice camera, so not only did I pray for a camera, but I started praying for a nicer nikon camera. And I decided I would not hint. I would not even tell people that my camera had broken. So this should all be quite a surprise to all of you 😀 

So I kept praying, and praying… And started to think maybe this was not the time. But I really did need one… Maybe I should just save up and by a cheap one… But no. I was praying for a miracle camera! Then in early September this money “mysteriously” came into my account. The exact amount (minus tithe!) that I needed for the nikon camera I wanted. 

So now, I have a beautiful blue camera, that takes beautiful pictures, and with which I can tell beautiful stories even more beautifully. So thank you to all who pray for me, and even provide for me without knowing what I might be needing.

Image(This is terrible picture, but it was the day after I got my miracle camera!) 

Salamat!

The Funny Little Things

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I had been thinking for a while, that all my posts seem to be so serious. And although I can at times be quite a serious person, I love to laugh. And if I don’t express that side of myself in this blog, I would not truly be representing who I am, or who God made me to be. So this morning, let me share with you a few things that have made me laugh here in the Philippines. I hope they come across as well through these written words as they do in real life. 

1. They love to shorten words here. And sometimes it’s pretty obvious what it is, but other times I’ve scratched my head and had to ask what exactly it means… even though it’s English! For example, AC is abbreviated “air-con”. If I hadn’t grown up in Japan, I would seriously have been lost. Semester is just “sem”, and there are others, but the one that got me was “unli” I was like… “Unli? What the heck is “unli”!?” It was unlimited! Hahahaha… Now, it seems so normal, but seriously the first time I heard it, I was very confused. 

2. The funny little English things kids try to say. In general, the Philippines is very American friendly in that so many people speak English. Having grown up in a completely non-English speaking country, I was assuming it would be the same, but even some of the kids have a pretty basic understanding of English if they can afford to go to school. So there are some pretty funny things I hear. But the best and cutest one yet, was by this 5th or 6th grade boy while I was on visitation. We were piecing together a conversation with his limited English and my very very limited Tagalog, and he was apparently trying to ask me if I had come from America. But what came out of his mouth was… “Did you download from America?” Hahahaha! I was trying so hard not to laugh. And of course I said yes, but what I wanted to say was how easy life would be if I could really be downloaded simply from an email or something. Wouldn’t that be great? 

3. Then there are the funny things that I have managed to say. And let me just pause here and say, I have a new found respect for people in America that have learned English and use it so well. Especially when having someone translate for you is an option. It’s such an easy out! And for those that are doing sidewalk sunday school in New York, from another country…  Wow! Every day words are hard enough, let alone trying to preach! Yikes! And believe me when I say, I have said some pretty funny things. The kids have no mercy as they laugh at me 😀 One was when I was trying to say month, and instead I ended up calling someone crazy! I still can’t figure out the difference between the two. Buwan. And Buan I think. But who knows. That’s what gets me in trouble. Then there is uminom. To drink. I was learning it in a sentence of “to drink medicine”. So I thought it applied to all medicine. Even creams. Not knowing it was only a verb meaning to drink. You can imagine how much laughter I got for that one! 

4. Toilet Paper. Now, this is by far the funniest of them all. And I really wish I could bring you all here to experience this for yourself. But public restrooms do not carry any toilet paper. (except for the starbucks here. Thank you Jesus! haha) And thank God someone told me before I went into one direly needing to pee! Everyone carries around little packs of toilet paper in their purse. As much as I was annoyed at first about this, can you imagine how much money all stores would save by just implementing this simple thing? Haha! Even the government would save money! “No more toilet paper, people! Go buy your own!” No more toilet paper at DMV’s, at the malls, at rest stops… The list is never ending. And I must mention also, that so many of the toilets here, have no seats. They aren’t like the toilets in Japan, they are regular toilets, but just without seats. I have yet to figure out the reason to that one. 

There are so many more things that make me laugh on a regular basis here. The Filipino people are so great, and love to laugh. I think they are one of the few peoples that I have encountered that always, always find a reason to smile and to laugh no matter what. And that attitude is catching! I’ll fill you in on more funny things as I remember them, but for now, I hope this brought a smile to your face 😀

Salamat!