Saturday, July 6, 2013

Test Day

In the next few weeks, a very important and stressful time of the students' lives is taking place. Similar to the States, individuals here wanting to get into a University must take tests, write introductory essays, and go through an interview process. Unlike nearly everyone in America, the students here have most likely never had any experience doing any of those steps.  Before they came here, they went to school until tenth grade.  If they wanted to go past that, they needed special permission from the government and had limited options of education.  

While in their schools, they would have taken tests, but the majority of their education was likely based on knowing trivia-type facts about their 'dear' leader... memorizing his speeches, knowing his likes and dislikes, being tested on what date he gave so-and-so speech, etc.. At NKgo, there are tests every week and studying is as important as breathing.  They go to classes for English, Korean, history and math- all in an effort to catch up to the rest of the Korean population entering into University this semester.  

Along with teaching them scholarly information, they also get a crash course in basic interview behavior.  In America, interviews start to happen for high school students as they start looking for their first job, or as they are practicing to get into a college.  Our students are having to learn everything we know from experience in a matter of a few hours of verbal instruction.  Needless to say, they are nervous and very stressed out!! Their nerves, however, have not put much of a damper on the silly comments and actions that I have come to love so much about them!

Friday is test day for our students. Pray for them as they continue to work as hard as they can to reach the goal of 'University', and even more that they would reach the eternal goal of knowing God and following His Son.


We have a compass

To the depths of the valleys we run, to the peaks of the mountains we climb, amidst the jungle we push through, and the ends of the earth we pursue, it is all for You. 

As we were pondering which stories to tell you, we couldn't decide between the man eating lizards, the six mile hike up a volcano, the adventures without a translator or not knowing where we'll sleep each night.  Oh wait...there's the many ten foot manta rays, hammocking on an isolated beach (we may or may not have swam naked in the ocean), putting on the traditional garb, having a chicken sacrificed in front of you and then eating it, or hiking up a mountain with our backs to the coast in the rain and stumbling upon a gem in the depths of the jungle.  All of this means nothing in light of what our Father has done though. 

He has continually provided translators when we had none, He has led us to many POP (persons of peace), hundreds have heard the Good News, we've discovered several local fellowships, we've had an opportunity to stand before a congregation of Catholics to proclaim Truth, and we've had the provision and protection of our Father from local authorities. 

This summer has given us the opportunity to experience the power of the Spirit.  In our everyday lives we plan everything to the minute, so why would we trust the Spirit when everything is already figured out?  We have nothing figured out here.  We have no place to lay our heads, no food has been promised to us, we don't speak the language, have no translator, and we have no map, but guess what?  We have a Compass.  Everyday we are on our knees, asking Him to lead us to right village, to the right people, and He always provides.  We know that everything and everyone we encounter is a Divine Appointment.  I wish we could tell you more, but this is all we can see.

Polka Dotted God

Every once in awhile, we like to create the mental notion of making God ours.  Whether that means making God American, or keeping Him to ourselves by being reluctant to share, its much easier done than said to keep Him in a box, or so we like to think.  The truth is, God isn't American and He doesn't advocate big church buildings, Christmas trees, or apple pie.

Recently, while making a run to the local internet cafe, our team found ourselves speed walking with tunnel vision through a local market.  In an attempt to avoid making eye contact with street vendors, antsy to sell us wooden bowls and ebony statuettes with overpriced "Makiwa," (white-man) prices, we lost sight of the people around us reaching for the Gospel.  A man followed us through the crowd anxious to talk to Americans, and in a moment of rush trying to escape the market, it took us more than a moment to realize that God positioned Him there to hear the Gospel.  As he walked with us for the next several blocks through downtown, we were able to share the Gospel with Him.  Because we now know where to find him everyday, a few of us plan on visiting him again later to talk more about what it means to follow Christ.  Although he has yet to accept Christ, he, like several others God has put in our path to unexpectedly share with, has had many questions, and it's encouraging to see the direction his questions are leading him.

In our conversation with this man, after mentioning to him that Christ wasn't American or African, he followed up by adding, "That's right, he isn't black or white either, and could be polka-dotted for all we know."  God has been teaching us that the Gospel isn't American, it isn't meant to carry AWANA, youth praise bands, and Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night Bible studies with it.  The customs we've grown accustomed to at home are fine and dandy, but VBS and Bible clubs aren't Christ.  Again and again He has been reminding us:  God's glory first, everything else second.  He's given us tools to share His love, and as American's, we've found they can easily be mixed in with the importance of the Gospel.  American traditions, however, are not Christ's. 

In Scripture, we found multiple accounts of people reaching out for Christ, with his intentions aimed at other persons.  God has been revealing to us that His plan for our lives often leads us on detour routes with unexpectant people ready for the Gospel waiting at the end of the line.  Like Christ, we must be aware of the world around us, we must be aware of what treasure we hold inside of it and the magnitude of impact it holds when released.  We're not meant to be selfish with the Gospel, we're not meant to be American or African with the Gospel either.  Christian translates into "little Christ," we're meant to be Christ-like with the Gospel, the rest is just noise. 


Happy 4th of July.... Thai style

pad thai
How one celebrates the Fourth of July...Thai style: buy green tea, eat pad thai & a few bugs, bike through town taking pictures of all the American flags you see, listen to u2 & Mumford (True, neither are American bands, but it's all we have & they're the best), sing the National Anthem at night waving matches, teach your students to say "Happy Fourth of JuRRRRRy!!!!", build a  bonfire out of hay in the middle of the road, and light ants on fire!! (Turns out they explode & pop like fireworks!) Happy Fourth of July everyone!!!


Update from West Nile Student Team

Last weekend we got the opportunity to go on a safari at Murchison Falls. It was definitely God. The animals there were so awesome. A heard of giraffe just chilled by our car for a while. We got to see lions eating a kill, which was definitely my favorite part about the animals. We also saw elephants, hippos, gazelle, crocodiles, buffalo, and lots of birds. The best part was the falls thought. I literally stood in awe for a good five minutes. The falls were gorgeous, and there is no way to describe it except that we have an amazing Creator. I was just like how can a God create little me and something so magnificent. I will definitely be posting pictures when I get back to the States.

Our student work is outstanding. Becca and I got to go to a school for their storying group on Monday. The students passion for the Lord just left us speechless. We are teaching on Monday, so please be praying for that. I am meeting with two girls named Deborah and Fortunate. Please be praying for them as well.

Wednesday we went and played football (aka soccer) with some elementary school kids. I didn't play, but I hung out with some of them. It was fun.

Tuesday we went to the hospital. That was the hardest part yet. It is so hard seeing all of the patients there without the option of higher quality care. All we can do is have faith and know that God is in control!

Prayer Requests:

1) Our teaching in the schools
2) Fortunate and Deborah
3) Storying Camp that will take place at the end of August


Lessons in Faithfulness

This summer, God has taught me so much of His faithfulness. When I first got here, I struggled with my purpose in  being here. I asked God to please give me a sign as to what His plan was in this. He has been faithful to show me. It's not even in big, miraculous things. I'm seeing God's faithfulness as to why I am supposed to be here this summer in the little things:
  • When I hear a girl playing a new song she has learned on the guitar
  • Listening to the ever-present sound of the piano being played loudly
  • When Ma Em, a helper that works in the home, brings in our merienda (afternoon snack)
  • When I hear the sound of footsteps when the girls finally arrive home from school
  • The sound of girls shouting, "Tita (Aunt), come here!'' 
  • Getting hundreds of hugs from beautiful Filipina girls each day... just because
  • Goodnight kisses
  • Saying "Mahal kita (I love you)" and hearing the reply "Mas mahal kita! (I love you more!)" 
  • Hearing girls pray to our God in a language you cannot understand, except when they say your own name, thanking God so much for you 
  • Listening to the girl's beautiful voices sings praises to our God 
  • Laughing so hard with my teammates I can't stop the tears 
  • Crying with my teammates when things get hard 
  • Holding babies in the pregnancy clinic as their mothers have their checkups 
  • Walking through the villages, handing out food and vitamins to the starving children 
  • Riding in a Jeepney, packed in like sardines with all the other passengers 
  • Taking a cold shower to cool off after a long, sweaty day 
  • Meeting someone at the supermarket that is hungering for the Gospel, and getting to share with them
None of these things are huge revelations. God hasn't shone down a light from Heaven saying "My Child, this is what my will for you is." But I'm realizing He doesn't have to. Each day, this list of things happen. And each time, I hear God softly whisper, "THIS is why you're here."  That's when I realize that it couldn't be more clear that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

I ask that you pray for health for my teammates and me. Our stomachs are not agreeing with many of us. It is extremely hot here, and it's easy to get dehydrated. I ask that you pray also that we will be mindful of the Gospel at all times, letting it change us daily, and changing the lives of the people around us. Pray that relationships with our girls in the JAZ home will continue to be built so we can love them like Jesus wants us to. Thank you so much for all your prayers and support!
Mahal kita!


Grace upon grace

I have grown increasingly attached to each barangay we've spent time in. Leaving the boat launch of this last one at 6 or so the other morning, new friends young and old waving us off, was a bitter thing for me.

I am reminded more and more what a huge heart my God has for the world. If I know what my heart feels for these beautiful people I've only known for five days or so.. to think of how His heart must swell with love for them--God who knows each person by name, knows their lives and their hardships and their joys and their longing for a relationship with their Creator!

We got to see again an eagerness to dive into God's Word. We had a few people approach us about Bible studies before we even got around to getting out and trying to go find them. There were a good number of older kids (12 and up) who would tag along to all the Bible studies, too. One day I went and sat down with two of my little buddies, opened a Waray Bible to some passages in John and showed them what to read and they ate it up and asked me if I would "teach" them the Bible again later. Truly that is a living Book!

I love waking up in the mosquito net sandwiched between my teammates, Jessie and Hannah. I love our morning routine of heading down to the river with basins, laundry detergent, shampoo and soap to do all our laundering and bathing. I love when we catch fog lifting off the river in the mornings. I love rice, and eating it three times a day. I love the chaos of Bible studies where mothers breastfeed without warning (or cover), where animals run in and out of houses where we meet, where kids accumulate in doorways, where things get lost in translation and yet God moves hearts. I love the sweet ladies who let us pick papayas and lemongrass from their yards to cook with. I love the kids who teach me their words and how to whistle through my hands and never get tired of using all the English words they know (which are: "hello, what's your name?"). I love our ballin' Filipino team members and the jokes they crack and how everyone on our team starts using each others' catchphrases.

All of these things--grace upon grace upon grace upon the ultimate gift of grace that is Jesus.

  • For God to go ahead to the next few barangays, tilling soil. Pray for soft hearts! 
  • For strength and continued sustenance in these next few weeks 
  • Always for continued grace and love and unity within our team 
  • For wisdom and boldness

New Opportunities with Students

This week we had many unique opportunities to meet students, and each of these meetings has been incredibly Filled and we are thankful for the many friends we’ve made. On Tuesday we got to play basketball with a bunch of new guys we haven’t met before from one of the universities here. They invited us to come and play with them every Tuesday, an incredible opportunity for us to meet more guys, which has been a bit of a challenge up to this point. Dad has answered your Thoughts, and we do not take this for granted, thank you! 

Most students are now done with exams, which has caused many of them to leave the city and travel home, but it also means there are some who stay in the city have plenty of free time! We’ve been able to simply sit at the lake and meet students this week, a few of whom we’ve been able to meet with since then. 

This week has held many struggles for Ernest and I: homesickness, worry, and a general sense of darkness are a few of the ways we are experiencing opposition to our labor here. Ernest’s sister has some health problems and is supposed to have an operation.  Please join in me in asking for miracles and healing.

Sometimes we aren’t given the ability to see the fruit of our labor, but He is still working and doing what’s best for my good and His glory. I’ve also been encouraged by a friend this week who said, “There is One who has borne the weight of the world so you don’t have to.” I’m thankful for this reminder, and we will keep lifting the banner high and calling many to follow our Master and Friend.

Grace & Peace,
-M & Ernest

Please pray for:

  • T, a guy we’ve shared with who seems interested enough that we gave him a copy of the Letter. We will read with him soon. 
  • The many friends we’ve made this week. Continued meetings and openness to The Story
Funny Story: This week some new friends invited us to see their band play at a cafĂ©. It was more like a bar, but during the middle of their set, they asked me to get up and play a song! I pulled out Josh Garrels’ “Farther Along” on the spot. So, I’m probably the first person ever to play Josh’s music in a southeast Asian bar, haha!

Bible studies & selfless kindness

God has gone before us like He said He would and prepared the way.  The people are so eager to have Bible studies and learn about God.  They want a relationship with God but they are confused about how to get one.  There are so many lies of satan that have been promoted that they are blind to the Truth.  They have been taught for so long that good works will earn them salvation and good intentions will get them to heaven.  I have learned while here that only God can change their hearts and make known the mystery of the Gospel to them.  All I can do is tell them about it and trust that God will do the work in them.

The home Bible studies going really well.  Pretty much everyone we have talked to wants to come and we have set up four different Bible studies.  The problem we are having is not having enough time to have as many bible studies as people want to have!  And I’m glad that if we are going to have a problem that that is our problem. 

In other news, living in the village has been a great experience.  I am learning what I can live with and what I can live without.  For instance, we don’t have a refrigerator or a dishwasher or a washing machine.  But we are managing fine without them!  And did you know that eggs don’t need to be refrigerated?  They don’t refrigerate them here and I have eaten them and not gotten sick. Not having much brings out the kindness in people.  The grandfather that lives next door always pumps water for us and brings it to the house and asks nothing in return.  That is such selfless kindness.  And the barangay captain has given up his home for us to live in it this summer.  What a sacrifice!  I’m blown away by the hospitality the people have shown us. 

Yes, I miss my family.  Yes, I want a piece of fried chicken and granny’s macaroni .  Yes, I wish I could take a shower instead of a bucket bath sometimes.  But I would eat only rice everyday and take all the bucket baths in the world just so that one of them could know the Lord.  That’s what keeps me going and motivates me to stay here and to love them like God loves them.


Working Hard

The Agusan Agriculture team has been doing all kinds of work this summer. The team consists of Eric, team leader, Sam, and their Filipino partner, Weng. They started with planting rubber trees on a hillside at the BOOST during week one, which involved digging holes, filling them with goat manure, and planting the tree. At their peak, the team would dig 50-70 of these holes in a day. The downside is that they would come home covered in manure and dirt.

The team also poured cement walkways for the BOOST and spent time fixing water filters in villages. These water filters use sand and carbon to filter water, and are usually good for life. However, some water sources have high iron content that can clog up the filter, and if people scoop out the sand to unclog it the filter no longer works correctly. Some new sand and cleaning up does the trick to provide much-needed clean water for villagers.

Part of the fixed fence
When I was with the team we were fixing the barbwire fence around the BOOST property. Some wooden posts needed to be inserted and some cement ones reattached to the wire, which was often covered by fallen trees and other jungle foliage.

clearing foliage and trees off the fence boundary
Working in the sun (and with the high humidity) means that the team often comes home covered in sweat. Fortunately, they have pretty good facilities at the BOOST. They've rigged a hose to create a makeshift shower. They have electricity so they can run a refrigerator and fan. This means they can have fresh meat, relax with a fan and enjoy cold desserts such as mango float. Weng is an excellent cook, and comes from a family that owns a restaurant in Davao, so every night is another delicious meal. While the guys have once or twice expressed a pang of guilt because other teams don't live as nicely, they remember the first week of work and being covered in manure and they don't feel so bad anymore.

All in all, the team works hard. They get great facilities to rest hard. We had great evenings of music, food and fun stories to share. Though only a team of three, they plow through all tasks before them. And although Eric and Sam go to rival schools, Auburn University and University of Alabama, respectively, you wouldn't know it. I found in the team a brotherhood; three men who were ready to work as hard as they needed to to get the task done. Know that these men are doing well here despite the heat and hard work.

The BOOST... Home for the team and base for the local ministry they work with.
The healthcare teams are also operating out of this project. 
Burning out the bees. 

Rocks for a stable post base
a rubber tree sapling being planted
Fixing a water filter