Making Tents, Part Two

My vision of becoming a tent maker missionary started in 2005, after a trip to Sri Lanka with Habitat for Humanity. At one point we passed a sewing factory with a line of people outside. After the tsunami brought devastation to the small island nation, people were on the hunt for jobs. Until this point, I had been a diehard “Made in USA” person. In one trip God changed that for me. I started to realize that there are good people all over the world looking for a new skill and a steady paycheck. At this point, I had not heard of others combining business and ministry in this way. So for God to put this on me felt a little overwhelming.

When it comes to making a move of this magnitude, you first must be certain this is God’s plan. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, it is easy to see opportunity and react. We took time to see if it was a fleeting thought or if it was something God had really put on us. In 2008 we had a chance to return to Asia with a missions trip to The Philippines. We saw this as an opportunity to test the water with the whole family. Adding an additional three weeks to the trip visiting Thailand and Sri Lanka put us in a foreign culture for 5 weeks. Expecting Sri Lanka to be our “this is it” country, we were a bit confused when God spoke to both Marlene and I when we landed. It was confirmed to us before we even go off the plane that this wasn’t it. When we landed back in the Philippines, both Marlene and I had confirmation that it was home. Now the real work began.

Next I’ll lay out just the business side of things. An extensive checklist will have to be gone through before you even look at the logistics of moving your family, life and ministry to another country. Be competent in the business you will be doing overseas. It has been done, but is unlikely you will survive learning a new trade while adjusting to culture, a new business environment, and new ministry. Many fail just trying to cope with the changes brought to the family and ministry. Don’t complicate the matter with starting a business in a field you aren’t skilled in.

In 2009, we returned to the Philippines strictly on a business fact finding mission. The purpose was to look at the viability of opening a business here. This trip is a must! We spent time locating suppliers, and finding out a little about the business environment. What I discovered is that while we learned a lot, we relied too much on the word of others and what was written on websites. Go get a trusted local. They can help with cultural barriers and be the skin color required to get correct information. Go directly to the source of the information needed. If it published on a website, odds are the way it works in the real world will be different. If you or a representative can’t go talk to the government official about current laws or regulations, you should question or clarify the legality of the type of business.

I would also highly suggest meeting a handful of people in your industry to talk with and learn from in the country you are going to. Spend some time learning the political and business climate if you can. We put a lot of trust in other missionaries in business who talked the talk but when it came down to it, were not fully ethical or legal in the business they where involved in. If it isn’t legal or ethical to do what you want, don’t do it.

Try and get a feel for how your business will impact the community you are in. If your business plan includes forcing others out of business or competing with the local market, please reconsider. I feel that as an outsider coming in, you should not be doing any business that would be a detriment to those in the community. For example, we make bags and backpacks. I export almost all of my goods. When I am asked to make product for the local market, I kindly refer them to a Filipino manufacturer. The only exception is when they are looking for a quality that would not be produced by local company and would force them to buy from overseas. The point is, I try to only bring things to the local industry, not take them away.

There are many different option in the realm of tentmaker ministries. Going into it knowing what you want out of it is a critical question. Is it to produce support for you and your ministry? Is it just me working by myself? Is it there to ministry to others? How bright of a light do you want to cast on the community with the business? These are all questions that do not have a right or wrong answer, but will help you define what you are trying to accomplish. For example, it is possible to have an online service related business that is just you working part time with the sole purpose of raising revenue while you do missions work. The other end is a large business that hires a large percentage of the local unemployed population, teaches them a new skill and provided them with a job that allows them to grow as a person. This has a large impact on the community and can be a ministry in itself.

These are a few thoughts that jump out at me as I reflect back. To sum it up I will say, the more ground work you can do before you move in country the easier it will be on you. However, remain flexible when you do make the move. It won’t look like you thought it would, but it’s OK! It’s just part of being flexible, and trusting in God.

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“So…Do You Make Tents?!”

Dan Bray looks at the good, bad, and ugly sides of being a tent maker missionary in this multiple part series.

I have been asked many times to write about my experience with tent maker ministry. Every time I start to think of what I have learned, it quickly becomes overwhelming and is pushed to the back burner. I think to myself, “This needs a book, not a short blip among the pages of social media.” So, in an attempt to find something in between, I have decided to break it up over several blog posts.

What is tent maker ministry? As a white guy in the Philippines I get asked quite often, “What are you doing here?” When I first moved here I would declare “I am a tent maker missionary!” Most people looked at me and replied “You make tents?” While I can and I have, the answer is “No.” Tent maker ministry is term that was taken from a page in the Bible. The Apostle Paul was one of the first missionaries. He realized that having a skill while you traveled the world sharing the love of Jesus could keep you from going hungry. Paul used his skill as a tent maker to help support his ministry. Thus, the name refers to Paul and his side job of making tents. It is much the same as a bi-vocational pastor.

Tent maker missionaries do everything from selling small items to pay the water bill to running multinational corporations, all while juggling ministry. I fit in the middle with a small business manufacturing bags which we export. Your business can be directly related to your ministry or a separate entity. I believe that we are called to be the Light of Christ in all parts of our life, so even if your business is not a direct connection to your ministry, you should always be ready to share about Christ. I find that in business, God quite often puts people in our paths that need to hear the Good News. I run my company with a heavy ministry influence. It could be considered a ministry in itself, although I view it more as being a responsible business owner trying to conduct business with integrity. With over 50 percent of our staff being widows and single moms, we do what we can to accommodate employee needs.

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Our shop at work. No, Aahil (white shirt, red shorts) is not an employee, just the mascot. 😉

The culture in the Philippines is completely fine with sharing your faith. Now it won’t be the same in every country, in fact being a TM allows you to fly under the radar in countries that aren’t so keen on Christians. A passport with a Missionary Visa can cause issues when traveling into certain countries, while having a Business Visa is less likely to draw attention.

Funding is always a big part of an missionaries life. If asked, almost every missionary will tell you it is the biggest hurdle they face. I have seen more missionaries leave the field for lack of funding than any other reason. This lack of funding also has devastating impacts on their ministry, marriage, family, and creates volumes of stress. After seeing this, I was certain that being a TM was be a better way to go. What I have since discovered is that you are just trading one stress for another. While I don’t stress about receiving the monthly giving to keep the lights on, I do stress about keeping business at a level to do so. While we have been able to maintain a level of business that allows us to pay the bills (most of the time), most of the time businesses are not a self sustaining cash cow churning out money for you to spend at will. It will take time out of your day and will pull from ministry time.

There are also frustrations that come with doing business overseas, such as government bureaucracy, standards that are lower than we are used to in more developed nations, and cultural considerations. It takes time to understand the environment you are trying to work in. While it all looks good when you research it online, it can take years to grasp and understand how different countries and cultures function. Moving into a new culture when funded by supporters is challenging in itself. But, starting a profitable business in an often corrupt system before your savings runs out is a whole other level of craziness! If you think you can do it in a month, count on a year. It can be done, just know that nothing is as easy as it sounds!

These are a few of the topics we will dive into in the coming posts. Feel free to contact us with any questions or experiences you have had…our next post will be about pre-move preparation: getting mentally, financially, and physically ready to take the leap.

Love in a Bowl of Popcorn

Posted this on http://www.bewarethecomfortzone.com, but it fits here too 🙂

Beware the Comfort Zone!

Ahh…first day back after a break from our Saturday kid’s ministry. It felt a bit like the first day of school, everyone a bit excited, wiggly, and not quite settled in. Lots of hugs, lots of chattering, and lots of not listening to anything we had to say. So, to get out the energy, we talked about our Christmas and New Year celebrations.

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After a bit the conversation shifted to our Christmas party that happened a few weeks ago. We asked the kids that attended what their favorite parts were. Of course it was the cookies, the gifts, and the swimming, but there was an unexpected response from several of the kids. “Popcorn ni Kuya Dan!” (“Big brother” Dan’s popcorn). While the kids were inside watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, now an annual tradition, Dan, on a whim, made popcorn. Now popcorn isn’t exactly a luxury item here, it’s a…

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A Very “Share-y” Christmas (Reblog!)

Hey all!

So we survived the Christmas season, numerous kids parties, time with family and friends, and time to just unwind a bit, a rare luxury! Oh, I also applied for a job! I won’t go into the details until there’s more to share, if there’s more to share, but part of the application process was to write a photo essay. Our final Christmas party was just a few days away, and I couldn’t think of a better topic than to share a bit about these cool kids we get to hang out with and serve!

Here is the original:

Every Saturday afternoon, a handful of kids living in Agdao, one of the impoverished neighborhoods in Davao, Philippines, meet for class. Not only do they learn a Bible lesson, but they learn how to apply God’s Word in their often challenging lives.  For the past three years, those who have regularly attended class have been invited to a Christmas party, a party that has grown a bit each year. The food is delicious, the crafts and activities are fun, and this year the kids even had the opportunity to swim. Each child goes home with a small present, but the true gift is the chance to leave the neighborhood, spend time bonding with each other, and have a carefree day.

Five year old Reynaldo has watched his older sisters attend the parties for the last two years, but this is the first year he is old enough to join in. The party invitations hold no less excitement than a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and he is delighted and surprised to finally get one.
Five year old Reynaldo has watched his older sisters attend the parties for the past two years, but this is the first year he is old enough to join in. The party invitations hold no less excitement than a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and he is delighted and surprised to finally get one.
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The party is today! Walking into Agdao to pick up the kids, we are suddenly met by a mob scene. 29 ecstatic, screaming, cheering bodies running down the street, as if they are competing in an Olympic sprint.
Why yes, that is a bright pink vehicle! Jeepneys are the most popular form of public transportation in the Philippines, and they are also great for hauling loads of ecstatic, screaming, cheering kids. Jeepneys are hot, loud, and uncomfortable, but when it's time to party, a little sweat and discomfort is covered by big, broad smiles from Nicole and Rufo.
Why yes, that is a bright pink vehicle! Jeepneys are the most popular form of public transportation in the Philippines, and they are also great for hauling loads of ecstatic, screaming, cheering kids. Jeepneys are hot, loud, and uncomfortable, but when it’s time to party, a little sweat and discomfort is covered by big, broad smiles from Nicole and Rufo.
Taking a break during his first time in a swimming pool, April John is another first time attendee. He is the youngest of four brothers who live with their parents in a small, very modest two room shanty. With four boys, the place is always buzzing and rattling with unbridled energy. April John's mom was thrilled to have all four boys attend this year, giving her a rare gift of a quiet afternoon.
Taking a break during his first time in a swimming pool, April John is another first time attendee. He is the youngest of four brothers who live with their parents in a small, very modest two room shanty. With four boys, the place is always buzzing and rattling with unbridled energy. April John’s mom was thrilled to have all four boys attend this year, giving her a rare gift of a quiet afternoon.
For the last few months, seven year old Jories (far right) has taken home a portion of any snacks and meals he has received at events home for his pregnant mother. While he claims that he's “full”, he is constantly sacrificing to be sure she and his younger sibling are taken care of. Today was no exception. His older brother Jaynier (right) helps RhiJohn and John Kurt decorate theirs without making too big of a mess, and was almost successful. Even on fun days, hard realities follow these kids, yet  they are so unselfish and willing to share.
For the last few months, seven year old Jories (far right) has taken home food he has received for his pregnant mother. While he claims that he’s “full”, he is constantly sacrificing to be sure she and his younger sibling are taken care of. Today was no exception. His older brother Jaynier (right) helps Rhijohn and John Kurt decorate theirs without making too big of a mess, and was almost successful. Even on fun days, hard realities follow these kids, yet they are so unselfish and willing to share.
On the other hand, these cookies did not make it home. As Keziah and Daisy put the intricate finishing touches on their edible works of art, Rufo can't resist waiting. His smile sums it up. Divine.
On the other hand, these cookies did not make it home. As Keziah and Daisy put the intricate finishing touches on their edible works of art, Rufo can’t resist waiting. His smile sums it up. Divine.
Guillier joined the Saturday class about six months ago. After losing everything in Typhoon Haiyan last year, his father included, the surviving members of his family moved from devastated Samar to Davao. Quiet, tentative, and unsure, smiles and interaction from Guillier have been rare. Every smile, however small, is a huge gift, knowing that he is one step closer to healing a huge emotional wound.
Guillier joined the Saturday class about six months ago. After losing everything in Typhoon Haiyan last year, his father included, the surviving members of his family moved from devastated Samar to Davao. Quiet, tentative, and unsure, smiles and interaction from Guillier have been rare. Every smile, however small, is a huge gift, knowing that he is one step closer to healing a huge emotional wound.
Chores are always more fun at someone else's house! After “Kuya Dan” (Uncle Dan) showed Bianca how the hot and cold water, a rarity, worked, Bianca was insistent on helping clean up. The oldest girl in her family, she is often given the responsibility to clean and watch her younger siblings. This is a day for the kids to relax, have fun, and be served, but sweet Bianca loves helping, and there's just no stopping her from giving back.
Chores are always more fun at someone else’s house! After “Kuya Dan” (Uncle Dan) showed Bianca how the hot and cold water, a rarity, worked, Bianca was insistent on helping clean up. The oldest girl in her family, she is often given the responsibility to clean and watch her younger siblings. This is a day for the kids to relax, have fun, and be served, but sweet Bianca loves helping, and there’s just no stopping her from giving back.
Reynaldo having an amazing time at his first party! Their elbows till adorned with red and white frosting, he and Boybeth take some quiet time to color a nativity scene, and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
Reynaldo having an amazing time at his first party! Their elbows still adorned with red and white frosting, he and Boybeth take some quiet time to color a nativity scene, and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
 “What is that smell?!” asks Jhasmen. A real Christmas tree in the tropics? Unheard of! We were blessed with a real pine tree this year, all the way from Oregon. The kids first thought that the “plastic tree” was sprayed with an unfamiliar, but wonderful, perfume. Once Jhasmen and the rest realized the tree, and the smell, were real, they couldn't get enough of it.

“What is that smell?!” asks Jhasmen. A real Christmas tree in the tropics? Unheard of! We were blessed with a real pine tree this year, all the way from Oregon. The kids first thought that the “plastic tree” was sprayed with an unfamiliar, but wonderful, perfume. Once Jhasmen and the rest realized the tree, and the smell, were real, they couldn’t get enough of it.
As the swimming ended, and the activities wound down, the clouds quickly began to move in for the evening thunderstorms. While the kids tried their hardest to maintain a polite, thankful decorum, the anticipation for gifts began to build. For several of these kids, this is their Christmas; December 25th is just another day. The presents emerged from the back, and the energy level escalates again in a fun, giggly frenzy. It was the perfect way to top off a nearly perfect day of sharing gifts we all have.
As the swimming ended, and the activities wound down, the clouds quickly began to move in for the evening thunderstorms. While the kids tried their hardest to maintain a polite, thankful decorum, the anticipation for gifts began to build. For several of these kids, this is their Christmas; December 25th is just another day. The presents emerged from the back, and the energy level escalates again in a fun, giggly frenzy. It was the perfect way to top off a nearly perfect day of sharing gifts we all have.

Porsche? Ferrari? What’s Your Dream Vehicle? Here’s Ours…

A quick search on www.wunderground.com last night revealed a couple scary red swirls out in the Pacific Ocean. One of them is parked over the northern part of the country in the form of a tropical storm, less than a week after a typhoon hit the same area. We have been in the Philippines less than three years, and already we have seen three massive typhoons that have all but wiped entire regions off the map, at a frighteningly close distance.

The first typhoon hit the northern part of our island just 10 days after we moved here, and we were still finding our bearings, but so many from our area responded. Two years ago, Typhoon Bopha (known locally as Pablo) scraped past us here in Davao, but obliterated our neighbors literally just up the road. Dan, along with another missionary in Davao, teamed up with the Philippines Red Cross and Philippines Army and entered the zone less than 48 hours after the storm hit. They spent the next several months helping, not only initially with medical and first response, but later with rehab and reconstruction in the area. In the process, the large group of local missionaries that formed to help destroyed several vehicles from gross overloading and overuse on the unimproved roads. Along with many other issues, we had to have the body reattached to the frame, and a different time, the frame to the springs.  That combined with countless “extra” trips to haul supplies in smaller vehicles gave Dan a vision for the future. We needed a vehicle that could handle the roads, carry people, and carry mass amounts of relief goods. Being able to respond quickly is vital. Help is needed immediately, and it often takes several days or weeks for it to arrive from the outside.  There is always a gap to be filled, and that’s where us being local comes in.

We will be responding as soon as it is safe to go into the affected areas with a primary focus (24 hrs) of first aid, rescue, initial relief deliveries and connecting with the Incident Command.  Working within their system, our second mission (48 hrs) is to help get the medical clinics running by putting in emergency lighting and plugs, and creating a dry work environment.  Beyond that, we do whatever IC needs us to do.  Once outside help arrives we will be able to use the truck to move them and their resources where needed.

Dan began to plug his idea to several people who helped with Pablo relief, and they all thought it was a nice idea, but “how did we know this wasn’t just a one time freak event”? Well, it was a “two time freak event”, based on the typhoon the year before. Then, last November, the infamous Typhoon Yolanda decimated the Philippines, answering the question of “will it happen again?”.

I won’t get into the politics of climate change, global warming, etc…but the climate here is changing. The storms are dropping lower and lower in the country, and regardless of why, it’s happening, period. I read an article a few weeks ago listing the countries most vulnerable to the current climate change/weather patterns, and we were Number One. Not exactly something to celebrate, but we need to stay prepared. We are already prepping for this season, and The disaster response truck is still in the front of our minds. We have the opportunity to purchase one from another organization who was using it while building their ministry compound. It’s a Mitsubishi Canter, 4×4  Doublecab or as we in America call it a crew cab. With it’s 12 ft bed and dual back tires it can haul a lot of supplies though a lot of rough country.  You know, over the river and through the woods…or jungle…

Dan's dream vehicle...not exactly a Porsche or Ferrari, but I think it might be even better!
Dan’s dream vehicle…not exactly a midlife crisis sports car, but I think it might be even better!

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So what if we buy this thing, and we have a typhoon free season? Praise God! Will it just sit and rust? Heck no…there are always events going on where it could be used. Fires and floods are a normal event right here, locally, where supplies and people need to be transported.  Construction is always, always, always happening, here and on neighboring islands. Unfortunately, there is always something to rebuild.   When Dan shares his vision of the truck with other ministries it is often met with “Could you haul…with it?” We would love to be able to answer, “Yes! When and where?”. We would love for you to partner with us, to make this dream a reality!

Our ministry,  Hope Created, is a connected to www.thecause.org. Through The Cause, individuals can donate money, and even receive a tax return receipt! If you would like to help us reach out goal of $14,000 for this vehicle, please visit The Cause’s website! It sounds like a lot, OK, it is a lot, but as a team, we can help reach people when they are at their lowest, and need a hand up! Thanks for your support!

Girl Drama…It Never Ends!

Last Saturday’s kids class was wild. It’s never calm, but some days are just a bit more escalated than others. I’d been battling some crud the past several days, which thankfully was *not* dengue as the early symptoms suggested. But, everything seemed louder, hotter, and crazier. Just part of the gig, but there are days that make you want to go home and hide under a blanket. A very cold blanket.  

Our attendance has been up the last few weeks, which is good and bad. As class started, we formed our usual circle on the floor, and while it was crowded, it was still tolerable. Then Mary Grace arrived, with a record seven friends in tow. Mary Grace is our “little missionary”, as I told you about here. We expanded the circle, but it was suddenly very snug. And sweaty. Boybeth (yes, his real name), squeezed in next to me, and promptly leaned against me, his arm casually resting on my lower leg. I know, in the States, this would be weird and uncomfortable, we like our personal bubbles and boundaries. But, in a country smaller than the size of California, with three times as many people, personal space is basically nonexistent. I’ve learned to deal with it, and have become quite accustomed to snuggling up to my neighbor. After a few minutes, I began to feel what felt like small needle pricks on my leg. I looked down to discover Boybeth rubbing my leg hairs between his fingers, pulling random ones out. Note to self: It might be time to shave. Yikes! Meanwhile, as I was receiving a complimentary threading on my right leg, Katherine, who was leaning on my other side, began to poke my arm. No idea why, maybe she was just checking to make sure I was still there? I sat in nervous anticipation, waiting for a kid to come up behind me and start picking bugs out of my hair. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. But, there’s always next week.

Like sardines in a can...so are the kids in our Saturday class!  A bit tight!
Like sardines in a can…so are the kids in our Saturday class! A bit tight…

We finally made it through our lesson, with multiple pauses and interruptions, waiting for the noise to die down. The girls in the back corner seemed particularly chatty. We passed out coloring sheets, which gives us a few minutes to breathe and recoup before we finish class. Over the noise and chattering, Vergie and I heard muffled sniffling. In the far corner of the room, Christine was sitting at a table, head down, her scarf covering her hair, shoulders shaking, she was clearly upset about something. Her group of girlfriends were all sitting next to her, but no one acknowledged her. They just kept talking among themselves. Here’s where the cultural dilemna comes into play for me. In the States, if someone is upset or hurting, you go over and check on them, ask what’s wrong, and try to help. Here, if someone is upset or hurt, they are often ignored or left alone. Not out of cruelty, but actually, out of mercy. By ignoring them, it saves them the embarrassment of “standing out”. Even if it’s clear to the entire world that they’re hurt, by ignoring them, it’s like it didn’t happen. Lots of “elephants in the rooms” here. Unfortunately, there are times I can’t sit by and let that be OK, even if it is the status quo. So, I went “half way” between the cultural divide. I went and quietly asked the girls, “what’s wrong?”, and they all looked at me with extremely guilty faces, shrugged, and got all “darty eyed” as they returned to their work. Uh huh…things were starting to come together. I get it though, when my friends and I were that age, our friends always just started randomly crying too, we were never ever ever involved. 😉 I asked Katherine, her older sister who was sitting on the floor beneath her, if she knew, and she shrugged as well. “Why don’t you ask her? You’re her big sister!” I told her, but like most loving big sisters, she just sighed and said, “Nah…” and went back to work. I had to chuckle inside at that one. As sensitive and sweet as Christine is, I’m sure this is a fairly regular occurrence in her life.

John 14:19 "Because I live, you will also live".
John 14:19 “Because I live, you will also live”.

So, without any answers, but suspecting something in the “tween girl drama” department (it’s the same everywhere in the world, isn’t it?!), I sat behind Christine and just began to softly rub her back. Didn’t say anything, didn’t bring attention to her, but I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. She didn’t squirm or push away, or make any acknowledgement that I was there, which I took as an “It’s OK that you’re here”.

We wrapped up class, Christine came out of her self induced bunker. As the kids were getting ready to leave, we made brief eye contact, which she met with a sweet, thankful smile. I have no doubt Wednesday night the girls will all come to class, best friends again, as is often the case. I so remember those days of love and hate and forgiveness, all in the same hour. Drama that would make the cast of Days of Our Lives envious. As much as we try to teach peace and love and friendship, there are just some dynamics that they need to learn to deal with as well. And we learn weekly from these kids too, which is one reason I keep coming back. Next week though, I’ll be sure to shave my legs.

We usually have a handful of neighborhood kids that hang out on the doorstep, listening to class, but there's just not enough room for everyone to safely be inside.
We usually have a handful of neighborhood kids that hang out on the doorstep, listening to class, but there’s just not enough room for everyone to safely be inside. The harvest field is huge!

These Girls…

…are going to rule the World someday! Or, at least make an impact in their city. The Philippines is a country predominantly ran by women. Wow, how advanced, you might think, but unfortunately, it’s more out of necessity than actual “drive”. The women are the motivated ones, they want to see get things done, while the guys, sorry guys, would rather have fun.  Of course there are exceptions, but this generalization holds true in our class on Saturday afternoons. I’ve absolutely loved getting to know this group of girls over the last few years, and even with the occasional language barriers (which are slowly disintegrating!), we have great times together, and with their diverse but strong personalities, I have complete faith in their influence on the future.

I think we all forget, myself included, that all the pictures we take of and with random cute kids, especially overseas, represent tons and tons of personalities, hopes, futures, and individual stories. All the cute, similar smiling faces in these pictures are as different as night and day, but they all have their place in his world, and God’s plan.

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I joke that Rizal Mae is our own personal “Justice League”. Not just for herself, but for everyone else. If she feels that someone isn’t being treated fairly, whether it’s not getting an equal share during snack time, or not sharing the coveted green crayon, she speaks up. Rizal Mae lives a tough life. The oldest of several siblings, she usually does without so her younger brothers are taken care of. Her family has a very inconsistent income for several reasons, not just a lack of work. Hard realities for someone so young, but she already uses her life lessons to defend those who can’t or won’t defend themselves.

Katherine is fierce. She knows what she wants. The oldest of four kids, she is considerably smaller than her younger sister. Her reason? “I’m too picky about what I eat”. Sounds like something she’s heard from Mom once or twice. 😉 While most of the kids are learning English in school, she is the one bold enough to try and use it on a regular basis. At this point, she speaks English to me more often than not, and even though it’s not always perfect, she tries.  Last Spring, Katherine spent 8 days in ICU battling dengue fever, a horrific, painful illness transmitted by mosquitoes. We didn’t find out she was in the hospital until the day she was being released, the other kids just said she was “sick”. We visited her anyways, and when talking to the nurses, we laughed as they summed her up perfectly. “She kept asking for paper and a pencil, saying she was bored”. Never mind the horrific physical pain and exhaustion she was battling, boredom was a far worse affliction to her.

Christine, also known as Katherine’s younger, taller sister, is the polar opposite. Barely talks above a whisper, and always has a beautiful smile. She is a peacekeeper, and I often see her diffusing squabbles between her more outspoken friends, even by actions as simple as sitting between them. She keeps tabs on their two younger brothers when they join class, one of whom struggles with behavioral and learning challenges (I am guessing he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum). Her patience and calm spirit amaze me.

Daisy is the resident comedienne. Another one who constantly has a grin, she seems to always be cracking herself up, even if it’s just inside her head.  A while back, we did an activity in class to demonstrate communication, and how things can be interpreted by others. In small groups, one person would write a one phrase “scene” that the next person would illustrate. When it was my turn to write a phrase, I wrote something silly in Visayan, as more of a social experiment than anything. I handed it to the next person, with a deadpan expression and waited for the reaction. After a minute of silence, the girl I handed it to showed it to the other girls, they started whispering, and I knew exactly what they were thinking. They thought I had severely botched the language, but they were too embarrassed for me to correct me. Obviously, Katherine wasn’t in that group, because she would have told me. Loudly. As the whispering continued, Daisy began to giggle. Quietly at first, but then she couldn’t contain herself. “Joke lang!” (“Just a joke”) she finally yelled, and the other girls exhaled a huge sigh of relief. And of course, when Daisy’s turn came around, she had to write something equally as silly. And, now that the ice has been broken, she hasn’t stopped making us laugh since.

Mary Ann, Daisy’s big sister, usually has a toddler with her on Saturday afternoons. I think it’s a neighbor, and it’s her job to watch her. It’s evident that she’s not entirely thrilled with the arrangement, but she deals with it graciously. About half way through class, the little girl falls asleep in Mary Ann’s lap, and she sits and tenderly strokes her hair. That doesn’t mean she won’t jump at the chance to pass her off on one of us, but it’s so evident that she has a huge, nurturing soft spot.

Our other “nurturer” is Mary Grace. She brings her little sister to class, who also usually drifts off in her lap. She also brings a conga line of other kids with her. We jokingly call her our own personal missionary. When we started the Saturday class, the Oasis sponsored kids who were included were told they could each invite one kid, due to space constraints. Mary Grace is obedient and well behaved, but as she told us one day, “They always follow me to class! I just can’t tell them no!”. Her group of friends comes from the far edge of the neighborhood, have the best attendance, and honestly, are the best behaved out of all the kids.  So, we can’t tell them no either! There are no other programs in their area of the neighborhood, so it’s easier to explain to the other kids why they are the “exception”. However, it’s never come up as an issue, I think the other kids like having them around.

Last but not least is little Edelweiss. The smallest of the group, she was as sweet and adorable as her name. Edelweiss passed away about three months ago from dengue, the same illness that Katherine defeated just a short time before.  She was always the “little sister” to this group of girls, and it’s been a rough loss for us all. The girls mention her often, and I know they feel protective of her memory. A little more about this sweet girl here.

The balance of these personalities from outspoken to funny, sensitive to sweet, gives me hope for this neighborhood. I think as they grow and mature, no one will want to get in their way. Watch out!

Sweet Edelweiss

It was the middle of May, and we were neck deep in the process of wrapping up loose ends before coming back to the States for a visit when I got a surreal, confusing text from my co-teacher. It simply read, “Marlyn (sic), Edelweiss died because of dengue”. A few months earlier, another one of our girls, Katherine, spent 8 days in the hospital with dengue, a nasty, unpreventable disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Katherine’s battle was long, drawn out, but victorious. So how could Edelweiss, who we saw just a few days earlier, have contracted dengue and lost the battle so incredibly fast?

We have a spunky group of girls in our class. Outspoken and a bit feisty, they are used to standing up for themselves. But Edelweiss was different. The oldest in her family, she was still the “little sister” of the group. She was quiet and shy, as beautiful and sweet as her unique name, and the other girls had an intrinsic, protective nature toward her. When she was missing the Saturday before she passed away, all the girls said she was at the hospital with her mom, who was delivering her newest younger brother. They all knew where she was, as protective big sisters tend to do. What we didn’t know is a day later she would be in the same hospital fighting for her life.

Working on an art project, the kids wrote their names, and used artwork to turn the letters into descriptions of who they are. (Note: a rare shot of her without perfect hair, hehe!)
Working on an art project, the kids wrote their names, and used artwork to turn the letters into descriptions of who they are. (Note: a rare shot of her without perfect hair, hehe!)

The range of emotions in cases like this are all over the map. I have never felt angry at God, but very curious as to His decision. Edelweiss was loved. Her young parents, while extremely poor, treasured her. They are good parents. Her dad works long hours as a tricycab driver, and while many guys in this neighborhood do the very least they can to get by, he does what he can to provide. Edelweiss usually came to class in matching clothes (yes, a rarity), complete with a cute hairbow or headband in her brushed and styled hair. Her clothes were often old and threadbare, but an effort was made. She was a constant reminder that no matter your economic status, you can still take pride in your appearance. Her younger sister, Lija, is an adorable 2 year old cookie cutter image, and maintains the same level of cleanliness and personal pride. As painful as losing Edelweiss was, I look forward to watching Lija follow in her footsteps.

Our class hitching a ride from Edelweiss's dad, along with her mom and younger sister. She is sitting on her dad's lap. :)
Our class hitching a ride from Edelweiss’s dad, along with her mom and younger sister. She is sitting on her dad’s lap. 🙂

So why her? I am not saying God should have picked someone else, especially not another child. But, why did God choose someone who had a bright future? Who was loved so deeply here on earth? Even knowing she will never have to deal with the realities so many other kids in this area will face, either tomorrow, or years down the road, I have found myself rationalizing, “why didn’t God bring home someone no one cared about? There are so many right here in this neighborhood who run the streets at night, have no future, and no one who cares what they’re up to?”. Obviously I can’t begin to understand the big plan, but clearly God still has a plan for them on earth. Maybe a plan to find someone who will care for them, who will give them a future. It strengthens my desire to love and reach these kids, because we never know how many days we have with them. 

Most of our Saturday kids last Summer, Edelweiss is on the lower left, with the ponytails and beautiful, deep, intense eyes.
Most of our Saturday kids last Summer, Edelweiss is on the lower left, with the ponytails and beautiful, deep, intense eyes. Every one of these kids has purpose, and we are so grateful to help pour into them!

Pool Party!

Last week's wild bunch
Last week’s wild bunch

Several of our Saturday kids are involved in a school sponsorship program through Oasis Ministries here in Davao. The program provides them with assistance to go to school, tutoring, and parental support. The kids involved are required to attend a certain number of the classes on Saturday, or they risk losing their sponsorship.

Several months ago, we noticed that attendance was waning for a handful of the kids, who are easily distracted by the lure of the beach, other friends, or activities that they probably shouldn’t be involved in. We decided to do “fun days” every eight weeks or so, days where we just get together and watch a movie, eat fun food, and give our brains a break (yes, that includes us teachers!) But, the catch was, only those with perfect attendance the previous period were invited to join. We saw attendance improve some, bribes work!

This past March, God generously upgraded our party spot. We now have unlimited access to a private pool. So, every couple of months, we load up all our perfect attendees in whatever transportation we can get our hands on, and we have a private pool party. We swim, eat, play, and have an absolute blast. We have a couple kids in particular who had spotty attendance at best, that have now had no absences since before March.

One of my favorite parts of these times is the chance to get the kids away from the stifling environment that they are in almost daily, and just watch them relax and be “normal” kids. We can sit and chat without having to yell over the traffic or blaring karaoke machines, and the kids can eat until their bellies are full. As I watch them play and interact, I forget the struggles that they deal with on a regular basis. I think they do, too.

 

kids2
Yep, there’s a blond kid in there! Most Saturdays we have an assistant, 11 year old Isaac, who joins us along with his younger brothers. The kids absolutely love having them as part of their circle of friends!
A chance to relax :)
A chance to relax 🙂

The week before each party, we read off the names of the kids eligible to join, and as we hand out permission slips, it feels a bit like handing out a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It really pains me that we can’t include them all, but we clearly established the rules, no absences, and it’s up to them to be responsible. Not only do we teach Bible stories, but we are trying to instill life skills as well. And as we walk out of the neighborhood to our awaiting vehicle the following Saturday, you would think we were parading off to Disney World. The kids loudly tell their friends, “We’re going swimming in a pool!”, a luxury few have ever experienced. However, for the older, pre-teen girls, I think the real luxury for them is taking a warm shower, which sometimes lasts half an hour or longer, until we give them a “countdown” to get out. Ah, some things are the same no matter where you go. 🙂

Only Vergie, my co-teacher, can make kids stop swimming to listen to a math lesson! She's pretty amazing, and I'm so blessed to teach with her!
Only Vergie, my co-teacher, can make kids stop swimming to listen to a math lesson! She’s pretty amazing, and I’m so blessed to teach with her!
Taking a break
Taking a short break to refuel

Back to School!

Today was the first day of school at Faith Academy International, the school Andrew attends, and where Dan teaches. I’m still not used to school starting in early August, and the first day of school always gets me in the mood for Fall. Crunchy red and orange leaves on the ground, pumpkin desserts, and frosty mornings. However, as most of you know, the first day of school here looks very similar to the last day before Christmas vacation, and the first day of Spring Break. Hot.

Andrew is overjoyed to be returning to school!
Andrew is overjoyed to be returning to school!

As Andrew enters 10th Grade, Dan will start another round of Wood Shop/Construction classes. In addition, he will be teaching an Introduction to Woodwind Instruments class to the middle school two afternoons a week for the first term. This year will start off with the students choosing a “medium” sized project such as a desk, surfboard, etc. No cutting boards, but no houses either, which was last year’s project. Not yet anyways. 🙂
Last year, Dan’s class of 6-9 high school kids tackled a project that very few high school kids can claim they have been involved in. With materials donated by a local church, they built two simple houses for families who lost theirs in Typhoon Pablo the year before. The panels and supports were all constructed in the school work area, and then when it was time to raise the walls, the pieces were loaded on a truck belonging to Biosand Filters Philippines, and assembled on site. Close to 20 students joined on two different trips, the second was incorporated as part of an Easter outreach in Baganga.

Building the Panels at the School
Building the Panels at the School
Raising the Panels
Raising the Panels
Mission Accomplished!
Mission Accomplished!

The bottom line is, two families were blessed with housing through this project. But, a handful of students were blessed as well, with an opportunity to serve and an opportunity to bless others, all while learning new skills. While the class is starting “small” this year, who knows how it will end!