Well, today is the birthday of my best friend in the Philippines. Her name is Joan. I was looking through photographs on my day off this morning, while I sat in my Florida home with my Filipino mug filled with a bold french-pressed brew. I looked at them and could immediately smell the air of the island, feel the humidity percolating the pores of my skin, sense the bustle of motorbike horns, crowds on foot, bicycles, and street animals creating a somehow organized chaos of movement all around me. I had the instant feeling of my legal alien status but my functional family member role—a welcomed sister, daughter, teacher, friend. My foreign home.
I loved being immersed in this culture, and I’m realizing more all the time how much that time has shaped my heart and thoughts and who I am today.
When I’ve studied the character of God revealed in Scripture, I’ve become convinced that God is absolutely sovereign. It’s one of those things that if you were to ask, “What are you sure of?” would come to mind first. I know that God has planned and actively directs all things in all places at all times. So he does not make mistakes. He is not surprised. And no matter how much of it we can see or understand, all details of life are being worked out as a part of a universal story of all things of which we are a part. So I was thinking about that also today as I flipped through these pictures and realized how significant all this time I spent with my friend, Joan, was.
God gave me a sweet gift in being able to spend so much time and live so many memories with Joan. And he taught me a lot through the way that she lives. I am so grateful that he wrote this part of the story the way he did. I came to the Philippines, had no idea what things would be like, when I would teach, what exactly I would teach, how I would communicate, or how I would assimilate to a mostly new culture. On my first day of class, I asked the principal of the school who would translate for me. She looked at Joan standing next to me and said, “Joan will be your translator today and we will see after that.” The start of many classes taught together.
Joan became my every day “companion,” as they call it. She taught me how to wash my clothes and convert my money. It was not safe for me to go out of the house alone so she would go everywhere with me. She’d count out my coins to pay the motorbike drivers and lead me to the right hidden store to buy my notebooks. We spent working time together, teaching classes and speaking at outreaches and church groups and Bible studies, and we spent free time together, playing matching games with the children in the house, going for walks, or picking up the house guitar and singing. She’d teach me the Cebuano language, and I’d explain new English words and idioms to her. If I went out to get food, she went with me. If it was pouring rain and I’d have to make it to a youth night, she’d be the one sprinting through muddy puddles under a borrowed umbrella with me screaming and laughing. When I’d get a stomachache from new food, she would not hesitate to lay hands on me and pray. Even without jogging shoes, she’d take me to the local high school dirt track and jog with me because she knew I loved to run. I remember on the morning I first woke up with a fever that would later turn bad and be diagnosed “Dengue,” she and I were up at 5am singing a duet, “There is Joy in the Lord” together for house devotions.
Joan taught me what it looked like to put someone else’s needs above your own. Many times I’d come to the kitchen from talking with someone and assume she had already eaten as she set out dishes and poured juice for me. But she was waiting to make sure I had enough before she would eat. She is one of the girls that lives in the Happy House and serves wherever is needed both at the house and in the church and outreaches, especially when there are foreign visitors staying for a week or two. I ask her sometimes if she ever gets tired of working so hard to do things for other people, and every time she replies that God has done so much for her that if she can do one more thing for Him, then it has been a good day and she is happy. He has changed her life, saved her, healed her from hurts of her past, and continues to be the joy of her life.
Every Friday, Joan did and still does get on a motorbike from the house to ride to the bus stop on the outskirts of town. She waits on the corner and rides the bus halfway up the mountains. From there she finds someone to driver her on his motorbike up the rocky path to the top of the mountain where her outreach is. If it’s pouring rain, the motorbike can’t make it and she has to walk the miles on foot. She spends the weekend in the village with these people, leading Bible studies and songs and making house visits. I was able to visit her outreach a couple times while I was in the Philippines and the people in the mountains truly love and embrace her.
So today, on her 30th birthday, I’m wishing I was there to throw a party for this girl that means so much to me. She was and is a true example to me of faithfulness to her God. Right where she is, with whatever is in front of her, she joyfully serves God through serving others. Having grown up in a one-room wooden house, eating locally grown food and hearing about Jesus Christ through an outreach of the Happy Church, her trust in God grew so simply and practically. She came to the Bible school that I would later teach at and grew in her understanding of Christ and His Church. I am in awe of my sovereign God who would so plan to save this woman on this little island of the Philippines, save me across the globe, bring us both to a better understanding of Himself through the study of His Word, and then allow us to serve in His Church together. Her words are constantly filled with Scripture and directed at the glory of God.
I just wanted to write a little to honor her life as she celebrates her birthday today and reflect on how God wove our lives so tightly together for a time! He gives such sweet gifts, and one of them to me was six months of close ministry with Joan, whom I now call my “twin” after someone in the church gave us the title. Maybe some day one of you reading this will fly to the Philippines with me and meet this incredible girl and others with me!
Happy birthday, Joan. ”Nahigugma ko nimo!” I love you :)
Some would gather money
along the path of life
Some would gather roses
and rest from wordly strife
But I would gather children
from among the thorns of sin
I would see a little child
with a big and toothless grin
For money cannot enter
in the land of endless day
And roses that are gathered
soon wilt along the way
But oh, the laughing children
as I cross the sunset sea
As the gates swing wide to heaven
I can take them in with me.
Well I haven’t written anything here since being weak and bed-ridden with Dengue a few months ago, but I need an outlet to share some of these stories I’m hearing.
I’m in Louisville, Kentucky. Walking among heroes of orphan care ministry. Seemingly random people in seemingly random churches whose hearts have been stirred to answer God’s call for his church to love the orphan.
The 4’ 11” woman of South Florida who asked a pastor why they were spending $10-11 million on a new facility when there were hundreds of modern-day orphans in their community desperate for homes. Today 4KIDS of South Florida has networked over 100 churches in the area, built safe homes, and so partnered with the state that any child that gets taken out of a home must first go through the church’s care before being placed in foster care.
The pastor in Colorado who said we are Christian families and there are children in our neighborhoods that don’t have a mother or father. How can this be? Project 1.27 has since committed to clearing all adoptable children in foster care from the system by recruiting, training, and supporting families.
The wife who felt called to adopt children from Russia and after talking to her husband who was not on board, simply started praying hard that God would move his heart. Today her husband Russell Moore has authored one of the best books on Christians adopting, “Adopted for Life.” They’ve adopted children and speak at conferences, churches, and ministries on God’s heart for the orphan.
The couple I met coming off the airplane who had three biological children before adopting three HIV-positive Ethiopian siblings, two prematurely born Mexican boys, and later another homeless Ethiopian boy.
The man sitting at the table next to me earlier today who, with his wife, has adopted 15 children out of foster care. Who struggles, but faithfully loves and serves his wife and children.
The church in a tiny town of Texas who hosted 29 orphans from Kazakhstan one summer and grew to love them so much that not only were they adopted, but also 12 others.
Every godly couple attending the conference that is in the waiting process of adopting a child, whether domestically or internationally.
My heart is flooded with thankfulness over all that God is doing through his church. My job in Florida right now involves me doing a lot of research in front of a computer of the state of orphans in various countries of the world and all the hoops that need to be jumped to bring them into homes. So many days I have driven home just heavy-hearted, sometimes shedding tears feeling the heavy burden of these children and wanting to know how God wants to show them love through my life. My awareness drastically growing; my role in showing them love so seemingly small right now. But being here I am absolutely encouraged. There are so many pockets of people all around the country and the world being stirred to “defend the fatherless” and they are making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.
Remembering that we were all once orphans. And would still be except for God’s welcoming, healing, restoring, infinite grace.
Reprinted from my high school’s December 2010 Courier. Some perspective on things going on in the Phil, written in November:
I have never seen everyone from the house in the same room before but here is my Happy House family at their big Christmas celebration, taken in the main room of the house. Just missing some of the kids. Love each one of them SO MUCH.
In the second pic they’re passing out all the presents mom and Joan wrapped for me while I was sick. Thanks to many of you for supporting these gifts! T-shirts, toys, necklaces, books, games…
I don’t have a picture from the Bible school party that happened a couple days after we left but they all received books and water bottles with the school’s name and logo on them. They were always trying to find extra bottles to carry water from the school’s pump and many of them have gotten sick from getting dehydrated so it was a great gift. Also with support we were able to purchase a new computer for the school so they can do research and have access to commentaries and helpful resources that will help prepare them for their future ministries. I left my internet connection usb with the school that is paid for until July of 2012.
My hope is to stay partnered with this ministry as we all in the global body of Christ seek to love and serve and rejoice together—always willing to give what we have when a brother or sister is lacking anything.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18
Came across this while I was organizing some things from the Philippines today. Joan stuck this one in my bag to keep because I just laughed every day when this is what label I would find on my hospital food. Not a bad tagline I guess.
Paul Tripp nails on the head what I’ve been learning by experience these days—from his sermon at The Village Church a couple weeks ago:
“God will take us where we have not intended to go in order to produce in us what we could not achieve on our own. We had better begin to teach and encourage and comfort one another with a theology of uncomfortable grace. Because often this side of eternity, God’s grace comes to me in uncomfortable forms. Oh I long for the grace of relief and someday that will come, but right now what I actually need is the grace of refinement. I need to be changed. I need to be transformed. I need to become a person of faith. That means everything I do is based on a deep and abiding belief that God is and He’s glorious and He’s loving and He’s kind and He’s powerful. And I find hope and rest in Him and Him alone. That’s what I need to become. So in love, He will take me beyond my wisdom, beyond my strength, beyond the bounds of my character, beyond my righteousness and He will cause me to throw myself on Him. That’s not God forgetting me. That’s not God beating me up. That’s not God being unfaithful and inattentive. The Bible calls that grace. I’m being rescued, I’m being restored, I’m being loved, I’m being changed. He loves me and He will not turn from His work and He will continue and continue till that work is complete. That’s grace. God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own. Those moments of difficulty in the life of a believer are sure signs of redemptive love. That’s what they’re about.”
As only God knew, my time in Ozamiz would come to an abrupt end in December. It was not my plan—I had thought all along I would be here until April, shortly after Bible school graduation, but now I am flying out in a few hours back to Florida. The doctors told me I need at least a month of rest and recovery, doing nothing, and that I need to see a doctor in the States about my heart. By the time I would come back it would already be so late in the school semester I cannot continue with my classes.
Mom and Joan helped me wrap 135 presents for Christmas on Saturday and thinking about them now that’s 135 people that I am truly going to miss. People here really have a way of coming close to your heart and staying there.
I am so thankful for the time I had in this place with these beautiful people. I’m thankful for all the ways I have seen God move, the ways I have grown, the things I have been able to share. I’m leaving with a heavy heart because God has truly blessed me by bringing me to this place, and it is hard to say goodbye so early. Just trusting that his ways are perfect—he sees everything and knows everything and all I can see is the day in front of me when I will have to say goodbye to so many that I love.
Including some pictures from some of my final days here.
(Thank you Carrie Speer for these verses you shared with me)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)