Friday, September 21, 2012

The Encounter...

September 16, 2012: Quezon City, Philippines

I spent the night all by myself for the first time this past Saturday and to be honest I was a bit nervous... not just because I was alone – but because I was alone in a still somewhat unfamiliar place, in a foreign country.  I didn’t feel unsafe – just unsure… and not really of “bad people getting me”, but more of the all too ominous creatures that I had yet to see but knew came out at night.  I knew that if one of them decided to show up now – that I would be left to defend myself and I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough for the task.  

The comfort of having another person with me was now gone.  It was just me and God… and I found myself in that familiar place – totally dependent on Him (He seems to put me there often).  So, I faced the challenge of the night and fell asleep (perhaps only because my body was entirely exhausted) with one headphone in my left ear listening to music and with my right ear empty and alert to any sounds outside or around me.  

Morning came quick and I was happy to find myself still in check.  I did a quick scan of the apartment from my top bunk view… my passing thought in a stream of consciousness “it would be my luck that there would be a spider in here the one day I am alone”; but as I did the floor to ceiling survey everything was clear.  So I jumped down from my bed, flipped on the light and half asleep walked into the bathroom.  

Then, what I now refer to as The Encounter happened… God had been gracious in protecting me for so long from seeing anything like what I was about to face – but in being obedient to a call that would inevitably lead me to places whose climates cultivate giant bugs, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I’d have to stand up to a life-long phobia…

Duct tape replica of the mutant intruder
As, I came back out of the bathroom and opened the door - I saw him.  Just next to our bathroom door, where I stood, was the door to the outside “kitchen” and on that door clung the biggest spider I had EVER seen!  Literally the size of my hand, his legs spanned across the width of the door knob as if he could turn it and walk outside as freely as he entered.  I thought out loud “you have got to be kidding me!  SERIOUSLY!?  This is happening right now!?”    I was terrified and debated locking myself in the bathroom until someone came home that night... but I saw the can of Bygon on the book shelf across the room and thought "YOU CAN DO THIS!”.  Well, actually my first thought was, “if you lock yourself in here and he comes in HERE then you are really trapped with no way out… and surely it isn’t big enough for the two of us in here!”

So, as I made up my mind that I would go for it, God gave me in that moment the agility of a ninja to leap from the bathroom door – over the corner of the table onto a chair - to a bench and onto the top bunk - in less than 3 seconds, all the while grabbing and spraying a solid stream of Bygon and saying "I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME - MY GOD IS BIGGER THAN THIS SPIDER - MY GOD IS BIGGER THAN THIS FEAR!"

I emptied nearly the ENTIRE can on the spider before it stopped moving... and by that time was a (some may say hysterical) mess, as I crouched at the edge of my bed with a can of Bygon aimed in one hand and cell phone in the other - crying to my dad half way across the world about the mutant spider that was holding me hostage on the top bunk of our beds!!!  He of course said all those good dad things like “Lauren, he has probably been there the whole time and you just never saw him” and “Lauren, you are 10x bigger than him – he is more scared of you, than you are of him”.  Beyond that though he spoke wise words of courage in the Lord and prayed for me to conquer my fear.  

After hanging up I was a bit calmer, but still sat on guard for about 15 minutes - watching for the spider to somehow miraculously come back to life, because after watching it seemingly frolic through a shower of chemicals, I was sure he would eventually resurrect again.

My dad was right though… I knew this was just the enemies attempt to bind me in fear… to keep me from going to church that morning and from serving with the beautiful kids in BSM - and I would NOT let him stop me from doing those things.  I would not let him stop me from showing that our God is greater than any fear!!  

So, I slowly moved from the top bunk back down to the bench and bracing myself, peeked under the cupboard where the spider had sought cover.   There I saw his crumpled body.  I cringed and sprayed him one more time… just to be sure he was dead!  Then after a few more minutes of praying, “Ok God, I know you have my back and will give me the strength and courage I need right now…” I stepped onto the floor and started to (quickly) get ready for church.

The entire “event” lasted over an hour and I was now exhausted before the day had even begun; BUT I was victorious in overcoming a fear that I never imagined I would be able to... and even though at that point I was running late, I was still able to get to church in time and God’s name was magnified despite the enemy’s best attempts to stop it.

To many, I know a spider is a small thing in contrast to all that we face in this life, but the truth still remains that THIS is the beauty and power of serving a God who is far greater than anything we encounter here on earth… He truly is bigger than our greatest fears and He gives us the strength we need to face them no matter what they are (even if we sometimes cry like a baby as we do).  I never imagined I would be able to do what I did that morning, because before coming to the Philippines I could hardly LOOK at a picture of a spider like the one I saw that morning without running away or screaming; but having that reaction and that fear contradicted what I believed about the God that I serve.  

In Him we have no fear and because I know the reality of all He is and the weight of the Gospel that He’s given me to share, I knew I could never let any fear hold me back from serving Him.  That Sunday morning He showed me that through Him and His strength, THAT was true.  Nothing could stop me from claiming the strength, courage and truth that there is in Christ - from facing whatever is put in front of me as I seek my life to be a testimony of Gods greatness and faithfulness - and for the sake of the Gospel, overcoming all things and always moving forward.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in TRIUMPHAL procession and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him!”  2 Corinthians 2:14

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Where He has me... I will be.

August 2012: Across Luzon, Philippines... in Manila. Tarlac. La Union. Pangasinan. Bataan. AND Laguna.

I arrived back in the Philippines on August 3rd… and on August 5th the rain started.  The word “rain” doesn’t seem to give justice though to the seemingly solid sheets of water that poured from the sky for nearly a week.  At times it rained so hard we couldn’t hear each other talk and within just 24 hours the flood waters started to rise.  Thankfully, the Kennedy’s (OMS missionaries) home sits at one of the higher points in their neighborhood… but as we walked the mile and a half from there to the front gate we watched the water gradually grow deeper, until we stood thigh deep in the street that now looked more like a river.  This was nothing though in comparison to the chest high waters that flooded thousands among the Marikina River, throughout Manila… and in surrounding Provinces. 

Yet, as I listened to the rain each night – into the morning and throughout the day… as I walked through the waters and began to hear reports of the damage – God whispered, “This is why I brought you back now”.  The flooding made everything stop.  It gave me a week where I could do nothing but be still before Him, listen, and pray – then as the rain ended and the water receded, God showed me exactly how He planned to use us and this natural disaster to share His love with those who were greatly affected.

Just three years ago, the Philippines suffered another devastating flood… at that time OMS had collected relief funds, some of which were still available.  So, just one week after arriving back on the field I sat down with my friend Let (a national church planter) to assess the needs of the church communities.  By the end of the night we had 5 provinces and over 130 families who needed relief supplies.  Several needed boots, as the waters were still high in their area and now contaminated with disease - others needed seeds, as entire crop fields were washed away - and all needed basic food and hygiene supplies simply to provide for their families.

Over the next two weeks: myself, Let, 3 Filipina friends, and Pastor Mar (head of ECC in the Philippines) began what we would call “The Amazing Race – Flood Relief Style”; during which we would buy and transport 60 some pairs of rubber boots – buy, transport, and pack over 400 bags of supplies – and visit 5 provinces spread across Luzon to distribute and share the unfailing love of Christ with each family in need.  The families we met though were not the only ones who were blessed by this effort.  As a team, we were blessed to serve them… and I was blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.  On our final day in Laguna (on lower right), I stood in a tiny room packed with those devastated by the flood with tears running down my face, as I listened to it fill with their songs of praise to a God who is always faithful.  We serve an amazing God.

I’m left in awe and humbled as He uses me here in ways I never anticipated… and I am so thankful for the 4 incredible girls He paired me with in this effort, as well as, Pastor Mar and all the amazing ECC Pastors  here in the Philippines. Their initiative and leadership, love and commitment, compassion for others… their time, energy, and joy in serving the Lord has all been a gift to serve alongside.

It’s three of these girls that I am now also living with.  We had been praying together that God would provide a place for me to live and when we found out that I would be returning without a partner - we started praying then for the right friends to live with!  Let, Debbie, and Abby are three Filipinas who became good friends during my first two months here… and when I returned by myself, they met me to offer their support and encouragement.  It was obvious to me as I transitioned back that they were the friends God had been preparing for this season of being here alone. 

Within my first two months on the field I knew God wanted me to live in a place that would immerse me in the culture… now He has me exactly there.  The girls laughed as they asked me, “Are you sure you are ready to live like an ordinary Filipino?”  Smiling I said, “YES! That’s exactly where I what to be!”… and I absolutely love where He has me.  I hear Tagalog more than English, I eat rice and ulam daily, I enjoy cold baths with a “pail and dipper”, I navigate through the crowded streets on Trics and Jeepneys, and I am learning the beauty behind the enduring smile of the Filipino people… living simply and loving the sufficiency of Christ.

The three of them have been an awesome part of Gods plan for me here – in both my transition and ministry.  Debbie is tutoring me in language four days a week, Let is partnering with me to start a bible study among mothers in the squatter community of Villa Corazon as I continue to build relationships and work with the leadership team in developing the ministry of H61 there… and Abby is continually encouraging me in my spiritual growth in a foreign place, as she herself beautifully reflects Christ.  All three of them have become national partners in ministry and life-long friends.

Beyond the immediate needs of our relief efforts though, God continues to open doors for me to work with the very first ministry I ever served with here… Bagong Simula, an urban outreach ministry that serves in the squatter communities in and around Manila.  Many of their locations are directly impacted by human trafficking and right now I am teaching children within those communities what it means to love Jesus (their newest outreach location on right).  I continue to pray for the development of Gods ministry and hope to also become involved in the discipleship and livelihood projects they offer for the families most at risk to being exploited.

As I flip through my calendar the time passes quickly, but in that God is revealing to me more and more of His plan.  I continue to teach an Anti-Human Trafficking course at the Bible College and from September 17-22nd I will travel to Taiwan to speak at Morrison Academy as God has graciously provided an opportunity for me to share about the ministry of H61 there.  I am overwhelmed by all the ways He is working and am so thankful for your partnership in it!

He is showing me His strength, sufficiency, and comfort in all circumstances and teaching me that His timing and plans are always good – even when we are not yet able to understand them.  When I returned to the field in the beginning of August, several meetings took place… I was now a young woman on the field by herself and that changed things.  Because of the current state of transition in the national denomination, change of field dynamics with the Kennedys retiring in October (leaving just me and one other missionary here), and the nature of my ministry – it was questioned whether or not it would be best for me to stay here alone. 

I know so many of you have been praying along with me for the right partner… and as it’s been clear that God has called me here, we waited expectantly for Him to provide. Now according to His will, He has answered that prayer perfectly – He’s answered it through a friendship that He had been sovereignly orchestrating long before Beka and I ever met… He was preparing the team He wanted.  Through Him, Beka and I share a ministry burden and God has developed in us a deep friendship that He continually uses to encourage and strengthen one another in our faith.  So, as Emily decided to no longer come with me, God confirmed His timing and plan in calling Beka to serve alongside me… and in January, I am so blessed that my best friend will also become my teammate here in the Philippines. 

The adjustment back without a partner was much more difficult than I anticipated and I experienced many days of great loneliness and frustration, but the prayers of friends, family, and supporters were felt… and they are still felt as He fills me with the strength I need each morning.  I am humbled by all the ways He continues to use us for the declaration of His Gospel – to God alone be the glory and may we always be obedient to whatever He asks of us for the furtherance of His Kingdom!
  •  Please pray for the holistic ministry God is establishing in Villa Corazon and the Bible study we will be starting with the mothers in the squatter community there.
  • Please pray for the ministry of BSM - that God would continue to expand their outreach to the urban poor throughout Manila and provide opportunities for the development of H61’s ministry in partnership with them.
  • Please pray for Edna and my continued partnership with her as she has seen the need and seeks to minister to those in bondage there.
  • Please pray for my language study – that I would be able to learn and retain each lesson and that my comprehension and usage would grow for God’s glory and the furtherance of His ministry here.
  • Please pray for Beka as she transitions from her current position with OMS and into this new assignment – that God would make it smooth and provide the additional funding that both she and I need.
  • Please pray for me and Beka as a team – that God would lead us in unity and reveal to us exactly where He wants us when we return in January and that through us He would establish and bless His ministry.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Child.

6/8/13: Laguna, Philippines

On Thursday, we left Quezon City and headed south to the province of Laguna to visit a woman by the name of Edna.  Edna is in her mid-forties but has the heart and passion of someone half her age.  She loves Jesus and loves taking care of His children.  Just three years ago a vision was cast for her to lead an outreach program to the urban poor and street kids in her community… the vision was that of a Chinese couple who own a market in town and were willing to supply food and school supplies for the kids who came to hear the Gospel.  Edna agreed and started with just 13 children… today she and her student leaders ministers to more than 70 kids and she is now discipling 10 parents (mostly single moms) who also attend.

We went to this outreach with her on Friday, and I was overwhelmed by the presence of Christ in the school yard as kids laughed and played, sang and danced… and learned about Jesus.  Edna was in her glory – I have never seen a more beautiful smile and joyful spirit as she sang with the kids and poured out Christs love to them.  For almost four hours these kids were the center of our world… and in that time they changed my world forever…

I met Edna the week prior to our trip at an ECC retreat.  It was there she approached me about the ministry of HOPE61.  We shared a burden.  We shared a passion.  She went on to tell me about a young girl – who at just 11yrs old was one of the first children in her ministry when it started.  Within the last year though the girl stopped coming and Edna lost contact with her… only recently finding out that she was “working in the plaza”.  Edna explained that the plaza was where the prostitutes worked and that she believed the girl had been trafficked.  She asked me to help - to come to Laguna and train her and her leaders.  The following Thursday we were on a 3 hour bus ride to her home.  

God orchestrated that moment at the ECC retreat when Edna and I would meet, and He orchestrated the days we would spend with her in Laguna so soon after… because on that Friday, the young girl Edna had told me about showed up at the school yard.  She hadn’t been seen in months – but that Friday at the end of our time with the kids, she sat off to the side watching.  Edna grabbed my hand and took me over to her (trying to hide her excitement).  When I saw her… when I looked into her eyes, it was all I could do to not start sobbing right then and there.  Only 14 years old… she was a child.  She didn’t look older than 11yrs or 12yrs… but was dressed in a way that tried to hide her youth.  God broke my heart.  She was beautiful – her face radiant and as she sang to herself I listened to a small but amazing voice.  

She was a child… a beautiful and innocent child. 

I invited her to hang around after we were finished but she shook her head and quickly went off to talk to some kids her age.  After the food and new school supplies were handed out she was gone again, but Edna was determined - so we went to the plaza to look for her.  As we walked across the dimly lit, yet busy square… Edna took my hand once again and said, “there she is”.  I started to pray silently as Edna approached her, gently putting her hand on her back and leading her over to where I stood… speaking in Tagalog I could hear her explaining who I was and asking if she would come sit with us for a minute.  She agreed, so we sat on a bench and Edna talked as I prayed fervently for Gods wisdom and power to move.  

Every now and then Edna would stop and ask me a question about what to do, translate for me what the girl was saying, or translate for the girl what I was saying… and for about 30 minutes I saw a young girl aged by the evil of this world tell her story of pain and desperation.  A young girl whose life of abuse and neglect left her vulnerable to exploitation.  She wanted to feel loved… she felt the pressure to provide for her family.  And soon she found herself being recruited to “belong” with the girls who worked in the plaza and to sell herself to feed her family.  Four nights a week, this 14-year-old worked for $10 a day. Four nights a week, this 14 year old would “work” in the plaza for only 500 peso/day.  My mind converted the amount immediately and my heart sank deep inside me as I thought, “for 10 dollars a day a child is being used and destroyed”… I felt the tears again swell and the words of Zechariah 11:4 echoed in my head – shepherd the flock marked for slaughter

“So what now?”… Edna was asking me.  I didn’t stop praying as I listened…  I couldn’t stop praying as I answered.  I never imagined I would be sitting face to face with an actual child victim and being asked this question so soon after arriving on the field.  We had so system in place yet – no protocol to implement – I was totally reliant on God… just the way He liked it.

Edna explained that the girl agreed to not go back to the plaza… that she would go to school and start coming to church and the outreach again.  She agreed to meet with Edna regularly for aftercare and mentoring, BUT her family still needed to be fed.  Edna explained that if she followed through with staying out of the plaza and the other things they discussed, then we would help find another source of income for her family.  Whether it was through the church or through us – we were going to trust that God would provide and we would not let “lack of” be the reason this child was on the street.

When we were done talking and praying, some kids from the ministry earlier came by and started to talk to the three of us.  I asked if they were her friends and she said yes… I then watched her posture slowly relax and her face light up as she smiled and laughed with them like kids are supposed to; and as they began to play tag and run around the plaza that on other nights was a place of darkness and bondage for her – I couldn’t help but smile at the childlike innocence and freedom she appeared to have, even if just for that moment.

I know the road to recovery is hard.  I know the statistics on recidivism.  I know the reality of this childs (and so many others) situation – the poverty and desperation – the lack of support – the abuse and trauma already experienced.  I’m not ignorant to these things and I don’t expect this to be easy – but that night was a victory for the Lord.  A relationship was reestablished… a connection made… hope given.  The God of justice and redemption is mighty, His healing sufficient, His power unmatched, His Gospel penetrating… He is sovereign and He planned that Friday night before the beginning of time - when Edna and I would sit and share life with this young girl.
… In this ministry there is no wading waste deep… you will always jump in way over your head.  There is no 99.9% when investing in the lives of these victims… it will always require 110%.  And it doesn’t matter that we weren’t “ready” for what we would encounter that night… because God is always ready and will always equip and sustain us as we seek simply to be His hands and feet to those who need Him.

 I talked to Edna in the days that followed and the girl did not show up in church on Sunday, but I believe that God will be victorious in saving this young life.  I met with Edna and her student leaders to do some training that weekend, and plan to go back in the weeks that follow so that I can work closely with them going forward.

There is a definite need in Laguna, and where there is need and no one to meet it – there the Churchs ministry of sharing Christ’s love, freedom, and redemption will lie.

Please pray for this young girl as we attempt to establish a relationship of healing and trust, that God would deliver her and give her strength as she begins the road to freedom. 

Please pray for Edna and her leaders as they begin a long and difficult journey in walking alongside this girl in the healing process, that God would give them wisdom and endurance.

Please pray for the family who financially supports the urban ministry.  That they would come alongside this new vision and be willing to offer support, both in this child's situation, and in the broader picture of God's ministry in Laguna... and that He would continue to bless them.

Pray that God would raise up leaders within the Church with a burdened heart and vision to transform and protect their communities by sharing Christs love and hope with those most in need..

… And please pray for me.  That I would be sensitive to the Spirits leading and that God would give me clarity and wisdom on when and how to develop Gods ministry in this area.

There is nothing too big for God… and I believe He has big plans for us here – may we always be willing to trust and obediently follow wherever He leads!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Beginning...

(Deep breath)... I guess the start of this blog makes it official: in less than two weeks I will board a plane to the Philippines and start my adventure with OMS!!

I'm often asked: are you excited or nervous (?) and I feel like my answer is never just either/or... Excited? YES.  Nervous? OF COURSE.  A million other emotions?  ABSOLUTELY.

And so, as I've searched for a way to articulate exactly  how I feel - I've found the best thing I can relate it to is skydiving... For those of you who have been before, I'm sure you know the feeling of standing at the open door of a small rickety plane 13,000 feet above the ground and thinking “oh crap – this is insane”!  Your legs shake and your stomach feels like it’s in the back of your throat.  But then you hear your guide say, “time to jump” and you remember as you hold tight to the parachute strapped to your back – THIS is exactly what I signed up for!  So, with a deep breath and a rush of adrenaline you jump with full confidence (finding the fall back to the ground incredible and entirely worth it)!

That is how I feel now... as I stand on the precipice of a calling God gave me nearly 14 years ago.  I'm filled with excitement - but also a feeling of 'this is crazy' as I leave everything and everyone, loved and familiar, 8 thousand miles away.  Yet as I get ready to jump, I hear God's strong and gentle words: THIS is exactly what I created you for.  So, holding tight to a faith that can't be shaken... and with full confidence in my Lord - my Guide, I GO... boldly following wherever He leads...

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9