Little Things…

By Luke

Sunshine and Rainbows by Luke, age 10

In my last blog, “And it will surprise you”,  I started by sharing from my heart about some of the challenges our family was facing over the last few weeks. For those to took the time to read on, (THANK YOU!) the point of the blog was a reminder to us all (myself especially) to count our blessings.

Sure it’s easy to name off the “big” things that we have to be thankful for; even though we know in our hearts that not everyone around us has been blessed likewise…

Of course we are thankful for our health, our kids, our spouse, the house we live in, the job we have…

Or are we… (if not, this is a great place to start a new attitude of gratitude!)

I’ve been struck lately with the need to be thankful for the “little things,” because just like it’s the little choices that direct our long term path and the little sins that quickly separate us from the heart of God… it’s thankfulness for the “little things” that keeps our hearts in a place of gratitude and appreciation to our Father God. (James 1:17)

So this week, in addition to being aware of those big things I have to be thankful for, I’m focusing on the “little blessings” God has so gracious bestowed on our family recently:

  • There’s a new optometrist in town, she does great work, very thorough and generous with her discounts to our mission! Now, thanks to a special gift by a generous donor, we can help more of the tribal ladies get the glasses they need to read their Bibles!
  • There’s a new “Western style” restaurant in town! Now our family can have a delicious, from scratch dinner out in a comfortable and homey atmosphere without having to travel to the tourist island or a major metropolis!
  • The gift that keeps giving… air conditioning! My loving husband and kids got us a one room air conditioner for Mother’s Day. Even though we “fought” this decision for years (literally!), now that we have it we can really appreciate the “refuge” that it creates from the extreme heat and humidity here. It’s a small thing, that has made a big difference!

 

So what are the “little things” you can thank God for this week?

 

Sunshine and Rainbow by Mark

Mark’s interpretation of Sunshine and Rainbows, age 8

Even if life is not fully sunshine and rainbows– ours certainly isn’t–we can look to the blessings we do have as little gifts of favors from a loving Heavenly Father, who’s holding us in His arms saying, “Hang on… I love you and I am making something beautiful!”

I’d love to hear what your “little things” are, and I know it would be super encouraging to others to read them as well…. please feel free to share YOUR LIST in the comments! Let’s encourage each other in thankfulness!

Matthew's Sunshine and rainbow

Matthew, age 5, Sunshine and Rainbows

“And it will surprise you…”

IMG_0556It’s been a tough week. It’s hot here. I mean really, really hot. We sweat from the moment we wake up, all day and through the night. Earlier this week Levi was keeping track of how many t-shirts he “sweated through” a day. We aren’t even doing manual labor… it’s just THAT hot.

Then there’s been illness; intestinal stuff, mostly likely from water problems, which come from the lack of rain. And rashes, from prickly heat to fungal, this family seems to have it all.

And then there’s goodbyes– Levi flew back to the States this week, making this Mother’s heart equally divided— half of my children reside with us in the Philippines and the other half in our homeland.

There’s quite a few other things going on– from medical needs with our family at home, to serious medical situations in the tribe we minister in, to issues around gossip, fighting and disunity among the community here, to concerns over the upcoming elections….

It’s enough to make a person sad… or discouraged… but….

Today I was overwhelmed by thankfulness.

Thankfulness for the simple things that we often don’t even see, let alone appreciate.

Thankful for the blessings in our lives.

LIKE…

Electricity to run fans to help keep us cool. Internet to stay connected to loved ones far away. A refrigerator and Lipton tea bags to keep Mama in her “life juice.” A new source of good flavored coffee beans for Dad’s version the above. Medical facilities here that enable our patients in the tribe to get the health care they need. Sponsors from home who help in times of dire medical needs. National insurance that helps to offset some of the costs of medical care for the tribe.

Sunshine to dry the many loads of laundry we wash each week. A washing machine to wash them, when many people hand wash at the river here. Filters for our water. Medicines to treat our digestive upsets when we don’t drink filtered water. A motorcycle that shortens trips and keeps us from needing to walk in the hot sun. Public transportation options for long trips, including some with air conditioning, a welcome break from the stifling heat.

Overall good health for our family. Safety for a son flying across the globe alone. Grandparents who are willing care for our stateside kids in whatever ways they can. A church family who faithful prays for our family and the Ati. Special friends who reach out with words of love and encouragement at meaningful times. Friends in the tribal community who look out for us and pray for our health and safety. Local friends who have little, but share what they have, like yummy bananas, green mangoes or a live native chicken that makes a yummy fried chicken dinner.

God’s Word in a book or a device. Gifted, spirit-led pastors with podcasts to feed our souls. Access to Christian music to uplift our spirits. The ability to “participate” in our home church via the internet and through weekly prayer updates in email. A husband who gently leads me, prays with and for me and shares life’s ups and downs with me. Children who continue to wrestle and stretch and grow in their knowledge, faith and experience with Jesus.

The beauty of God’s creation that surrounds us. His precious children, regardless of tribe, tongue or nation, to share life with. His peace that fills our souls when the enemy wants us to live discouraged, defeated and in fear.

I truly have so much to be thankful for. I am so blessed.

I suspect I’m not the only one who’s prone to take my eyes of my blessings and see the difficulty of the circumstances. A sense a real draw toward hopelessness and defeat from my limited connection with people living “at home.” Politics, world peace, economic fears, family health issues, relational challenges, work stress– these things capture our attention and take our eyes of the grace God has given in our lives.

When my kids were small, I used to sing them to sleep at nap time or night with a variety of old hymns, a favorite was Count Your Blessings. During those long messy days of formation and neediness, it was ME that needed the reminder to name them one by one. I’m finding it’s no different in this season of life, and I suspect it’s true in whatever season God has you planted in right now too. Truth penned in 1897 is true today:

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I’d love to hear what He’s teaching you and how you keep your focus on the grace and blessings in your own life. Let’s start a thankfulness revolution!

MOM WITH KIDS

“Count your blessings, name them one by one! And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”

Overwhelmed

There’s a teenage girl with gravely disfiguring scoliosis that begs in the small town where we do our marketing during the peak of tourist season. She’s from the next municipality over and during the slower time for tourism we don’t see her at all. She has the most beautiful smile I think I have ever seen. She knows we are kind people who will often give her a few pesos or bring her a snack or drink. Peak tourism times also correspond with the highest temperatures and its hard to not feel pity for her sitting out in the heat to greet passersby. But more than pity, I have felt drawn to this girls beautiful smile, sweet disposition and quiet spirit. Unlike other beggars, she doesn’t follow people around tugging on their clothes or make sad faces. She simply sits there, clean and neatly dressed and flashes that heart winning smile.

The truth is as foreign missionaries in the developing world there is simply no end to the “help” we could give. Even having limited our outreach to one particular tribe of indigenous people does not keep us from feeling like we could very easily be over-extended. At this moment, I have more than 10 people on a list for eye glasses, mostly middle aged women suffering from daily headaches and unable to read their Bibles because of deteriorating eye sight. There are two young teenage girls with breast masses that should/could be removed. There are so many other things that never get done– newborn screenings, childhood immunizations, any type of preventative health care simply because there simply are not enough resources. And by resources, I mean both money and time.
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Assisting with the medical needs of a community that numbers more than 1000 souls is often like putting out fires rather than preventing them. Don’t get me wrong, there have been HUGE strides made toward better health as a collection of missionaries have been working in this community in different seasons over the last 5 years. Nutritionally the children are much better off than they were five years ago, though they may still be categorized as “at risk” for malnutrition we no longer see bony kids with big tummies and orange hair (all classic malnutrition signs). There have been less deaths in the community and more families have the free national insurance plan.
 In the early days our indigenous friends were too shy to even seek out medical help, telling one of the first missionaries that without the money to see a doctor, they simply trusted God for whether their loved one lived or died. And while that kind of faith is inspiring, it’s been a real benefit to the community as missionaries taught them “how” to go for a check up when they needed it and loved them enough to walk them through the process until they could do it themselves. Because the health insurance does not cover medications, we often assist people with the prescribed medicines needed to support healing and restore health.
Today I saw our begging friend while coming through town on the back of our motorcycle. She had spotted us first, because she was smiling widely and waving wildly as we passed her on the street. My heart goes out to her and I want to know her story and maybe offer her a better opportunity in life. Surely she could do light household chores or some small job that could provide a meager income rather than sitting in the streets in the hot, hot sun. But I feel powerless to help her. How can I offer her a job when there are so many of our indigenous friends without enough work to provide for their families?
I know that what we are called to do here makes a difference in people’s lives. We are blessed to see the fruit of our gifts, which are YOUR gifts to this ministry on a daily basis. God has moved in the hearts of countless people in the tribe because they saw the love of Jesus in us and in YOU by your gifts to this ministry. But sometimes its hard to be caring, compassionate, generous and giving people in the midst of so much need. 
It’s true that we can’t change the world for everyone—or even everyone in the tribe. The Lord has given us a vision of ways that we can help the tribe improve their overall economic position. It won’t happen overnight, but little by little, day by day, we trust and work toward transformation for this community. Our mission is holistic, seeking to transform the spiritual as well as the physical health and future of these precious people.
We certainly could not do what we do without praying and giving partners from around the globe. If you would like to help us make a difference in the life of Ati people in the Philippines, please get in contact with us. Another way you can help this ministry is to share this blog with your friends who share your passion to see the Gospel known throughout the world.
We’d love to share more about the Lord’s work here and how you can partner with what he’s been doing! Click here to contact us! Or partner with us through our senders,

Or you could die…

I like medical dramas. It’s hardly a way to relax, but yet it’s my go-to for a downtime ambulance-entertainment.

During a recent episode of my a new favorite medical drama I was taken back by the stark difference between our life in the developing world and the one from which we come. In the TV show, a high profile victim and his family are rushed away in speeding ambulances to a top notch hospital equipped with every modern piece of medical equipment and hundreds of highly trained doctors. I hate to think what would happen if some catastrophic event happened here in the provinces. Those life or death emergencies would likely have a far different outcome.

But what about the more standard problems or the less catastrophic yet equally devastating needs?

In real life, this week we discovered a patient with massive ulcerated infection. His complex diagnosis makes healing difficult. Treatment will be long term and very, very expensive.

We are thankful to be able to help. We are finding this need as a huge stretch on our already tight medical outreach budget. But if the patient didn’t have outside help, he would not be able to afford treatment. The ulceration would likely grow, opening deeper and more painful wounds. Eventually, the infection would travel to the blood stream and most likely be the cause of his death. So we are acting in faith and knowing that God has a plan!

It’s humbling to think of the difficult situation that extreme medical problems and poverty place people in. When the doctor says you have options– this treatment plan that costs more than your entire salary for a month, surgery which likely cost 25 times as much, or… you could die. There’s no safety net here for most people.

There’s nothing that prepares you to hear that kind of news. There’s nothing that can soften the blow of learning that your life will never be the same and the next several months will be very painful and extremely difficult.

Despite these hard days, we are grateful that God has called us here to share in the burdens of His precious children. We’ve seen time and again how life changing medical issues can produce spiritual transformation as well. It’s just not always easy, comfortable or fair…

Please pray for our patient, for his healing physically and for the work the Lord is already doing in his heart. We are also praying for new friends to help share in the financial needs for this family. If you’d like to make a real difference in this family’s life, please contact us through this blog, our website at www.cjmi.org or by direct email. 

Leaning…

 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. Exodus 17:12

Life is a lot like that, isn’t it?

It’s easy to weary in the calling God has on your life. Maybe you’re the mother of lots of little ones, constantly demanding your time, attention and love. Or maybe your little ones have grown to teens, struggling with finding their way in life and navigating the sometimes treacherous world outside the safety net of home. Perhaps your nest is empty, but the cares and demands of grand parenting, carrying for aging loved ones with less stamina and verve that you once enjoyed drains you and makes you weary.

Weary. That I just want to crawl into bed, I’m so tired I could cry, how can I endure? feeling that everyone faces at some point in their lives.

I’d guess that those in caring professions– pastors, missionaries, doctors, nurses, first responders experience it professionally more than most are willing to admit. But this weariness is certainly not reserved for only those occupations.

I think a lot of women are like me–somewhat fiercely independent by nature, not quick to ask for help or even prayer, especially for things we perceive our expected norms of our society. Sure, we’ll allow someone to bring us a meal after a new baby, but only for a few days and then we will clean the house to make sure it’s company ready before you arrive…

But this independence, perhaps we could even venture so far to call it “pride”: is counter-intuitive to living life as followers of Jesus. We have to be willing to humble ourselves not only be a servant, but to be served.

Secret struggles are a huge hindrance to Christian community. How can others hold up your arms, either literally or figuratively, if they don’t know you need help? Our willingness to be vulnerable with people will directly affect the depth of our relationship and in some ways the extent to which we experience the love and caring of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the way that Jesus designed His followers to live together.

Living abroad makes it difficult for us to have the type of Christian community experience we enjoyed in our rural hometown. But if I pridefully keep my mouth shut (or fingers still from typing) when I’m struggling, I allow the miles and my self-protection separate us even more. In being unwilling to truly be vulnerable, we actually make ourselves more vulnerable– to isolation, loneliness and the lies of the enemy.

For us, praying friends have been a life-line and through their sacrificial ministry to us we’ve seen God move! Whether its been spiritual battles, healing of physical needs, provision or peace, God is so faithful to answer the prayers of believing friends across the globe.

Maybe you are able to offer a more physical “holding up of the arms”– a listening ear to a young, struggling wife, a helpful hand to that Mama whose heart and hands are full with children, a hot home-cooked meal to the sandwich generation Mom who’s juggling work, teens and aging parents care… or maybe you can just pray. We should all live with our eyes and hearts open to those hurting, struggling or just plain weary around us.

Let’s commit to being authentic with each other. Let’s not hide behind the dressed up, happy faces of Sunday morning and really plunge into the waters of honest life with one another. Let’s skip the pleasant platitudes and get real! The difference it will make in each of our lives will be powerful and have a genuine impact on eternity!

So whose arms are you holding up? And who’s holding up yours?

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The Things We Do for Love

I’m often asked what our days here in the Philippines look like. No two are ever the same, but I felt the Lord asking me to share this summary of our week with those who wonder what the “missionary life” looks like.

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This week was a particularly full one for our family. The week started off with my birthday, another year up in the “line of 40” as birthday decades are referred to here. Sunday morning started with worship with the tribe in the village. This is always a sweet time of fellowship, even though we still struggle to follow all of the message in Malaynon. We’re getting better at singing in Malaynon, we praise Jesus with the old familiar hymns, only the words are different and a little hard to make our American tongues produce. This Sunday we had an extended testimony time, between the verses of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” I was called on to share, and had the sweet privilege to reminisce about my early years. You see, my great grandfather used to rock me to sleep to that very song. What a precious blending of my two worlds– and what an awesome testimony of the love, grace and power of our God!

Sunday was a restful day and ended with our family tradition of homemade pizza. I was scrolling through the internet when I heard singing outside my window. About 20 of our Ati friends came to give me the best birthday gift– their songs to the Lord! We invited them in and shared our pizza and the enormous cake that Rusty had strangely purchased earlier in the day. It was a meaningful time of fellowship and sharing, that ended with several of the ladies praying for me. I ended the birthday feeling truly blessed.

The next day we had declared a “Russell Family Holiday” giving the kids the day off from school work and freeing Rusty and I up for a quick escape to the neighboring island for some rest and relaxation. Beach therapy, is what I think they call it… and it was wonderful! From the sailboat ride across the water to Boracay, to landing right outside of Starbucks, lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant in the world and a candlelight dinner on the beach, our tanks were full and our hearts were rested!

Which was a good thing, because only God knew the busyness that was to be the rest of the week…

I typically reserve my mornings for teaching the children (I’m homeschooling 5 this year), leaving my afternoons free for outside ministry. Tuesday’s agenda included taking a young woman with cysts to the nearest city for the removal of the largest one. The two hour travel by bus, each way is always an opportunity to reflect, pray and listen to podcasts or music. The waiting time was a great opportunity to practice my emerging Tagalog/ Bisaya language skills with my patients’ adopted mother. We shared a meal other at a local bbq place before returning home, arriving well after dark.

Rusty and the boys spent a good bit of time preparing for the construction of an organic piggery in the community garden in the afternoons this week. Most construction is very hand labor intensive, from digging the foundation with flat shovels and re-bar digging irons, to carrying the hollow blocks on your back, to bagging and then carrying the elements of concrete in sacks on your back and mixing the mortar by hand. Throughout the week they had two great Ati helpers, and another Ati man working in growth of bamboo cutting the poles that would support the nipa (grass) roof of the structure.

In between school and building, there’s plenty of relational opportunities from sharing times of praise and prayer together to assisting those with medical needs. Throughout the week, we helped 20 people get the medical care they needed– from an 11 month hospitalized with a combination of cellulitis and dengue fever to senior citizens dealing with the hardships of aging in a fallen world. We were blessed to be able to help people with medicines needed to begin the healing process, and to walk along side them as they faced the personal challenges of even seeking out medical care.

As the garden ministry expands in one community, there are new gardens springing up in two other small Ati  villages with our support and experienced guidance. We share seeds, techniques and strategies, while continuing to build relationships for Kingdom purposes. Along with new gardens, people are asking for additional opportunities to share the Word together and grow in their faith.

Seeds have been planted here, but many young plants have suffered the effects of rocks, thorns and dry soil. We are so thankful that God is using us to bring an new season of growth and that even more are coming to learn about Jesus.

So why do we do these things? The answer is simple, yet deeper than the ocean and more complex than my son’s pre-calculus– LOVE.

Jesus’ love is what motivates us. It’s what restores and refreshes– it reaches out to the hurting around us and says, “I love you and I’m for you!”

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We love Him back. And that love makes us what to share His glorious love with those around us.

If love were just an emotion, then God couldn’t command it. But love is something you do. It can produce emotion, but love is an action. The Bible says, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT) Rick Warren devotional

If you knew the person I was–the things I did– when I thought I was in charge of my life….  My experience with God’s love, grace and mercy to me has been truly life transforming! I am still His work in progress, but His love for me is my motivation to share His love to a lost and hurting world.

There is no end to the Father’s love.  Those who are in the process of being healed and made whole, can share the love with those in need.

We are blessed to spend our days in this community, but God has placed you exactly where He wants you to be to share His love with those around you because… it’s the thing we do for love!

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Growing Pains

You’d think after 23 years of mothering that I’d be ready for change. We’ve moved our family half away around the world– CHANGE! My oldest four children live in the States, far, far away from their Momma–CHANGE! I’ve graduated four from our homeschool– CHANGE! But somehow it never gets easier….

I’ve been guilty of savoring the time with the bunso (youngest of the family in Tagalog) and maybe even spoiling him a bit. (Insert many comments from older siblings HERE. lol) Throughout the many transitions in his 5 1/2 yrs of life so far, our bunso has always ro

posed

Christmas 2013, the oldest and youngest (with two from the middle in the background)

omed with us. Until last night…

A few weeks ago he started talking about moving upstairs with his 8 and 10 yr old brothers. Well, it actually started when he asked to have a sleep over at our house with two boys from the neighborhood. I teasingly answered, “You can’t have a sleep over, you sleep with your Mom and Dad!”

I guess that’s when I started to face the reality that this baby of the family is really growing up. The week that his class had a full day of school and he was away from home for 6-8 hrs a day brought a twinge to the heart of this home-educating mother. Yet…what a blessing its been for him to be a part of an indigenous preschool with the kids from the tribe!

All this growing up is happening among a host of other tell-tale signs of launching and transition. The oldest at home, will graduate in a few short weeks and in a matter of a few month, be released into the next phase of life and education. This particular life-altering event is always hard– but this time, it will involve a 26 hr flight to the other side of the globe! I think I need a hug….

This morning’s email included a promotion about a one-day sale from our Math book publisher… 20% off, the best deal of the year. Since our school year runs June-Mar and we have to plan on at least 3 months for shipping, the timing was really perfect to get the much needed books at a great price. But as I considered the grades my scholars would be advancing to– one in first, one in fourth, one in fifth…. again I was struck with an attack of their growing pains.

Two decades of home schooling and parenting should have prepared me for these realities. Of course there won’t always be a nursing baby, or co-sleeping toddler or now even a preschooler who’s bed is on the floor beside us. Of course there will not always be 4 or 5 elementary students and someday (soon!) there will be more graduates than students in our little school at home.

I’m thankful that though change is hard and watching these precious blessing grow into the next phases of their lives, there is so much joy in reflection. By the grace of God, we’ve come along way on the path with Jesus. My life has been enriched in so many way through this season of life that I’ve shared with each of them.

When we began our little family, which God quickly transformed into a ever-growing, larger-than-normal family, we acknowledged that these children were not truly ours. Our precious blessings were on loan from the Father, His cherished creation born to bring Him praise! Our role was to love and nurture them, and to point them back to the Father. We set out knowing that in the end that were not ours to keep and whatever time He gave us with them was ultimately to cultivate our own souls to love Jesus more.

Somehow in the routine of life I began to believe the subtle lie of our culture that these children are our greatest treasure, instead of His treasure. I allowed my heart to begin to make an idol out of my parenting relationship, creating pain in my heart as that relationship naturally evolved in their growing up years. Instead of seeing my role as steward, a “temporary guardian” of sorts, I began to see myself as owner. Rather than cheering on their newest skills and accomplishments, I selfishly mourned the passing of a season.

Our children are not ours. They are on loan from God. We’ve been tasked with providing a loving environment for them to grow into people who love and serve Jesus. We have the awesome honor of being caretakers of the sons and daughters of Most High King!

 

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Advance… into 2016

Wow. It’s been an amazing year. Last night after dinner, Rusty and I did something we almost never do, we sat down together and watched Fox News together. Along with reports of the storm damage in Texas (in areas we toured and visited on our way to Arizona last February) there was a report of the “infamous” news of 2015. Most of the stories we had heard of, but from a distance the clamor of non-stop news media is a little easier to tame. What struck me was the anew realization that most of 2015 we were living abroad…

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One snowy, cold February morning this crazy family set off in this RV for sunny Phoenix, AZ and six weeks of training with our mission organization.

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This was our home for 6 weeks… the front yard of the President of CJ Ministries International and his sweet family, who shared their kitchen, bathroom and lives with us in true community!

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A sweet circle of new friends and prayer partners sent us off to our mission to the other side of the globe!

After another cross-country trip back to our hometown in Pennsylvania and a hectic week of finalizing important paperwork things (like medical stuff, taxes and getting our “revolving” life disconnected) and hard, yet sweet good-byes with friends and family, we headed to NYC for our overseas flight. Another precious circle tearfully prayed for us as we loaded up our luggage and headed out for several years service abroad.

 

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In line at the check in counter in JFK!

We were greeted by our “old friends” in the tribe with open arms and they threw a huge party in our honor. A dear, dear friend Elsie had been raising a pig she lovingly called the Russell pig. He probably should have met his fate many months before, but she saved him for a special feast to be shared with the entire community!

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This sweet baby girl is named Kristin Carrie.:) We’re so happy to get to be a part of her life! We love this family!

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After all the festivities were over our sweet hosts took a break to take a remembrance picture with us!

Top of the Falls

Before the first month was over, it was time to test my physical limitations with a hike to Carong, the abandoned mountain village with a lot of potential for future agricultural ventures. Here we are part of the way back to the current village, enjoy a cool(er) break at a waterfall.

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Another joyful highlight of the first few months was this wedding! 

Many of the highlights of the year were not as joyful. There’s a lot of pain and suffering here. We’ve been blessed to walk along side our Ati friends in times of medical crisis. Through these sobering times of community fellowship, we have learned many things about ourselves and the precious people we minister with. We’ve seen painful injustices played out before our eyes and witnessed the bonding effect of such hardships on a community. We learned that almost any misery can be endured with the love and support of people around you.

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One family spent more than 6 weeks in hospitalized for meningitis. At the beginning of their ordeal, they had a nursing baby, who had to be weaned so that the Mother could care for the Father in the isolation ward. Their family will never be the same, but their Father is alive and continues his long road to recovery. The Mother counts the prayers of believers around the world as a big part of God’s healing in their lives!

God has given us many blessings in this first year back in our second home, and fruitfulness has been one of the biggest ones. This rocky hill was what greeted us in April. We soon began the hard work of digging out and rolling away the massive boulders to make way for rows of garden plots. Using organic methods of soil enrichment like vermiculture, composting, and charcoalized rice hulls, the Lord blessed and transformed the barren hillside into a flourishing garden!

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Before….

AND AFTER….

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And Lord willing the project will continue to expand in the New Year. We are praying, dreaming and sketching an aquaponics set up at the bottom of the Community Garden, as well as more family plots, a seedling shed, a piggery and additional vermiculture beds.

Will you join us in prayer for the next phase of the ag outreach? 

Farmers by birth, our mission is more about relationships than agriculture. This year God has blessed our willing spirits and open hearts with many opportunities to engage people in God’s Word. First we started a casual Praise and Prayer gathering that has slowly grown to a faithful band of hungry Bible scholars! Each week we interactively study through a passage of Scripture and discuss how God’s word impacts our daily lives. A special thanks goes out to our language helper and skilled Bible teacher, Randy Patron. His assistance in our outreach here has been invaluable!

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Randy is often behind the camera and rarely in front of it. This snapshot of a Praise and Prayer gathering captures him sharing from the Word,  between Levi’s hands and Rusty😉

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We’ve been blessed to fellowship with this group of believers on Sunday!

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This was the first meeting of what’s casually known as “Guys Group” a fellowship of young men 10-18 yrs of age, that focuses on relationship building, discipleship and preparing the future men of the tribe for leadership.

God has blessed in personal ways, too. He’s proven Himself faithful and photo (5)enough– when we are far from home, friends and family– He is truly all we need. Because of His great love for us He has given us special relationships that continue despite the miles, new friends within the region we are serving and a dog.

Yes, that’s right… once again, God has given this dog-loving family a “sort of” pet. This is the second time a dog has ‘adopted’ us which gives us all the joys of family dog without the ties and responsibilities. Dogs basically roam free here, though most have “owners” who make sure they get them their rabies vaccinations at the annual community rabies drive; dogs eat, play, sleep where ever they choose. This sweet pup, who we simply call, “Puppy” or “Pup” now that he’s getting bigger, just wondered in one day and gradually become more and more a part of our family life. He sleeps at his “real home” but eats with us and sleeps on our floor (near a fan) most of the day. If we go away for a day or two, he’s happy to see us when we get back but never offended that we left.

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“Pup” enjoying a snack of pan de sal. (Bread)

Yeah, he’s a pretty smart, spoiled pup!

So as we ADVANCE into 2016, we are thankful and blessed. The year was not without it’s hardships– tough personal moments of self-doubt, loneliness or sadness over the long distances between us and four of our children. My oldest son and daughter in law are foster parenting two kids I’ve never even met. We missed our family dearly at Thanksgiving and Christmas, yet even in those heartrending times, God showed up and gave us supernatural joy in Him!

There are so many other highlights I could share, but since WordPress says this is already over 1000 words, I’ll stop with sharing a few of my goals for the new year….

  1. Eating around the dinner table and mindfully eating. Maybe even classical dinner music, my boys will love that😉. Let’s slow down and enjoy it!
  2. Eating more greens… really super hard here because lettuce is rare and expensive! We’ve had trouble even growing it! But we are going to have something green– raw or lightly steamed once a day! Thank you Lord for okra!
  3. Thankfulness— Mom sent us a barrel of sourdough pretzels… and now that it’s empty (wow they tasted good! Not available here!) it will be our Blessings Barrel 2016. We have so much to be thankful for and when we acknowledge it… it grows!
  4. Walk and Sit. I would like to walk to the village at least three days a week (no cheating with tricycles!) and just “be” there. No agenda, no plan, just “be.” Truthfully, the thought terrifies me on a couple of levels… I like plans, I’m already awfully busy, my language skills are lacking, but this is my goal… to just be present and see what God does!

Four seems like such an awkward number, but I’m determined that these will be lifestyle changes (and in a moment it will be published for the world to see!) and not-shot-in-the-dark resolutions that are easily broken in the first few weeks of the New Year.

How about you? In what ways has God rocked your world in 2015? How are you looking to grace in His grace in 2016?

Holding onto each other

HOLDING ONTO EACH OTHER…. With Jesus, it’s always a wild ride!

Nativity Scavenger Hunt

nativity_scene.jpgThis year we wanted to Christmas to be extra fun. Rather than focus on what we are missing, our grandparents, siblings and other friends and family in the States, we changed the lyrics of the painful song,“I’ll be Home for Christmas” to “We’ll have FUN this Christmas.”

One game night we really enjoyed was a scavenger hunt using the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2. Here’s the clues we used. Our kids worked together and had a lot of fun! (We played this as a way to make a one gift night more fun, but you could do it without a gift… or make the “prize” at the end something free and fun like touring the Christmas lights in town while drinking hot chocolate and listening to Christmas carols. Be creative!)

Intro: Luke 2:1 “In those days a DECREE went out…” In these days a decree would come in one of these. (Envelope)

Clue #1: Luke 2:2 “This was the first registration…” look for Clue #2 where the Philippine registration is recorded (Stamp on door) You’ll most likely have to modify this one.

Clue #2: Luke 2:2 “… while Quirinius was governor.” Look for Clue #3 in the place where local rulers meet. (The barangay hall which is near our house) Again this one might need modified for you

Clue #3: Luke 2:3 “And all went to be registered each to his own town.” Look for the next clue under something that came from your own town. (We used the large shipping box that our Christmas gifts came in!)

Clue #4: Luke 2:4 “And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David.” Find your next clue under the __  ___. A two letter word that uses letters found in the names of the towns. (TV)

Clue #5: Luke 2:5 “to be registered with Mary his betrothed who was with child.” Find your next clue where a pregnant woman can’t reach very well. (Hidden under shoes)

Clue #6: Luke 2:6 “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” This item might not help with a birth, but it’s sure handy if you get hurt. (First Aid kit)

Clue #7: Luke 2:7 “and she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.” These are the modern swaddling clothes. Your clue is there. (Blanket closet)

Clue #8: Luke 2:7 “because there was no room for them in the inn.” This clue is in a room that Joseph hoped to find in Bethlehem (Spare Room)

Clue #9: Luke 2:8 “and in the same region…” You’ll find the first gift and the next clue in the same region. (Bathroom off the spare room)

Clue #10: Luke 2:8 “there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night.” If we had a night watchman he’d have a great view from your next clue (upstairs balcony)

Clue #11: Luke 2:9 “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them…” Your next clue is under one of these (Angel tree topper)

Clue #12: Luke 2:9 “and the glory of the Lord shone all around and they were filled with fear.” Your next clue is hidden where Matthew (the youngest) goes when he’s afraid. (Moms side of the bed!)

Clue #13: Luke 2:10 “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news…” This book is full of Good News and your next clue! (Bible)

Clue #14: Luke 2:10 “…of great joy that will be for all people.” The next clue and the next gift is hidden in a place that is used by all people. (downstairs bathroom)

Clue #15: Luke 2:11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David….” Four letters from the above bold phrase hold the next gift and clue. __ __ __ __  (Oven)

Clue #16: Luke 2:11 “…who is Christ the Lord” Your next clue is behind something with his other name (Jesus plaque in our home)

Clue #17: Luke 2:12 “This will be a sign to you…”  Your next gift and clue are hiding near a sign. (another plaque in the house)

Clue #18: Luke 2:12 “You will find the baby wrapped in clothes,” your next gift and clue are hiding in a place that rhymes with “elf” (Shelf)

Clue #19: Luke 2:12 “and laying in a manager” Your last gift is NOT in a manager, but it IS in a place where animals live (rabbit hutch)

This game worked well with our six children ages 16 to 5 yrs. They really played it together, some clues were easy, others took some thinking! I love that incorporates team work among siblings and the Bible narrative of Jesus birth!

My prayer for you this Christmas is that where ever you are in the world, that you will focus on Christ— the greatest gift we could ever receive! And have fun! Make a memory… they grow up fast!

Merry Christmas!

Routine

I’m not sure why it happened today– because it’s Christmas week and get-things-done-with-these-to-do-list-appsnothing is “normal,” but this morning, I found myself slipping into an alarming place. It’s that place we all go to when something becomes familiar, commonplace….yes, routine.  It’s the psychological phenomenon that enables you to arrive home from work and not remember making the turns or taking the exit to your street. The comfort zone that allows you to make your favorite recipe effortlessly.

It’s also the ease we fall into as experienced parents, when we can “multi-task” while dealing with our children’s questions, often failing to truly pay attention to what they are saying or what they need.

How does this happen? Surely no parent sets out to be a half-hearted listener! Yet the familiarity of their life experiences and the busy pace of our world enable us to tune them out in moments of distraction, even the distraction of lesser things!

This morning we started out day with a discussion of the tentative plans for the day. A few things were concrete, we had patients coming at 9 am. There was garden work in the village. The “I’ll have Fun for Christmas” list including cookie baking as today’s activity. Then there were the negotiable items; decant the organic pesticide mixture, take a family photo for the holiday, start new seedlings, visit with the tribal elders, wrap Christmas presents, grade a research paper, write a blog post, text family or friends in the States… the list goes on and on.

A small group of patients arrived at our doorstep on foot a little before 9. They walked the 2 miles to our house, for “exercise” they said. As we walked out the main road to find a tricycle to the hospital, I was preoccupied with the potential do list at home as well as the inventory of chest x rayailments to present to the doctor at the hospital. An x-ray for suspected TB, a senior citizen with painful, swollen joints in his arm, a one year old who’s been sick for more than 3 weeks off and on, with diarrhea, cough and wheezing.

It was on this walk to the road that I realized that it had happened… the medical ministry was becoming routine. And while this comfort zone was an easy place for me to be, it is completely the wrong attitude in a people based ministry. This might be the 5th x-ray we’ve helped someone get this month, but for Tatay “C” this the diagnostic tool that could potentially alter the next six months of his life.

Just like an over-stressed parent or a complacent driver, I have allowed the familiar to become “all-too-familiar.”

It’s Christmas week, so I guessing there’s a few other people who are struggling with being in the moment and not consumed by the fleeting moments left til Christmas Day. So whether your a Mom, a medical professional, a Pastor, a cashier in a busy store… anyone who interacts with people…I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Let’s slow down, and really see the people that are all around us.

Let’s share love the Jesus with them this Christmas.

A gentle smile, a listening ear, a friendly hug, a thoughtful prayer… can go a long way toward meeting their needs this holiday season.

And I guarantee it will leave you feeling more fulfilled than a completed “To Do” list.

Merry Christmas to you! 

Holding onto each other

We did get the Christmas pictures done too… this one is entitled, “Holding Onto Each Other”

Christmas Cubay Norte

And the last one of “a hundred!”😉 Merry Christmas from the Philippines!