No Ordinary Sunday

This blog was originally written in June 2016 but due to raw emotions I was not able to share it. Today, I want to remember what God did in my life through this traumatic situation and share this story with you.

The ambulance raced through each little town and group of houses, sirens blaring and horn honking. The driver was serious, even when the other drivers failed to yield. Jay, her mother and mother-in-law and I held on through the wild turns and the lerching slow downs trying not to get car sick or jostled from our seats.

“Thud!” we barely decelerated as the second “Thud!” rumbled beneath us. Mother-in-law and I looked out the back window, “Patay!” she almost shouted. Dead indeed, the big dog never had a chance against the speeding tires of ambulance.

This was my second ambulance ride in less than a week. My Monday morning started somewhat unexpectedly as Jared came in my room to announce that we had patients. Rusty had been expecting an elderly man for chest xray and check up, but instead, Jared told it was a very pregnant woman and her mother.

Jay (not her real name) is mute. The story goes that “something traumatic” happened to her when she was young and after that she never spoke again. It’s hard to imagine the emotional pain that could steal your voice, especially once you spend any time with Jay. Her ever-present radiant smile seems to reveal a heart at peace and a joyful spirit. Now 30 yrs old old, married for six years and an adopted mother to a 3 yr old daughter, Jay leads as normal of a life as any woman in the tribe. For her, it is truly a quiet existence.

Pregnancy and childbirth are fairly routine events in the tribe. The ladies aren’t too big on prenatal care, though most of them are seeing the rural health nurse several times through the pregnancy. If they don’t have their Mother-Child Book from the rural health nurse the paperwork to get a birth certificate is much more difficult. A generation or two ago few of the families in the tribe bothered with the legality and consequently many of the over 50 crowd do know their birth dates. It seems implausible, even sad, to someone from the outside, but once you understand their cultural simplicity it’s easy to see why it wasn’t a big priority for them “back in the day.”

Even so, Jay came to me when she suspected she was pregnant. A check up and a simple blood test proved what she already suspected was true. Jay was going to have a baby. Unsure of her last menstrual period date, the doctor suggested we have an early ultrasound for dates. After the first of the year, we found out that Jay’s baby would most likely arrive around June 24.

Jay’s tiny figure grew as the months passed. By late April she already looked near term, but a second ultrasound indicated the baby, a little girl, was right on target for size and due date.

This Monday morning Jay and her mom, who I’ll call Lucy seemed a little excited. As her mother, who is very hard of hearing, excitedly explained what was happening I only caught key bits and pieces. Jay was having pain, they wanted to go to Baptist hospital, but they came here first. I quickly dressed and took them into Baptist.

When we arrived their the nurse started to fill in the bits and pieces I had missed with the fast exchange at my house. Jay and Lucy had already been to Baptist, but they were turned away. The nurse instructed them to get me, but the problem was there was no room in the OB ward. I wanted the doctor to check Jay, because while I didn’t doubt that she was having pain, I suspected she was only in early labor. But for some reason, the doctor refused to even examine her and sent us to a provincially funded clinic in a neighboring town.

Lucy wasn’t too keen on this idea. She kept saying that if they go there they won’t get good care and that the baby might die. She was really distressed and that’s very unusual for our indigenous patients. I offered that we could try the Rural Health Center in the town center and that seemed more agreeable to them, so off we headed for the 15-20 tricycle ride.

I had never had a patient to the Rural Health Center. Since everything there is supposed to be free, patients usually go on their own. The staff greeted us at the door and they were very friendly to both Jay and Lucy and to me. Quickly the midwife whisked Jay back to an exam room, and then shouted something out over the wall that I didn’t understand. I was to understand soon enough, the midwife thought the baby was transverse. I confirmed that the baby had been breech at the last ultrasound, but everyone had expected she would turn naturally as the time for delivery came. An ambulance was called and soon we were on our way to Kalibo.

The ambulance came with a nurse and delivered us back to the village so that the hospital bag could be gathered. This took a little while, because despite having already gathered the baby’s things, they weren’t packed and no one had thought about packing a bag for Jay or her helper at the hospital. The family borrowed a backpack to pack the things in while I made Lucy a list of kitchen wares they’d need to bring for the hospital stay: 2 plates, silverware, 2 cups… at the very minimum. I forgot to remind them to bring bedding, blankets or sheets and pillows. After what seemed like a long time the drivers helper came to hurry them up and after checking that we had all the necessary papers for PhilHealth, we were off to the provincial hospital.

On arrival I was given a list of things to buy at one of the pharmacies across the street– two adult diapers (to be used as chux pads) and a shaver. I was also advised that there were no available beds, so I would need to purchase a folding bed for the mother and the child (rooming-in!). Within an hour of our arrival Jay had been checked by the OB doctor on duty, a well-dressed, soft spoken middle aged woman. Since Lucy decided to stay at home and send the mother in law, I became Jay’s voice.

The doctor wanted to know who determined that Jay was in labor. She was fingertip, less than 1 cm dilated and as I had observed in transit, not having regular contractions. I reported the events of our morning and the decision of the Rural Health Center. “Transverse?” the doctor asked surprised, “Well, let’s get an ultrasound and find out!”

Shortly the ultrasound revealed a healthy, nearly term baby that was in the proper, head-down position. By now it was mid-day shift change, so amidst the changing of the guard, we negotiated the “what now.” The doctor felt that Jay was not in labor, perhaps early labor, but possibly days from delivery. She offered to keep her, but knowing how crowded the ward was and how uncomfortable that was, I offered to take her home.
“There’s no reason to come back,” she said, “she has a healthy normal pregnancy, just have her deliver there in Malay.”

We headed home, somewhat disappointed as every late term Mom with a false alarm can understand, but assured that everything was fine… it was just not time.

Throughout the week we checked on Jay and the pains had quieted. Rusty and I had made plans to make a last minute run to Iloilo, a large city more than 7 hrs away by bus to deliver paperwork for the tribal preschool and to purchase a new sound system for the church that had been donated by a donor at home. I secretly suspected that Jay’s baby might decide to arrive while we were gone, but was assured that like most deliveries in the community, it would go just fine without me.

Sunday morning dawned sunny and fair. Our family attended church together with a faithful band of believers in the tribe. It was a beautiful morning of sharing testimonies and hearing a salvation message shared by the young indigenous lay pastor. After church we greeted several people and explained again about our short trip to Iloilo. It was just beginning to sprinkle rain, when Lucy came running out of the village to get me. She said that Jay was having pains for three days and needed me to come. As we crossed the small dirt path to her house the rain began to dump. Jared and Mark hid in a little shelter, an open air living room area built off the side of one of the neighboring bamboo and grass houses. I went to Jay’s house and as soon as I saw her face, I knew “this was it!”

I entered the house, first by sitting in the raised doorway, then swinging my legs inside. We sit on the floor in these simple homes, though Jay was pacing, clearly in labor pains. I explained that we should go to Baptist and Lucy and mother in law began re-packing a bag from Monday’s false alarm. We were mostly waiting for the rain to let up, and while we waited Jay had a bit of rice and a dried fish to eat.

The fast falling rain only lasted 15 mins, but had quickly made a slippery yet sticky mess out of the paths in the village. As we carefully navigated out of the village I prayed that we could find a tricycle. Jay was in no condition to walk the half mile to the main road. Before too long a tricycle came back to deliver another person home and we were on our way to the local hospital.

This time we entered through the Emergency department since it was 11 am on a Sunday morning. The same doctor from last Monday was on-call again, which is fairly unusual given the quick rotation of doctors at this rural hospital. I explained that Monday had been a false alarm, that she had an ultrasound that showed a healthy, head down baby and that I had personally observed contractions at about 4-5 mins apart for about an hour and half. Reluctantly,  he examined her and said she was 7-8 cm, but noted there was swelling which he felt was because she had been in labor a long time. He seemed to already have his mind made up to send her to Kalibo and I was frustrated because I couldn’t understand why he wanted rid of her so bad. Was it because she was Ati? Because she’s mute? I put up about as much of a fight as I could and keep the valuable relationship with this fairly new doctor to our chief medical facility in the area…. He made a phone call and an ambulance was on the way. Again.

By 12 noon we were off. This time there was no nurse. I prayed out loud as we headed through Caticlan, for safety and no delivery until we got there! In 32 mins we were to what I’ve always considered the mid-way point and in only 1 hour, a trip that almost NEVER takes less than 1 hr 35 mins, was over.

The ER nurses recognized us right away. I gave them the update as they gave me the order for two more adult diapers and another shaver. We were starting all over again.

Before too long, the doctor arrived and determined that Jay was still 7-8 cm. Her contractions had remained consistent at 4-5 mins throughout the entire transit and as she lay on the uncomfortable exam table in the back, alone, waiting for the doctor. This doctor was young and sharp. She was kind to me and understanding to Jay. She decided to send her to the Labor Room and I processed the admission paperwork. Lucy and mother in law waited anxiously and unknowingly outside the ER exam room and then followed as the nurse wheeled Jay back to the Labor Room.

At the provincial hospital everything but the surgical suites is public domain. And by public, I mean, a lot of people. Patients must have at least one family member with them at all times, and most people have 3-4 despite what the signs say about one “bantay” (watcher or helper) per patient. The OB ward is always overcrowded in the free to very inexpensive public hospital and this day was no exception. The ER nurse asked if I had brought the folding bed that I had purchased earlier the week. I explained how it was left at home, (we were planning to have this baby in Malay!) and soon another nurse from the OB ward ushered the two grandmas-to-be to a tiny narrow wood bed in an area that was designed to be a hallway. There were beds all along the wall of this hall way and three in a L shape in the center. No one is allowed back in the Labor Room, so Rusty and I took this opportunity to get some much needed supplies for the family.

With the spare wooden bed, we knew we needed to find sheets, blankets and a pillow or two. We started out at an “ukay-ukay,” a Philippine second hand store that has mostly goods from the US or Japan. I wasn’t happy with the limited stock of twin size sheets (the bed was only about half the width of the US twin anyway!) and there were no pillows. Plus I knew the staff would be asking for the traditional Filipino layette, which includes a white side tie shirt, booties, mittens and a cap, plus a hooded blanket. We haven’t had much experience with birth in the hospital here, but had already seen the way the nurses tend to look down their noses at mothers who don’t have what are considered the absolute basics for their newborns.

So Rusty and I went to the mall and I bought the traditional layette for Jay’s baby girl. I even went “cute” and got a pink printed hooded blanket. We got a pack of newborn diapers and I found a great deal on a set of small pillows. I gathered up some sheet fabric and a new bath towel, too. On our way back to the hospital we got food for the grandmas who hadn’t eaten all day.

It was after 5 when the nurse moved the grandmothers to a newly vacant bed in the inside of the ward. There are 5 beds down each side wall and four on the short end walls. But the beds are all new, matching hospital beds, with nice step stools, a plastic matching dresser and a bedside table. This is a huge improvement over the old metal with no mattress beds that the ward used to have, where the mothers would grab up cardboard boxes to give protection from the metal springs.

Along the way, Rusty and I had made a change of plans regarding our trip to Iloilo. We still needed to go there, but now it was late and we wanted to make sure everything was OK with Jay and the baby before we left. We explained to the “lolos” (grandmothers) that we still needed to go to Iloilo, but that we would stay here in Kalibo tonight and be back first thing in the AM to see the baby and check on things. Knowing that birth can take a while, and seeing how tight security was around the labor room, we decided there really wasn’t much more we could do. Plus the crowded OB ward didn’t need two big Americans standing around looking stupid.  🙂  So we dismissed ourselves for the evening, left the grandmas with some cash, “just in case,” and promised to return to them first thing in the AM.

It’s always a stark change of realities, leaving the hot, crowded provincial hospital and traveling across town to a “tourist” style hotel. It used to really bother me. I could not find peace in the disparity and injustice. But as we’ve transitioned to a more “long term” mindset here, I’m more comfortable with the odd-synergy of the two worlds I live in.

The next morning we were to the hospital right at the 7 am shift change. Jay was in her bed, with only Lucy there, who explained very quickly (as in super fast Malaynon) that Jay had an operation. I heard the word “patay” but only once and I thought I understood her to say that they had to do the surgery so that the the baby would not die. She was calm and even though in physical pain, Jay gave me a big smile. The mother in law was missing, but Lucy explained that she went home, which wasn’t all that unusual either.

I went to the nurse station to get the rest of the details and to advocate for the much publicized “Mother-Child friendly” practices of rooming-in. The nurse at the desk said that they didn’t know anything about Jay’s case because her chart was with the doctor. Again, I didn’t find this unusual, cesarean deliveries require extra levels of care and I know that I’ve observed c-section babies spending the first day in the ICU just for observation. Rusty waited in the hall and I went back in the ward to wait with Lucy and Jay.

After about an hour a nurse came and got me. She asked if I would speak to the doctor. She led me to the female doctor’s quarters, where the young doc I had met the day before greeted me. She began to tell me the story of the delivery. She said that Jay had labored for a few hours and was ready to push. The nurses and even the doctor herself had instructed her about how to bear down and she had pushed for about an hour, when the baby’s heart rate became bradycardic (slowing down). The doctor said she immediately ordered for a cesarean delivery and that there was no delay in assembling the surgical team.

She explained that upon her first incision, before cutting the uterus, there was blood pooling out of the abdomen. Jay’s uterus had ruptured, literally top to bottom. The doctor explained that they got the baby out, but she was already dead. They attempted to resuscitate her, but it was too late. The doctor showed me a picture she had sketched of the rupture and explained how she discovered that the round muscle on that side of her uterus had also torn. She called in the general surgeon to make those repairs and they placed a drain through the abdominal wall to aid in the healing process.

I stood there almost dumbfounded. I thanked the doctor, who genuinely seemed sad to have to tell me this news. She assured me they did everything they could and that she really wasn’t sure what could have caused such a traumatic rupture. She also said that she was able to save the uterus, but any future pregnancy should be monitored as high risk and a cesarean scheduled well before labor begins.

I walked back the hallway, lined with folding beds holding new mothers and tiny babies, and found Rusty. I said, “they lost the baby,” and he said, “What?” and I explained what the doctor had told me. We both looked at each other with kind of a “now what” expression. We had never had a hospital loss before. For a few minutes we talked about what might need to happen to get the baby’s body released and decided to ask for a social worker at the front information desk. As we walked back the hall I felt the grief wash over me and told Rusty, “You’re going to have to do the talking. I am going to cry!”

Soon a kind social worker was walking us through the paperwork, first by looking Jay up in the computer. She offered to go back the OB ward with us, she wanted us to get the husband to come bring the baby home. It was then I we learned that in the early morning hours, the mother in law had taken the baby in a cardboard box back to the tribe with the money we had left them the night before. By now, word would have already reached the village and the husband would meet his daughter, in a carton, hand carried by his mother, home to her final resting place.

I am taking this loss much harder than I thought. The first two days were the worst, I’d be going about my business and suddenly a picture of her tragic delivery and that awful moment when everyone realized she was gone… would flood my mind again. There were plenty of “what ifs” and questions if we had done the right things. Knowing that this kind of thinking is faithless and maddening I again turned the Lord for my strength and comfort.

Today, Jay is still recovering at the hospital, 2 hrs from home. Her husband buried the baby alone on the mountain. Our lay pastor offered to go with him but he said he needed to do it alone. In tears, he laid his daughter to rest along side the others from the tribe in the mountain cementary.

After we got back from Iloilo, another elder in the tribe came and told us another part of the story. A few years ago (no one is sure when but probably 5 yrs ago) Jay and her husband lost another baby. I was dumbfounded again when we learned this information. How could we have cared for this woman through all her prenatals and ultrasounds and not known this piece of relevant information? Often what we deem as relevant, they do not see as important. It’s not a language barrier, because we’ve seen it with dual language, educated people who’ve doctored with multiple doctors yet failed to share important, relevant facts. We strive for excellence and its hard to know that we don’t always have all the information. With this, like so much here, we must trust that God has a plan and His good will never be thwarted.









Shoestring Life

I tease the kids that this season we are walking through is our gypsy life. Since we left our home in Malay in July we’ve trekked across the northeast United States multiple times, lived for weeks in two different homes, in different states. I’ve packed up my life more times than I care to count since July and somehow it never gets easier. I always find myself at the last few days before leaving not wanting to pack away this or that because “we might need it.” I can’t stand living out of a box, I long for a sense of being settled even if we truly are not rooted in this mobile season.

Such is the life of a missionary on furlough.

I know we have it easier than some. We’ve been graced with two lovely homes to stay in the majority of our time in the States so far. None of the awkward staying with family or host families from churches for us. We’ve “rooted” for a whole 9 weeks in one place… a luxury I know many missionary families don’t ever get while on home assignment.

Still, it’s a lot of transition. And our situation has drastically changed in the midst of this furlough, leaving us with more unanswered questions and a heavy, desperate reliance on God to lead, guide and provide.

I’m a frugal, thrift shopper under any circumstance, but our current situation has demanded a new level of thriftiness. Luke needed “new” shoes, he had already worn holes in the soles of pair that were given to us when we arrived in PA and discovered our spoiled little feet couldn’t handle the cool of a PA summer evening.

I had already been spying the shoe racks of the local Goodwill and other 2nd hand stores. Central Florida is a great thrift store mecca, with so many senior retired folks in the area, but sneakers are always a hard find.

On one particular day, Luke and I were out on an errand and decided to drop into the Goodwill again. We were actually looking for a person to give an extra Thanksgiving turkey too, trusting that God would lead us to a person with a need. We circled around the shoe rack, just to check again and there they were.

A lightly worn pair of Nike sneakers in red (Luke’s favorite color) and black. They were his size, they fit well… the only problem was they were missing one shoe lace.

Except that wasn’t a problem….

A week or so earlier I discovered a stray black shoelace in the bedroom. Remember, we are traveling pretty light; just a week’s worth of clothes, our schoolbooks, and some basic household goods. I remember thinking it was odd to find a random shoelace…

It wasn’t “odd” at all. It was God’s provision.

We often get discouraged with God’s timing. It seems, at least to me anyway, that God is always “right on time”— HIS time, not mine! But this was a perfect, yet simple, example of a time that God provided in advance, even though I didn’t know it or recognize it in the moment.

Isn’t it amazing that the God of the universe, the Creator of all things, the One who hears every prayer, cry and need– actually cares about the little details of life like a 12 yr old boys need for shoes?

Isn’t it amazing that He orchestrates things to remind us that it is Jesus who provides?shoe lace

Had we just found a nice pair of shoes in Luke’s size we might have not given Him the credit for it… but with a missing shoelace and a extraneous one at home, it’s like a little wink from Heaven.

“I see you. I love you. I’ve got this.”

My 10,000 Peso Day

Blog written in September 2016

The local community here is under siege from nasty strain of influenza. It first attacked our family, and others around us more than 25 days ago, and as it has driven its way through the communities, few households have been spared. Its merciless weaponry includes high fevers that persist for days and are barely quenched by basic analgesics. Along with the fever comes a deep cough, that often silences the victim’s voice and provides plenty of phlegm to be expelled from the respiratory system.

This latest epidemic has kept our medical mission quite busy. Somewhat fortunately we could both empathize and share helpful treatments from our own family’s bout with this flu. We’ve been sharing analgesics and mucolytics freely within our community outreach. No doubt at the end of the month the mission’s expense report will reveal a noticeable uptick in the medical line.

Today as I was wrapping up school with children and preparing for lunch, a mom and two young children appeared at my door. We greeted them and welcomed them into our living room. Before they need explain, it was obvious that both children were sick, the youngest notably so. But in just 10 mins the staff at the local hospital would be closing for their lunch break and rather than wait uncomfortably there with two sick children, I offered for them to stay with us, share in our lunch and then we could go for a check up after lunch.

It was obvious that the baby, just 8 months old was more than just a little sick. I started to have concerns that she would be admitted, but didn’t voice them out loud. I was needed at the hospital this afternoon anyway to help two other tribal kids get discharged after a four day long stay for pneumonia and urinary tract infection respectively. Before we finished lunch and headed out to the local hospital another friend from the tribe delivered four prescriptions that also needed filled for a group of sick patients who had taken themselves for a check up, but didn’t have the money to buy the medicines needed to help them heal.

I already had an idea that it was going to be an “expensive” day, as the family of one of the hospitalized children had come to my door earlier in the day to say that after the government health insurance paid their share, the balance was still over 5,500 pesos. To people who work hard to make 300 pesos a day, this seems like an insurmountable amount of money to gather. I had promised that I would be in after lunch to help with the discharge and the bill.

We access our funds here via the ATM. We’ve discovered through the years that moving money between countries always has a cost and surprisingly the ATM is no more expensive than other transfer modes. There’s a per transaction limit at the machines here of 10,000, a huge sum to the local day worker culture and often a withdraw will provide for medical needs, our family needs, and other ministry needs for several days. But today was to be different.

I guess my big surprise was the pharmacy. I timidly handed the pharmacy tech my pile of prescriptions, now numbering 8 and patiently waited as he compiled the counter full of medicines. Most of the prescriptions called for three medicines, from a local version of “Tylenol,” to several different types of antibiotics for different patients, to medicines to help clear cough and decrease nasal discharge. But when the cashier said that the total was 3,400 pesos, I was taken aback. I quickly did some mental math and counted the remaining 1000 peso bills in my wallet, wanting to ensure that I had enough to pay the discharge balances for two and still have enough left to get home.

Back at the hospital it was decided that the youngest patient who had visited my house before lunch was indeed to be admitted. Oxygen was started to help her breathe better, along with IV antibiotics and fluids. I brought them a 2 liters of water, a few crackers and some hard boiled eggs for a snack but the mother just looked exhausted and began to cry. Her baby was sick, but so was her 4 yr old and there was no one at home that could take care of her. Here she was alone in a tiny room with a baby on oxygen, having frequent coughing fits that made her cry and gasp for breath. I tried to comfort her and I prayed for them– for the baby’s healing, for the mother’s comfort and for the family to preserve during such a hard time. I left them a little bit of money, in case they needed something, and promised to visit tomorrow.

At the cashier’s window of the hospital I was relieved of the balance of my 10,000 peso withdraw, one patient’s after insurance balance at nearly 5000 and the other at more 1800 pesos.

After you’ve lived in a culture for a while, you start to think in their currency. I *know* that 10,000 pesos is only $220 US dollars. But in the developing world that is a LOT of money and something that we don’t just take for granted.

On the other hand, for just $220 US dollars we were able to help two patients pay what their insurance wouldn’t for a four day hospital stay, buy medicine for 8 people and help a very sick baby get the care she needs to get well.

Today was a long, emotionally taxing day. There was joy in bringing home two little patients, one of which had been gravely sick just two days ago. But there is always sorrow in the suffering of others and today I felt that in a raw way. But we are blessed to be here, to be called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to His precious children. We are blessed point to the Light of the world for our hope, our comfort, and our healing.

God has called us here, not because we are special or because He needs us to serve Him in this way, but because we are willing and YOU help to provide. So many people give sacrificially to ensure that needs can be met when they arise. We can always use new partners in prayer and giving, especially to the medical outreach. We never know when we will have a “big day” like this and how many more like this there might be. We trust God knows and He will provide for the needs!

There are so many powerful stories of lives transformed that we will share over the coming weeks. Medical outreach has great potential to open eyes to see the love of Jesus Christ!

By Faith

Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know Who holds my hand.

So the old gospel song goes…

The Christian life is a faith walk. I think it varies in degree. Perhaps even in the seasons of life, we waiver and then draw our resolve from the Lord to meet our anxiety with His promises. This is the essence of faith.

For 20 plus years I’ve admired the faith of George Mueller, the British man of God who relied on God’s provision for an every expanding ministry to the orphaned and abandoned children of his city. The story goes that George never asked anyone for anything– rather He asked the Lord and God met their every need. I think my favorite story is the time the hungry children were around the breakfast table, yet there was no milk in the house. The group prayed God’s blessing on their meal and asked God to provide what they needed. Just then a knock came to the door, and a frazzled milk delivery driver was there asking if they could please come take the bottles of the milk from his broken down carriage. He needed to unload the cargo before he could fix the broken wheel. God provided the milk they needed, just in time.

I long for that kind of faith and the beautiful miracles that only God could orchestrate. How often do I let my doubt, my worries, my faithless get in the way?

Life as a missionary is certainly faith based. Our family needs are met by selfless donors. Our ministry and projects in the tribal community exist only by God’s providing hand.

We are in a year of transitions. In just a few short weeks, our family will pack up a few belongings and head to the States for a time of home visitation. It’s been more than 2 years since I’ve seen some of my adult children, my parents, and my precious friends from church. On one hand we are looking forward a time of reconnection, of sharing life with those we love and value and casting a vision for what God is doing here that has drawn our hearts away from so many people we dearly love.

On the other hand there are more unanswered questions than ones with answers. As the days count down, we want to be fully present here, finishing this term well and equipping our team of young believers to stand in the gap in our absence. There’s a lot of room for trust. And a deep, abiding call to face this time with faith.

Faith that God will provide a place for our family to live in the States.

Faith that God will lead us to the right transportation for our family.

Faith that Jesus is the head of this mission– not the Russells, not the lay Pastor, not Christian leaders in the States– and that He has been working here long before we arrived.

Faith that God has got this.

Every. Single. Detail.

Faith is standing on God’s integrity and acting on His promises. It involves believing God’s Word above all human doubt, criticism, or speculation.

I need to carve those words on my walls, bury them deep in my soul, breathe them like life giving oxygen.


So I dig in His Word for the promises. I plug into worship music that reminds my heart IMG_0894just who He is.

And I do the next thing…

By Faith.


3 Strands in Times of Discouragement

20160530_171726January is just a hard month, isn’t it? After the tearing down of Christmas decorations, the fond memories or subtle disappointments of family togetherness over the holidays, there’s just not much hope left in January. For educators, the school year is only half way over, and the heaviness of familiarity has set in. For folks living in the northern parts of the globe, the short, cold days make the hope of Spring seem too far away. For those working in full time Christian ministry, the additional demands of the celebration of Christ’s birth coupled with our propensity to put others first and self care last, leaves us feeling like an spent and worn out inner tube.

January– Bah Humbug!  Good news! You aren’t alone!

I’ve been suffering from a strange dose of the January Blues this year. To break up this otherwise tedious month, we had a 12 day visit from our ray of sunshine daughter from the Sunshine State! Yet yesterday, I found myself at the beach again, my head in my hands, crying out to my Heavenly Father. Lord, please help me see your plan!

My nearly full prayer journal sat on the grassy sand inside the neighbor’s abandoned beach front lot. Here I sat cross-legged waiting on the Lord. After some silence from me, I felt a prompting to page through my prayer journal.

1.Reflect on God’s work

I can’t say enough about the importance of keeping a prayer journal. Even as someone who loves to write, I don’t write in it every day. But maybe that’s what makes it so special? It’s my go-to tool, along with the Bible and praying aloud, to wrestle through things with Jesus. Consequently, it’s pages are filled with raw and painful emotions and tender answers from the Father. My life is entirely too full and my memory entirely too feeble to recall every little work of the Father in my life and on my behalf. My prayer journal doesn’t even capture all of them, but it does give me a fixed point to reflect on just how far the Father has brought me.

I see His faithfulness in answered prayers.

I see His provision in met needs.

I see His love in the tiny details that only He could orchestrate.

If you aren’t keeping a prayer journal, I highly recommend getting one! It’s a great tool to encourage your heart and record the work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

(BTW, far less personal, but oft times encouraging are the “on this day” posts from Facebook have given me much needed perspective and encouragement in life and ministry)

2. Seek out godly relationship

First run to God and then run to a godly friend. I confess, I sometimes get this out of order. I’m still predisposed to share a burden or break the loneliness of discouragement with a text or call to a godly friend. I think getting things in the right order: God first, people second, is very important and a personal goal of mine for this decade of my life. But there’s no question that there is real value in the godly counsel of a wise and loving Christian friend.

3. Create a culture of thankfulness

There are numerous posts on this blog about thankfulness, and for good reason. (Read more: here, or here or here!) Nothing can turn a bad mood or month long funk around better than getting our hearts in the right place regarding gratitude. Sure, there will always be hard things in your life, things that are unfair, hurtful, lonely or dark. But there is always SO much to be thankful for. It’s easy to lose sight of all that God has given us, done in our lives and ministry, in the midst of the brokenness of this world. The Good News is that Jesus is here and wanting to engage in life with us here and now. The great news is that in the end He wins. The comforting news is that in the in-between He has not left us alone, but provides just want we need for today. So count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!


Here’s another great resource, especially for people in ministry, about dealing with discouragement from Pastorpedia, a ministry of the CE National.

and the ultimate encouragement, the Word of God:

Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[a] his Spirit who lives in you.

I love Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message: It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!


What are some ways YOU battle discouragement in your life? Feel free to share what Jesus is teaching you in the comment section below!



Every month with the full moon, God provides a bountiful harvest from the sea. Dilis, known in English as anchovies, are caught by the bulging net fulls at night for the few days around the full moon. The tiny fish are then sorted and dried on nets on nearly every solid, horizontal surface over the next few days. The fishy aroma of sun dried fish permeates the community where we live which is just adjacent to the beach. For many this gift from the sea will provide a constant source of protein and calcium in the diet otherwise comprised primarily of white rice. For the tribal group we minister in, these dried fish are a staple and a God given source of sustenance.


An Ati woman prepares piles of fish for drying on the seawall overlooking the Sibuyan Sea, Panay Island, Philippines.

I’m fascinated by this type of monthly provision from God from the sea. Having grown up on a farm, I’m well acquainted with physical provision of food and income from the earth. My family has long prospered through the toil in the soil and the keeping of livestock.  Agriculture in landlocked central Pennsylvania is a seasonal business. The ebb and flow of life ride on the four distinct seasons and the labor that must be done in good stewardship of the earth during each one.

But here the cycle is lunar and it keeps the community humbled and connected to the source of their provision. Many would cite that as the “sea,” but some know either by instinct or by faith that there is a Creator to be honored and recognized who is also their Provider.

Life as a supported missionary is a little like that, too. We must put our trust in God and His generous people to provide for the needs of our family and the work He has called us to here. We must faithfully preserve the harvest, making sure we are both generous and careful because it’s not really ours in the first place.

Just the other day we had a small group of ladies from the indigenous community come to the door to visit. One brought with her a large sack of charcoal. Earlier in the month she had needed money for her family since she is the only breadwinner in the family of five. Her work is making charcoal in the mountain, even though she has several years of college completed toward a teaching degree, the challenges of life has left her with limited opportunities. A few weeks ago she shyly asked for our help with their financial need and we agreed to help them, and offered her the opportunity to repay us in charcoal. Along with this dear sister in Christ were a few other ladies from her village, who were in need of vitamins and some over the counter medicines to help ease the suffering of family members ailments.

While they were visiting with us, one of them worked up the courage to ask about eye glasses. Last year, a generous donor led by the Holy Spirit gave a substantial gift to the ministry earmarked for eye glasses. In a world were only the absolute necessities eat up every bit of income, eye glasses are a total luxury. Yet, just as in an other community, many of the “over 40” crowd are finding it harder and harder to do their daily tasks, let alone read their Bibles.

Last year’s gift provided nearly 50 people in the tribe with eye glasses. Our partnership with a local optometrist availed us of free check-ups and big discounts on the cost of frames and lens. These ladies knew that the budget had been depleted for eye glasses but had been praying that in the new year God would provide again.

Would you join them in praying for this need to be met? Could you partner with us to help these ladies and others like them get the glasses they need to read their Bibles?

In the meantime, we wait on the Lord, knowing that just as He provides the fish from the sea in due time, the harvest of crops in central Pennsylvania in due season, He will provide for their needs as well. In the meantime, we will praise Him as the Lord God Provider and trust His perfect plan for our lives.


Much To Be Thankful for…

According to the Joshua Project (,  of the roughly 11,000 Ati people in the Philippines,  only 1.5% are Evangelical Christians. When we first came to the Philippines in 2012 we were introduced to a small band of the Ati living on the mainland of Panay Island, many of whom were born and later displaced from their homeland (Boracay) by the now booming tourism industry. The community we work in encompasses 4 villages and roughly 1000 souls, from infants to senior citizens. The majority of which live in simple bamboo and grass houses, roughly 12 X 14 on average, often housing grandparents, unmarried siblings, adult married children and their children under a single nipa roof. Few houses have toilet facilities or running water. The Ati men work day labor jobs, the majority of which are cargo hauling (by back labor) of all the goods needed to sustain the tourism industry on the neighboring island. Some older men and women work in rice fields, which are still plowed, planted and harvested by hand. Others make a living from the mountain, harvesting fruit or vegetables that grow wild there or by making charcoal to sell to the “low landers” who haven’t transitioned their cooking to propane gas stoves. Most Ati families are making around 300 pesos per day, which is about $6 USD. Alcoholism is rampant in the community, as many dull the pain of a life without Christ in abject poverty with tuba, a strong but very cheap homemade coconut liquor.

           Our call in missions was not be church planters, yet our desire was to see the seeds of the Gospel take root and grow deeply in the community. Our primary first goal was to see an truly indigenous church, led by an Ati pastor and for authentic life transformation to sweep across the community, with many men coming to saving faith and eventually leadership in the church. From there we have prayed that God would raise up Ati young people with a heart and passion to serve Him who would then reach the rest of the Ati communities scattered across Panay island.
          Believing that our God sized dream would take years bear fruit, we began the work of disciple making and loving the community in Jesus name. But God is always at work and so often in ways we can not see or anticipate. A few months after our return to the community in 2015, God brought a young man with a deep love of Jesus and a call on his life to preach the Word to our attention. Over the next few months we watched, in awe, as God continued the work in Jonel, healing him from the pain and sin of a few “backsliding” years and renewing Jonel’s conviction to study the Word of God and teach. He now serves as the lay pastor of the small church of 50 +/- in the one village, under the supervision of a local Filipino pastor and our discipleship. God answered our first prayer in ways we could not have imagined! We continue to love and serve the community, calling any and all to relationship with Jesus, trusting that just as before and for all eternity past and future, God has a beautiful plan for their lives!
        This Thanksgiving season our family is reflecting on all we have to be thankful to God for. His blessings in our lives are remarkable and we want to be sure give Jesus all the praise and the glory. We are thankful for our faithful ministry partners who regularly pray and sacrificially give to provide the financial resources needed for this mission. We are thankful for our sending church and mission organization who share a vision to see the Gospel take deep root in this tribe. We are thankful for good health for our family here and at home and for the wonders of technology that allow the miles to be a little less separating. We are thankful for God’s leading in the life of our lay pastor, for the growing number of “seekers” who have attended church, some for the very first time, in recent weeks. We are thankful that we are beginning to hear the basics of love, forgiveness and unity echoed back to us by many in the tribe. They are hearing the Gospel and responding to it! We are thankful for good relationships with local doctors and medical staff who partner with us to help the Ati people in their time of medical need.
       We’ve been blessed beyond our imagination by the growth of the mission work here over the last year and half.  But as the mission grows, so do the needs. When you work in tribal setting, especially one beset with poverty and discrimination, there’s what feels like an never ending list of needs. It takes a lot of prayer and stillness before the Lord to make peace with that in our hearts and allow Him to direct us to the needs that He desires us to share in.

Christmas Wish List for the Ati

1. CHURCH: A monthly sponsor/s to help support the Ati lay pastor ($200/month)
2. PRESCHOOL: Sponsor/s to support the salary for the rest of the school year (thru March 2017 only) for the certified preschool teacher ($500 total need)
3. AG/NUTRITION: 100 Laying Hen set-up for the community ($1200 one time need)
4.MEDICAL: Our support budget has been stretched in recent months to cover the growing medical needs of the community. (Need $500-$1000/month)
5. Scholarship Fund for College– there are a number of Ati students who are pursuing a college education that will enable them to rise above the minimum wage of day labor. However, despite govt help, the costs of living away from home (there are no colleges in our community) tax many families to the point where the scholars have to drop out. We dream of having a fund to help keep Ati kids in school, with accountability and encouragement that they can really make their dreams come true! ($50/per student per month)
        We are trusting God to provide for the needs and the dreams of the mission here. If your heart is drawn to this work, or any one of these projects or needs, please earnestly pray about it and then get in contact with us. There’s so much more that could be said about the work Jesus is doing here, and we’d love to share that with you! Perhaps this Christmas you can give a gift that will bless the Ati, and shine the light of Jesus brightly!

Imagine… fresh eggs to feed the community! Our gardens are already producing fresh vegetables, fruits, and pork, can you help us get chickens?


Help support our Ati lay pastor and his growing family and ministry!


Medical outreach is a huge, ongoing need in the community


This preschool educates the next generation of Ati leaders, and we need a sponsor for the certified teacher through the remainder of the school year.


This young lady is a wonderful role model to other Ati young people. With the help of her sponsors’ gifts, encouragement and prayers, she realized her dream of becoming a teacher!

This Beautiful, Messy Life

Here I am sitting in another medical waiting area. Today my companion is an Ati woman who’s aged father is on the other side of the waiting area, on a stretcher awaiting his echo-cardiogram. It’s Thursday. This test was ordered upon his transfer to the regional hospital on Sunday afternoon, having a bad case of pneumonia with cardiac complications.

The irony seems lost in the wait. After church we were told about his situation and asked to help with the transfer. Reluctant to start what we knew to be a lengthy process and uninterested in the stomach upsetting speed ride in the ambulance, we gave the family

some money and promised to visit later in the day. But the family had never had a patient transferred before and were uneasy doing so alone, so quickly we adjusted our Sunday afternoon expectations and assisted them in his transfer.

The medical ward in the provincial hospital was already over crowded when they arrived. Fortunately we had been warned and brought a folding bed. The simple aluminum frame stretched with colorful nylon weave reminds me of the folding chaise loungers of summertime in the 1970’s in the USA.folding bed

For three nights this would be his bed.

Monday was our family day off. We left the patient’s family with money to pay for the echo-cardiogram. We had a good family day of worship with video from our sending church, and an afternoon of Rusty. Unfortunately, Rusty was starting to get some lower respiratory illness.
Tuesday Rusty, woke up, still feeling sick but needing to check on the patient. He traveled there to discover that no echo was done. The patient looked worse and was complaining of back pain. Rusty pushed to get the echo done Tuesday, that day, the clock won.
Wednesday, Rusty was too sick to travel. I did school with my kids in the AM, then rushed to Kalibo (2 hrs away by public transportation). Guess what? Still no echo. Now the nurses were saying that his heart rate was too high. They had moved the patient to a proper bed, inside the ward, designed for 12 men, that currently housed 24, with the extras in folding beds at the foot of the hospital beds.
The next day, I went back… only to finally find the patient getting the test ordered 5 days ago! The results? We’ll have to come back (4 hr round trip!) tomorrow to get those!
As I watch the receptionist/nurse process intakes for the cardiologist, I think of what a messy life this is. To look at me, in this culture, it is assumed that I am rich. I am white, foreign and overweight. I am assumed to be generous and compassionate because we are helping this society’s “least of these,” the dark skinned tribal Ati people. At this clinic, I am mostly surrounded by what could loosely be called middle class Filipinos. Most probably don’t own a car and some may not have finished houses or glass windows or an oven or microwave or laptop computer.(Things my “western” readers would consider a necessity for a middle class family)
They probably do have a “smart” cellphone, and they are dressed in clothes from a mall with nice shoes and handbags. My patient doesn’t have shoes, his old toes are bent with age and even flip flops are not comfortable for him. But the big difference that sets them apart from those we minister to is this: These “middle class” folks can afford to pay the doctor’s fees, which are equivalent to a full Ati worker’s wages for the day. 
People probably imagine my life very different than it really is. They expect that I drove here in my own new car, or perhaps I have a driver. They would expect me to live in a big, fancy concrete house, probably along the coast with a million dollar view. They don’t expect that I have children, but if I did, there would be one or maybe two and they would attend private schools or have their own personal nanny (yaya). They would expect me to have a house helper, a laundry helper, and a cook. They would expect that I fly “home” to the States every year for 2 months at Christmas time.
My reality is very much different. On this day, I woke up to a still sick husband and prayed for his healing as I read my Bible quickly and checked my messages. Today I even had to make my own coffee! Yes, friends, my husband is THAT sick!
 Then I woke my five kids and began school lessons with them. About an hour into school our lay pastor came to the house, and all morning the children were disturbed by the workers laying tile in the unfinished upstairs of our rental house that is big, and concrete, but unfinished without windows upstairs, and without a view of the sea. Today, especially I am thankful for my one helper, who made lunch as I rushed out the door and kept the house running while I was gone. Today I was so busy I forgot my own mother’s birthday. I didn’t have time to text my friends in the States. I never even looked at Facebook until the day was nearly over.
After rushing through lessons for the day, I quickly grabbed a cold shower (no hot water heater) and quickly dressed to head to the bus. I did get to enjoy 2 hrs of Bible teaching from David Platt on the trip. The bus dropped us off near the entrance to the hospital and I frustrated the tricycle drivers who wait at the bus stop when I walked to the hospital. I met Nan, the patients daughter coming out of the hospital, while I was walking in. She had returned to get her father’s senior citizens ID in order to get a discount on his echo.
I don’t wear designer clothes or shoes. My current handbag, a lovely, much appreciated gift from an American friend, is already showing signs of heavy wear and effects of high humidity. I didn’t take time for a leisure mid morning merianda, a coffee and bread break that is a “must” in the culture. I ate a quick bowl of leftover mac n cheese on the run between student’s questions and household interruptions. I sent my oldest son out with two different medicine delivery errands as his “recess” this morning. Another son, did a variety of other errands and chores later in the day.
I’m not complaining. Really. It’s just an observation of how things are often not what they seem. And how truly blessed we are to be called here share the love we have found in Christ with those who are less fortunate, many of whom do not know Jesus Christ as Savior.  As a wise, an often inspired by God, retired missionary friend recently said;

“We enter into the suffering of others because of love we have first received for ourselves. We do it from love’s overflow, not from obligation.” -Sarita Hartz

My life is messy, full-on crazy some days, but for the most part, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Tonight I am tired. But we had a great Bible study with the kids before bed. Listening to them pray is the highlight of my day. Even when the day has been too busy, I get a precious glimpse into their hearts. 
After putting the kids to bed, I remembered again, that it’s my mom’s birthday. We called them back downstairs so we could call and sing, “Happy Birthday.” Now they are back upstairs, three of them on one mattress on the floor, because their room is still tore apart from the tile work. To some we are rich, to others we are not– but I know a secret– we are rich in ways that don’t show up in a bank account or material things!
No matter what God is doing in your life right now– if you days are full of obvious blessings or just precious ones in disguise, we each have the opportunity to shine the light of Jesus to a dark and needy world. And that my friends, is the best kind of beautiful, messy life!

The Plans I have

bamboo riverIt happened rather innocently. In a moment when I wasn’t looking for it, when I stopped searching, seeking and crying out in desperation. I was walking along a stony path along the river where two of my ten children were playing on a bamboo raft.

These were the middle children, tucked between the grown adult siblings and the affectionately called, “Littles.” Now strapping young men in their own rite, I smiled as they coordinated their efforts to move the 14 ft bamboo raft down the river.

In that moment, an illumination came. A still small voice that answered the question that had been plaguing my mind for months. “Simple, next step obedience,” the voice seemed to whisper, “the same way you got here, my child.”

And it’s true. We certainly never set out to have ten children. In fact, when we were first married, we thought maybe we’d just have a dog and two careers. But then the “baby bug” bit, and before our first anniversary we welcomed our first born son.

Still there was never a “big plan” decision to have a large brood. The steps of our life have never been clearly written out in advance.

I like plans. I’m a planner. I also like to control things. My entire adult life has been an adventure in learning to trust and obey and give up my desire to plan and control. Little by little, bit by bit, always at the right moment and rarely before… the Lord has faithful ordered our steps and made our path in this world.

We never planned to be missionaries. We thought it would be a good idea to raise kids who served the Lord, perhaps vocationally and even cross-culturally, but not for one moment did we anticipate His call to “Go!” would fall on us.

So as I continued up the rivers edge, my five youngest children playing joyfully and noisly in the river and among the “rapids,” I was reminded once again that the plan is revealed in the next step, in the simple obedience to do what He has asked us to do today.

That big plan, the big reveal that I’ve been waiting for… is probably not going to happen. Instead, He’s gently calling, leading me to follow Him in the day to day and trust Him for the big picture.

My heart has been burdened lately with lack of big picture plan. I thought maybe by now, it would all be falling into place. Friends of ours moved here, in another part of the country, about a year before our arrival with the big plan to build an orphanage and start a church. Both those dreams have been realized, the church is small but growing and the orphanage is already in need of an expansion. We knew that outreach in a tribal setting needed a slower pace, that in order for real, life transforming and sustainable change to happen, the road we would need to travel would not be the high speed highway. But sometimes I feebly take my eyes off my Savior and look around and wonder, “Am I missing something?”

Yet if you had handed me the drawing board 24 years ago and asked me to write my story, you’d be reading a far different novel. As I pondered the beauty of my family, the joy of a large brood, the precious relationships born out of homeschooling and now sharing the trials and joys of cross-cultural ministry together, I realized that while I might be a pretty good writer, the Author and Finisher of my faith does a far better job creating my story than I would have.

And so, the Heavenly Father answered my question about “plans” with a sweet, quiet assurance that far surpassed any disclosure I had hoped to hear these many months.

“I’m still here, still weaving together your tapestry. Don’t worry about the how, the why, the when or the where. Just do the next thing and trust Me with the details.”


Finding Center

cast caresThe door is always open, so there’s never a knock at the door– rather one of our children will see someone at the gate (which is always open, too) and call out, “Mom! We have patients!”

Sometimes its not someone needing medical assistance, sometimes its just someone bringing by a “thank you,”  a live native chicken, perhaps a bunch of bananas or pineapple or other fruit they harvested from the mountain. Sometimes there’s someone at the door selling fresh shrimp, or raw honey or household goods on credit. This week, just after watching the 4th of July fireworks online, we had a visit from two Mormon missionaries, one Filipino and one blonde haired, blue eyed boy from California.

The visitors arrive as early as 6 am. Perhaps people have come earlier than that, but we are rarely out in the main part of the house before then. Sometimes we know they are coming, like this week when we assembled a group of nine to travel together with Rusty to Kalibo for various medical specialist check-ups. Often a group will gather in our living room, perhaps we will offer coffee and some bread, while we wait, sometimes for more than an hour for the rest of the group to arrive.

I’m trying to learn how to manage an unpredictable stream of visitors amidst by desire for a quiet morning routine and the need to accomplish school with my own five children. I’m finding, particularly as I age, that I really crave a quiet morning. I’ve never been a morning person, those dark, cold mornings when my alarm would sound the call to head to the barn for morning chores on my parents dairy farm still haunt me. As the mother of ten, I learned to relish in the quiet of the pre-wakeful hours with a house full of busy, noisy children who just happen to be mostly boys. High ceilings and large square footage were my friends in those boisterous days, but even then I dreaded the time when everyone would awake and the noise and clamor of the day would begin again. It’s not so much that I dislike the general chaos of life, but rather the drastic change from the stillness of the morning to the fullness of life is a real transitional stress for me.

Here, in addition to my five boys, only one of whom is truly a morning person, the interruptions to my routine can be more varied. A call from from one of my stateside kids, a neighbor stopping by to ask about a check up later in the week, someone asking to borrow something from our home, an urgent text or a medical need that demands immediate attention. These little rifts to my routine can pull me away from my morning cup of coffee and time in prayer and the Word. I find it hard to resettle my day after an imperfect start.

Recently I’ve been working on strategies for stress management as a part of what missionaries and others in high-need, stressful professions call “self-care.” The first step is identify the things that cause stress and then establish purposeful ways quickly control my reaction and “find my center.”

I grew up a rather worrywart of a child. I would say anxiety runs in my family, and I had more than my share of experience with it during my formative years. Early in my Christian walk the Holy Spirit identified for me a need for a growing patience and trust of the Lord. Those have been steady themes of my transformation process, that is still very much on-going. Yet as I have sit with this “self-care” practice of identifying stressors, I’ve been surprised, even a touch disappointed at how many things still ruffle my feathers, so to speak.

I guess I share all this for one primary purpose, that my vulnerability and journey with the Lord would help someone else who like me at times struggles with the “other side” of the blessings you’ve been given. My children, our ministry are wonderful gifts from the Lord that bring me much joy and satisfaction and also consistently draw me closer to Jesus. But at times, those very things I love and cherish can bring me stress. I want to encourage you to have the courage to face the things that steal your joy and determine to deal with those with the Lord, little by little, day by day. It is only by facing what haunts us that we can really find the peace that passes all understanding in our daily walk with Him.

What are some of the things that bring stress into your life and steal your joy?