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?



5 Ways to Impact Your Kids to be Mission-minded

Long before God called our family to cross-cultural missions, He planted a seed in our hearts to raise whatever children He would send us for His glory and service. In those early days of thousands of diapers and nearly constant flux between pregnancy and nursing, God was building in us a desire to send out “straight arrows” for Him. Our vision and prayer was that one day, one or more of our children would pursue a life of service to the King of kings, in vocational ministry either here or abroad.

It wasn’t until God was finishing up building the family, that He captured our hearts for family oriented service. Once those many toddlers were big enough to carry a shovel or a bucket, God began to use parts of our family in His service domestically, as my husband and our older children assisted in disaster recovery work in the US. This, coupled with a short term trip to an orphanage in central Mexico, began the growth of a new seed, a new dream and a new calling on our lives. Soon we were see a bigger part of the Father’s mysterious canvas of our lives, a beautiful, brilliant thread that runs right through the Philippines.


A Wacky pic of the nine kids we brought with us on our first term in the Philippines. 

This is not a guide to become a missionary…. or a “How to take 9 kids on the Mission Field,” but rather a summary of some basic principals that have impacted our family and the hearts of our kids towards the work of Jesus across the globe.


  1. Adopt a Missionary— our family fridge was always covered by missionary prayer cards. When missionaries visited on furlough we made a special point to attend their programs and often invited them to share a meal in our home. First, I wanted my kids to see that missionaries were ordinary people, with similar hopes and dreams and interests as our own. Find a missionary your family can identify with– maybe it’s someone from your home church, or someone with children similar to your own kids ages, or maybe they are serving in a country your family has always found fascinating. Then really get connected! Pray for them as a family, make sure you get their prayer letters and faithful partner with them for the requests they share! Don’t be afraid to reach out to them! Many missionaries struggle with loneliness and everyone enjoys a letter from home! Tell them about your life, you’d be surprised how interesting the mundane things are when you’ve left your home culture. Ask them about their host culture and don’t be afraid to share your prayer needs as you ask map tablethem for personal prayer requests as well!  Send them a care box or head up a group from your church to do so. Remember their kids birthdays with a card or an email.
  2. Get a World Map— ours was under a clear plastic table covering on our dining room table, but any place in the house is a good place to keep the people of Jesus around the globe in mind. Mark where your missionaries are serving and then use current events to help your kids understand more of what’s happening in the world. Take teachable moments like an airplane crash or the announcement of the next Olympic city to help your kids connect with the world and then use the internet to find out what God’s doing in those parts! Here’s a great source for information on unreached people groups around the globe. Joshua Project 
  3.  Look for Opportunities-– not every church or parachurch organization will actively promote opportunities for families to serve in ministry together, but if your children are obedient, flexible and willing to serve there are opportunities for them test out muddy bootstheir service legs! Our kids started as volunteers a local food pantry, then took a weekend trip with Dad to an urban ministry, then put on boots and work gloves on disaster relief projects in our region. Over time, they were exposed to many difficult sub-cultures within our country as well as many different opportunities to help those less fortunate in the name of Jesus. These experiences fostered in them an interest in missions work in other nations as well. I actually think approaching the mission field with the heart of a child, helps eliminate a lot of ethnocentric challenges that short term mission trips face. Instead of being ‘us’ reaching ‘them’ kids tend to identify with people on a more organic level, opening the door for conversations and opportunities to share the light and love of Christ. The indigenous tribe we now work in tell the story of the first “white” missionaries to reach them in the 1970s. They say that they knew the foreigners were not out to hurt them or get anything from them, when they saw that they brought their kids. Kids can break down a lot of cultural barriers!
  4. Read! The danger of reading many missionary biographies is that somehow the idea of “spiritually elite” Christians will be propagated. Yet, most every missionary story I have ever read clearly depicts the missionary’s weakness and total dependence on God. These are characteristics we often miss in our independent, modern world. When we read of people who’s love of Jesus and his lost children is so strong that they would forsake their own comfort, family and safety to rely fully on God to provide the converts, the support and the peace that passes all understanding, we grow in our own faith. Whether God ever calls one of your children to serve Him vocationally, your kids will be richer for having heard the stories of these humble servants of Christ. Good Reads has a great list of missionary titles– some of our family favorites were George Mueller and Gladys Alyward.12974287_1089261417787064_1840647747187321044_n
  5. GO! There’s a lot of bad press out there about short term mission trips and “voluntourism” but if you have really employed the first 4 tips, then you and your family might just be ready to go! There’s few things more encouraging to a long term missionary than a visit from home. Your goal will be to build up the work that God is doing through your long term missionary partner, in whatever ways they feel would be most beneficial. Don’t plan to save the world or build a house or school– just go, listen, learn and smile! Find out how your family, and even your church, can better partner with your missionary. There’s no better way to forge a powerful partnership for the Kingdom of God than to see it, hear it, feel it and fall in love with it first hand!

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.


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!


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


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.
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 or by direct email. 


 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?

woman arms up.jpg

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.

hearts 1john4;19
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!