A Day in the Life… Part 2

       The local hospital is about a 15 minute tricycle ride away. Established by the founders of our mission, when they on field here in 70’s and 80’s, Aklan Baptist Hospital, though under new ownership still honors the founders commit to serve the Ati indigenous people. Check-ups (a visit with the doctor almost always because of a problem) are free and if a patient needs to be admitted their stay and doctors care while admitted are free as well. Patients only need to pay for labs, x-rays and medicines. Any patient that is admitted and also has PhilHealth has the majority of those costs covered by insurance. However many times people do not seek medical care because they don’t even have the money to pay for the trike ride into the hospital.
       The new baby, his mother, and his grandmother arrived at our house at 1 pm and Rusty and I switched roles in our tag-team mission here. Rusty resumed school with Jon, helping him with his pre-algebra work, while making sure Levi got to his Pre-Calculus which comes to him by way of BJU HomeSat DVDs. In between math assignments Rusty researches Philippine farming methods and information sheets on local vegetables and pests. Sometime around 2 the donut man comes through the neighborhood pedaling his bike, ringing his bell and selling big sugar coated donuts 5 pesos a piece.
        Meanwhile back at the hospital, we waited for the 1:30 start up time at the hospital, after their 2 hr noon break. Today the doctor on duty was one of my favorites, even though the grandmother of our patient had hoped for the older doctor who they consider to be the best “baby doctor” at the hospital. In the Philippines there’s a policy that pregnant women, senior citizens and the disabled always go first in line, so we were the second to be seen, after an older gentleman. The doctor at first seemed concerned by the mass on the baby’s head, but quickly assured us that it was a normal hematoma, likely a product of a difficult delivery and that it would resolve itself in a few days to a week. But what was concerning him was the baby’s yellow coloring and at 8 days of age, he felt this was indicative of an infection and wanted to start him on IV antibiotics. He offered to administer them on an out-patient basis, twice a day for a week, or to admit the baby today and take a slightly more aggressive course for the first two days. He asked which I preferred and I told him to ask the family. They opted to have the baby admitted today.
         Getting the IV in this tiny newborn was not an easy or particularly pleasant experience, but after three attempts the team was successful in his little foot. The baby’s mother, just 16 yr old herself, seemed a little overwhelmed and sad and I tried to reassure her and encourage her while we waited. Still it was hard for me to walk away with the baby’s grandmother, leaving her and her precious little one in the hospital nursery alone.
       I came home to busy house of conversations, games and lunch clean up. The isolation has been good for the family relationships. I feel like the kids play better together now than they ever have and most of the times they are using their imaginations together. We remind everyone what day it is as plans are made for the next activity, our twice weekly Praise and Prayer time in the village. I remembered to defrost the meat for tonight’s dinner, a rare treat of grilled hamburgers, only the second time in over 4 months that we’ve found beef that looked worthy of purchase.
       The family departed for Carla village for Praise and Prayer time a little after 4 pm, Jon and Matthew on Jon’s bike and the rest of us on foot. We met up with two partially full tricycles at the end of our road and then proceeded into the village. We walked in, greeting children and mothers and grandmothers along the way. Rusty and Jon gathered some fresh cow patties for the compost bins and the rest of visited with friends, gathered chairs and watched the children play. After about 20 mins a nice sized group had formed, and after Rusty returned from a quick hike to the upper village to help the family with the hospitalized baby with travel expenses, we began our Praise and Prayer time.
      Carrie has been leading our worship time with a group of nine mostly Tagalog praise songs and her guitar. We sing a variety of songs each time, and today our list was di ctated by the forgotten capo. We sang three beautiful worship songs together and then continued our Bible reading from the book of Mark, the only book of the Bible ever translated into Malaynon.
     We then asked for prayer requests, which are generally given in a mix of Tagalog and Malaynon, and sometimes English when they feel like they aren’t making themselves understood and someone in the group knows the English words. Today we heard requests to pray for a husband who injured his leg working in the rice fields, the hospitalized baby, safety for Carrie’s travel and their request that God would send her back to them soon, the need for reliable transportation for the many Ati school children who lives in the furthest village from the Ati schools as well as for Rusty and I to have success in learning Malaynon. Rusty opened our prayer time and several of the men and one of the women prayed aloud before I closed our time in prayer to the Lord. A few more conversations ensued while the children dispersed to play. Rusty made arrangements for our dear Ati friend with a tricycle to pick up his patient early in the morning for their trip to Kalibo for follow-up care. We talked about a possible field for sale that could be a good location for hospital. I told a couple of the ladies about Luke’s birthday party on Sunday and then we headed for home. Our friend drove us on his tricycle, but Jon and Matthew were already home and had unlocked the house.
     Thursdays are “sari-sari” night, where the Russell kids get somewhere between $ .50-1.10 US value in pesos to spend on snacks or treats at the small stores in the neighborhood. I had Jon take our landlord the utilities payment for July and used the change from that to give the kids their weekly spending money. Rusty and Carrie started working on the charcoal fire and making hamburgers while I retreated in frustration and exhaustion to my room and my fan.
      I was profoundly impacted again at Praise and Prayer time how handicapped we will be when Carrie leaves. It’s been so nice the last 4 months having her here to help with music and language. As the prayer meeting has grown, the language barrier seems larger to me.  It’s so hard to listen to several people talking at once, as they share their requests and search for the right things to say or agree with each other as they share. Tonight I am exhausted mentally. I love having our kids at Praise and Prayer time, but they often will try to talk to me when others are speaking in Malaynon. I have to focus so hard to follow conversation in Tagalog or Malaynon that my kids extra noise just seems to push me over the top. By the time we’re done in the village I just want to be alone. Since quiet doesn’t exist here, I just turn up the music and try and tune them out. Yes, I do feel like a lousy mom. And I’m thankful that the feeling doesn’t last. But I absolutely come home some evenings completely spent and needing to reset, refresh and reload.

     But dinner prep is calling so I leave my retreat for the role of sous chef. It really was the perfect storm food wise this week… good quality hamburger rolls (finding ANY hamburger rolls is a challenge, ones that taste good is a really big deal), reasonable quality meat, and we even splurged for tomato ketchup! The food storm happened because I had to be in Kalibo with Carrie earlier this week to pick up her passport and exit visa.  I happened to have red tomatoes, yellow onions, mustard (rare too!) and American style mayo (brought all the way from Manila!). It was a delicious dinner, nicely complemented by four small crabs the neighbors gave us! I even managed to gather goods from afar to make cheddar macaroni salad! That’s cheddar cheese carried home from Manila, mayo from manila, plain yogurt in place of sour cream from Kalibo, hand chopped sweet pickles to make relish and carrots instead of bell peppers because there aren’t any peppers available now. It was very, very close to home!

     It’s a quarter after 7 and we’re still eating dinner, we sit around a small glass coffee table, some kids on small plastic white chairs, some on the floor, a few on the sofa and Rusty and I on the always present green plastic chairs. Jon’s best friend from the neighborhood pops his head in the gate, looking for Jon. Every night, sometime around 7:30 or 8 pm, Jon takes his buddy on his bike (two people on a bike here is sort of the norm) to a little mom and pop restaurant up the road. It’s literally a small grill and some pre-prepared foods in the front of their house. Each night Jon’s friend buys steamed rice and usually BBQ (skewers of marinated pork, grilled over charcoal) for their dinner. Jon’s friend and his dad are the only ones at home, his mom died and his older brothers have moved to Manila to find work. The dad works on the boats and its just easier for them to buy their simple dinner than to try to cook for two after a long day on the water.
      Tonight its Jared’s night to do the dishes and dinner clean up. He does a great job at it and we’ve decided recently to encourage him in this skill by offering a small payment for his services. I have a birthday party menu to plan, since we’ve decided to have his party in the village, it’s kind of a big deal. We’re planning games (oh that reminds me…. I need to put prizes on my list!) and a huge clothing giveaway. I’m trying to figure out how to amplify sound, because it will be loud with hundreds of people there…. do we rent a karaoke machine? Everyone would love that….
     It’s not even 8 pm and I’m exhausted and ready for bed. My hubby is still eating his “nobody is counting” serving of cheddar macaroni salad, singing my praises (it is his favorite.) The kids need hair cuts. Luke wants to make his baptism video. So much to do, so little time. :)  The kids are playing and Rusty is outside starting more seedlings for the gardens now, and I’m writing…. Ok, second wind, or just necessity and Luke and Matthew have their hair cuts and the boys are cycling through the shower. Jon’s complaining that the shower is cold.
      Tomorrow will bring another day, mostly different, some things like eating lunch and dinner together usually and school work stay the same. Some mornings I’m called away to the hospital with patients and Rusty does school with the kids. Or they work on what they can on their own til I get back. We’ve all learned to be flexible. And when someone has to go to Kalibo, it helps if you bring back Dunkin Donuts for a treat… or the fixings for grilled hamburgers and cheddar macaroni salad….
     Lights out starts at 8:30, first with Matthew, who sometimes passes out even before, especially if he walked to and from school that day. Mark, Luke and Jon are to be in bed by 8:30 too and lights are off everywhere by 9. The teens bring their devices downstairs so not to be tempted to chat with friends to stay wrapped into their Clash of Clans world. The kids bedrooms are all upstairs and Rusty and I have a room off that kitchen that we still share with Matthew. We lock up the house, refill the water filtration system and call it a night. Most days the day ends the way it began, in prayer together. If there’s energy we talk and sometimes we watch an episode of a favorite American TV show or some nights we just lay in bed and watch the botiki (gecko like lizard) catch bugs on the wall. If we get a really early start on the night, like a night when the kids are watching a movie together or something, we will watch a Francis Chan or other preaching video. It’s awfully nice to have that option, as we couldn’t stream video during our first term.
      So there you have it, friends, a “typical” day in the life of the Russells’. No two are ever quite the same, but you get the idea! Each one finds out pouring ourselves out, leaning hard on Jesus and thankful for the blessings He’s given in every aspect of our lives. Even the hard days, especially in the exhaustion, it’s clear that this mission is His and He IS the power and the love.
PS Rusty was proof-reading for me and the power flashed off. “That would be an interesting end to your story,” he said.
Thankfully, it came back on in a few minutes. That’s always good news!

A Day in the Life… Part one

The day dawned before sunrise with the first crowing of the neighbors’ roosters. Sleepily, I peeked with one eye to see that it was not daylight, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But as so often happens, my mind was awake so I laid in bed and prayed while the roosters cried and the sun slowly rose. My first thoughts were thankfulness for my husband who lay snoring softly beside me. And then I prayed for my friends and family at home who’s work days were coming to a close. I prayed about the needs in the Ati community; all the sickness, injury, spiritual blindness and unforgiveness that binds our dear friends. I prayed for wisdom about an upcoming project. And with some sadness I prayed for Carrie and her transition to GCBI, this time as a mentor, and for our transition here without her.

A little before 6, Rusty woke and we prayed together for this new day, asking God to give us eyes to see His work for us this day. About a quarter after 6 a motorcycle with a horn drove by as he does every morning, selling pan de sal throughout the neighborhoods. Rusty jumped out of bed, found 30 pesos and met him at our bamboo gate. Then he started coffee while I re-hydrated from the night with a big glass of water and settled in to my “bed chair” (pillows propped on the bamboo headboard) read my morning Scripture. I’ve been reading through Hebrews and finished chapter 13 and began to read in James.

As the coffee brewed, Rusty sat on the plastic chair near our desk, which is just a plastic table with a pretty table cloth, and began his morning Bible reading. A few minutes later he selfless located headphones for me and I enjoyed an encouraging and challenging word from Tom Barlow, lifelong Grace Brethren missionary now serving in England, but visiting my home church of MGBC. Sometime in the middle of my the message, my sweet hubby brought me a cup of coffee and started waking Matthew up because it was nearly 7 am.

Matthew woke in a reasonable mood and announced that instead of his usual coffee, pan de sal and oatmeal, today he’d like leftover rice with sugar and milk. Matthew currently attends the Carla Ati Learning Center where Carrie is the substitute teacher in his class.

By 7:30 Carrie was out the door to class and the push was on to her Matthew ready and wake the rest of the kids up. Rusty headed out to Carla with Matthew around 7:45. Since Carrie had left fifteen minutes earlier it had started to rain, and Rusty struggled to carry a tray of seedlings for the gardens and hold the umbrella. Today instead of walking to school they walked to the main road and took a tricycle the rest of the way.

School starts at 8 am and most days Matthew is tardy. But today he arrived in time for opening activities. Rusty proceeded to the garden to harvest vegetables for the MASA school lunch program, which feeds about 100 elementary aged kids in a school for Ati children only. This day he also shared vegetables and seedling with ladies in the villages who had interest. They talked about long range plans which could include women from the village working in the garden as it expands and provides even more vegetables.

At home I am busy teaching mark and Luke and supervising the education of Jon, Jared and Levi. The kids pretty much make their own breakfast, today Mark had cinnamon toast, Luke had coffee, Jon toast with jelly (from Manila) and a big cup of coffee, Jared had coffee and pan de sal and Levi had coffee and peanut butter toast. Some days the boys make fried eggs or egg sandwiches, and occasionally they will join their Dad in his daily bowl of heart healthy oatmeal. I hardly ever eat anything for breakfast, still harboring my bad habits from adolescence and apparently inadvertently passing it on my own kids.

Everyone has a set syllabus of school work and recently everyone’s been working fairly freely and independently. We often have discussions about science or history or the Bible. Some days we have impromptu medical discussions fueled by the ever changing needs of the Ati community.

While Luke and Mark worked on their daily math lessons I took some time to open the giving file from our missions home office. I am always so humbled and grateful as I read over the list of friends who financially support us. There’s usually some unexpected blessing hidden among the cells of the excel spreadsheet; the sweet surprise of a gift from someone who hadn’t given before, or the extra gift someone sent along with their monthly support. Like the comfort of an old friend, there’s the faithful and true giving that is reflected in every month on the line being full. These gifts to the Lord, which He has allowed us to use for Him here, are the fresh air of love and encouragement in our lives. Even more than the dollars, the prayers of those who give and those who can’t hold us up like Aaron held up the arms of Moses in Exodus. It’s our joy to pray for these sweet partners in ministry and ask God return their blessing pressed down and running over.

Today’s lunch was macaroni and cheese and tocino (sweet pork product here). Just before I began to boil the pasta water, I checked my phone which had been charging in the bedroom window. I had a new text from Rusty which read:

“Have patient to go to baptist (hospital) after lunch. 8 day old with fluid on skull.”

My heart sank. That can’t be good, I thought. As I waited for the water to boil I did something I rarely have the luxury to do before a check up, I googled it.

Afterward I wished I hadn’t! Jared and I had a discussion about hydrocephalus while I prepared lunch. Shortly after 11:30, Matthew and Carrie arrived home. Matthew is always full of stories from his day or the trip home or his plans for the afternoon.  Luke and Mark we’re all ready to play, Jon took a lunch break to join in the fun. A new sound at a new time came down the street this day… a young man on a pedal bike that had been retrofitted with a small side car was ringing a bell similar to the bell for ice cream. I handed a couple of kids 5 pesos and they headed out to the street, and discovered the new vendor was selling mango/banana shakes in tiny little cups. These inexpensive, sweet tasting treats held everyone over til Daddy got home for lunch.

We waited til a little after noon when Rusty arrived home to eat. He explained that he had been working on starting a new garden in the upper village when a family who attends church with us approached him about the newest member of their family. Born 8 days ago at home they noticed a bump of fluid on his head at about 5 days of age. They said they were hoping not to have to disturb us, but it wasn’t going away, could we take them into the local hospital for a check up?
Check back tomorrow for Part 2…

DEEP

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now. ~Oceans, Hillsong United

My kids love to explore the sea, which is just a few feet from our home, especially at low tide. This week they discovered a very interesting creature trapped in the tidal pools at low tide. Luke managed to get it squeezed into an empty plastic water bottle and brought it home to show everyone in the hopes of identifying it. Google is certainly our friend here. Turns out that Luke found a displaced “sea pen,” a colonial organism that typically is found in waters deeper than 10 meters.images

After checking it out, we returned it to the sea, but it most likely won’t survive. It’s built to thrive in the deeper waters, not the warm and shallow waters of the tide pool.

Sometimes I can relate to the sea pen. But instead of being washed into shallow waters, I’ve been pulled into new depths. It’s dark there and a little scary.

It’s unfamiliar and way out of my comfort zone.

I can’t touch the bottom and still have my head above the waters.

It’s the deep darkness of sin. The pain of engaging with people who are still trapped in the darkness. The brokenness of selfish choices, the affects of hopelessness that sometimes look like alcoholism, or extra-martial affairs, or physical abuse. The hardships of a fallen world where young mothers find out they are TB positive and difficult interpersonal relationships keep entire villages from having access to safe drinking water. It’s orphans, robbed of a mother’s love due to some health condition that would be barely be a bump in the road in the first world.

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One of the many joys of ministry here, my sweet “adopted granddaughter” Amy. Her mother died at her birth, leaving Amy and her brother Jared in the care of family members in the tribe.

So what they live in bamboo houses with grass roofs?

So what if they wear mismatched clothes that no one else wanted?

Poverty is not the biggest hurdle.

Sin is.

In my heart.

In their hearts.

In your heart, too.

We have more in common than you would think.

It’s my privilege to go deeper. First I must go deeper with Him.

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
    to whom belong wisdom and might.
 He changes times and seasons;
    he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding;
 he reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and the light dwells with him.” Daniel 2:20b-22 (emphasis mine)

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Celebrating a wedding in the community. We’re praying this is the first of many to come as hearts are drawn to obedience to Jesus.

That sea pen that Luke found has a very cool feature to its simple creation… bioluminesce. The ability to make its own light.

We have the light of Christ in us. The Light that shines bright in the darkness, in the depths of sin and brokenness. The Light that can offer forgiveness to those who have offended or hurt us. A Light that can transform the darkest heart, heal the shattered heart, and offer hope to live for eternity with Eternal Light.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”John 8:12

There’s a lot that’s broken in my world.

But if social media and Fox News is any indication, there’s a lot of broken in your world, too.

Let’s be the light in the deepest darkness.

“Your love is deeper than any ocean
Higher than the heavens
Reaches beyond the stars in the sky
Jesus, Your love has no bounds
Jesus, Your love has no bounds” ~ Jesus Lord of Heaven, Phil Wickham

CLICK HERE TO HEAR IT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ6agCPNee0

Grace

photo (6)  God has been leading our family on an amazing journey of knowing Him deeper and in new ways. It’s such a thrill to be Jesus follower, because it’s a      process that never ends. As a homeschooler, I have long been a proponent of “lifestyle learning,” which means providing a rich environment in which  learning is on-going, regardless of the season, the location or the age of the individual. I feel like this reflects what our life in Christ should be as well, a  daily rhythm of knowing our God more, experiencing His love, grace, and compassionate mercy more and more each day.

A lifetime of learning to be  more like Jesus.

And then there’s grace…

Our home church has the word “Grace” in the name. We all talk about grace in the Christian circle, but I am beginning to understand that God’s grace,  like so many of His attributes something we really don’t grasp at the heart level in its richness and fullness.

And because we don’t really “get it” we mess things up… for ourselves, for others in faith and we essentially limit our reach to the unbeliever. Is anyone beyond the reach of Christ? Of course we say “No!” but too many of us (fingers pointing backward toward myself too) doubt that grace is really available for all.

I’m a justice kind of gal. Grace is not justice. I’ve personally wrestled with this issue for a quite a while, and have “blamed” it on my upbringing and past. But recently I was challenged to think that everyone struggles against grace, its just how we are wired. Rusty and I have been “relaxing” in the evenings with some preaching videos and recently watched this zinger by Tullian Tchividjian.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v76svwsuvQk

He’s a no-nonsense, call-it-what-it-is kind of speaker. And his words are true. We don’t really get grace.

Because if we did the church would look different.

We would BE different.

And Jesus’ kingdom would grow because nothing is as irresistible as grace.

 

My prayer is that you’d join us on this journey of grace. To re-examine what you believe about God’s grace to us if you are already a Jesus follower.

To believe that Jesus loves you, died for your sin and has taken on your punishment to grant you eternal life, if you’ve never come to that place in your life.

To fall fully, recklessly, endless on the grace of a Holy God.

 

Six Truths in 6 Weeks

In lieu of a “Day in the Life” post (which will be forth coming) and in honor of completing our 6th week in the Philippines, I wanted to share with you 6 truths we’ve experienced in 6 weeks…

6. A big glass of cold water is the most refreshing, yet rare treat!

It might not seem like a big thing, but in 90% humidity with temps hovering around 90 degrees in the day and the low 80s at night, this simple luxury is just that! We are blessed to have a small ref (refrigerator) with a tiny freezer and no automatic ice maker (gasp!). With ten or eleven of us living here, chilling water or having ice on hand is a constant challenge… so when you can pour an ice cold glass of water…. ENJOY!

5. Expect the unexpected…
Our days are never the same and we wake up not knowing what our day will bring. Earlier this week I

This is our transportation until God provides something else. A motorcycle side car, Carrie and I up front, with four Ati ladies and two babies in the back... Off to the hospital....

This is our transportation until God provides something else. A motorcycle side car, Carrie and I up front, with four Ati ladies and two babies in the back… Off to the hospital….

accompanied two patients to the local hospital, one little boy with a broken elbow and another little girl with skin problems. While I was out, five different Ati visited Rusty at our home, each one sharing their concerns and needs for the community. On another day this week we had been searching for African Night Crawlers for sale in the Philippines in order to start vermicomposting beds to improve the poor mountain soil in the Ati villages. I “happened” onto a website that listed a place just a mile and half from here that we had heard about on our first term, but never visited. Turns out we had a nice 2 hr visit with some new friends who share a passion for gardening, homeschooling and life in the Philippines. Without an prior planning on our part, a wonderful new door was opened and a new relationship has begun!

And we're off....

And we’re off….

4. The familiar is favorable; the new a pure delight!
I’ve been pleasantly surprised how nice the familiarity of our old “home” area in the Philippines has felt. Granted we are only 6 weeks in… the shoe could be ready to fall (see the next item on the list!) but overall, knowing what to expect in the culture, food, climate, language and being in a familiar area with old friends and familiar routines, seems to make the transition to life on the field again, a but more smooth… so far….anyway….
The new things: faster internet, access to more Western restaurants, a few more American food choices in stores than before, all add to the new delights in our new home.
3. Situations can change faster than you can blink…
I chalk it up to spiritual warfare, but man, can situations spiral out of control in record time here! Just this evening, we had just had a wonderful gathering in the village with really encouraging spiritual fruit, and then, during dinner… a huge argument broke out that ended in tears and storming off and hard things said…  Come on, already! Is the emotional roller coaster really necessary???  I can go from top of the world feeling blessed to tearful wondering what I did wrong in about 2 seconds flat. Good thing the love of the Savior is never-changing!
2. People are more similar than different.
It’s really sad that people tend to see differences in others. We tend to look at the outside, the socio-economic, racial, regional, or language differences. But whether you make $100,000 a year or $1,000 a year, people’s heart desires are very much the same. We all want to know we are loved and that we matter to someone. We love our kids and grandkids, feel gratitude when we experience God’s healing touch or His unfailing mercy, and have similar hopes and dreams for a better future for the next generation. It might be a trite old saying, (We all put our pants on one leg at a time) or a corny country lyric (We all bleed red) but the truth is God created humanity to have more in common than not, and that certainty should be a great joy and unity builder within us all!
1. When you really don’t feel like it, obedience is the best option…
Today it was hot. REALLY hot. As I rested after lunch in front of the fan, I felt like I was in a convection oven as the hot air blew around me. This afternoon’s plan was a time of Praise and Prayer in the village, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Carrie wasn’t feeling the best either and a couple of the boys (who shall remain nameless) were in a bad mood too. But rather than make excuses and stay home (to be hot and miserable with each other!) we headed out to the village.
And what a blessing was in store….

At first there were just a few ladies and teens hanging out in the grass roof covered pavilion, so my big boys decided to pick a nasty looking boulder in the soon-to-be garden area and try to remove it. As two of my teens demonstrated their strength and tenacity with the deeply entrenched rock, more ladies came to join us. Then Carrie began to play the guitar and a few more ladies joined. As we began singing, another couple of ladies wandered into our little shelter from the heat as did the rock movers. Beautiful praises to God were lifted in Tagalog and English, and then one of the ladies volunteered, shyly, to read our passage of Scripture for the day! What a wonderful blessing!

The group freely shared prayer concerns, which I noted to be primarily PRAISES to God for his care, provision and protection in their lives and circumstances. One lady asked that we pray that all the Ati would come to know Jesus and THANK HIM for those who already follow Jesus. How humbling to us and precious to God!

Then, as we began to pray, some in English, some in Tagalog, one of the ladies prayed aloud in Visayan. What a sweet, sweet blessing and encouragement to me. As she began, I whispered, “Thank YOU God for showing me (again) the importance simple obedience”

It’s probably a lesson I will learn 100 times more… but the sweet results of faith-driven obedience are truly a refreshment from the Lord!

Discouragement, one of the enemy’s favorite weapons

The last few weeks have been busy and in ways kind of hard. I’ve had to be away a lot and have felt drained from the demands of people’s needs. The Lord has blessed me with a quiet day and I knew that I should blog, but I just didn’t feel like I had anything of value to share. I was working on pulling together some information on my laptop and came across part of a chapter of a book I was working on a few years ago. It was entitled, “Discouragement,” and re-reading it really blessed my soul. I hope it will bless yours as well….

“Satan always has 500 reasons NOT to do whatever we know we are called to do. Don’t let him discourage you!” ~Rusty Russell

Head games.

I think especially as women, we are vulnerable to spiritual attack that comes in the form of lies the enemy whispers to us. We need only look at the very first tactic Satan used on Eve in the garden. He made her doubt what she knew about God’s goodness and love.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Genesis 3:1 ESV

Sometimes his tricks are like this, asking us to question the motive and character of God. Sometimes his tactic is to simply make us believe we are not who God says we are. We start to believe the lies when we think we are not a good mom to our kids. We let him influence our actions when we allow our discouragement to prevent us from encouraging others. We trip and fall on our faces when we allow the enemy to keep is in the bondage of sin, or fear, or faithlessness.

I am not a perfect mom. I have a tough group of critics at home that could easily list for you my personal short comings and weaknesses. I am not a superwoman. I get frustrated when people joke about that because of the size of my family or the ministry God has called us to do. But trusting in the sovereignty of God means that  I accept, believe, and embrace the truth that I am the best mom for these children. Does that get me off the hook when I blow it? Absolutely not! But I can never believe the lie of Satan that says someone else could have done a better job with these kids.

The truth is God built your family. He put you and your husband together and your children, whether by birth or adoption, were chosen for you by God. He chose you to be the one to care for, shape, love and mold this precious child of His for His glory.

Not for your glory.

Not for their fame or success.

For His glory and His fame, alone.

Each sibling in the family is placed there for a reason. I need to remind my kids of this sometimes. A pair of boys gets into a fight and feelings get hurt. From the child’s perspective, suddenly this kid in my room; who plays with me, laughs with me, and learns with me is my worst enemy. That’s when I remind them that God put them in THIS family for a reason. God knows what He’s doing and even though your brother is driving you crazy right now, God put him here for your own good. It feels good for me to say it out loud, because the truth is I need to hear it sometimes too.  We can rest in the fact that God is good and He means all things for my good and His glory. Does that mean all things are “good?” No, it does not! Cancer is not good. Sin is not good. Pain is not good. Often my kids are not good.

It’s what these things produce in us that is good.

Discouragement can be rampant on the mission field. It seems to be a natural by-product of living in a foreign culture away from everything and everyone familiar. Discouragement can come when there is a three hour line at the bank to pay your rent. Discouragement can come when the market vendors would increase the price to you because you are a foreigner. Discouragement can come when the power goes out just as you were beginning your home schooling day or at bedtime when you’d worked in the heat and humidity all day and had been looking forward to the fan after a cold shower. Discouragement can come when you are hungry for a slice of sourdough bread with real butter, but there is no such thing to be found. Discouragement can come when you can’t make yourself be understood by a person you are ministering to. Discouragement can come when the hospital staff says, “Not today. Come back tomorrow,” when your little friend has already been waiting 9 days in the hot, crowded hospital room for his surgery.

Discouragement is distracting and gets our focus off what we’re supposed to be doing.

I’ve struggled with discouragement off and on through the years. When I was a mom with a gang of toddlers and babies at home, I would get discouraged. When I was a mom with teenagers who were struggling through life’s challenges, I would get discouraged. Moving overseas doesn’t change your life, it just changes your address…. so yes, homeschooling and doing ministry in a third world culture, I get discouraged.

The antidote is ENCOURAGEMENT.  Duh, you say… but I can’t encourage myself.

But you’re wrong. You can.

Whenever I am feeling down about my life, I would purpose to think of someone who had it “worse” than I did. Let’s say I was having a day of feeling overwhelmed by kids and their messes. I would ask the Lord to help me think of someone who had it worse. Maybe it was a mom with a brand new baby at home. Maybe it was someone on bed rest. Maybe it was someone who was trying to raise babies and care for aging parents at the same time. Maybe it was a single mom who was trying to get by without the love and support of a husband. First, I’d pray for that person. Then I would see what God had me to do. Sometimes it was a card, or an email or a Facebook message. Sometimes God would have me bring her a meal or get them a gift card or drop off a special dessert. Suddenly *my* mess and problems didn’t seem too bad. I felt better. I felt blessed.

It is easy to reach out to someone with a text or an electronic note. Remember that when you felt the need for some encouragement, so does someone else.

The simple act of obedience (even when I don’t *feel* like it)  will make everyone’s day better!

The key to defeating discouragement is to live an out-ward focused life. The other key is keeping in close fellowship with God. When the attacks come, and they will if you are living for Jesus, you need to be in the Word and in prayer. Use a prayer journal to help you see how God has answered prayers. I found that my prayer journal was a good place to “vent” my hurts and frustrations, too.  In our first term overseas, I learned to rely on journaling and prayer to “talk it out,” because sometimes the experience was too raw and real for me to dump my hurt and pain on top of what my husband was experiencing. Even though Rusty is my best friend and very often my spiritual guide, I found that some attacks were so close to the heart of both of us, that I had to rest in the Lord first.

It was a good lesson, one I should have learned a long time before.

Discouragement is like a wrestling match. The enemy will first attempt to immobilize you. He will make you feel weak and unable to minister. Then he will slowly start to take you down. You will feel like you have lost your friends and soon start to feel like God has abandoned you, too. If you can’t break his grip before this point, he will likely get the pin. Once you allow him to convince you, even if just emotionally and temporarily, that God is not on your side, he has won. Thankfully, the enemy may win some battles, but we know Jesus will win the war. And when you get up again, dust off the broken spirit and wipe away the tears of defeat, you will hate the enemy even more than before. You will want to stay out of that miry pit and you will strive to help others before they succumb to the lies and tactics of the enemy. In that way, good will come from your pain and God will receive the glory!

My favorite sign along the 7 hr bus journey across Panay island.  Don't let the enemy discourage you...  MAN-UP, JESUS WINS!!!

My favorite sign along the 7 hr bus journey across Panay island.
Don’t let the enemy discourage you…
MAN-UP, JESUS WINS!!!

Discrimination

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photo credit, Carrie Russell

We might be half way around the world, but we do see US news. It’s been alarming to see what’s happening in Baltimore, the division and pain in our home country affects us even here. We didn’t have cable TV when the incidents at Ferguson happened, so watching this new flare of racial, political and socio-economic tensions is new for this family.

And heartbreaking…

Justice is important to me. And not surprisingly I hate injustice. I’ve wrestled with God about why He allows certain injustices to continue and found in Him the answer of a loving Father, “In due time, my child, all things will be set right. For now, I hold my wrath and generously bestow grace.”

 Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Part of our call to the indigenous people group in the Philippines is connected with a desire to see justice. The Ati were the first inhabitants of Boracay island and as developers began to see the natural treasure and tourism opportunities that Boracay’s white sand beaches and crystal clear waters held, the Ati were gradually pushed off the land. They’ve been moved around as a people without a home for decades. They are looked down upon by the local non-Ati, mocked as poor, outcast and worthless. I wish I was exaggerating, and sometimes when I’m with the Ati in the village, I almost don’t believe it myself. The Ati are so hospitable, welcoming and friendly. They seem so at home in their place on the side of the mountain. But then I see them outside of their village and I’m reminded of the grave injustice that the Ati live with.

Today was a special celebration of the local community. There was a parade and then local schools participated in their version of a high school band competition. Except here, even the elementary schools have competition bands, the instruments are all percussion and the talent is out of this world!

Two groups of Ati were invited to participate in the parade and festivities. A large group of women who had taken a special class during “Women’s Month,” were asked to walk in the parade in their bright purple shirts. The teachers of the Carla Ati Learning Center, also walked with their school banner, proudly displaying their accomplishment of a school established by Ati for Ati. Our family excitedly cheered for our friends as they passed. It was good to see them have their place in their community.

Afterwards it was a different story. The ladies stayed together in their groups and weren’t comfortable to mingle with the other “Visayan” (non-Ati Filipinos, living in this region) groups. The announcers were asking that one representative from each community group that marched in the parade come sit on the stage for the program. One of the Ati women, a natural leader in her community, volunteered to be the one to take a seat on the stage, but was told that their group wasn’t welcome.  She was sad, and a little frustrated, and said she would just go home. I hugged her and told her that I love her and that Jesus does too! She smiled and headed home and I was thankful to be there to encourage her.

On the way home, I witnessed people mocking and laughing at an Ati family walking up the road. Even though you might not sense it when they are together, in their villages or “at home” on the mountain, the reality is that the Ati aren’t loved by their neighbors they way we love them!

Discrimination can happen anywhere. It’s causes are varied; race, poverty, disability, religious beliefs, just to name a few. The pain it causes is real and not just in that moment of a harsh word or a jeering laugh. I’ve seen how it can rob a people of their dignity and their sense of freedom to be who God created them to be. They begin to believe the lie or fear the harassment. For our friends, we’ve seen it mean that they will not seek medical help for a child because of fear of being ridiculed by a medical professionals. I’ve watched Ati feel very uncomfortable in the neighborring city, even more so than I do as a foreigner with limited language skills.

What an honor it is for our family to love the Ati! How humbling it is to walk a mile in their shoes and try to imagine life from their perspective.

The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus loves the Ati, even more than we do! God created all people in His image and the Ati are a special reflection of God’s glory. For Jesus followers, it is our rich blessing to treat any people who’ve been discriminated against with the love of Christ. For you, it might be the outcast at school, the neighbor with a mental health issue, or the guy down the street who’s struggled his whole life with addiction. It might be kid who looks different, talks funny or just moved in from someplace else. It could be the Mom who doesn’t really fit with your group of friends, but could desparately use a good friend to show her the way to Jesus.

Let’s take a stand for justice and really live what we say we believe. We might not change the world, but we can share the love of Jesus with someone and change their world!

Out of the Comfort Zone (Part 2)

God sent us to the Philippines to share the love of Jesus with the Ati. We also believe He will use our family to help improve the lives of the Ati and give them a future. Decades of study on outreach to the poor have blessed this generation of missional workers with new information about what works and what doesn’t. Not surprisingly, the research indicates the best modes of long-term positive change within any community happen when the community itself is involved in the vision casting, decision-making and implementation processes.

In other words, people will embrace a new idea, way or method, more quickly if they are involved in the process.

We feel that it’s hard to help someone’s future, if you don’t know their past. When we first heard of an abandon Ati village in the mountains, we were curious. When we were invited to hike into the mountains to see, we had to say YES!
I don’t think the Ati were expecting that I would make the trek. As we discussed how far it was (how long does the hike take?) there were giggles and repeated questions,

“You will go,Mom?”

“Sure!”

“Mom, the path is narrow on the mountain. Ok?”

“Yes!”

Boy did I answer without thinking….  but not really. I knew that this would likely be a huge physical challenge for me. I’m middle-aged, out of shape and was never “athletic.”

I don’t even really like hiking…. But I love the Ati…

A heifer calf grazes on a dormant rice field

A heifer calf grazes on a dormant rice field

So off we go…. Out across the rice field, up through some houses, onto the paved road, up the hill, onto the dirt road, into the mountain. The first 15 mins or so was a steady incline, but not terrible. But then the road took a steep turn upward, and the path was covered with fallen leaves and rocks beneath. That was the first challenge. The sweat was pouring pretty good til I reached my family who were resting on the grassy area at the top of that incline. They wanted to jump up and  keep going as soon as I reached them. “Come on guys, that’s not fair!”

The next section of the mountain was not as steep, it crossed the side face of the mountain and between the trees we could catch glimpses of the white beaches and crystal blue waters of Boracay, the first home of the Ati people. The gentle slope and good footing was a nice break. But it was not to last, another incline was just around the bend. And the next bend and the next….

Five more steep inclines, tempered by gradually less and less moderate slopes in between. At one point, fairly late in the hike (read: Are we there yet???) we walked down a steep ravine, just to walk back out on the other side!  All the while our patient guide is encouraging me, “We are near now” and telling us stories of the days when the Ati lived here. jungle

The 20 or so families that lived in Carong left it because they had no way to support their families there and the walk was too far to the lowland to find jobs. It was easy to appreciate this as we passed the one hour mark on the all uphill hike.

When we finally crested the last incline to reach the village, we were met with a few simple remains of a village. The foundation and side walls of what once was a church, still stand, a typhoon having stolen the roof and the rest of the walls. Surprisingly the community’s day care building still stands with its good metal roof and solid concrete walls. Charcoal graffiti indicates that this is a much visited spot by the Ati young people, who historically spend their days in the mountains enjoying the freedom of youth and the free pleasures of nature.

Paused for a "groufie" while resting and enjoying green mangos and pan de sal in Carong

Paused for a “groufie” while resting and enjoying green mangos and pan de sal in Carong

The simple nipa homes that once dotted the hillside are long since gone, and the mountain has reclaimed their former homesites with thick vegetation. Our guides point out where houses once sat and remininse about the cool breezes, the open yard for the children to play, and the sweet mountain water that supplied the little village with life-giving water. The large concrete water tank still stands high above the village and the remains of a once progressive solar panel pump indicate the connection the community made between the old ways and the new ones.

As we listen to the Ati share what they see as needs for their people, the old stories of Carong come to life. It was a good life on that mountain, if only they could make a way to sustain themselves. While we rested in the village, a group of children came bounding up the mountain from a favorite waterfall situated below Carong and above their current homes. Now our group had swelled to about 30 and the children played tag in the daycare with the Russell kids, while the men hiked to see the water source and the women harvested wild vegetables from the mountain.

The Russell kids wanted to see the falls and of course the Ati kids were ready to show them. After some discussion about

This picture does not do the steep incline of these steps justice!

This picture does not do the steep incline of these steps justice!

whether Matthew and Kristin could make the trip, it was decided that we would all go. The young and adventuresome took off first, followed by the cautious and middle-aged. Down across the inclines, across the mountain we trekked, passing the foundation of the old home of a respected elderly couple who now live closer to the lowland. I thought about them as a young couple, raising their growing family in that little hut deep in the mountains.

Then the path made a turn that I had not anticipated, a near sheer incline down into the falls. Rusty estimates it to be a near 200 ft drop, with rough cut “stairs” made from bamboo poles pounded into the loose rocky dirt with wooden pegs. At this point, one of our guides took off his flip-flops and put Matthew on his back. He disappeared down the slope with amazingly agile and quick movements.

My knees and ankles ached. The trees towered above us, the huge rocky base of the river below. There was no turning back. Rusty helped me awkwardly maneuver down the “stairs.”  I wonder how badly we would both be hurt if I’d lose my balance and fall into him. His feet are carefully placed on each step ahead of me, he’s walking down sideways, in order to help me as I try not to lose my balance. I’m thankful for a strong and loving husband and the sturdy walking stick that was cut for me as traveled across the mountain.

Resting at the top of the falls, before the climb down in

Resting at the top of the falls, before the climb down in

I secretly feared going up again, even more than going down. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a steep incline and I know that my now tired legs will never carry me back out. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem, the rest of the walk back to the village was through the huge rocks along and in the small river, dry from the limited rain from dry season.

Traversing the rocks was not easy, but a different kind of challenge, a constant awareness of footing and new options. The path was somewhat marked by the wet spots on the rocks as we approached them, from the gang of young people who were a good bit ahead of us. Matthew was still being carried through the huge boulders, but enjoyed chatting with and playing with the Ati kids in the shallow river water, finding crabs and frogs and chasing tiny fish.

All the while, our guide is sharing her heart for her people. They want to have a future, they want to continue to live as a tribal community yet find ways to be independent from the outside world. They want their children to grow up in the mountains, much like they did, learning to live off the land and manage the creation God has given them. They want there to be unity among their people, and our guide, who is already a follower of Jesus, wants to see the rest of the Ati people love Jesus and each other.

Almost four hours after our journey started, we are back at our home. Hungry, exhausted and sore… but our hearts are full. What a privilege to step out of our comfort zones and into their world! What a treasure to hear the heart of the people; their hopes, their dreams, their prayers! Personally I have the reward of knowing that I made it! Emotionally I am blessed with the knowledge that today I pushed my body to express what my heart and mind are always saying,

“I love you, and I care about you– your past, your present, your future! I am for you!”

It’s only because of Jesus that any of these things happen. His Love for us is far beyond a four-hour hike in the mountains. My love for the Ati is imperfect, but His is constant, abiding and true.

1 John 4:19; “We love because He first loved us.”

Jon swimming in the water at the base of the falls

Jon swimming in the water at the base of the falls

My prayer for you, my readers, is that you will be inspired to show someone Jesus’ love in an “out of your comfort zone” kind of way. May we all be brave and bold for Christ, whereever He has sent us!

Out of the comfort zone (part 1)

It might seem like a trite sentiment, but there is a lot to be gained for the kingdom of God when we are willing to step out of our comfort zones.

Returning to the Philippines for a second term eases some of the transitional/ culture shock stress, but it also opens doors to go places and do things that we might not have been willing to do the first time in country. The last two days have had several such experiences. (Be sure to check back for the crazy hike adventure!)

Our desire here is to serve God by loving the people, where they are, and help them catch a vision of the future God has in store for them. We want to live life with the people we are called to, and that, often puts us way out of our comfort zone!

Those of you that know me personally, know that I am not a germaphobe. The “3 second rule” (about dropped food) often gets extended in our house to even longer, I don’t sanitize tables at restaurants or parks and my kids have even eaten a meal without washing their hands. We share cups, silverware if necessary and there was a really weird discussion about toothbrush ownership as we were packing carry-ons for the flight here. (I’ll let you use your imagination on that one!)

I do normally carry hand sanitizer here because there aren’t always sinks in public restrooms, and I have a life long fear of raw “chicken juice”  (more about this here) ever since our family’s experience with salmonella nine years ago. But even that routine has been set aside (for lack of good planning and organization on my part) since we’ve returned this time.

This sets the scene for yesterday’s step out of my comfort zone…

We dropped into the village as the workers were coming home for an impromptu time of Praise and Prayer. We choose a different location each time, so that we can share with different families. We purpose to keep it very casual; we arrive, interact with the people who happen to be around, and then we sing a few worship songs with the guitar, read a short passage of Scripture in English and Tagalog and then ask for any prayer requests before we pray. Prayers are offered up for the health and safety of three Ati communities, strength for the men who provide, health for the children and the elderly, patience and wisdom for the mothers. We pray that those who don’t know Jesus in the community will come to know Him. We ask God to send unity among the tribe and among those outsiders working there. It’s a sweet time to share our hearts and the heart of God and connect with the community in a non threatening way.

This particular day a sweet family who we had the pleasure of helping with a serious medical need during our first term, surprised us with an abundant merianda (snack). We were moved by their sacrificial love and care for us, and we understand this is an important aspect of our relationship. Ministry to the poor can not focus only on what we can give, but must create an atmosphere of mutual respect and dignity or the “help” will only harm.

Well, my kids (the younger ones anyway) had been in the village for more than an hour, playing on the dirt with kids from the village. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Jon had really dirty hands and I’ve lived here long enough to know what lurks in the dirt. We were sitting near a dried pile of dog doo-doo and there are other animals grazing freely around that area (or any outdoor area) as well. But now it’s snack time…. and we do not want to offend. In hindsight, I guess I could have had them wash in the well water. But we know their well is contaminated, so I guess it might not have really helped….

What did I do?

I swallowed hard and thanked God for the wonderful blessing of friends who so thoughtfully loved us so well. Friends who sacrificed to say, “Thank you.” And “You are welcome here.” And “We’re friends!”  We thanked God for the snack and enjoyed it, dirty hands and all.

Not everyone is called to serve Jesus in a tribal village. But all Jesus followers are called to serve, to love, to reach out to those around us who need to hear the life transforming truth of the Gospel.

That call can take us out of our comfort zone.

How might you step out of your comfort zone today to share the love of Jesus with someone?

Coming soon…. Out of the Comfort Zone (Part 2)

Welcome Back! The Photo Blog

We’ve had several amazing days of getting reacquainted to with our old friends in the Ati communities. Today, a group of friends, headed up by one family in particular pulled together an awesome undertaking and served over 200 people at a special “Welcome Back” luncheon! This family had been raising a pig for a celebration when we would return… and today was the day. Below are some photos of this great day of reunions, celebrating God’s work and learning new things!

Welcome Back Russell Family! From our dear hosts, the Mediano family

Welcome Back Russell Family! From our dear hosts, the Mediano family

Levi offered to help and they let him!

Levi offered to help and they let him!

Levi learning to add wood to make the fire hotter or take some away to cool it down.

Levi learning to add wood to make the fire hotter or take some away to cool it down.

Levi tried his hand at cooking!

Levi tried his hand at cooking!

Huge pot of pork deliciousness!

Huge pot of pork deliciousness!

The men were the master chefs!

The men were the master chefs!

Some of the delicious foods prepared for the feast! Fried pork belly and lumpia shanghai (spring rolls with pork and veg)

Some of the delicious foods prepared for the feast! Fried pork belly and lumpia shanghai (spring rolls with pork and veg)

These pots and buckets lined with banana leaves represent hours and hours of cooking over open fires by our generous hosts!

These pots and buckets lined with banana leaves represent hours and hours of cooking over open fires by our generous hosts!

The Russell family ready to eat!

The Russell family ready to eat!

A group of local pastors came to celebrate with us!

A group of local pastors came to celebrate with us!

One of the highlights for the kids was a litter of five new puppies!

One of the highlights for the kids was a litter of five new puppies!

Some of our sweet friends including Sister Emma and our generous hosts, Elsie and Pato Mediano (seated in front)

Some of our sweet friends including Sister Emma and our generous hosts, Elsie and Pato Mediano (seated in front)

Matthew entertained the kids with his antics...  he says balance isn't his thing, but he did alright crossing the water here!

Matthew entertained the kids with his antics… he says balance isn’t his thing, but he did alright crossing the water here!

A few of our friends waiting for lunch to be served!

A few of our friends waiting for lunch to be served!

The kids enjoyed jumping over the "creeks" that criss-cross around our hosts home.

The kids enjoyed jumping over the “creeks” that criss-cross around our hosts home.

Many sweet reunions….

Being welcomed by one of the older women of the village

Being welcomed by one of the older women of the village

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

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

Matthew is reunited with his Filipino family!

Matthew is reunited with his Filipino family!

Baby Amy and I getting to know each other again. She's considered my granddaughter by the whole village. Her mother died shortly after her birth and our  family has helped her grandparents raise her by assisting with her medical bills and buying her milk.

Baby Amy and I getting to know each other again. She’s considered my granddaughter by the whole village. Her mother died shortly after her birth and our family has helped her grandparents raise her by assisting with her medical bills and buying her milk.

Rusty and Ena pose for a selfie! This sweet girl is the daughter of a dear friend of ours who passed away about a year and a half ago.

Rusty and Ena pose for a selfie! This sweet girl is the daughter of a dear friend of ours who passed away about a year and a half ago.

We hope you’ve enjoyed a little window into our world here! We’ve loved sharing it with you!