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.


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)

photo (12)

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



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.

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…



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?”


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


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!

Jet Lag, Humidity and other things that slow you down…

I promise that I will finish my Top 10 list…. but I’ll need a little grace and patience from y’all, as there’s a BUNCH of stuff to do now…   Actually there was another “bunch of stuff to do” before which was the primary reason that it didn’t get written so far, too….

First props to my amazing mom and dear friends for putting up with me in the last few days before we left for the Philippines. A serious thank you also to our dear host family who put up with all our stuff in transition and the noise and late night visitors during our last week in the states. I’m hoping your total selflessness earns you a special gem in your Heavenly crown! And my mom who doesn’t like good-byes, who stood by us til we pulled out of the church parking lot, bound for JFK airport– then took home three car loads of “extra stuff” and sorted and stored it all for me. I love you Mom, you’re the best!

Our travel to JFK airport was super smooth, we rolled right up to the front door outside our check-in area in a little less than 5 hrs. On the way, our awesome “driver” treated the kids to Wendy’s which was on Mark’s bucket list… Check!

In line at the check in counter in JFK!

In line at the check in counter in JFK!

We unloaded our terrible pile of suitcases and attempted to form a jumbled line at the EVA check-in area.  We’d hope for some grace and mercy, to be pulled out of the regular line and checked-in as a group, but it was not to be. Instead my strong boys got to haul the load around the zig-zagged check-in line. At this point I’m doing great, no stress, until I hear one of the EVA counter staff give another passenger a hard time about and overweight bag…. then I start to worry a little.

Our check-in guy was pretty great. He had a reasonable sense of humor, which is helpful when checking in nine people and 18 checked in bags, plus carry-ons! We hadn’t expected them to weigh our carry-ons and we did end up have to redistribute some of the weight. Jared voted to toss his Algebra book t help his bag make weight,  but Mom said no way!

After about an hour, we were all checked in– 18 bags on their way to Manila and the rest of us with legal carry-ons… or were they? I think at the end our check-in guy looked the other a way a bit. Thankful for his grace and God’s provision!

The flight from New York to Taipei was really easy and we all agreed it didn’t seem to take as long as past flights. It was still 15 hrs and 50 mins, but I guess we’re getting good at managing our time. A couple of movies, a couple of meals, a nice sleep (sort of!) and you’re there!

Still feeling fresh and alive in Taiwan!

Still feeling fresh and alive in Taiwan!

Everything went well at Taipei, unfortunately it was rainy so the take off in the morning light was not as picturesque as it could be. But Levi and I (who had the only seats near a window of the family) got to see the beautiful mountain peaks of Taiwan jutting above the clouds.

We arrived at Manila not too far behind schedule, and our check in at immigration and customs was smooth. We ended up managing our own bags without a porter, exchanged some money and got “load” (minutes for the local cell phones). Carrie and Randy met us with two rented vans which was another HUGE answer to prayer. We began our journey toward Batangas port and that’s when things started getting hard.

Jet lagged and travel worn, kids started to fall asleep in the comfort of the air conditioned van. We arrived in Batangas at 4 which was several hours before we needed to check in for the 9 pm boat launch. So we persuaded our drivers to detour to a local mall so we could eat something before we got into the port. It wasn’t easy or pretty to wake everyone up at the mall, but soon we had everyone on their feet and moving toward a restaurant. But before dinner was served Matthew was back asleep in my arms and Mark ended up falling asleep while eating his dinner.

Back in the vans, we traversed busy traffic to the port and began the arduous process of unloading the bags. This was probably the breaking point of the whole trip, as everyone was exhausted, jet-lagged and ready to just lay down (or be there!) And of course it wasn’t simple, at least not at first…

We had hoped they would corral all of our luggage and run it through as a group, but at first, that did not seem to be the case. Then the porters got involved and loaded the majority of our bags onto three huge carts. They by-passed the line for the x-ray machine and placed our bags on along side those of the travelers who were waiting in line. We were all still waiting outside, trying to figure out what was happening and what we were supposed to do next, when one of our porters summoned Rusty to come to the security check area.

They had found knives in our bags.

At first I was thinking it was just the kids pocket knives and Rusty’s Leatherman that had to be in our checked bags for the flight. But then I remembered that our checked bags had all our household items in them, including a set of brand new knives that was given to me our church ladies! As I saw the security guard carry out the knife set, each one still in the box it came in, my heart sank! Oh, please don’t take my new knives!

Thankfully, they had decided to “lock up” the weapons until we disembark the boat in the morning… whew! That was close!

After some wrangling around on the ship to find everyone’s bunks (we were spread out over two rooms of the ship because we had purchased 10 of the last 14 tickets on the trip) we settled down to sleep. I think Josh was asleep first, followed by Mark and then the rest of us. Matthew had slept almost non-stop from 2 pm that afternoon. He even managed to sleep through the check in and security debacle by being passed (still asleep) from parents to siblings multiple times.  It had been a long and exhausting journey.

At about 2:45 AM, Mr. Matthew was awake! Since I had him in my bunk, so was I. I convinced him to go back to sleep for a bit and he allowed me sleep (lighly) until 4:45 am. At that point, we got up, went to the CR (bathroom) and had a nice breakfast on the upper deck while we watched the sunrise. Poor Matthew was quite hungry, since he had missed our 4 pm meal the day before! We dined on boiled egg, Skyflake crackers and 3 in 1 coffee as we watched the islands pass us by.

Landing in Caticlan was an exciting, welcome relief! We were almost home! Getting all of our luggage (and confisicated knives) off the ship wasn’t as simple as we’d hoped, but eventually we all arrived at our new home in Cubay Norte!

I decided to try to unpack as much as possible the first day and successfully sorted through all the suitcases but the ones

Mark exploring his new space and the bamboo bunk beds!

Mark exploring his new space and the bamboo bunk beds!

that had Rusty, Matthew and I’s clothes in. The kids were each given a carry-on sized suitcase to serve as their “dresser” and limited number of clothes for starters.

We made a couple of trips to town the first few days, today (Saturday) we finally bought a refrigerator. The house is reasonably set up, thanks to a lot of Carrie’s help in organizing the kitchen and we are beginning to feel unpacked and settled in.

We spent a fair amount of time in the village the last two days as well, and the reunions have been sweet! Tomorrow we are guests of honor at a huge party hosted by my dear friend Elsie and her family. Last year they were raising a pig in anticipation of our return. He got quite big, but he’ll make a dandy feast for everyone in the Ati communities and neighboring friends tomorrow! Jon and I were there for the butchering process, yet another interesting cultural first!

We’re really thankful to be here, despite the challenges with travel and adjustment. We appreciate all of our “home team” who make it possible for us to be here, and especially for the prayer support for the outreach to the Ati!

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray for everyone’s adjustment phases. Matthew still is asleep by 7 pm and Mark awakens at 5 am. Our house is in a noisier neighborhood than we are used to and there are a lot of roosters surrounding us! The heavy rain on the metal roof each night has made sleeping straight through the night a challenge for everyone. Rusty and I were both sick the first two days here and are slowly rebounding, but still more tired than normal. There’s a lot to adjust to, including the high humidity!
  • We’re praying that tomorrow’s welcome lunch will be a great time to reconnect with old friends and begin the work of building friendships and promoting unity and love among the people. We’re especially excited about the opportunity to get to know some of the men and boys in the community!
  • Pray that our language skills will develop quickly and that God will give us a supernatural power to retain all we are learning! We’re thankful for patient friends and tireless teachers!
I snapped this picture from the trike (motorcycle with sidecar) while coming back from town today. The scenery here is fabulous!

I snapped this picture from the trike (motorcycle with sidecar) while coming back from town today. The scenery here is fabulous!

Paalam! (Good-bye!) for now!

6 weeks, 5000 miles, and 300 sq ft—the Top 10 List (Part 1)

Over 7 weeks ago our family of 9 launched out on the first leg of an amazing adventure of living in full reliance on God. Blessed with the generosity of dear friend, we packed a few earthly belongings, left our family homestead in the care of another family, loaded up a 31 ft motorhome and a mini van and headed southwest to Phoenix, AZ. After 5 days of driving, slowly escaping the grip of winter, we arrived in the driveway of our mission leaders that would be our home base for the next six weeks.

This blog could also be entitled 40 days in the desert…

Unlike fish in a pond, which will only grow so big in limited space, we feel our family really blossomed and grew inluke in the desert remarkable ways through these experiences. Here are ten memorable ways God blessed our family as we trust Him on the journey!

10. The Glory of God’s creation! The kids had amazing opportunities to experience the vast, majestic and varied topography and creatures throughout the traveling days. Within an hour one morning crossing New Mexico, we saw a bald eagle fly over us, hundreds of pronghorns, a coyote, prairie dogs, and deer. Other animal highlights included a 6 ft rattle snake that was encountered by Josh and then the rest of the boys and Dad, on the path at Signal Rock in the Saguaro National Park near Tuscon, AZ and herds of elk grazing along the road into the Grand Canyon. Rusty and the five older boys had two days of hiking in the Grand Canyon, our family walked down into Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico and we enjoyed a family hiking day at the Saguaro National Park as well as many “small groups” of various kids hiking to explore the peaks around Phoenix and near Tucson. On the way home we had a fun day in Kansas with big sister Beth at the Milford Nature Center. The take away is that God’s creation in the US is diverse and beautiful—from desert to mountains, to canyons and buttes, to prairies and farm land! All creation does glorify the Creator God!

9. Less is more! (Subtitle… “Well, well, well…”) In packing up for the trip we limited everyone with the number of clothes, shoes, toys and entertainment they could bring. While laundry for 9 is still a pretty regular occurrence, it was nice to not have so many things to pile up. Dishes need washed right away or they won’t be clean for the next meal. Sweeping and vacuuming only takes a few minutes and dusting, which I hadn’t even anticipated needing to do but discovered is the biggest household battle in the desert, only takes a few minutes too when your living space is 300 sq feet. You can only clean the toilet if you are kneeling in the hallway. You can’t get out of bed, unless the person you are sleeping with gets out first. One child can be in the way of the other getting to the bathroom, just by being in his own “room.”  The fear was all the family togetherness would wear on our patience with each other, but instead we found the close proximity lent itself to deeper conversations and richer moments of family bonding. That’s not to say that there were never moments of frustrations— like the morning Rusty and I woke to find Matthew in our bed saying, “Well, well, well… I see what happened here,” as he discovered he had wet our bed and both Matthew and I needed a shower! Or the night that Luke yelled that he was cold until someone got up to get him a blanket or Matthew called out that he was thirsty until someone got him a drink. (Three guesses on who “someone” was in both of those incidents). Yes, some members of this family really get stinky feet and other people have really loud gas in the morning, but overall we really did discover, in very special ways, the value family togetherness.

8. God’s provision is often more generous than we could ever imagine. We brought some food for the journey, but one concern I had was the cost of living in a large city like Phoenix. Content to live on beans and rice and other low budget food options, we set out to trust Him as our provider God. Much to our surprise and complete delight, God had much bigger plans for our family. On Monday of our first week of training a delivery of excess food, donated by local ministries who partner with grocery stores to supply food banks in the greater Phoenix area, blessed our family with more than we could ever ask or imagine! There was ground beef, chicken, fresh veggies, cheese, crackers and snacks. God provided lamb to grill for our family’s annual Valentine’s Day dinner. He sent Kristin’s favorite cheese (brie) and Rusty’s favorite snack (avocados). The kids were treated with Oreo’s and a box of corn chips and other “special treats” that we almost never buy! The donations came every Monday and we were always so blessed by the variety of food God sent to us. We ended up having to spend almost nothing on food for our entire stay in Phoenix and we were able to eat like Kings! Praise God for this sweet expression of his love, care and provision for our family!

—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:17b-21 ESV emphasis mine.

7. Passionate Jesus-Followers come from all types of backgrounds. Our experiences in Phoenix exposed us to a much broader dynamic of people than we’re used to in small town Pennsylvania. Not only is Phoenix racially and ethnically diverse, we were exposed to Christian unity expressed by people from a wide variety of Christian traditions. It was refreshing and inspiring to interact with believers who worship in Anglican, Baptist, Non-Denominational and other varieties of Christian churche11071624_10153193205689540_2902042797256960609_os. It was stirring to sense the bond of Christ that unites us beyond our differences in tradition, practice or even minor theological variations. We agree on more than we disagree on. And the power of love and unity of Jesus followers is a far more powerful witness to a watching world than polarity and competition.

6. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but closeness makes a marriage stronger! There’s a distinct lack of privacy that comes with sharing a small space with a lot of people. And we have found that changes in residency and work, along with the natural transition period that goes with any change will either draw you closer together or drive a wedge in the marital relationship. After all, our spouse is the easiest person to “unload” on when the stresses start to build up. However, having your best friend share the good, bad, and blessed experiences with you can actually be the most beneficial part of any family upheaval. A good friend, who’s walked the missional path with her family, once gave us theDSC_0036 soundest advice we’ve ever been given as a couple; “No matter what happens, never let anything, any situation, any circumstance or anyone come between you. You must commit daily to keeping your marriage strong. Never neglect it, never ignore it, and never let it take the backseat to the mission work or even your children. A strong marriage is the most important thing you take to the field and you must intentionally fight to keep it that way.”

Check back soon to for the next 5 things we learned

and experienced on this amazing journey– including the life altering #1.

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