I never know what I am going to learn when I am on a missions trip. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. I always expect to be affected by the poverty that I see, but I am never able to accurately predict how the experience will change me.
Before this trip, I didn’t realize how it is the little things that get to you—the heat, the bugs, the monotony of rice, the cement, and the subtle cultural differences. The first time I drove through the city I didn’t burst into tears at the sight of squalor. I didn’t cry every time I saw a child knock on the window of McDonald’s asking for food. I wasn’t homesick the moment I stepped off the plane.
Rather, it was the lingering, drawn-out discomfort and almost scheduled reminder of despair every time we went anywhere or anyone told me something about his or her past that eventually got to me. The absolute best word that I’ve been able to come up with for how I felt is weary. I was weary, and I know Matthew and Lee still are weary. I spent a large portion of my time trying to figure out how I was supposed to process everything.
One day Matthew and I were talking about how we are supposed to live when so many people are starving. He said that Mother Theresa didn’t eat on airplanes because there are people starving in the world. It was easy to feel guilty eating when other people weren’t.
Later that day I was waiting around at the Bible school, and I opened my Bible to the book of Ecclesiastes (usually it happens to open in the Psalms), and the first verses I saw were Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 which says, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
I have not done a study of Ecclesiastes, and I do not know exactly how we are supposed to interpret it or the verses’ full context, but it really made sense to me that it is a good thing to enjoy the work of ones hands. On the other hand, I realized that I do not work for everything that I have and that it is possible for people to work hard and still not see the fruit of their labor. But if I am at least working and I choose to deprive myself of the things I need or even enjoy, I would only be adding to “natural evil,” or chaos and destruction in a fallen world.
Additionally (and perhaps even more importantly), I am not nearly as effective at helping others when I am in need or weary (physically or spiritually). Of course, the balance between how much I should enjoy and what is selfish indulgence will always be difficult, but the assurance in my mind that I should enjoy life was helpful.
Maybe you all aren’t extremely interested in this philosophical commentary on my trip, but these types of daily mental struggles are a key element to witnessing and alleviating poverty. I think the struggle of understanding earthly injustice and ones own role in it must be common to all missionaries.
The emotional struggle, cultural alienation, possible physical pain, and simple discouragement—a new type of daily grind—are what make up the life of a missionary. And my taste of that has made me so much more in awe of people who have literally dedicated every atom of who they are and what they do to serving the needy in a foreign land. This new understanding and gratefulness has prompted me to describe my experience to you so that you can join me in honoring these missionaries.
I recently received a Facebook message from Lee, and she told me that “believe it or not” their greatest need is to have another couple come alongside them to serve in the Philippines and also for someone to relieve them for a little while so that they can have a vacation. I have no trouble believing this is their greatest need. Add to the normal struggles I just listed taking care of twenty-five kids who you have trouble communicating with while sleeping only four hours a night. I know they believe they are where God wants them to be and that they find encouragement from that, but I pray that God does bring them another couple to help them soon.
I really wish I could say that I was as focused on what God was doing in the Philippines as they seem to be. But in many ways, it was just plain hard. Nevertheless, there is so much I could tell you about how God blessed me and what He taught me about myself and about life in general.
One thing that hit me when I was on a high school missions trip to Mexico is that God incarnate did not come to live in America with plumbing and air conditioning and welfare. He came down to a dirty earth much more like poor regions of Mexico and the Philippines, and he visited lepers and had crowds of dirty and hurting people around him all the time. That is how humble God. He knows suffering much better than I do.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” Philippians 2: 5-8.
In addition to these educational or enlightening experiences, many other interesting things happened to me… good, bad, and indifferent. Unfortunately I was the first blonde many of the single guys had met…talk about awkward situations. And (skip over the rest of this paragraph if you’re squimish) I got a really big boil on my leg and two small ones on the back of my leg. So I’m super weird, and I actually thought it was kind of exciting that I would be able to say I went to a third world country and got boils. It did hurt, though, and it was beyond nasty when it burst. It was probably about the size of a ping pong ball cut in half.
Toward the end of my trip I went to the mall with some of the young people from the church, and we had a lot of fun. We sang in a karaoke room, which I thought was hysterical because it’s so stereotypically Asian.
For two days (also toward the end of my trip), Matthew and Lee took me to the beach, and we snorkeled during a typhoon. Well, the typhoon was actually on the other side of the Philippines, but the water was really choppy where we were. And they didn’t even tell us about the typhoon until we were on the boat on our way to the little island where we snorkeled. It was so beautiful there and very refreshing after the concrete mess of Cebu that made me dream about being in a fresh forest.
Youth group activities were also super fun. And some of the people my age even gave me a going-away party. Oddly, I met a couple people at it…but I had hung out with most of them a few times before they wished me farewell.
I also had the opportunity to share how I became a Christian during one of their church services. That was a little nerve-wracking, but I invited them all over to my place in heaven a hundred years from that date to have rice feast because they had been so hospitable.
It was also funny when a couple of the kids would force me to read the Bible in Cebuano for extended periods of times while they constantly corrected my pronunciation, and I couldn’t even hear a difference between what I was saying and what they were saying.
An example of a Cebuano Bible verse:
“Pangayo ug kamo hatagan; pangita ug kamo makakaplag; panuktok u gang pultahan ablihan alang kaninyo,“ Mateo 7:7.
A few Cebuano words are the same as Spanish words because Spain colonized the Philippines, but everything is spelled differently.
I really enjoyed learning some Cebuano vocabulary. I still remember a couple body parts and greetings and foods, but not a whole lot.
Good morning: maayong gabii
Cooked rice: kan-on
Unfortunately the language wasn’t the only difficult part about communicating with people. Gestures and facial expressions were practically the opposite of what I am used to. A way of shaking your head means “I don’t know” not “no.” Opening your mouth and raising your eyebrows is not expressing suprise; it’s a way of asking you to repeat yourself. There were so many things like this so that sometimes I just had no idea what people were trying to communicate. And the intonation of Cebuano is the opposite of English, so just by the way someone said something, you might think they meant the complete opposite.
One time I raised my eyebrow suspiciously at something Noel did, and he asked me a few seconds later what that meant. At first I didn’t realize what he was asking. He had to copy the expression to get me to figure out what he was asking.
Overall, my trip was extremely good for me. God taught me so much about myself and the world. It was very difficult at times, but for some reason, I often seem to learn better through difficulty. And I hope at least a few people were blessed and that maybe more people will be encouraged to serve in some way.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,'” Galatians 5:13-14.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up,” Galatians 6:9.