Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Images of Concordia

There is still so much to tell you about our time at Concordia Children's Services. Since I have so many hundreds of photos, I thought I would let them do the talking this time, with a few comments from the peanut gallery about why I chose these particular images. Ate Beth explained that the word concordia means harmony. All of these images to me are examples of how our group aspired to come in as newcomers, as outsiders, and yet still create harmony in this special place for the short time we were there.

A CCS staff member guides RJ, our high school senior, 
in changing a diaper of a fed, washed & very happy baby.

I walked into the baby room and RJ was in there all by himself 
getting lovey eyes from this little beauty.

In addition to serving as home for 15 babies, toddlers, and kids, CCS also has an after school program for street kids. A church member named Heather donated a bunch of VBS-type crafts for us to use to keep the kids busy. They absolutely loved making these beaded cross necklaces with Chloe and me, and many returned the next day still proudly wearing what they had made.

I love this picture because each of our youth look so proud to be holding one of these precious little ones. They were so innately enthusiastic about the opportunity to hold and play with every baby and toddler. They loved getting their pictures taken together, and I think everyone would agree that the only hard part of the day was putting each baby in his or her crib for a nap and saying goodbye until we could return again.
In addition to coming and playing with the babies and teaching the street kids, part of our ministry there involved the months prior that we spent collecting supplies from CCS's wish list to donate to them. Here our two mom workers Sandra and Lynelle spent part of the morning sorting and counting all of the socks, undies, toothbrushes, shampoos, baby powders, books, toys, and shoes that church members back in Guam donated for us to bring. Many of the supplies will stay at CCS, but those we brought in excess will be given to the street kids who can use them just as much. It was so awesome having the support of our entire church behind us on this trip, not just in getting all of us to Manila but in increasing our group's impact once we were there.

Sixth-grader Travis and his loving admirer

I looked across the room and caught sixth-grader Wayne playing peek-a-boo :)

Travis becoming fast friends with the street kids

The kids LOVED stickers. My sister donated over a thousand stickers and kids like Bobby went crazy with them. Now I know what to bring heaps of if we go again next year.

Cheyenne and Coleman proudly hold their little ones while our trip orchestrator Sean makes an appearance in the background. Sean is the missionary who works for the Lutheran Church in the Philippines. His primary job is to bring people and resources together to help strengthen programs and ministries in the region. He and his counterpart Deling were absolutely essential in helping this trip come together. I am so grateful to have gotten to work with him and have learned so much from him along the way. Whenever I would start to get too overwhelmed with the details of the trip, he calmly reminded me that our only purpose was to (1) show love and (2) to build relationships. That's it. It was a great reminder of the big picture, not just for the trip, but for why we're here in general.

When the babies were napping, our group gave CCS a bath. Doug, Kevin & Richard were outside in the rain and mosquito dens scrubbing the windows.

The rest of us were inside dusting everything in the playroom. Coleman and Travis took on the extra dirty job of sweeping the dust off the brick column. 

Speaking of extra dirty jobs, Mike and RJ spent several hours installing a new toilet flush system that didn't leak. Hopefully this will result in a lower water bill for CCS and more money in the bank for the remaining months they are at this location. 

Here Chloe and Ashley tediously took every book off the bookshelf and dusted it.

Back to crafts! On day 2 with the street kids we made Bee-leiver magnets.

Doug and Kevin did an amazing job bringing joy through song and dance. 
The kids absolutely loved Kevin's guitar playing and Doug's goofy songs.

In addition to singing, dancing and crafting, these kids LOVED being read to. Ashley read this great book called Stone Soup, a story where they start with just a couple of stones and all of the townspeople each add one ingredient until, together, they have made a delicious soup that everyone can share. Another great recipe for harmony.
We worked at CCS Monday and Tuesday, then moved on to teach at Gloria Dei School for Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday afternoon at the end of our last workday, we returned to CCS one last time for an extra special last visit. Here our brother-sister team of the trip, Ashley and Coleman, enjoy some last minutes with some of their favorite little ones. So hard to say goodbye but grateful these little faces are in such a good place.
Playing with the babies was a blast, no question, but in terms of impact, perhaps our biggest contribution was in the donation we were able to leave. On Easter Sunday, our youth hosted a breakfast that was a fundraiser benefiting CCS orphanage. I was completely floored at the end when we counted up the total: $1,201 in the basket. Nearly half of that, $600, came from one single check made out by a Navy couple younger than me an Nick. I was so blown away by everyone's generosity and thought it was another great example of harmony. So many church members had lovingly cooked and donated food for the brunch so all of the proceeds could go straight to CCS. And so many church members opened their hearts so that two months later, we could create this huge smile on Ate Beth's face.
In her talk to us on Monday, Ate Beth emphasized that her 20-year tenure here at CCS has been one of faith. Each month she doesn't know where the donations will come from to keep this place running. They have no consistent monthly donors nor government funding. They no longer have income from some consulting services they used to provide. And with the economy down, donations are down as well. There was joyous celebration as we surprised everyone with our gift, plus a 50,000 peso gift for the unbelievably hardworking staff. And just like that, our small team of randomly joined individuals of all ages and talents from a tiny island in the Pacific joined forces with our loving congregation to create a most welcome gift. Together we somehow became the answer to one of Ate Beth's most faithful prayers. And seeing the joy in her face here, I can't help but wonder what more we might be called to do. 
Ironically, Concordia Children's Services is currently somewhat of an orphan itself. The property they are renting is for sale and the government wants to eventually put a road through part of the compound, forcing them to move in the near future. Luckily the week we were there, the board of Gloria Dei Christian School down the street met to discuss moving CCS onto the school's property. This would be a huge victory, as CCS would not have to worry about property fees. The downside is the building needs massive renovations to transform from an abandoned building to a home fit for all of these precious little ones. 
If you have any interest in helping this wonderful place, please let me know and I will include you in our future fundraising and supplies drives and potential future trips (possibly a work trip once their move is made). I know there are a lot of worthwhile charities out there, but I can vouch firsthand that Concordia Children's Services merits every dollar and every peso that comes their way. It's only through individual donations that they can afford to hire more staff and take on more babies that need loving homes. 
Of course, it isn't just about money. It's about showing love and building relationships. And it's about harmony. And when we all come together for God's precious miracles, it's a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing indeed.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Miracles in Manila

Sorting through hundreds of pictures, reading back over dozens of pages in my journal, mentally recapping the images and stories from the week. All this material and yet, I have absolutely no idea how to tell you about the week I just had. When Nick dropped me off at the airport last Saturday I was ready but nervous. I had no idea how our long-anticipated trip to The Philippines would turn out... if everything would go as planned, if there were surprises in store, if (or when) some of our team would get sick (since that seemed inevitable), and my biggest worry of all, whether or not the trip would even be worth it all.

My worries were given a bit of a jolt the moment I showed up at the airport in Guam. Most of our team members were already there and some had already gone to the counter to check bags, only to find out that Continental was suddenly going to charge us $30 each for our second checked bag. I called them back in March specifically to find out what our baggage allotment was and was told two free bags at 50 pounds each. But because of the merger with United, that policy had changed recently and since we had only ticketed our seats two weeks before, we had to abide by the new policy (despite having reserved the seats six months ago). No exceptions. Almost everyone had a second bag full of supplies we had collected to donate or use in our service projects. So with $300 (each way) in baggage fees looming at the first moments of the trip, I was forcing myself to stay calm. Our group name, after all, is Go with the Flow.

We immediately got to work consolidating what we could into fewer bags. Luckily we had one silver and one gold Elite member who could check bags for free. A couple of people have the Continental credit card, which brought a few more free bag spots. It was looking like we were only going to have to pay for 2 or 3 bags when a Continental manager told us that because one of our members was Gold elite, they could put up to 9 people with 3 bags each on his itinerary for free. So in the end, we didn't pay a cent for the checked bags. That was miracle number one, and a small one compared to how the rest of the week went.

Coleman & Cheyenne in jail
After a three-hour nonstop flight to Manila, we landed, went through customs and had our second big glitch. Two of our youth team members were traveling without their parents there and both got stuck at immigration. Apparently you cannot travel to The Philippines as a minor (under 15) without your parents. Who knew? The good news was all we had to do was pay a fee and it was suddenly okay to be a minor traveling without parents (sketchy policy). The bad news was the fee was 3,100 pesos per youth. I ran to the bank to exchange money and returned to bail our helpless teenagers out of "jail." We paid the $150 fee (ouch!), collected our bags, and left the airport to meet up with Sean and Deling, our friends from the Lutheran Church there, who we found relatively easily. Needless to say I was glad to get out of airports after a rocky start to the trip on both ends.

We arrived at our dorms just before midnight, got situated and went to sleep. With our AC on full blast and just a tiny blanket over me, I froze and hardly got any sleep that night. I awoke that Sunday morning dazed, exhausted, and still bewildered at the thought of an entire week of potential glitches, wondering just how costly or inconvenient they would be. And as the group's leader, the weight of the responsibility seemed to be resting on my shoulders.

Thankfully, our first destination in Manila was a church service at Faith Marikina Lutheran Church. It was an absolutely adorable little church. Months ago Sean had asked our group to prepare a skit and a few songs to do in church. We aren't any kind of performing group, so this skit seemed like a bit of a headache to come up with. I wanted the youth to have the stage, but knew we wouldn't have time before the trip to memorize lines or practice anything to perfection. A new friend of mine at church named Heather suggested we do a skit about Creation, where we read the Genesis verses starting with a black canvas and one by one add different pieces of the creation story until the canvas is filled with life. I loved the idea for both its simplicity and universality. We wouldn't have to memorize lines, and I figured Christians from all over of all ages could appreciate the telling of this particular story. So we ran with it. I had my mom send out her large Velcro canvas she used to use in professional presentations. I got a team of trip youth and Guam friends to help make Creation shapes. Our youth practiced the skit a week before we left and did it at our church as a children's sermon. Poof, we had a skit.

All this preparation and the day we were leaving for Manila I saw I had an overlooked Skyped conversation with Sean asking what our skit was about. He eluded that the pastor wasn't sure if we were going to actually do it during the service or not. It would depend on what it was about. So I left for Manila less than thrilled that we had done all of this preparation and possibly wouldn't even do the skit after all that. Imagine my surprise, now, upon talking to the Pastor that morning before the service. He asked what our skit was about and I told him it was the first chapter and some of Genesis. He said that happened to be the Old Testament reading for the morning (?!) so we could just do our skit in lieu of the reading.

This, for me, was the turning point of the trip. Of all the Bible passages in the Old Testament, we showed up that Sunday with a skit that used the exact same verses as the Lutheran Church's chosen verses for the week, completely by coincidence. As I passed on my astonishment to the others, Sean said he wasn't surprised at all, at which point, I had my "aha" moment (at a church named Faith no less). From here on out, I knew God's hand was on our trip and that everything, regardless of glitches, would work out okay. My job was to enjoy having Him on the trip with us and make sure others did too. And just like that, on our first morning of our first day, miracle number two.

It poured down rain that afternoon spoiling our plans to go to Tagaytay City, an outdoorsy area outside of Manila that boasts great views of a volcano. The idea was we would go with some of the young people from Faith Church so we could hang out with them. Instead we did what Filipinos do when it rains. We loaded up and went to a massive shopping mall. We were able to bring about a dozen of the Faith youth with us. This was the first of many Plan B's that happened throughout the week because of the torrential rain that spun off of two separate tropical storms. This week's weather made Guam's rainy season look like San Diego's.

Monday morning we loaded up for our first day at the orphanage Concordia Childrens Services. We spent the morning holding babies, playing with toddlers, and entertaining some of the older kids who live there and weren't in school because of the national holiday for Rizal's birthday. After two hours of getting to know them, they were put down for their naps and the orphanage's dear headmaster, Ate Beth (Auntie Beth), gave us an introduction to CCS. During her talk we found out the three ways children find their way in an orphanage like theirs. They are either surrendered at birth by the mother who chooses to give them up. They are discovered abandoned and brought to a hospital. Or they are rescued from parents who have proven to harm their children.

Cheyenne and miracle Rachel
That morning we had been playing with all three types of cases. Many of the babies had been surrendered. Two of the kids had been taken from their parents after their parents put them in plastic bags to keep them from the rain, nearly suffocating them. One of the boys still has bad asthma as a result. And perhaps the most sad was hearing about the children who had been abandoned. It was then that Ate Beth told us this little three-month-old Rachel had been found in a garbage dump as an infant. A worker happened to walk by and hear something crying. He found her in a plastic bag with the afterbirth, but luckily in time for a hospital to save her. She ended up at CCS where she spent the morning smiling and cooing in Cheyenne's arms. Miracle number three.

Happy baby :)
At that point we realized that every child in that place---all 15 of them are miracles. Not having mothers to love them, there is no reason they should be alive right now. Thanks to CCS, they are not only living but thriving. I didn't see a single runny nose in that orphanage. Not a spot of diaper rash. Those babies were spotless and well fed, nurtured and loved. It was the only thing to lift my spirits once I started thinking about the baby in my arms that has no family. At least he ended up here.

I was talking to Ate Beth when she showed me a card that came in the mail... an update from a little girl who had been adopted from there when she was 3. The 14 year-old girl named Ella now lives in Tennessee and the included Christmas photo showed us a beautiful, confident young lady who was part of a loving family. It gave me hope that these babies do have families out there, they just haven't been paired yet. And perhaps the God who orchestrates small miracles like a skit matching a Bible passage was already working on these bigger ones, creating families who would one day hold these tiny hands, wash these tiny feet, and kiss these tiny faces.

Until then, for the short time we were there, our youth did an incredible job standing in as family. Watching them pass these babies around, feed them, play games with them, even change diapers, I could not have been more proud of their diligence in showing love. In a very real way, they were the hands of Christ this past week. And there was even some evidence that they grew from this experience. One of our eighth grade boys started out the day saying he didn't feel comfortable holding babies. At the end of the day, I found him looking like this:

Arthur and Mia Claire

There were even more miracles this week. We had no transportation issues all week (which if you've ever seen the driving in The Philippines, this is definitely a miracle!). No one got sick from the food (despite trying many adventurous things... pigs ears and meat marinaded in blood, yum). In fact, I have lost count of the miracles thus far, but will add one last reflection from this part of the week. Each evening back at the dorm we had a time for reflection on the day and broke into small discussion groups. Monday's theme was faith, so our talk focused on that. I asked our teenagers a rather tough question towards the end: "How can serving others help your faith to grow?" Cheyenne, who enters high school in the fall, made the comment that got me thinking about all of this. She said something like, "It's because on trips like this you witness miracles, and miracles help our faith to grow because they remind us that God is there." A well stated observation from the girl who spent the day with a miracle in her arms.

All these miracles and I'm only on Monday, our first workday. It was a powerful week and I'm sure you know that more is on the way. I have to soak up these recaps as much as I can because much like our youth, I don't want the trip to end either. Hard to believe it already has which makes me appreciate the opportunity to relive it all here and share all of these stories and miracles with you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thanks Courtney and Ben!

 We are here in Manila and so far our work here has gone really well. I am excited to share more with you about it, but we are loading up for our second workday at the orphanage, so I don't have much time! Just wanted to share a few pictures with you from our first day at Concordia Childrens Services. We spent the day loving on 15 babies and toddles who live there and then did an after school VBS program for about 22 older kids who have families but live on the streets of Manila. 

About a week before we left on our trip I still wasn't sure what crafts and activities we were going to do. Guam doesn't have a lot of options in terms of craft supplies, so everything I came up with was either impossible to find stuff for or really expensive. As I was explaining this on the phone to my sister Courtney, she piped in telling me how she has all of that stuff right in her craft stash. She said she would be happy to box it up and send it to me for us to take and use (and her fiance Ben said he'd be happy to cover the shipping to get more craft supplies out of their loft). The box arrived Friday morning, just in time. Going through the supplies, I suddenly got tons of great ideas for what we could do. So Friday at 4p.m., 24 hours before we were leaving, I had our kitchen covered in craft foam (fresh from the U.S.!). I got a burst of ideas that I ran with and suddenly our activities were set.

So yesterday the 22 street kids made Gospel Boards to celebrate the eternal life we are given through Christ (Romans 6:23). They used Court's stickers, foam shapes, markers, and glues to go to town on creativity. They had so much fun with it and were thrilled that they got to take them with at the end. I loved looking around the room yesterday at all the colorful foam covering the floor and the buzz of kid creativity filling the air, and knowing that my awesome sister and future bro had made it happen. Just another story of love that has made this trip come together.

Gotta run but can't go before leaving you with a picture of one of the babies. This is Mia Claire. Check out this little face! (No, she's not coming home with me, though it's tempting!). Thank you all for your prayers and support. Can't wait to share more!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Go with the FLOW

As many of you know, one of my favorite things about being on Guam is the job I have here. Sure, you've heard me gloat about it in the past, but when you find yourself putting hours spent filling up water balloons on your time sheet, it makes it even more obvious. With summer upon us, Wednesday night we did a rendition of Field Day at youth group, which we refer to as Go with the FLOW (Future Leaders of the World). I remember playing classic Field Day games the last week of school every year. It was always something to look forward to, and I wanted to pass along some of the fun to these guys, many of whom had gone their entire childhood without doing an egg on a spoon race (if you can believe that!). It was also our last youth group before the military kids get out of school, many leaving island for the summer, and thus, the last time our group would be together until September.
Three-legged race 

Chloe and I came in dead last both times... 
that's the last time I team up with a 6th grader.

Egg on a spoon race - Photo is blurry to simulate dizziness... 
and because I am fast like lightening
Water balloon toss... at sunset on the Philippine Sea. How's the view from your office? :0)
This game is called "Back to Back" - You have to place a water balloon between your backs and shuffle the length of the race course without breaking or dropping it. 

The girls owned this race

Junk food anyone? Inside for pizza, brownies, ice cream, and homemade fried Oreos. 
The kids weren't wound up at all...

Aren't we a nice looking group?
We were a nice looking group... Wouldn't be youth group without a goofy shot!
Like most of these guys parents', I can't believe a whole school year has gone by and that each of them will be moving up a grade. I have really enjoyed getting to know all of these young people and have learned a lot from them. I am excited for our next step... and it's a big one. I am taking eight of these youth, three college leaders, and four other adults to Manila for a week-long service trip. We leave Saturday (tomorrow!!). After hundreds of hours of planning and $6,000 worth of fundraisers over the last seven months, we are finally going! We will spend our first two workdays at an orphanage and our second two days teaching at a school. We will get to explore Manila a bit and hit up the fourth largest shopping mall in the world (Helloooo Zara!). 

I'm extremely excited for this opportunity, especially for our Future Leaders, to go and serve in a place that has very real poverty. And I'm trying not to think about the fact that I am responsible for all of these people for a week in a somewhat dodgy third world country... yikes! So I am definitely accepting all offers for prayers this week... that we would stay safe and healthy, grow spiritually, and somehow be a blessing to those we come to serve. And on that note, thanks to all of you who have supported the trip along the way through your prayers and donations, and to my Guammie readers, for helping with the rummage sale. This trip was built surrounded by love and I can't wait to go live it out. Looking forward to sharing stories and pictures from Manila with all of you!