Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Fresh Factor: Unlocking Boonie Bee Honey

Guam Lock & Key - Your one-stop shop for lock fixes, used books, and boonie bee honey! OOG!

Thanks to Abby at Seaweed and Sassafras for the awesome recipe idea and tips! 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Work of Hope

The days since returning from Manila have been a whirlwind, to say the least, but I didn't want the opportunity to pass without sharing more about the work we did while we were there. It was so cute to see how excited our group members were on our first day there as we pulled up to the orphanage. Those who had never been to CCS were excited to see what it was all about (babies!). Those who were returning were perhaps even more excited to find out which of our little buddies were still there. It's one of those win-wins where obviously you hope the kids were all placed with families already, but if they happen to still be at CCS for us to hang out with, well, that's okay too :)

Our first observations were A) how much all the children had grown since last summer and B) how independent our little baby friends were now that they had grown into toddlers! It seems like when we were here last summer, there were a lot of babies that just wanted to be held and cuddled. Nine months later, there was a whole lot of walking going on. Now that the babies were older, it was fun to really get to know their individual personalities more. We pulled out books, puzzles, bubbles, and toys and started the busy and rewarding work of playing.

That's a happy face if I've ever seen one :)

With different team members on the trip this year, we also had different skillsets to tap into. One of the dads on the team, Dennis, does construction in the Air Force. With his expertise, we were able to make some repairs to the facility. In fact, before we left Guam, we were told Dennis may be asked to help with a "lighting renovation project." Dennis confessed he didn't have as much experience as an electrician and was more of a builder... but he said he would do his best with whatever project was asked of him.

Dennis started tackling the "lighting renovation project" only to discover that all that was needed to create light in this upstairs room was to install a new light bulb. The electricity in the room worked just fine. The wall and floor, on the other hand, were rotted through due to a leaky roof. The perfect repair for a builder to make!

Replacing wall beams and ceiling paneling
Patching up the roof... a nice job to do while it's not rainy season...
Dennis also led the youth in painting a couple of the rooms. Always amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to transform a space.... extreme makeover, orphanage edition :)

 And Kevin joined in to seal the leaky roof over the play area.

Another one of the dads on our team is a doctor... a fantastic profession to have on any mission trip! Jim did medical evaluations on all the residents of CCS. It was sad and crazy to hear the resident nurse tell the stories about each child's medical history... everything from being abandoned in a dumpster to suffocated by a plastic bag. But it was so wonderful to hear Dr. Jim's assessment of how healthy the children are and how effective their treatment programs have been. Yaaaay :)

Another healthy, happy kiddo finishes her check-up.  
Thanks Dr. Jim, where's my lollipop?

Each of our first three workdays, our team conducted a Vacation Bible School for the street/urban poor children who attend CCS in the afternoons. These children have families, although many of them live in depressed homes or squatters. Part of the criteria for being in the program is that children (ages 7-17) come from families that have five or more children (!) and are below the poverty line (living on less than $100US/month!). Some of the program's curriculum includes math and reading tutoring, character development, and personal hygiene education (one of the ways these children hide rather well that they are one step away from homeless... you wouldn't know by looking at them).

Like last year, the VBS kids looooved crafts! Thanks to Nick's mom for all the stickers she sent. They were a hit once again!

Also like last year, we had the kids make foam picture frames again using foam my sister sent out and some fun new foam stickers.

We weren't planning to do this craft again, but one of the staff members told us she still sees the pictures and frames hanging up in the kids' houses when she does home visits. We thought it might be nice for them to have an updated photo.

Since we were there the day after Easter, we did an Easter egg hunt featuring American candy... it was a big hit!

Also handy was the fact that two of the moms on the trip were teachers!

Paula and Nancy helped the kids make a pop-up book of a parrot covered in feathers

Nancy and her family acted out one of the best stories ever... The Giving Tree.

We treated the kids to yummy snacks... and got to try a few delicious bites ourselves :)

We taught the kids some new games... they didn't know how to play Four Square. 

I'm still not sure they know how to play, but they had fun playing whatever game they came up with on their own :)

We graffiti'd the sidewalk

And we reunited the kids with their favorite game... baskeetbol! There used to be a hoop and backboard on the nearby tree, but it got old and fell off. Someone had donated a new hoop and mounting bracket to CCS, but no one had the tools to install it until now. After acquiring some new tools for them, Jim drilled and bolted the mounting into solid concrete... and he narrowly avoided police confrontation when the owner of the hotel next door brought his security guard over to see why a drill was coming through their wall. Whew!
Well worth the effort... moments after Jim finished, the wall was already being put to good use.

Our third workday was a little different. Instead of our entire group going to CCS, 9 of our youth and one brave adult (thanks Sandra!) went to hang out with the high school and college youth from the area Lutheran churches who were at summer camp down the street at Gloria Dei Christian School. As it so happens, the week after Easter is the first week of summer break in the Philippines, so our youth had the unique and reportedly awesome experience of going to a full day of summer camp in a foreign country! There were tons of messy games, including a mud pit, and our youth had a blast hanging out with the Filipino kids (especially once it was time to play baskeetbol).
The Americans line up for their turn to represent their teams looking up Bible verses. 

Later that night the rest of our group joined the camp for a joint chapel/worship service, a dinner we hosted, and a talent show. During our talent show, two of our youth Travis and Coleman led an awesome song/game called "On a Day Like This." Everyone was on their feet, singing and laughing... and messing up, which was totally the point. "On a day like this, Ooooh, I need the Lord to help me."

 We did one last project with the goal in mind of creating a new experience for some of these kids. We'd heard that many of the kids had never gone shopping before. As in, never gone to a store, picked something out, tried it on and bought it. We thought it would be fun to make this happen. You should have heard the laughter and cheering when we pulled up in front of a department store with 23 of the street children and announced that they could each spend 500 pesos on clothes and shoes. I think it was humbling for all of us to see their excitement, especially considering that amount works out to about $12 US. 

The kids only had about 20 minutes to pick out what they wanted, so you can imagine it was very busy watching them buzz around trying stuff on. While some walked out with dresses and shiny black dress shoes, many chose to spend their pesos on underwear, socks, and a bag for school. We also learned that many of the kids had never been this far (30 minutes) from their home neighborhood. In fact, many of them had never been as far as the major street that lines their neighborhood just a few blocks from CCS!
 Thankfully the customer service in the Philippines is the best in the world, so the kids had a lot of help!
It was really fun to create this experience for the street kids and also for the residents of CCS. While it's extremely efficient that kids are clothed primarily with donated items, it was nice for the kids to have something brand new for once, something to call their very own.
Our projects this year seemed extra rich, partly because of the added expertise we had on our team, but also because this year we had an extraordinary donation to work with. Our team received a grant from the Frees Foundation of Houston, Texas, which allowed us the resources to provide for any special needs that arose throughout the week. At the end of the week, it felt like we had a lot to show for ourselves. The room Dennis fixed up will now be used as the room where staff sleep, which frees up the downstairs room below to be used as an isolation room for when residents become sick. With two roofs sealed, the facility was now ready for rainy season.

While Jim's check-ups confirmed that the babies are healthy as ever, the state of the facility overall was a bit more run down than when we were there last summer. My hunch is that funding squeezes have hampered their ability to stay on top of all of the upkeep of the property, and even though they are renting, that doesn't mean their property managers are at their beck and call. Due to our grant funding, our team was able to provide a year contract for pest control services to resume, one more lasting impact of our visit.

In addition to the work on the property, we conducted three packed days of VBS crafts, stories and songs, two successful shopping trips, and the new basketball hoop installed overhead.

 We spent some time with the people we care about... the little ones who have taught us so much about faith, love, and hope.

And then there was my favorite part of the visit... gathering CCS staff and our team members announcing our donation... 90,000 pesos we collected from family and friends and church members (you guys!). When I wrote the message to you all requesting donations for our cause, I never expected our team would show up with over $2,100 to give! It meant so much bringing a piece of your hearts on the trip with us, knowing how many prayers were being said all over the world for this special place. So thank you, friends... thank you for being part of this joyful moment!

Turns out the timing of our visit couldn't have been better... I'm not surprised. The week we were there was Ate Beth's last week before retiring. In fact, her retirement party was two days after we left, which brought donors and supporters in from all over to celebrate her twenty years of work. It was nice knowing we had put those fresh coats of paint on the wall and fixed what needed to be fixed. It was great for everyone to hear about the donations and support our team brought, especially in light of the upcoming transition to a new director (hired that same week!) after two decades with Ate Beth.

As this new chapter in Beth's life begins, and this chapter of leading trips to Manila comes to a close for me, I have to reflect on how much I have learned from this woman of service, simplicity, excellence. Ate Beth has unquestionably made my personal faith hall of fame by always relying on God to provide and confident of His ability to work through others to accomplish things small to impossible. When I showed her the email from Mia Claire's family and pointed out it came just two days before we left on this trip, she immediately said, "That's not a coincidence, you know." She has spent a lifetime watching God work in mysterious ways with miraculous timing to bring unlikely people together right when they need each other. I am so grateful to have crossed paths with this incredible woman who has shown me that faith is at its most powerful when it's a verb.

As we gathered for our final group photo with the staff, team members, babies and kids, it was easy to smile knowing all we had done that week. The goodbyes that followed were a little more difficult, but I had to appreciate all we have learned from our time spent between these walls. This very place that could so easily represent all that is wrong with the world... parents abandoning their children... so much more represents this beautiful thing called hope

As I gave Mia Claire one last squeeze, I thought of her parents, not long behind me, who would come to whisk her away to her new fabulous life of schools and travel and rich experiences... hope. I thought of the beautiful thing called love, the force behind a family's desire to travel to the other side of the world to welcome an outsider under their wing. I thought of the hardworking hands of the staff members, love being the glue that connects every movement of the daily routine of feeding, changing, and bathing all of these wiggly little children. I thought of the orchestration going on this very moment in the heavenly realms that will one day unite these children with their forever families.

Indeed, we have learned so much during our time here. My hope is the visits between LCG and CCS will continue long after my feet are planted back on the mainland. There is so much brought to the table from both sides during this exchange, and I marvel that though we are worlds apart, it's only a three-hour flight that separates us. And yet, despite any distance, we remain connected at the very heart through our prayers... through our faith... through our love... and through our hope...

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Fresh Factor: Farmer's Market Dinner Party

Featuring grilled yellowfin tuna, roasted veggies, and mango garden salad with calamansi poppyseed vinaigrette.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Precious in His Sight

As I sift through hundreds of pictures, letting memories and stories soak further in, I struggle yet again with how to begin telling you about our week serving in Manila. I know, in time, the words will come. But for now I proceed with the very reason we made our return...

these beautiful smiles...
these smiling eyes...

These precious faces that leave me wondering, once again,
how could anyone turn away?

And so you wait. But you wait in such good hands, dear one. Faces, smiles, loving arms swoop in with kisses, comfort, reassurance... humbly taking on the fiercely trying role of being mother to a child who has none… only to say goodbye one day, that glorious day, when a family comes to take you home. The staff of Concordia Children's Services are truly angels.

Faces... more faces... of those who do have family, though little else... the beautiful smiles of the street children who come to CCS in the afternoons for life lessons, snacks, safety... all of which add up to hope for a better future.

A deeper look into the very eyes of faith... Ate Beth, the orphanage's director, protector, and champion for the past 20 years. Wisdom emanating from every pore.
Familiar smiles that once warmed our hearts now melt our souls as our eyes meet again.  
Hello Mia Claire! So wonderful to see you, sweet girl. My how you have grown!

This, my friends, is a very special place.

What, then, can we bring? What good can we do?
How might we be a blessing to those who bless us by simply smiling back?

Joyfully we come to serve
Bringing hands to feed you

Arms to hold you

Smiles you might recognize

New wonders to bring you joy

Silly games to make you smile

Talents and tools to keep the rainy days away.

With you we share... timeless truths to encourage you

A new look at the beautiful creation you have become

 A little something to brighten your day

 A story for your mind

A song for your heart

A friend who has been praying for your soul... your miracle soul.

Humbly we bring to you... the healing care of a doctor

The gentle embrace of a sister

The unmistakeable love of a brother.

 All this love we bring, and yet we leave here so full.

These are the little hands and feet and faces that brought us back to Concordia.

These are the smiles we were praying to see again, to create anew.

These are the eyes we crossed an ocean to gaze upon,
that we might share a message of hope.
Sweet Mia, your family cannot wait to meet you!

Through seeing, through sharing, through holding, through loving, our time at this special place has melted in, becoming part of who we are.

We will not soon forget your beautiful smiles

Or how you made us smile.

Or how in you we witnessed the very love of Christ himself.
"Whatever you did for one of the least of these..."

Future families, please know it brought us immense joy to hold your sons, your daughters in our arms. We pray for you as you wait for the glorious day when your joy may be complete.

Precious ones, we will not forget you. You will be forever in our hearts and in our prayers. Sleep soundly. Dream sweetly. Your family will come for you soon. And until that day, know little ones, you rest in the arms of angels, protected by the unwavering promises of our Father.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


Dedicated to the precious children and loving staff of Concordia Children’s Services orphanage, with special thanks to members of the Lutheran Church of Guam, as well as friends and family who supported our team’s efforts to return to Manila through your prayers and donations. Thanks also to the LCMS staff in Manila for coordinating our visit. And, finally, endless appreciation to the Frees Foundation for granting our team the resources to bring care and hope in an extraordinary way. As we tuck these memories away in our hearts, we are forever grateful for all who made this experience possible.

If you would like to join us in supporting this very special place, please consider making a donation to Concordia Children’s Services. The orphanage is run completely on private donations, and every dollar, every peso makes a world of difference as they care for the children who wait. 

If you would like to receive quarterly email updates of adoption stories and specific needs of CCS orphanage, please message me and I will see you are added to their email list.

Thank you, friends, for your loving support and for joining me in lifting up this very special place.