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 :)
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
And Kevin joined in to seal the leaky roof over the play area.
Another healthy, happy kiddo finishes her check-up.
Thanks Dr. Jim, where's my lollipop?
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 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
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.
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.
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