“My heart feels warm”, she said.

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The dust collects in between my toes as I walk down the road towards the next house. Even though it’s 100 and something degrees hot outside, I pull my black scarf over and around my head so the motors passing by hopefully won’t take much notice to the white girl in the village. I can’t do much to hide my blue eyes, so I just turn them up towards the sky as the motors pass and take it as a quick chance to reconnect with God until the path is clear again.

We have been coming to this village for a long time now, but I still try to remind myself each time I slip my sandals off outside the door that I am forever to be a learner first in this place- a learner of their tribe and culture, their way of living, their people. I don’t come in with all the answers to their problems and I don’t want to ever pretend to be the hero. I am most definitely not the hero. If only you could get to know them with me…they are the heroes.

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I step into the house and immediately get handed a baby. So I sit down on the ground, hoping the baby doesn’t use my lap as a diaper today (buuut he probably will), and I take in the familiar view around me. The inside of this house looks the same as all the others I spend my village days in. A stock of clothing is piled in the corner to be shared by all 15 people living in the house, a small table made from trees stands proudly in the center of the house, and next to it a bamboo mat is laid down where the family will all huddle together to sleep at night. There is likely a gun somewhere, but I don’t see it today. A metal mug, a few spoons and bowls, and a pot hang from nails on the boards of the house. Laundry is drying on the clothesline outside. And that’s it. That’s the house and all they own. I remember the teaching of Jesus…

“And when you pray, He said, pray like this:
Our Father who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread…”

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I’ve been coming to these villages long enough to know the secret: there is really a special joy to be found here in this kind of life. I don’t say its easy, because absolutely nothing about life here is easy. But something is so real and powerful about a life completely and utterly dependent on God to show up and do what He says He’ll do, and be who He says He is. The Bible comes alive to me here; God is tangible.

“And looking at His disciples, Jesus said:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

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After a while, Auntie takes the metal mug off the nail, blows on the old fire coals to spark it up again, and sets the water kettle over the wood to heat water for our coffee. She sits down beside me and catches me up on the chika (news) from the week. I understand most of what she says to me and just smile and nod through the few parts I don’t quite catch. Afterwards its silent between us for a minute. We goo and ga and do all the baby things for a while. Then she lifts her head and almost in a whisper, leans in to ask me a question…

“Why do you keep coming here? Even your Filipino companions from the city, why do they keep coming here to us? The road is hard, it’s dangerous here for you, we have nothing to give to you, we smell like the mountain…”

She stops her question short because I start laughing when she says their smell is like the mountain. But then I pause for a minute, because I know this question matters and I really want to answer her well. Its not the first time I’ve been asked this.

I take a second to pray before I answer her. If I bring up God’s name too soon or in the wrong house or in bad way, it could get our team into danger. I have to be bold and honest, but careful and discerning. There is no rulebook for this and I so often feel the heavy weight of responsibility to keep my team safe, but today I feel peace as I pray so I continue…

Auntie, the same God who brings the rain to water your crops so you can have food on the table, and creates the children in your womb, and provides for your needs here each day, the same God who created the materials in nature for you to build this house, who renews your strength every morning so you can fetch your water and care for your family, the same God who sees us sitting here right now together in your house, is the same God who brought us here to your place.

Because He wants you to know that He loves you. You are not hidden from His sight or forgotten about here in this village. His ear is not deaf to hear your cries for help and His hand is not short to save you. I can see His handprints all around your land even though most people here don’t yet worship Him. You think you’re alone out here, but you’re not. The one true God is here. And He loves you.

(I do the best I can with the language skills I have, but in a weird way I can’t explain, God tends to take control of my mouth when it matters most and give me words I don’t even know that I know).

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I turn back to face her, a little nervous to catch her response, but then I realize she’s crying.

Auntie, why are you crying?
“Because my heart feels warm”, she said.

We just laugh. I wanted to tell her right then and there about the Holy Spirit and how He moves and works in us. But I knew it wasn’t yet the time to push it. Instead I just smiled back at her and finished my coffee. One seed at a time.

I’m glad Auntie, I’m glad! My heart feels warm too…

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On culture shock and home and war.

Culture shock is always a funny thing.

Something weird is happening with my eyes- they are constantly burning and red, I think (I hope) because it is so dry here compared to Philippines. My skin also is dry and looks a bit snake-like at times. But my hair is 100x more happy here. My hair actually wants me to move back to America.

My mouth is looooving a good summer salad, but my stomach- NOT. AT. ALL. She is also not appreciating cream cheese, yogurt, Dr. pepper, sandwiches, popcorn, fruit, and a plethora of other foods I keep trying to feed her. Where is that small white kernel-y stuff you normally feed me in hefty amounts twice a day? My stomach is asking.

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The hot, heavy water pressure in the shower feels so great. But the shaky feeling when I’m finished leaves me wondering sometimes if its even worth it. The air conditioning freezes me out and sometimes I feel so cold I literally feel myself getting angry. Laundry takes a whopping two hours and smells like angels hair, BUT all the good angel smelling chemicals have given me an itchy rash.

Driving is a trip. I have forgotten how to yield and who gives way to who and how the left turn system works and that it is apparently NOT considered friendly to use my horn to let the other cars know I’m near. I pulled out in front of someone today from the parking lot and said someone was NOT happy with me. I often forget that I don’t need to push out and take my space, there is actually a system for when the space is given to me. Oops.

Paying with a card is not the same as 6 years ago. Sometimes you swipe, sometimes you insert, sometimes you insert quickly, sometimes you leave it in. They want you to sign but don’t give you a pen! Apparently my finger is a pen now. SO.much.anxiety. I always tell myself to remain cool and calm when paying- I’m afraid if I mess up they will think I stole the card! It’s my card sir, I promise.

Applebees…Chilis…and some random steakhouse in nowhere Kansas- ROBOTS will take your payment and even your refill order if you want. Okay not robots exactly, its these little black machines glued to your table, but that might as well be a robot. Menus are all now the size of chapter books. Walgreens and CVS have transformed into supermalls, instead of my handy corner convenience store.

I have to remember how to pump my own gas and that makes me feel weird. It spilled out onto me the other day and it made me question why America is one of the only places in the world where you have to pump your own stinky gas?! I don’t want to do this. Philippines has made me lazy in this way.

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Summer fashion is so absurd and if I could appropriately hate on it here, I would. But I only have bad things to say so I will refrain.

When I walk into a group of people, especially older than me, instinct still tells me to greet them all with a kiss on the cheek. But I’m thrilled to report, no awkward moments yet.

There are machines that schedule when your grass gets water and how much water it gets. There are machines that empty the trash. There are machines that wash my dishes (no complaints here on that one).

My brother informed me the other day that correct gratuity is no longer 12% or even 15%, but 20%. Yikes. I felt the need to go back now to my waiter from last week and apologize.

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These are all expected, and even typical culture shock things that most people returning from oversees will talk about. These are not hard things. It is an adjustment, for sure. And it can be frustrating or awkward or even funny sometimes. But I do my best to prepare before I come here, knowing that America will always be, well, America. I’m not into making people feel guilty or weird. And living between two worlds is just part of the assignment.

But there certainly are hard things about coming home, most of which I just cannot explain well at all. There are paradoxes and things that seemingly try to rip my heart apart and shut me up inside myself. It is isolating. Its not the food or the driving that makes coming home to America so difficult. I would say that is more of a short-term workers experience.  When you have made a third world country your home, adopted its culture, and given your heart to its people…when you’ve witnessed how hard they work just to survive, when you’ve eaten meals in their homes and held hands and prayed in tears through their trials and watched the kids grow up…when they’ve been there for you too. The hard is just different. The shock is greater and feels way more debilitating. Here is just one example-

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10 days ago, only a few days after my feet hit American soil, the Islamic State of Southeast Asia (a branch of ISIS) launched an attack on Marawi City (about 60 miles away from where I live in the Philippines and way closer and more intimately connected with the villages we serve in). Martial law was declared on the island and a nasty war is taking place. ISIS has declared its plan openly, intending to take over our island Mindanao and turn it into the next Syria. People I know and love and do life with every single day are in great danger, hundreds are dying in Marawi, and the ministry is affected.

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I wake up every day in my angel smelling sheets and my safe home in the suburbs, I pour my coffee and open the Philippines news (because PLEASE don’t even get me started on American news coverage!!) and I think of Marawi and CDO and the people and ministry I love. I think about my dogs and how they get scared during fireworks, I wonder how they’re handling the helicopters. I read about child soldiers and innocent civilian hostages being used as human shields, and air strikes and IEDs. I talk to people back home in the Philippines. I see pictures of places that are familiar to me and I worry about my friends getting stopped at dangerous checkpoints. I watch the death count rise.

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Then, I walk out the door and the lady at Starbucks is yelling at the manager because her coffee has too much cream, and the neighbor is mad at the lawn guy for not trimming the edges to his liking, and the girl at the nail salon chipped her nail and needs it fixed “like yesterday” and she cant wait her turn in line because she has somewhere to go, and the price tag on that display dress in the window at Nordstrom reads $986, and everyone at the party is one-upping each other about their houses both past and present. Trump is everyone’s favorite hot topic and there are enough opinions involved to keep everyone fighting with each other until we all die.

Meanwhile, people are actually dying and 20,000 others are evacuated from their homes and staying in mass shelters, during the most important time of their year, Ramadan.
In the Philippines, I have to fight hard to understand 80 percent of conversation around me. Here, I understand it all very easily but sometimes I wish I could just turn it off.

This is emotional whiplash every single day. My heart fights to keep up.

It is crazy how fast things change…how much I’ve changed. The ONLY thing that feels familiar and unchanging is that construction mess on I-35. Good ole faithful highway, so kind of you to make me feel right at home.

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Show up.

It was 5:42am on Friday morning. I was sitting outside my house on our bamboo bench, trying to prepare my heart and mind for the day ahead in the village. The breeze was colder and stronger than other mornings, and the sun was taking a lot longer to rise than it should. This is a tell tale sign here in the Philippines that a storm is brewing and coming in quick. REALLY not what our team wants to see when we’re supposed to be on the road soon…

My mind instantly started considering the dangers and risks of taking the team up the mountain in a storm. The already challenging path we take each week would become a slippery, muddy mess. The rain will make it hard to see the missing pieces in the road, the rocks, goats and other farm life suddenly crossing the road, and there is a high potential that even our pick up truck will get stuck (in a rebel zone with 3 American visitors riding with us).

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That morning I felt the heavy weight of responsibility on my shoulders to be wise and keep the team safe. My brain automatically said just don’t go today, but my spirit was fighting it. I wondered why…

The team would be on their way to our house soon, I needed to make a decision. Are we going or not God? I read, I prayed, I sat down, I stood up, I walked over to the garden….as if maybe my standing or sitting or my positioning in the yard would make His answer come quicker and clearer! …nothing. It wasn’t a go, but it wasn’t a stay either. I took a deep breath and went inside. Still no answer, but I might as well get dressed. The storm clouds continued to roll in and my clock was ticking.

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If this same scenario were happening in my life years ago, I would’ve had no problem. We simply would not go. Back then, whatever my brain told me was smart, that’s what I would choose. But then I learned to hear Gods voice, I learned to tune in to that tiny whisper inside of me, and my life was wrecked forever. I mean completely flipped upside down. I can no longer lean on my own understanding; I can only acknowledge Him and listen for Him to direct my path.

Makes for a real cute verse or refrigerator magnet,
but a tough life motto to truly live by…

Usually, when I can’t yet clearly discern the direction of God in my life, I just keep walking forward until He tells me to stop or change where I’m going. That was essentially my stellar game plan for this day too. The team arrived, they packed up all our supplies and food and loaded it into the truck. Meagan’s family, our visitors for the week, packed their lunches and prepared their bags, everything was ready. We huddled into the living room in a circle for prayer and worship.

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Jeni started to play the guitar and the team started to sing. I just love that moment every morning when the atmosphere in the room shifts and the presence of God becomes really tangible. The world to me for a moment, feels very small and personal. I started to pray again…God what do you want us to do? 

I want you to go. I want them to see today
that I love them so much. Tell them…

He didn’t scream. He didn’t write it on the wall. He didn’t hack into the sound system in my house and inform us all together in unison. But as sure as I’m ever sure, He answered. And deep down inside, I always knew He would. The question all along was really this-...would I be bold enough to listen and obey once I heard His answer?

All in all it took us 7 ½ hours to get there and back on Friday, we were completely soaked and cold all day, and our butts were a bit bruised from the rough roads. But we made it, no problems. God was good to us.

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As we traveled there that morning I sat in the back of the truck and thought about what God had said- about His plan for them to really SEE how much He loves them. You know, we go into these villages each week with bible stories, livelihood skills, feedings, games, and its good. But sometimes they still question why we are there. They talk among themselves and they think I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I can…

“maybe they have to fulfill their religious duties for the church or the gods wont bless them…maybe she had leftover food at her house so she brings it here…maybe they get paid a lot of money for coming here…maybe she feels bad for us…maybe she doesn’t have any family in America so she comes here…maybe she will make a movie and we will be famous..”

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I’m not kidding, I’ve heard all the reasons. It’s hard sometimes actually not to be offended by their reasoning…

No matter how much we try to preach Jesus and live and love and serve them with Jesus at the forefront of everything we do, they still have (yet) to comprehend it fully. They accept what we offer, but doubt our motives. Can I blame them? They only know what has been spoken over them and about them for generations- you are nothing, nobody sees you or knows you way out here in these villages, you are ignorant and unloved and your life will never amount to any more than this…

So when God told us to go to them on Friday, even in the danger of the storm, I really understood why. The people in the village wouldn’t expect us to come on this day. The whole island was under a signal 1 warning. They would assume we wouldn’t be there. They would know what the roads are like…

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But on this specific day God said go.

Because when you continue to show up for the people around you, in spite of the inconvenience, they will start to wonder why. When they don’t deserve it, or its least expected, or they assume you wont be there, but then you ARE there- it shakes them up. It rattles loose all the delusions put there by the enemy about why you could possibly still care about them and forces them to see the truth-Someone really does loves them.

If it was about religious duties, or leftover food, or money, or pity, then we would have stayed home on Friday. But when I stood in front of the kids that day and then later again in front of the moms in English class, they knew I had nothing to gain by being there. I told them how much God loved them, how He wanted us to be there with them, and I trust that for the first time, they really started to believe it…

I heard Beth Moore preach the other day and she said this: “there are no shortcuts to long-term effectiveness and faithfulness..”

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Basically, you show up. And then you show up again, and again and again. Day after day, week after week. Through mountains and valleys, when you can’t see any fruit from your labor- show up again. When they question your motives, keep going. When they take what you give them and then walk right away without ever looking you in the eyes, keep giving. When the passion and fire inside of you fades, go anyway.
When God says go, you go.

Because there are no shortcuts in ministry or just in life. Sometimes the people around us just need to SEE it over and over again before they can finally believe that God really loves them.

Who is that person in your life who needs you to show up for them right now? Maybe you’ve been showing up for years now, and you’re tired and frustrated because they still don’t get it and you don’t see any change. Will you find inside of you a tenacity from the Holy Spirit to push through and keep going? Because today might just be the day you show up, against all odds, and the enemy finally loses his grip on them…

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There are no shortcuts to long-term effectiveness.
Be faithful to the call.
Show up.

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They just keep falling..

The giant mango tree in our backyard is shedding an impressive amount of leaves these days. Sweeping them up each week isn’t exactly on the top of my priority list, but it was getting out of control so we finally decided to tackle the mess. For two days we swept the leaves into piles. Yesterday we piled up the first layers and by sunset we could finally start to see sprouts of green grass again. Then today we swept the rest of the leaves up into new piles. I grabbed my trash bag and started to pick up the leaves, sticky with sap, and put them into the bag. When the bag was full, I would carry it over to the fire, pour it out, and start to fill it again.

There was only one problem…one very frustrating problem. As I would bend over to pick up these sappy leaves, more leaves would fall from the tree onto my head, or into my lap, or right beside my neatly swept pile. Every few minutes, a gust of wind would blow through the yard, and 20 more leaves would fall and scatter across the ground! It was the most defeating feeling knowing that even after all my hard work this afternoon- my aching back, the smell of fire soaked into my skin, and my hands covered in sticky sap, even still a whole new layer of leaves will be waiting for me tomorrow when I walk outside in the morning. What’s the point?!

The feeling I had in those moments when the leaves continued to fall around me as I was picking up my piles- it was a really familiar feeling. I couldn’t place it at first (I’m not exactly known around our house for sweeping up the leaves often), but then suddenly it all clicked for me- this is really what life is like…

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Many of you know, because I talked about it some, that last year was a tremendously hard year for me. Trials and testings just piled on like wave after wave, leaving me with no time to come up for air. I went home to America at the end of it all for some much needed rest from life here.

But after those 7 weeks at home in America, I came back here to the Philippines revived and stronger, soaked in prayer- so very sure and confident that the worst of life was over. I just knew I was heading into calm, easy waters this year. I had done my time and cleaned up my leaves, so to speak. All those problems and trials from the year before that had surrounded me were all swept up into piles and burned. The only residue remaining on my hands like sap were the lessons I learned and determined to hold onto as reminders of what God brought me through. Everything else was gone-in a good way- and I was more than ready to enjoy my beautiful, clean yard I had worked for! 2016 was surely heading into bright sunny days…

And in fairness, I should mention that this year is exponentially better than last year! Hallelujah and amen. I’m truly so in awe and thankful at the goodness of God’s perfect plans for my life. BUT friends, this year is not without trials of it’s own. Haha, oh how I wish! But that’s just not how life works is it? Just like the mango leaves that continue to fall in my yard as I sweep, life continues to throw hard, albeit different, circumstances my way this year. We can strive and strive to clean up our life, work through our struggles and neatly sweep it all into piles and throw them into the fire. But when you turn around, there will always be more waiting for you..

There are always ever changing seasons in our lives. During rainy season, way more leaves fall into my yard than during the summer. But I can always be sure there will be leaves around somewhere for me to sweep! It’s the same for you and me- some seasons of life will be harder than others. There are refining times where we walk through fire, and there are other times in life that are more like mountaintop experiences, and then of course there’s the mundane, every day life in between those two extremes.

But there is no such thing as a problem free life. And sad for me- there is no such thing as a leaf-free yard! But it reminds me that life isn’t really about arriving at perfection. It’s all about our day-to-day journeys with God- the sweeping, and the burning, the washing and the remembering, the striving and the resting in our lives- those are actually the very moments that matter most…that build us and shape us into who we are.

If you are chasing after a trial free life you’re just chasing the wind…you will never find what you’re looking for. But if we can accept that this is life- the changing seasons and all- then we will surely find the deepest joy that God created us for.

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So may your knees always be grass stained from kneeling down to carry your piles in prayer. And may your sap- covered hands remind you of all you worked through and how far you’ve come…happy sweeping!

 

 

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My battle with fear.

The fear has crippled me some days. Emails sit in my inbox for days because I am too scared to open them…

I wake up in the morning, drink my coffee, sit down to read and pray, then I open my computer and pull up Gmail. Living on the opposite side of the world means I don’t receive a steady flow of emails throughout the day like you probably do. Instead there they all are each morning, piled up and waiting for me like Saturday piles of clean family laundry waiting to be folded. But some days, I am just too scared to open them.

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Never mind the fact that I can read the first line of every email without opening it. My fear is so stinkin irrational that even when the first lines read-

Leah, I am so excited for you!
or Leah, I just love the work you’re doing!
or Leah, we will definitely keep you in our prayers as you transition!…

…EVEN STILL, I convince myself that once I actually open the whole email and scroll past their cozy accolades, there I will surely find their true feelings towards me and this change of ministry God has thrust me into. It can’t be that easy, I tell myself. Surely they doubt me now, and most definitely I’ve lost their trust and support.

That’s my fear.

Everyone I’m sure, is battling something. And that something is bound to change over time. For me, in this season, it’s the most irrational, silly fear that my tribe of people at home will not understand or support me leaving streetlight and moving into the unreached mountain villages. That somehow your love and partnership, prayers and support are conditional and only given when I stick to my original plan of serving street children.

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It’s impossible to articulate with words the pain of not being with “my” kids everyday and so, out of my fear, I assume that because I cannot explain how hard it is to everyone, you will just conclude that it must be easy and therefore deem me heartless.
My goodness, what a tangled web of lies from the enemy.

That’s exactly what fear is though, right? A bunch of lies that take up root in our mind twisting and warping the lens through which we view our life? Fear can stunt us from growing, distract us away from God’s best, and eventually even defeat us if we don’t draw a line in the sand and say that’s enough.

So that’s what I’ve done the past couple of weeks- I drew my line in the sand and finally said I’m done. I’m not going to let this ridiculous fear rule my life and keep me from opening my computer.

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Because you know what? Not one time have I received an email like the one I dread finding each morning. Not once. No one has criticized me, no one has rudely questioned my intentions or withdrawn their support out of anger. Instead, my amazing tribe of people God has surrounded me with have responded in the most incredible of ways- exactly how the church of God is meant to respond. With grace, understanding, love, and sweet encouragement during this time of difficult change.

Someone recently reminded me that no one is partnering with me on the mission field because I’m amazing. Which is a huge relief, because I am definitely NOT amazing. People chose to partner with me because they believe in what God is doing here and want to play a part in furthering His Kingdom- whether that is on the streets or in the villages. And when I remember that, I can open my emails in peace, because I know that I am just one set of tiny hands in God’s big plan for His world.

My ultimate calling is not specific to street kids or even village kids. My calling is simply to go where He leads and do what He says. And there should be no fear in that.

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So I draw my line deeply in the sand. I open my emails and I read them and smile, because you people of God are simply the best. Your kind words of support as I transition into this next season carries me farther than you will ever know. Thank you for your commitment to journey with me wherever the Lord is leading.

We begin heading into the villages this month! Fear be gone.

 

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Answers to your questions!

Why are you going into the mountain villages?
When God pulled me away from Streetlight, I prayed for Him to show me where in this country in the greatest need and the fewest workers. I was looking for a situation that resembles what God says in His word about the harvest being ready but the laborers being few…that’s when He led my eyes towards the villages.

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You have to see it to fully understand-there’s nothing comparable to this in America, where the need is so great in every way. In many places in the mountain, they have no steady access to things like clean water, food, medicine. Education exists in some areas, but is deeply lacking any real substance. But more important than anything, these places are unreached with the true Gospel. They’ve never heard of Jesus, or they’ve heard of Him but don’t understand why He is any better than witchcraft or the mountain gods they’ve worshipped for centuries..

What is your plan?
We are dividing into two teams, each consisting of a pastor, a teacher, and volunteers from church. Each team will eventually go into three villages every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, making a total of six villages reached between the two teams. Our focus will be evangelism and discipleship, nutrition, education, and community development. We will create a feeding program, hold bible studies, supplemental education lessons, medical clinics, and more. Please keep us in your prayers and we listen for specific direction and guidance from God in forming these programs.

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Will you live in the mountain now?
No. It’s not necessarily safe to do that and we love our home here in the city. We will leave very early each morning and drive into the villages, then return to our home here every night.

What are your biggest needs right now?
Of course, more than anything I treasure your prayers. Prayers for safety, provision, wisdom, and strength. We also REALLY need supplies, old Sunday school materials (old felt boards? Yes please!) medical supplies, clothing, Bibles, etc., and a ministry vehicle.

If I already support you financially, do I need to change my donation?
If you support me personally, your donation stays the same because I am still serving under K.I.M, the same missions organization I’ve always been a part of. If you currently sponsor a child at Streetlight or monthly support that ministry, your donation will change soon to their new organization. If you want to continue supporting Streetlight and those kids, please do so. One of the new staff will email you soon regarding your donation.

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If I want to change my donation or begin partnering with the village outreaches financially, how can I do that?
If you want to be a part of the exciting work God is starting in the mountain areas- great, we really need your help! If you currently support Streetlight but wish to switch your donation over to supporting these village outreaches, please email me and let me know or you can email the office directly- frankcherry@kidsim.org. Tell him you would like to direct your donation to CDO village outreach.

If you are not currently partnering with the ministry, but would like to set up a monthly or one time donation, it is simple. You can go to www.kidsim.org. Click the donate tab. Select either one-time or monthly donation. Then select CDO village outreach from the drop down menu. Follow the instructions from there.

We need sponsors to pay the pastor and teacher salaries, transportation, food, and more. How fun would it be for a Sunday school class to sponsor a pastor? Your kids’ homeroom to sponsor the teacher? Your small group to help pay for the food? Pray about it! We would love for you to be a part of the ministry in this unique way.

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When will you start?
We hope to have teams and village locations finalized by the end of March. Our goal is to have a team building retreat/days of prayer the first week of April, and then head into the villages after that!

—————-
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he has compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’.”
-Matthew 9:35-38

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Changes! …please read.

How can it be possible to sit down to write something with such mixed emotion? I am both deeply grieving and bursting with anticipation and excitement for the doors God is opening for me.

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I have prayed and prayed and prayed for direction in this- how to share this in a way that honors everyone involved and also in a way that you all, my people who have partnered with me throughout the past 3 years, will understand. It also includes a bit of missionary lingo that I have no way around, so stay patient with me through that!

Years ago in 2012, when I returned home from a year of missions exposure around the world, the Lord placed in my heart a dream. A dream for kids living on the streets in the Philippines to have a chance to know Jesus and see their futures changed forever. I witnessed firsthand the hopelessness they were living in and the hardships they faced on the street everyday, and I was burdened to do something about it.

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A few months later, I joined hands with two other missionaries from Kids International Ministries who were just as passionate about helping street children, and together we started Streetlight Ministry.

SO much happened in the past few years. God has been faithful beyond words. When we opened the doors to the center the very first time, I felt so unprepared. But His promise is true, that if you can muster up faith even as tiny as a mustard seed, God will use it to move mountains. By His grace, the drop in center has been a safe place of refuge for street kids to come shower, eat, go to school, and learn about Jesus. The rehabilitation homes that many of you supported financially to help us build are pretty much complete. The plan is to open them up sometime within this year.

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As with any ministry, there have been countless mountaintops and valleys. I’ve shared with many of you some of the hardships that were so overwhelming to me at times last year. Your prayers and encouragements and faith helped carry me through that difficult season.

I have always believed that one day God would make a way for me to step down and let Filipinos take over this ministry and lead their own people. They know and understand this culture better than I ever will, no matter how long I live here. It has been my prayer that God would simply use me to build a strong foundation for the ministry and then to support and empower Filipino Christians to love and care for the kids living and sleeping on their own streets.

So in part, I am beyond thrilled to share with you that this transition is finally happening. Last month, we promoted and transitioned new leadership in the ministry. KT, one of the kids’ former teachers is now the director of Streetlight Ministry. This is a huge step up for her and most of the weight and responsibility lays on her shoulders now. But she is ready, and I believe God has been preparing her for this all along. Jeni, the family coordinator, is now the head of the drop-in center. And Ate Stella, our oldest staff member, is now the head in Balubal where the rehabilitation homes will open this year. It makes my heart happy to see Filipinos step up and take over this ministry.

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At the same time, my ways are not His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine. It’s an easy verse to quote, but a hard verse to accept and live out. When I envisioned Filipinos taking over the ministry, I never once imagined that I wouldn’t be around to support them.

But God, in His higher ways and thoughts, knew all along that He would pull me away and send me in a different direction…

Over the past 6 months, there has been much talk here about a split. One of the two women I partnered with to start Streetlight and her husband have decided they want to go a different direction and they desire the freedom to grow and expand their influence in ways that they aren’t able to do under the headship of Kids International Ministries. In doing so, they have chosen to break away from K.I.M. and create their own nonprofit organization which they are calling Ellipsis. Once it is established, they will be taking Streetlight ministry with them.

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This split left Meagan and I with a heartbreaking choice at the beginning of this year, which really ended up being not much of a choice at all. From the first mention of a split, we knew we would not be following Natalie and Daniel into Ellipsis. We appreciate them and wish them well in their new path, but I knew from the beginning it’s not the direction that God is leading me, even if that means I have to let go of Streetlight more than I planned.

Immediately, I knew what God was asking me to do even though it felt impossible at the time- He was asking me to let go, to move forward, and to trust Him. The timing of this new Filipino leadership creates the perfect space for me to pursue aspects of ministry that I didn’t have time for when I was leading the drop-in center every day.

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I live in fairly decent sized city here in the Philippines. We chose to live here originally because it is where the street kids migrate to from surrounding areas. But if you drive in any direction for an hour or more, you will be in remote mountain villages. Places where you mention the name of Jesus and they respond by asking, who is that? They’ve never heard of him. It’s hard to believe, I know. But its real. They live in poverty like you cannot begin to imagine and they have very little access to things outside of the land they live on. It’s a different world.

And it’s this little world that I believe God is calling me into next-to introduce the Gospel, to help feed and clothe and educate and disciple these beautiful children and families living up in the mountain.

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These shoes feel way too big for me to step in and fill. The calling on my life to start a ministry for street kids was a big enough step for me. The weight of responsibility and heaviness I feel when I consider this next season of ministry is beyond words. But at the same time, I am so confident that this is where God is leading. After three years of studying the language and using it every day, I can finally say that I am fluent enough to communicate well. Praise God! With a solid grasp on the language and a better understanding of the culture, I will be able to connect with these people on a deeper, spiritual level, like I’ve never been able to do before.

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Stepping away and letting go of Streetlight is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I know God has been working behind the scenes all along and everything happens in His perfect timing. He used these first 3 years of my life here in ministry, to prepare me for a greater task. He has been preparing the Filipinos around me to step up and take over the leadership of the drop-in center. And He gently reminds me every day, that no labor done for Him is ever in vain. My time with these kids is not over. The seed has been sown, and their stories, their futures are only just beginning. I look forward to being a part of their lives for years to come. They taught me so much about grace and what it means to truly love. I am forever connected with them and I still see them often! …it’s not goodbye.

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Thank you, each of you, for supporting me, praying for me, and encouraging me as I navigate through this journey God has called me on. I know you probably have lots of questions- please ask! I hope and pray that you will join me as I stay with Kids International Ministries and head into the mountain villages. There are so many people up there, waiting and ready for the Good News of Jesus and I’m excited to expand our ministry, turn the page and climb this mountain together. I am truly humbled that God would choose to use me for such an important task in His kingdom.

All the details to come next time! This post has gotten long enough 🙂

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“However, I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish the course and ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
–Acts 20:24

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Battle Weary.

“You sound battle weary”, someone said to me in an email the other day after reading my latest newsletter from the Philippines. And honestly, I can’t think of a better two words to summarize the condition of my heart than those. Battle weary.

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My first year in the field was fueled by passion and exciting beginnings. Every day was spent learning a new language and starting a ministry from the ground up. The days were fulfilling and God felt so near. Then, my second year was a mix of challenges and joys. My biggest challenge was the loneliness and the lack of community I felt without a church home, but there were so many joys! The kids really opened up that year, the drop-in center was thriving, and we took on a giant project by breaking ground on the construction of residential homes for the kids. I went home at the end of my second year struggling with the loneliness, but also feeling so alive and excited because of fruitfulness in the ministry and all that God had started to do.

This third year however, has unexpectantly been storm after storm. It’s one of those seasons where I can barely get standing back on my feet before the next thing comes and threatens to knocks me down. My absolute saving grace was that I had finally found a church home and a community here in the Philippines. I can’t imagine going through this year without that body of Christ to lean into…evidence of God’s perfect timing. But even so, from every corner of life the enemy was doing his best to press in…

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There were countless trials within the ministry, the kids, and the staff. Our head director was in USA, we had to fire our social worker and have been struggling to find a new one for over a year now, and we had major discipline issues with the kids. There was an overwhelming amount of sickness and death- sick and injured kids, family deaths, motor accidents, and hospital stays…

There were cultural differences. And not the funny ones like asking for a napkin at dinner and having them bring you a feminine product. But the deep cultural issues involving things like differences in conflict resolution, communication, leadership style, and relationships. These are major issues that, when given a foothold, Satan really uses to shake up trouble.

We stumbled our way through the deeply complex world of poverty. I get it now, why all the organizations we spoke to told us that they started helping street kids and then stopped. And I get it now, why people with multiple PhDs struggle to give definitive solutions to the cycle of poverty. Because every situation, every culture, every family, is different. The answer is never black or white and the risk of being taken advantage of, lied to, or deeply hurt is great, which is why the need for godly discernment is so huge. And we learn best, honestly, through our mistakes. There really is no other way. But the heavy burden of these people and their stories weigh on me still at the end of every day.

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I longed for a husband for the first time, maybe ever. Because at the end of the day in seasons like these, you really need someone in your corner to support you and reassure you that hard decision was the right one even though people hate you for it. When the enemy is stirring up conflict every direction you look, you really need someone there whispering in your ear, reminding you who wins in the end. And on the days when the kids yell explicit words at you because you won’t let them watch tv, and the power is out all afternoon, and there’s no more food for the volunteers for breakfast in the morning, you really just want someone to be waiting for you at home with a hug. People said I was crazy for moving overseas while I’m still single. I laughed at them and reassured them it was fine because…hello…I’m independent and strong and I love it. But now…I get it.

And there is so much more I could tell. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, this year was draining. As a friend, this year was hard. As a leader, this year was hard. As a servant of Christ in a place far from my “home”, this year was a hard one.

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Finally, one day I realized that I needed some rest. Not just a day off or a week vacation at the beach. But some rest for my heart and my soul and even my body. I love these Filipino people and this country and I’m confident in the calling I’ve received. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After all the struggles I just listed it’s important that you hear me say, I am happy, (I’m happy mom, ok?) and I love what I do and where God brought me…

But, I always want to be someone who pours out His love to the people around me. They don’t need the last few drops leaking out of a broken glass. They need a river of Life. I want to lead well, and speak blessings, and smile with joy, and trust the people around me.

So I’m home…resting and praying (and freezing!) and sleeping and eating and strengthening back up for the battles to come. This journey God has brought me on, honestly, is way harder than anything I imagined. BUT, to see God move so powerfully, to be a small part of God changing these people’s lives, to push out darkness with the Light…it is so worth it.

What a gift, to join Him on this road!

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I’m here until December 28. I have a new phone number if you want it…
I would love to see you!

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Learning from Moses.

I slid down into my chair last Friday afternoon feeling completely exhausted in every possible way. From my seat at the kitchen table in the drop in center, I could hear the boys running and yelling and soaking up their last basketball game outside with my brother. If someone had walked into the center at that very moment, they would have assumed everything was great. The kids were all playing together outside, the teachers were upstairs in the classroom cleaning up from school, and the smell of dinner sizzling in the pan filled the air.
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But the truth is, everything was not so great. After months of God’s hand moving on this ministry and through these kids in beautiful and miraculous ways, now, the enemy is attacking us full force.

As I sat there in my chair, quietly willing myself to release all these burdens I was carrying back to the Lord, a question formed in my heart and I was desperate for an answer. The girls’ house parents was across the room cooking dinner for the kids, so I asked her…

“Isn’t there someone in the Bible who started to feel frustrated and inadequate to lead the people and begged God to take the responsibility away from him?”

She answered me quickly… “Moses”.

Moses! Yes of course. Moses. So I opened my Bible to start rereading the story and I trembled at the similarities between his struggles and mine. I remembered enough about Moses to know that God didn’t let him get out of leading the people even when he asked. So I prayed, God teach me what to do through Moses’ journey, and I vowed to myself to finish reading over the story again this weekend…

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I read through the part of the story, after the 10 plagues, when God leads Moses and his people out of Egypt by sending His unmistakable presence through pillars of clouds and fire to guide them towards the Red Sea. I kept reading on into the miracle of God pulling back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross through on dry land.

And the whole time I’m reading, it reminded me of this past year in the ministry- a season of Gods unmistakable presence and miracles. A beautiful transformation happened in the lives of the kids over that time. They moved from slaves of the streets, to kids that know WHO they are and WHOSE they are. I’m not saying it was always an easy time, but God’s hand was evident and both the staff and the kids learned to trust it.

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I opened my Bible and kept reading…

Moses and his people arrive in the wilderness and there is no food. The people freak out and start saying the most ridiculous things, convinced that Moses has brought them out here to die. They grumble to their leaders, but Moses is quick to point out that their grumbling isn’t really against him but against God. Ouch. God forgives them for being dumb and gives them food anyway. He tells them not to go out and gather on the seventh day because there won’t be any food, but some of the stubborn ones don’t listen and go out to look anyway. There’s no food that day.

They move along in the wilderness and they are happy, for now, because every morning God is literally covering the ground with food for them. But then they get further along in their journey and there is no water. They start fighting with each other and shouting demands at Moses. So Moses has enough and he prays, “Lord, what shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me…” In the end, despite the peoples’ ridiculousness, God hears Moses’ prayer and miraculously provides the water they need.

I read that part of the story and started to tremble because of how deeply I can relate. The enemy has seen God moving in these kids’ lives over the past year and now he wants them to forget it all. He wants them to believe life was better for them back on the street and some of them believe that lie. They are going back to the drugs and back to their old ways. They are all but impossible to control and complaining about the most ridiculous things, like not getting served enough food. Sound familiar? They are jealous of the new street kids we’ve been getting to know and when I discipline them or they don’t get their way, they are convinced I don’t love them anymore.
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The kids are restless and grumbling, the staff is exhausted and discouraged, and everyone is looking to me as one of their leaders and I’m crying out to God like Moses- Lord, what do I do with these people?! They are almost ready to stone me…

But I know God has a lesson in this for me, so I keep reading. I remembered that Moses didn’t actually get to enter the Promised Land with his people but I couldn’t remember why. So I looked it up…

Again, the people have no water and are mad at Moses for it. So Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God and begged Him for an answer. God gives Moses very specific instructions- take your staff, gather all the people together around this rock, and then tell the rock to yield its water.

But Moses is frustrated with his people! They have been complaining about him and acting ridiculous for YEARS, even after God keeps doing miracles among them. So Moses has had enough. Instead of following Gods specific instructions, he gets up on the rock and calls them all rebels and speaks bitterly towards them. He doesn’t speak to the rock like God told him to, instead he slams his staff into it twice and water comes spewing out. Immediately God rebukes Moses and tells him that because of his actions that day, he will not be the one to bring these people into the Promised Land.

Wow…harsh. But as soon as I read it, I knew I had found what God wanted to teach me.

Last week, in the midst of everything else going on, one of the kids took a crayon and vandalized the cabinets in the classroom. When I came in the next day, they had done it again. After I saw it, I went downstairs to calm down and collect my thoughts and pray, then I went upstairs before class to talk to them. (If you’ve every tried to discipline kids in a language that is not your first language…let me tell you- it is not easy!) My words came out fast and my tone was harsh and full of bitterness.

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When I read about Moses’ mistake and all that it cost him that day on the rock, my heart was heavy because I could relate. My conversation with the kids last week went the same way. But my first thought was that Moses had every right to speak to the people that way…they deserved it. But God didn’t ask Moses to lecture the people, especially not out of a heart of bitterness and anger. And if I’m honest with myself, God didn’t ask me to do that last week either. Moses didn’t reflect the heart and character of God before the people he was leading, and neither did I.

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Moses’ actions that day cost him everything. Yes, the people had acted worse than Moses for years, but Moses was held to a higher standard because of his leadership.
Yikes.

Today, I sit here writing this, so thankful for Gods reminders to me through Moses’ journey. I’m thankful, that unlike Moses, God has given me another chance with these kids and this ministry and my life here in the Philippines. I can look back on the miracles over the course of this ministry and see that Gods presence hasn’t left us. This is a season of trials and trusting, but we are heading towards the Promised Land. I know that to be true.

The enemy won’t win in the lives of these kids.
The God who delivered Israel out of the bondage of Egypt,
is the same God who will deliver these kids from the bondage of addiction.
The God who parted the Red Sea for them,
is the same God who will make a way for us now…

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“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.
The Lord will fight for you, you only have to be still.”
–Exodus 14: 13-14

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When life gives you oranges…

Working with street kids for me is a lot like peeling an orange. It usually takes me forever and is such tedious work to dig your fingernail into the orange peel and pull it off piece by piece. When I finally get the orange peel off, I then find hundreds of white stringy pieces all over the fruit that I have to pull off as well. By the time I actually get to eat the fruit, my hands are sticky and I’m exhausted. But the instant that first bite of sweet refreshing juicy goodness makes its way into my mouth, I remember why I go through all the trouble again and again…

Most of my life here feels like I’m endlessly pulling the peel off of a gigantic orange. I spend most of my energy fighting the boys to take the earrings out of their ears before they can come inside the center, breaking up fights, reminding them of all the reasons why bathing in the river does not and will never count as a real bath here, trying to keep them from throwing gang signs in pictures, splashing them with water to keep them awake during school, and trying to calmly convince them that just because your friends pulled your pants down when I wasn’t looking doesn’t make it ok for you to throw a giant stone at his head.

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And that’s just Monday through Friday regular life at the drop-in center. Sunday church is a battle all on its own. Getting them dressed into clean clothes that are semi appropriate for church is sometimes an all-out war zone. No, you can’t wear your extra large, all red, baggy gang clothes and chains to church. Keeping all of them standing up during worship feels like a game of bop-it- I get the one to my left standing back up and the kid on my right is sitting down again. And making sure they all stay awake for the sermon…well…good luck!

That has been church for us for over a year now. It’s the area that for so long I have felt the most defeated in, honestly. All that we do Monday through Friday is ultimately meaningless if they could care less about church…about the only One who can truly change their lives.

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At the end of last year, we hired a male and female house parent who have completely flipped everything upside down in the best way possible. They are SO in love with the Lord, in a humble, real way I can only dream of resembling one day. And the best part is the kids love and respect them and secretly really look up to them. For months now, they have been talking to the kids about Jesus, making him relatable and cool and yet never watering down the truth of the Word. And most of the kids are soaking it up.

Lately, our house parents have taken over the sticky, tedious work of peeling these oranges. I have just been sitting back and watching every day as they get closer and closer to reaching fruit.

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This past Sunday, we decided to take the kids to a different church. They have been begging to go to our house parents’ church for a while now so we finally gave in. Sunday morning, I wearily rolled out of bed mentally preparing myself for the battle that would no doubt ensue over the next few hours.

When I got to the center at 8:00, there were already 4 boys sitting on the sidewalk waiting outside the center. I remember thinking wow they’re ready early today. I asked them all to take out their earrings and hand them to me before we went inside. They did, with no arguing at all. Amazing. We went inside for them to shower and change and they were SO respectful the entire time. No one tried to sneak on gangster clothes or fought over who would shower next. They even helped me sweep the floor and clean up the center for the visitors that would arrive after church without me asking…

We piled into the car around 9:00 with all my patience still in tact. When we got to church, they all sat down and quietly waited for the service to start. What is going on?! I thought to myself…who took my crazies and traded them in for these angels?!

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The worship team started to play and we all stood up. The first song I recognized so I was in my own little worship world for a few minutes. But the second song in Bisaya I had never heard before, so I opened my eyes and observed. What I saw in those moments had me weeping inside!

The crazies! They were worshipping. For the first time in a year and half, they were actually participating in the service. No one was sitting down or trying to sleep. They were all captivated by the words of the song. Some of them had their hands raised. One of the boys was dancing. And the others were joyfully singing along, so clearly captivated by the love of the Father in that moment. It was incredible and unlike anything I have yet to witness in their lives before.

It just got better from there. When the pastor prayed, they all respectfully closed their eyes. During the sermon I didn’t have to keep one boy awake. They kept each other awake! If the boy next to him was falling asleep they would tap each other, or hold up each other’s head. It was precious. You could tell they realized (I want to say for the first time ever) that they were in a Holy Place.

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It’s really like that for us on this journey with street kids. We spend months or even years, taking turns pulling off the peels and scraping the white strings off, until eventually we reach the fruit.

God is so faithful. As a staff, we are constantly holding each other’s arms up in this battle. Same as the story in Exodus, when Moses’ hands grew tired Aaron and Hur brought him a stone to sit on and then came on either side of him and held up his arms until the battle was won. I’m SO thankful for our new house parents and the way they have taken over on the front lines of battle for a little while.

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And I’m especially thankful for privilege to see fruit in the lives of the kids! What a refreshing and encouraging moment for all of us. God is moving. God is slowing but surely busting down walls and barriers in the hearts of our kids. HE alone can save them.

The work is tedious and messy, but the fruit is oh SO worth it. I cannot wait for the day of these kids’ salvation. I’m so thankful for last Sunday and the tiny glimpse of what that day will look like when these kids are forever praising Him…

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