Author Archives: Leah

All the things.

“All the things”: a phrase coined by my dear friend Reagan Taylor to be used when trying to describe emotions or experiences that are all over the map. For example- if someone were to ask me, Leah how are you feeling now that you are back in the Philippines?…instead of listing all my emotions- excited, busy, happy to be back with my people, missing my other people, hopeful, etc….I would simply say instead- “I’m feeling all the things”.

During my time in the States I was asked A LOT of the same questions everywhere I went. After living here in the Philippines for almost 2 years, I figure now is a better time than never to answer all the questions people ask about my life. So, if you already know all the answers because you heard the whole sha-bang 12 times while I was home then you can close your browser now. But for those who are asking- here’s all the things…

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Where exactly do you live in the Philippines?
I live on an island called Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines. The city I live in is Cagayan de Oro.

philippines_regions_map1 Do they speak English there?
Mostly no. A lot of people learn basic English in grade school but its not really spoken much.

Do you know their language?
Yes. The language for the island I live on is called Bisaya or Cebuano (same thing). When I first moved to the Philippines in 2013 I lived in the mountain for 6 months and studied the language basically all day every day. Then I moved down to the city and studied for 6 more months only for a few hours a day while we started the ministry. I can understand almost everything, but my speaking is only grammatically correct-ish. I’m still learning! The national language of the Philippines is called Tagalog or Filipino and I do not (yet) know how to speak that dialect because it isn’t the local language spoken here. So when I leave my little city here and go to a different place in the Philippines I can no longer communicate- kind of frustrating!

Is it harder than you expected it to be?
Absolutely yes. But I love it.

What does an average day look like for you?
Asking me about an average day is funny because literally no day is the same. Ever. But often I spend the morning answering emails, working on child sponsorships, meetings, or preparing things the drop in center needs for that day. The kids wake up and start to arrive at the drop-in center between 11 and 12pm. They take a shower, eat lunch, brush their teeth, and change their clothes. Then we have school for them at 2:00 for a couple hours. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we have bible study after school. Then they play basketball or do other activities until we go out to the town square to feed them and some of the other street kids dinner. I get home around 7:30 or 8:00 depending on the day.

IMG_0063 IMG_4344 What do you miss most from America?
Greek yogurt. Cereal. Grapes. Liquid coffee creamer. Pants long enough for my legs. Traffic Laws. Sallie my dog.

Why do your kids live on the street in the first place?
Every kid is different and the reasons are complex. Abuse, extreme poverty, and neglect are the main reasons. Combine that with the freedom, rebellion, and money on the streets and you’ll start to scratch the surface as to why street kids exist.

1466162_10101111729232912_499380856_n How did you know God was calling you to this? Did you always want to be a full-time missionary?
Haha no. I had big fancy plans in college to graduate, get married, and work at a camp in Colorado. Then during my senior year all those things pretty much fell apart right as I was supposed to enter the “real world”. So I got myself together enough (whatever that really means) to go on the World Race-an 11 month mission trip to 11 countries. And with absolutely no plans or anything holding me back, it was pretty easy to open-handedly pray for God to show me His will for my life. I basically said to Him- “I’ll go anywhere and do anything as long as it’s Your will this time”. And I truly meant it.

So in 2012 I went around the world and saw and experienced things that wrecked and changed me forever. Then I came to the Philippines and saw street kids. I’d been around them before in other countries but this time was different. Thoughts of them consumed me. They were constantly in my dreams, even weeks after I returned home to America. That’s how I knew God was answering my prayers. These were the people He was calling me to give my life up for. I had been given SO much. Now much would be required from me…

Thats the short version.

How long will you be in the Philippines?
Until these kids know and love Jesus. Or until God asks me to leave. But I really hope it’s the first one…

What’s the long-term vision?
The kids will start at the drop-in center then transfer into family style homes where they will detox from the drug, learn how to be part of a family, get an education, and counseling. We will work with their parents/family at the same time with the hope of eventually reuniting the families back together when they are healthy and ready to thrive on their own.

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What is the weather like there?
95 degrees and humid every single day. With a couple random hours of rain to cool things off during rainy season.

Are you going to marry a Filipino?
I guess anything is possible. But I highly doubt it.

Are you going to get married at all? Are you worried? Can I pray for you?
I mean…I don’t lose sleep over it or anything. I genuinely enjoy being single. Maybe one day that will change…but sure you can pray for me!

Do you live at the drop-in center?
Goodness no. I live in a house with Meagan and two Filipino friends. I’m at the drop-in center with the kids basically all day but praise God for those few hours of peace and quiet to come home and sleep in my own bed.

FullSizeRender(its the best picture I can get haha. This is my house)

Do you drive there?
Yep. I have a scooter and love to drive it around the city. The gas is super cheap, traffic is easier to navigate, and I get a free tan. Win win win! But I hope to save enough money to buy a car soon. It’s just safer when I need to drive long distances.

Who else is there with you?
There are 4 of us Americans or putis as we are affectionately referred to here- Meagan (my teammate and bff from the World Race), Natalie and her fiancée Daniel and me. And a rockin Filipino staff- 2 teachers, a social worker, a family coordinator, male and female house parents, and an administrative assistant. Plus an abundance of volunteers.

IMG_0561(me and Meagan with Lyn Lyn, our girls house parent)

Can we come visit you?
Yes.

Does your family miss you?
I would hope so…

Do you have internet access? A fridge?
Yes and yes. Internet is sketchy and slow but we have it at our house. And we are thankful to have a refrigerator because lots of people here don’t.

What do you wear?
Jeans and a tshirt because the Christian culture here is pretty conservative. But I change into shorts as fast as I can once I’m inside my house.

What are the hardest things?
Loneliness and missing my people back home. Not being able to speak English most of the day and just communication things in general. Constantly pouring out without anyone around to pour into me. Cultural differences. Learning how to not carry all the problems of the world on my own. My stomach not being able to digest rice- literally it doesn’t break it down just clumps together in my stomach for weeks at a time. Ouch.

What are the best things?
There are very few distractions- I’m literally able to focus all my time, energy, money, etc. on the things of God. The food is delicious and natural and healthy. I get to witness His miracles. It’s beautiful here. I’m with the crazies every day and watch God change their lives and give them a future. 4 dollar haircuts. And bubble tea.

What have you learned after being there for a while now?
1. God’s timing is different than mine and there’s always a good reason for that. 2. God’s grace is the same for everyone…no one is more deserving than anyone else. 3. Only God can change a person’s heart. I KNOW this in my head, but when the needs here are endless I still try sometimes to “fix” everything and everyone. I’m learning that I literally can’t do that…it’s all on Him. 4. The more I step out in faith the more space there is for God to show up and do a miracle. If I hang out in my comfort zone then there’s no need for Him.
5. And most importantly- a pot of coffee and a cold shower makes everything better.

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I can’t do it.

It took me all of about 24 hours to remember what I love most about my life here in the Philippines.

And it’s not the kids (affectionately referred to often as the crazies).
Its not the weather either- although its suuuuper nice to not be freezing my face off anymore.
It’s not the Filipino people and their constant smiling.
And it’s not the food- even though I have missed a good home-cooked adobo and rice.IMG_0305

The thing I love most about my life here is this: I need God…constantly.
And if He doesn’t show up, if He doesn’t come through, then I fail. Every time.

Going home to America was good for me on so many levels, but it was hard on my soul.
I stopped relying on God to meet my needs because suddenly my life was ‘functioning’ without Him…

Everything I could possibly need was available to me as long as I was willing to pay the price.
Any advice I needed or situation I wanted to talk through- I had an abundance of my best friends right there.
My fancy space car I was borrowing gave me step-by-step directions to anywhere I wanted to go.
If I needed an answer immediately, I just looked it up on my phone and Google came through every time.
If I wanted to learn how to start my own business-there’s a book for that.
If I wanted to learn Spanish- there’s an app for that.

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America is abounding with resources and opportunity that most of the world doesn’t have. And with the right mindset and perspective, that can be a huge blessing. Education, wealth, access to medicine and healthcare, and Google on your iphone to answer life’s biggest questions are all good things…until they aren’t anymore.

With all the things of the world literally at my fingertips during my time at home,
I forgot, in a way, what it’s like to really need Him…

There are 16 kids counting on me to provide all the things- food on the table each day, school, their clothes and shoes, and trips to the doctor. And without God miraculously multiplying the money (I promise, it happens), or leading someone to send a check on the exact day we need to pay the teachers that month, or making sure a shipment arrives just hours before the kids need new shoes, then none of what we do every day would happen.

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When the teachers need more pencils and the center needs more rice for lunch and the volunteer team needs more toilet paper and one of the kids needs to see a doctor- all before noon- I know I need Him.

And when one of the girls, 11 years old, gives herself away to men at night to make money, and the 9 year old comes to school completely high and wants to fight everyone, and the government captures one of the girls and shaves all her hair off to shame her- oh how I need Him on those days.

When it’s sweltering hot outside and the mosquitos won’t stop biting and the chickens are fighting with each other so loud and the dogs are barking and my laundry is taking 2 days to dry and I just want to curl up with friends and watch a movie- I need Him to intervene or the result is embarrassing haha.

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I know my weaknesses and flaws; I’m well acquainted with my limits. Every day I am more and more aware of my own inadequacy. And I honestly consider that a huge blessing because it keeps me constantly dependent on Him.

I wish I hadn’t let myself get away from that while I was home. I know it’s harder to live this way in America- but it can’t be impossible. I hope that my mistake can be your reminder that we all really need Him. Sure, if you’re smart and you have enough money and you’re disciplined then you can probably get pretty far on your own. But eventually you will fail. Or at the very least, you won’t experience the “immeasurably more” that He’s promised… (Eph. 3:20)

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What are your flaws and limitations?
Where are you holding back in your life because you’re scared you might fail or you can’t see all 10 steps ahead?
I pray you find yourself in the middle of more than you can handle today and I pray that it leads you to Him…

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Counting the Cost.

I’m sitting here in my tiny airplane seat on my first of four flights over the next two days heading home to the Philippines. I miraculously lifted my carry-on suitcase over me and into the overhead bin without too much of a struggle so as not to give away the secret that I managed to shove over forty-five pounds into that tiny thing (that is very much against all airline regulations in case you’re wondering). Now that I can breathe again, I close my tear-stained eyes for a minute and work my way through some of my favorite memories of the past seven weeks.

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Because of the way I’m wired, if I’m not intentional about pausing to reflect and remember, then I can all too quickly close doors and transition all of me into what’s ahead. And I don’t want to do that quite yet-at least not for the next few hours while I’m still in US airspace.

Coming home this time was a whirlwind of support raising, traveling to different churches, holidays with my family, sweet reunions with friends, and countless encouraging heart conversations over delicious coffee. It wasn’t necessarily restful at all or resembling of a vacation in any way-but it was exactly what I needed.

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God blessed my short time in the States more than I could have ever imagined. The people He has put in my life are nothing short of incredible. I am loved and provided for on a practical level by more than one “mom”. Multiple people have helped me fundraise and advocated for me in a variety of different ways. And my friends- I cant even put into words how good they are! Most of my friends and my family too, admittedly had NO idea how to handle me. And yet throughout the entire seven weeks, they each held me up, asked me questions and listened to my long stories about kids they’ve never met and a land they’ve never seen, encouraged and prayed and bought my meals, and made me laugh so hard I cried on multiple occasions.

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And all those things are part of what makes the actual act of leaving and saying goodbye SO hard. My eyes are actually still recovering from my cry-fest outside of airport security check a few hours ago. We were those people!

I so desperately miss my new home and family in the Philippines. I can’t wait to hug my sweet girls’ necks and then fist pump all the boys because most of them are way too cool to hug me. And yet as much as I look forward to getting back to my life and ministry in the Philippines, I still have moments when I want to live near my family and go out for dinner with my best friends and marry someone tall dark and handsome. I don’t want to give up everything I’ve come to love in the Philippines; I want all of that- just with some American perks added to it.

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And yet I know this- no one can serve two masters. Following Jesus means making a choice. And sometimes for me, on days like today standing outside airport security, that choice feels heart wrenching.

God did A LOT in my heart during my time in the States. He filled me up after 18 months of nonstop pouring out. He humbled me through the continuous flow of financial support for the ministry. He taught me so many lessons and poured a supernatural amount of strength and energy into me during those jam-packed weeks.

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But more than anything, He revealed to me so clearly each day that this life in America is
not what He has for me. And when my life looks so vastly different from the people around me at home, I can take comfort in the fact that this is His will for me.

I LOVE my family deeply. And I told you already-I have some of the best friends in the world. I love snuggling deep under the soft covers and waking up to my puppy staring back at me. I love washers and dryers. Great water pressure and constant electricity. I love the 500 different flavors of ice cream and endless breakfast options. I love Subway, and Mexican food, and tubs of greek yogurt. And I really love how fast the internet is.

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But I love His will and His calling more. I so want to follow Him in this crazy adventure of a life, and I want that over everything else. Everything. I have to get back to the Philippines- to reunite with the place and the people that God allows to make me come fully alive. The cost is high for sure. But the Reward is so worth it.

I’m ready!

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Almost Home!

I’m sitting here in the airport in Manila about to board my flight to China. From China I’ll hop on a plane to LAX (see what I did there?) and then head home to Dallas.

Home sweet home.

Inevitably, I was asked the question multiple times this week- “how am I feeling about going home”? It’s been a little over a year and a half since I left home and moved to the Philippines. Am I excited? Nervous? Sad? Thrilled? Stressed?

I don’t really know what I am, honestly. Mostly excited, of course! But I think really I’m a little bit of everything. Excited to hug my family. Nervous to be back in American culture. Sad to leave my home and people here in the Philippines. Thrilled to share what God has been doing. Stressed trying to get everything together and ready to leave.

I’m clearly conflicted y’all! I read a blog last week written by a long-term missionary in Bolivia that perfectly summed up the way I feel inside overall. His story went like this-

“a man from the land of Blue became a missionary to the people of Yellow. He struggled because he was a Blue man among Yellow people. However, after a while he began to truly understand their culture and become partly assimilated. One day he looked in the mirror and saw that he was no longer Blue, he was now Green…”

I admit, its cheesy sounding. But it so resonated with my heart and put words to the strange mix of emotions I’m feeling. I very much feel GREEN- forever a stranger now in both of my “homes”.

My habits and routine have changed. My language is different. My faith has been stretched and tested. I have grown and changed and inevitably, so have you. My experiences over the past 2 years feel so very different from the people I’m coming home to see.

More than anything, I feel so deeply blessed to live a life where coming and going so hard. To live in the land of the Yellow and visit the Blue and to have equally the same amount of love for both places and the people that fill them.

My eyes filled with tears yesterday as I hugged one of my sweet girls goodbye for the next 7 weeks. I prayed for her safety, for her to work hard in school, and for her to feel so very loved this Christmas. Then tears came again at 4am this morning as I hugged my dearest friends goodbye and pulled out of my house to head to the airport. And tomorrow afternoon when those airport doors open in Dallas and my family is standing there on the other side, I know I will cry again! (and then probably crash from emotion overload haha)

I am SO excited to come home. So excited to hug your neck and hear your stories. So excited for Chrismas lights, Thanksgiving turkey, cozy nights around the fire, sweet snuggles with my puppy, and late nights with friends and family.

Just do me a favor and show me some grace Blue people…I’m feeling very Green!

SEE YOU TOMORROW!!

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Open Hands.

If I would have known beforehand what God would ask of me in these days, I’m not sure I would have said yes.

Before I moved here to CDO, I thought about what it would be like to love street kids- I considered their addiction to drugs, their dirtiness, the baggage they carry with them from their difficult lives, their wild behavior, the language and cultural barriers. I thought about those things, I prayed about those things, and without any hesitation at all, over time, I grew to absolutely love each of them.

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But I don’t think I ever once considered how hard it would be to lose them. Lately, God is always prying open my hand, continually asking me to loosen my grip of these kids. NOT to love them any less- but just to loosen my grip and trust them in His.

One of the older boys, who I have poured extra love and time into this year, was given 5,000 pesos ($125) by a well-meaning person trying to help. 5,000 pesos to a street kid is like winning the lottery. I haven’t seen him at the center in weeks. I am confident that he’ll be back when his money runs out. But until then I know I just have to let him go…

Two of the girls, sisters “D” and “A”, have a very abusive home. “D” spends the day in the streets but goes home at night while “A” prefers to wander around and sleep on the street. If “D” doesn’t bring her younger sister “A” home with her, then the dad beats her and she sleeps outside her house on a piece of cardboard. After multiple nights of “D” getting beat and sleeping outside, Meagan and I took the two girls into our home to live with us until we could find a safer place to sleep at night. But eventually, “A” and “D” went back to the street for different reasons. And I knew, for now, I just had to let them go too…

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For me, this constant balancing act of loving and letting go, is one of the messiest parts of working with street kids. Its easy to assume that if you love them well enough, offer them a chance at a different future, and provide for all their basic needs, then they will respond positively and never look back. But that’s just not the case.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this. Loving people, all people not just street kids, is HARD. Sometimes you pour all you have into a relationship and still they choose walk away. Other times love can feel very one-sided and underappreciated. And often times loving someone means fighting for them and seeing the good in them, even when they don’t care to see it for themselves.

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Its true what I said up there- if God would have told me ahead of time how hard this would be, I’m not sure I would have said yes. If I would have known the whole story from the start fear and feelings of inadequacy, I’m sure, would have kept me safely at home. But now that I’m here in the middle of it, I’m daily begging God for more of His love-pour more into me Jesus so I can pour more out.

He knows the limits of my heart and still He called me. He knew how hard these days would be and yet here I am. And thank God for His sneaky ways. Because now I’m here! And I absolutely love my kids-I mean, HIS kids.

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I love them for all the good I see hidden away inside of them. I love them for the crazy potential of their futures. I love them for how much they’ve grown and changed in a year. I love them for persevering through the most unimaginable circumstances. I love them for all they are now and for who I know they are going to be one day. And these days, I love them enough to loosen my grip and let them go.
Trusting that His hands are a better place for them to be than mine anyway…

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One Year in the Philippines

*I started this post over 2 weeks ago on the actual one year anniversary of living here but I just now got around to finishing it..enjoy!

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One year ago today I landed in this beautiful place I now call home.

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In some ways it feels like I’ve been here in the Philippines for years. I eat rice every day. I throw my toilet paper in the trash. I speak more Bisaya than English. I take my shoes off right when I walk in the door. I fall asleep to the sound of the neighbors chickens. I go to church outside. And I have a family of 16 beautiful kids.

But in other ways it feels like I landed here yesterday. The hole is just as deep as day 1 when it comes to missing my family and my people back home. The cultural differences still shock and confuse me at times. I still crave Subway and miss eating greek yogurt. I still whine about how hot it is and I miss consistent electricity. And my kids are still living on the street.

There is SO much to celebrate from this first year. And believe me, I have! I learned a new language. I moved into my first home. I gained the trust of 16 street kids who changed my life. We opened the drop in center. We started having accredited school every day. We employed a social worker and two teachers. And we started our sponsorship program.

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Those are just the big defining moments I can pull from the top of my head.

But when I think back on this year, my mind doesn’t instantly go to the big moments. Instead, I like to think back and remember all the tiny moments in between that led to all the big things.

I think back to day one when I first arrived in Divisoria and met some of the kids. My Bisaya still wasn’t very good so our conversations were shaky at best. I learned their names and we ate some chicken and rice. I can still picture their hardened faces and closed off hearts. I remember thinking to myself, what have I gotten into here?

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I remember when we first opened the drop in center and I seriously doubted any of the kids would even come. We had a short-term team here at the time and just as we were explaining our goal for the month- to get kids to come to the center on their own- 3 of the kids walked right in for the very first time! It was a defining moment for me on this journey to realize God can make things happen that I think are nearly impossible.

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I go back to New Years Eve and think about how special that day was. The streets were barren and empty because everyone in the entire city was home with family. That’s just what you do. But for these kids, we ARE family and the streets are their home. So we lit off fireworks and danced in the open streets. I remember cringing at the sound of every bang, holding my breath hoping none of the crazies blew off a finger.

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Christmas Day was just as sweet. For most of our kids it was their very first time to open a Christmas gift. We showered them with a new outfit and some random little toys. We told them about the true meaning of Christmas and about the God who loves them so much. It was a day I will never forget.

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I remember all the chaos of the past year as well. Like the time one of the girls cut her toe wide open on a piece of glass because she lost her flip flops..again. And the time we rushed one of the boys to the hospital after the kids injected him with a random needle they found on the street. Or the time I had to physically hold one of our youngest boys in a body lock for half an hour because he was high and wanted to throw a giant rock at a kid who made him mad.

Thinking back on all that has happened in one year, my heart is so full! It has been hard. And busy. Full of questions with no easy answers. Heartbreaking and frustrating at times.

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But more than anything, it has been exciting and full of every day miracles. The hard times have proved worth it. The impossible questions always get answered somehow. The heartbreak and frustration is simply a result of loving these kids so much. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

This year, God has been amazing. I had no idea what I was walking into when I moved here. Of course, it barely resembles how I pictured it would be. I simply said yes to Him and it feels like I’ve just been along for the ride ever since!

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If I’ve learned anything this year, I’ve learned to trust Him. Moment by moment. In every impossible situation. With each kid. Every step along the way. He simply asks that I trust Him…

So trust Him I will.
Here’s to another year!  

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Dream Big.

I sit in the corner of the classroom and just watch for awhile, engraving each tiny moment into my mind.

One of the girls, 13 years old, moves her mouth around in the funniest shapes as she tries to sound out the letters of the basic word in front of her. It’s slow and it sounds a little off. But she’s doing it…she’s reading!

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One of the boys, 9 years old, focuses so hard to trace the lines of his name onto the paper over and over again. Suddenly, he throws his pencil down frustrated and starts banging his head on the table- I assume he’s done for the day. But really, his hand just hurts because he’s not used to holding a pencil. So I watch and smile, as one of our teachers grabs his hand and massages it gently so he can continue learning the letters of his name.

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One of the older boys sits quietly at the table, straining his brain for the words to answer his essay question- “Inig daku nimo, unsa man imong gusto mahimo?”. When you grow up, what do you want to be? I’m excited to read his answer. I want to be a doctor, he writes. In the midst of a million spelling mistakes and imperfect grammar, are the big dreams of a street kid who knows he can be something incredible one day.

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The oldest boy, 17 years old so near and dear to my heart, sits at the table in front soaking in every word the teacher says. He hasn’t been to school since grade 1 but he is determined to change his life. I listen as he fights to sound out each word. Some of the other kids laugh at him but he doesn’t even care. When he finally gets the answer right, he smiles from ear to ear at his accomplishment. He’s so proud of himself…and he should be.

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These are the moments.

It’s easy sometimes for me to get blinded by all the obstacles we face- the addictions to rubgy, the freedom of the streets, the challenge of getting street kids to follow a schedule, problems with the neighbors, the full blown rages that come when they’re high.  But the potential for greatness is there. It’s why I moved here. It’s the dream of my heart- to see these kids find Hope. I long for them to know and believe that more is possible in their lives.

We had visitors come to the center the other day and one of kids introduced himself like this- Hi, I’m ________ and I’m a rugby boy. Oh my heart. But that’s NOT who he is and it doesn’t have to define him!

One day he will introduce himself again and it will be different. He will know his true identity, found in the God who loves him and created him special. He will know his dreams of being a doctor or a policeman or a jeepney driver are possible.

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He won’t be a rugby boy forever…

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Tough Love.

I thought I knew what it meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I mean, I’ve heard it said all my life. We are the tangible expression of His love for His people. So go feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Care for the orphans and widows…

But I’ve realized lately- it’s more than that.

God has entrusted 16 precious children to me and I love them with a love I truly didn’t know existed in me. Every day I have the privilege of being the hands and feet of Jesus to them. We feed their hungry bellies a hefty meal twice a day. We provide clothes for them to replace their dirty torn ones and we wash the rest for them to wear. And for most of them we are the only arms that hug them all day long.

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By the grace of God and the support of people like you, we are blessed to be able to love and provide for them this way every single day.

But the deeper my relationships get with these kids and the longer we journey together, the more the outpouring of my love has changed.

In the beginning, all I could do was love these kids. I couldn’t speak the language well so there wasn’t a whole lot of talking between us. But if they were hungry, they got food. If they needed a pair of shorts because all they had was a pair of Heineken beer boxers covered in holes then we gave them new shorts. When they were thirsty we brought them water.

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No matter what they did or what their lives looked like, we wanted and needed them to learn that we are a safe place for them to come.

Now after many months, my relationship with these kids and my love for them looks very different than it did at first. For me, being Jesus’ hands and feet doesn’t just mean giving them food and clothes.  A lot of the times, especially because I work with street kids, it means having to give tough love.

It means refusing to give a kid food until he gives me his rugby. It means holding a kicking and screaming 6 year old in a body lock in the middle of town because he wants to throw a giant stone at one of his friends who made him mad. It means saying no to the boys who want to come to school high for the day. It means staring one of my favorite girls in the eyes and explaining to her in a stern voice that she is not allowed to pick on the younger girls anymore or she has to leave.

Tough love is so hard to give. It takes discipline, courage, and strength to stick to your guns. And there is always a risk involved.

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Recently, I’ve been the bad guy more times than I can count. I’ve been cussed out and then hugged by the same kid minutes later.  Sometimes I get kicked, threatened, and ignored. Then, in true child fashion, it’s all magically better later.

But through all of this, I have truly understood so much better the love of God. I’ve realized more than ever before that He disciplines me because of the depth of His love for me.

I know that sniffing rugby is destroying these kids. And I know that if JR throws the giant stone he could really hurt somebody. I know if those boys come into school high it will only bring the other kids down. And I know when one of my favorite girls picks on the other girls she is really hurting them.

And because I love them so much, I can’t just sit back and let them destroy their lives or anyone else’s. It literally hurts me inside when I find the kids fighting with each other or out on the street sniffing rugby.

Sometimes, it feels like the hardest thing in the world for me to discipline them when all I really want to do is hug them and never let go.

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“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines a child in whom he delights.”  -Proverbs 3:11-12

 But here’s the deal. God found me and chose me- my mess and all. His unconditional love pulled me in and showed me that He was safe and trustworthy. But now that I’m in…now that I’m here…its His tough love that continually shapes me to become more like Him.

He loves me way too much to just let me stay in my mess.

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And it’s the exact same way for me with these kids.
Sometimes being the hands and feet of Jesus is easy.
But sometimes, its really, really hard…

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Letting kids be kids.

We’ve officially had school up and running here at “Streetlight” for 2 weeks! And in just two short weeks we have seen miracles happen in that room.

By nature, I tend to see things very realistically. So when miracles happen, they blow my mind every single time because I could’ve sworn that thing-whatever it is- could never happen.

When we started school, I was the one asking questions like- what happens when our kids don’t want to come? Or, how will we manage the days when they come to school high? Is it even possible to have a schedule with street kids? Or, how do we know they will even enjoy this? This is SCHOOL we’re talking about here and these are kids!

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On one hand, my questions like these are good- it helps our team think through all different scenarios and plan as best as we can for curveballs and kinks that are bound to come our way. On the other hand, sometimes it means I don’t leave enough room for faith. My eyes can get so focused on all the impossibilities that I can’t even see what God is capable of doing if I would just trust Him.

Thankfully, God still works behind my back- leaving all my questions, doubts, and impossibilities lying smashed in the dust.

Not only do all our kids come to school but they enjoy it! I’ve watched them transform from 7, 8, 9, 10 year olds who are fighting to survive into kids who play and laugh and celebrate when they get their math right!

Every afternoon, the kids start piling in around 1:00. One by one they take a shower, eat their lunch, and brush their teeth. FYI- thanks to YOUR support we can provide these things.

Then we start every class off with a prayer. Sometimes the kids pray, sometimes the teacher, sometimes one of us. Its short and simple, but I just love to hear them pray. We sing a song and usually play a game. Then their brains get to work!

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Right now most of them, regardless of age, are learning to read. It will never get old for me to watch their faces change from embarrassed to confident when they sound a word out right or solve a basic addition problem on the board in front of their friends. We clap and celebrate and cheer at seemingly small things because to these kids- they are HUGE victories.

I’ve seen more smiles and heard more laughter in that classroom over the past two weeks than I’ve seen or heard from them in months! There are certainly still curveballs and difficulties- but I can praise God because He really is working miracles here every single day.

Its almost like the world just stops each afternoon for them from 1:00-4:00. They are free. Free from their addiction to rugby. Free from hunger. Free from the danger of the street. Free from all the fighting.

Even if its only for a few hours, they are free to just be kids.
And THAT is a beautiful thing.

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My friend Jon.

Meet Jon.

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Jon is 11 years old and he lives and sleeps on the street in Cagayan de Oro with his family. I got to spend the afternoon hanging out with Jon in the plaza and putting the past few months of studying the language into action as I talked to him in Cebuano. My friend Blessie was there with us so she translated parts I couldn’t understand and helped us go deeper as I asked him about what life is like for him on the streets…

Two years ago a huge typhoon hit the Philippines. The hardest hit area was Cagayan de Oro. Jon’s family lost their home and what little they had and were forced to move onto the streets.

“Living on the streets is really scary”, he said. “Especially at night…we sleep wherever we can find space on the ground but its always uncomfortable and there are many mosquitoes”. 

He went on to tell us how he only gets one meal a day, if that. His dad works out on the street all day parking cars and washing windows, trying to earn enough money to buy dinner for his family that night. Jon said his one wish is to be able to go to school so his family wont have to live on the street anymore.

We talked for a while and then I asked Jon if he and his family wanted to come eat lunch with us. They were so excited. Naturally, we went to a restaurant with all you can eat rice!

I expected them to plow quickly through their food. After all, who knows when the last time was they had a full meal. One of the boys ate his food up quickly and kept asking for more rice. Luckily, it was unlimited!

But Jon and his mom didn’t eat quickly. In fact, they didn’t finish their food at all. With half his food still left on the plate, Jon grabbed his stomach with his hands and told his mom it hurt. She let him pack his food into a bag and take it to go.

I’ve heard before that when you’re malnourished your stomach shrinks down so small that you cant eat a normal meal anymore without feeling sick. I realized thats probably what was happening to Jon and his mom. They don’t ever get to eat more than a handful of food each day so for them- a piece of chicken and a cup of rice was more than their stomaches could handle…

Can you imagine?

I learned later when we were talking to Jon’s mom that Jon isn’t even her real son. Jon’s real mom left him in her care when he was 6 months old and she went to Manila. Jon’s mom said she would be back for him in a few weeks. 10 years later…she still hasn’t come back.

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My heart breaks for Jon, his family, and hundreds more just like him living right now on the streets around me. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in how wrong it all feels, distracted by what feels fair.

But I know God sent me into this place to bring Hope, not to be consumed by injustice.

There IS hope for Jon and all the kids just like him. My God is their God too. As I continue learning and praying about the best ways to provide these kids with food, education, and safety from the streets, I cling to the promises of my Father…

He sees them. And He loves them so much. He will never leave or forsake them.

“These things I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning- great is Your faithfulness! I say to myself- the Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.”

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