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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Ready for the next thing.

Have you ever desperately wanted to move on to the next thing? I don’t know what the next thing is for you- maybe you’re single and ready to be married, or maybe you’re stuck in the same position at work and you’re more than ready and qualified for a promotion. Or maybe you’re ready to have kids but it hasn’t happened yet.

Me? I’m ready for land. Every day for 9 months the kids have come to the drop-in center to shower off the dirt and grime from the night before, grab their plates and pile on rice, play games or color or rap or sleep, and then we do school for as long as their attention spans can hold.

But then they leave the center and spend the rest of their time on the streets. They sniff rugby and get high, they fight, and then they find a safe corner on the street or underneath a cart to catch a few hours of sleep.

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So much change has happened in their lives over the past 9 months. For the most part, they smile more and laugh a lot. Many of them can read and write and they take great pride in their math skills. They have clothes and toys to call their own. They shower and brush their teeth and eat healthy meals. They stand taller and walk more confidently because they know they are loved.

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BUT we are all more than ready to move on. The kids, the staff, the teachers- we’ve hit a wall, it feels, and there’s not much farther we can go. Until the kids are off the streets and in a place where they can break these addictions, we can’t do much more. It becomes more and more difficult with them every day.

On the other hand, we have a piece of land that we love. It’s the same land we’ve been looking at for 6 months now. We’ve prayed, had countless meetings and negotiations and proposals. If you’ve visited here recently, then you probably even went out there with us to see it.

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But still we have to wait. The process of purchasing land and building homes here is slooooowwwww. It would be slow in America too, I’m sure. But it’s REALLY, painfully slow here in a third world country! This week’s holdup is the water. We aren’t sure how to get water up to the land for a more than a few hours every day. And you can imagine that might get a little difficult with 15+ kids and staff living there at a time.

This week it’s the water. And realistically, next week it will probably be something else. So that’s my battle these days- how do I stay present and hopeful in the current season when everything in and around me is ready to head into the next?

I haven’t got it all figured out, but here’s what I know to be true- if God wanted us to have land already, we’d have it. If he wanted your house sold by now, it would be sold. Or if you were supposed to have a baby by now, you’d have one.

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So when I’m praying these days I’ve tried to stop asking why or when. Instead, I’m trying to live my life constantly asking Him what now? Where is the good stuff you set before me today? Because I know its here.

And I promise you its there in your life too.

Hidden between the frustrations and holdups and even the occasional let downs are these tiny moments, precious gifts from God straight to us, that are meant for us to notice and be apart of. I truly believe God doesn’t waste a day. Which means, for us, we’re not still working out of this tiny drop in center for no reason. He is at work.

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There’s good stuff happening here.
I just have to be willing to stop dreaming ahead long enough to notice it…

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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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Most Street Kids Aren’t Orphans.

Here’s something you probably don’t realize about street kids- most of them aren’t orphans.

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Right now, I work with 16 kids and only one of them, the oldest, is a true orphan. It’s easy to assume that if kids are living on the street then they must not have a family, but thats not true. The majority of kids living on the street today actually have a home and one or both of their parents are still alive.

I already know your next question- so why are we helping these kids?

There’s a huge movement in churches today to help orphans. It’s a beautiful thing because God is so very clear about His heart for orphans and I think Christians are doing a really good job stepping up to help. But God has opened my eyes to a huge group of kids around the world who for one reason or another often get ignored or overlooked- street kids.

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Yes, most street kids have a family- but I use that word very loosely. Let me ask you this- if you had a family and a home to go to at night, would you choose to live on the street instead?

My kids have homes, and at least one parent, but none of them ever want to go home.

They have alcoholic dads who come home and beat them at night. Or moms who collect trash from the dumps all day and then use the money to gamble instead of buying them food. They have parents who send them out to the street in dirty clothes to beg for money and then beat them up if they don’t bring home enough. And moms who teach their 5 year old daughter to cry on the corner in her underwear so people passing by will feel bad and put some coins in her cup.

You see my kids have homes and families…but not really.

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These kids don’t need an orphanage, because they aren’t orphans. And most of them won’t be put up for adoption because I fully believe my God wants to heal and restore the families they already have.

So this is what we’re doing about it here at Streetlight-
Everyday Monday through Friday these kids come to our drop in center. They shower, brush their teeth, eat lunch, have school, and then eat a snack. We try to teach them basic hygiene, life skills, the importance of saying please and thank you, why you can’t just punch your friend because he made you mad-you know-basic stuff! We have two fabulous Filipino teachers teaching the kids to read and write. Every Sunday they get dressed up in their nice outfits and we load up the jeepney for church. Our social worker, along with the rest of the staff, have started building relationships with the parents of our kids, especially the moms, to learn more about each family situation.

And here’s where we’re headed-
We’re looking for land away from the city where we can build 3 small family style homes to start- each with 5 or 6 kids and 2 house parents. These kids desperately need to get off the street. They need help breaking their addiction to drugs. They need a special education (you can’t just put a 17 year old who can’t read back into regular school). They need to learn how to live in a home with a healthy family and basic responsibilities. They need counseling to heal from all they’ve been through.
At the same time, we want to help the parents. They need counseling too, job opportunities, rehab, and so on. Every situation is different. But our desire is to see God heal and restore the kids and their parents at the same time. Ideally, creating a healthy family to reunite back together when that time comes.

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So that’s the dream. And I thought it was only fair that you know exactly what you’re supporting.

These kids desperately need help. They need people to love them, believe in them, and hope for them when no one else will. And these parents need the same. Some of them will probably never change and their kids won’t ever go back to those horrible situations, I know that. But some of them will change. And the ones who will deserve that chance. They just need someone to come alongside and help them, instead of judging them. They need grace. But don’t we all…

And that’s what our ministry longs to be. A place of love, and hope, and lots of grace.

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When you help support a child, you’re not just supporting a child, but a family. You’re providing food, education, hygiene, and the love of Jesus to a kid who really needs it. And you’re also helping give these parents a second chance.

I know it’s different. These kids aren’t orphans…but the need is just as great. Will you believe in them with us? Will you help us make restoration a reality in the lives of these kids and their families?

If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, this is currently the BEST way to be a part of what God is doing here. You can email me at leahmalone07@gmail.com for more information.

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I thought my house was destroyed.

Today marks 17 days straight of nonstop rain. Its unbelievable, really. I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks. And in the midst of all the rain, Monday there was a tropical depression here-basically a fancy name for a really big thunderstorm.

On Sunday, alert levels were raised and we were told to prepare for evacuation. My house here is very close to the main river. Its a huge river and 7 other rivers flow into it. We needed to evacuate because the river level was dangerously high and rising every hour. With the tropical depression headed our way, it was almost certain to overflow and flood our home.

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As we packed up our house, so many emotions overwhelmed me at once. I’ll be the first to admit, I have a long way to go when it comes to not clinging to things that are “of this world”. My home here is tiny  and we don’t even have very much stuff. After all, I moved with two suitcases to my name- how hard could it be to pack up and leave?

But it IS hard. Since moving here, I’ve worked so hard to make this house into a home. As I started to shove things into bags, I struggled inside with what to leave behind. There is only so much room in the car and not everything could come with us.

I was scared and sad and I had a really hard time letting things go.

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We finished packing up the car and waited until we were told to evacuate. In the hours that followed and even into the next day I beat myself up a little bit for how hard it was for me to leave my home behind. I thought I was living pretty simply here. Since coming back from a year around the world, it’s really been important to me to learn to how to live with less. And I have…

But I realized this week that I’ve missed the point.

I don’t think God cares so much about how much stuff we have or don’t have. Quantity isn’t really the important thing here. I think it’s actually way more important whether or not you’re willing to let it all go…

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My life here is simple. My home is cozy and small. And I don’t have a whole lot of stuff. But when the storm came and threatened to take it all away, I was heartbroken and clinging to everything I could! I shoved and crammed and filled every little corner of my bags with my belongings. I closed the door and headed to a hotel, mourning the loss of everything I just had to leave behind.

And yet by the grace of God and some crazy miracle, my house didn’t flood in the storm. The river rose and the streets were flooded but the water never reached inside my house.

I woke up this morning in my bed and it all still doesn’t quite seem real. You had to be here to completely grasp how miraculous it really is that I still have a home.

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But God used this storm to teach me an invaluable lesson about my heart. Things are just things and no matter how much or how little you have- hold it oh so loosely. Because it can all be gone in an instant and your heart will be revealed.

Too much of me was invested in my things…in my home. My grip was too tight.

Today I’m thankful God spared my home. But I’m also so thankful He opened my eyes and my hands, reminding me to cling more to Him and less to this world. For only He can satisfy. He is the only sure and certain thing when the storm threatens and the waters rise.

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If the past few days had turned out differently and my house had been destroyed…if all I had left today was Him- would it really be enough?

I sure hope so.

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