In case you know nothing about me, I'm not a pastor, preacher, theologian, or an intellectual of any kind. I am, very simply, a man who wants to be like Jesus. The problem is: I fail miserably at it.. We are all failures when put up to His standards, but we are still loved, unconditionally.
Since I first visited this country, it has been my desire to tell the "lost children" that they are loved, even if they fail and even if their parents have abandoned them or they feel dirty and sinful and if the life they have on earth seems dismal and without purpose.
We were sent here to serve and I try very hard to be humble, in the Philippines. It is easy to be arrogant here, because people expect that out of foreigners. Kneeling and washing the feet of the people is a great opportunity for me to "practice what I preach". (Not literally, remember, I'm not a preacher). Matthew 20:28 teaches us all a great lesson, telling us:
"even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Let me put this out there right now. Even though I'm a retired firefighter, I do NOT plan to give my life as a ransom for many. I'm fully cognizant that I am not THE Son of the Living God, but I am one of his children.)
As I was looking at the Bible story (John 13), we can only imagine what a "tuff road" it must have been to walk the dirty, rocky, muddy roads of Palestine. Much like the Manila streets, where these kids came from, before they ended up "here". Fear was probably a common emotion for them both then and now. From the first pair of little feet that I washed, I felt the rough, calloused skin on some of them and saw the scars, and felt the marks from bites, rashes and who knows what else.
Within the first few minutes, it was hard to hold back the tears as I washed each little precious foot. In my mind I was seeing the kids walking the streets late at night and being victimized. No one caring for them in any way unless they wanted something in return. Seeing and feeling things that children should never be part of. It is an uphill battle, but we are all here for a reason. Some of us are goers, some are senders and some are other things, but it takes us all. A whole village of God's people to raise His children.
Overwhelm: to affect (someone) very strongly: to cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with: to defeat (someone or something) completely
The above picture was taken by Thai and it was not staged. She just captured a moment on a cell phone, not to glorify me or our mission, but to bring glory to God and give you a view into our lives. That boy was sleeping on a cardboard pallet among trash and piles of human feces on the top of a parking deck. I'm overwhelmed that this is everywhere I look and the gov't is deaf, dumb and blind to it. This picture signifies about $1 of material products (a bag of rice and 20 pesos). It also has a priceless value to myself, as it reminds me that there is lots of work to be done and I should always be aware of how I use the time that God has given me. I smiled at him and he smiled back...he said nothing, I just said "Jesus loves you, son" as I fought back my tears with all the strength I had.
The unfilled needs, heartbreak and loneliness that I see in these kids overwhelms me. It overwhelms me that I am just 1 man trying to move a mountain or push back the ocean. But, it also overwhelms me when I see a child smile just because I smiled at him first or we were allowed to feed them. I will tell you that my eyes well up with tears when I see these children dancing and singing praises to God around the truck that was designed just for them. Children with very little value to their parents or their city, need to know that they are priceless to their Maker. When we can make a child smile, I know that God can move mountains and calm the ocean even if it is through us, a little bit at a time.
I am torn because I don't want to come back to the U.S. because I know that I could be making a difference to these kids for the 2 months that I'm gone, but I can't do it alone. I am overwhelmed at the support that we have gotten in the past 2 years while we have been working here and I pray that I will be overwhelmed again as we come home and begin fundraising for the first time to begin fully investing in making these children know a Father's Love.
I do NOT post for recognition or a pat on the back...I post for the children and that you would know that you can help as much as our family by providing prayer and financial support, even it if is $1. We can OVERWHELM these children. We can make them smile and feed their family for $1 in the name of Jesus and what better return on investment can there be? (that is rhetorical to any CPA or investor that may be reading this)
Please contact us if you want to support us or meet us while we are stateside...we want to get to know you on a personal level and invite you to come join us for a while in the mission field. Your life will NEVER EVER be the same!!!
During February, I was picked as an "extra" in a commercial for Alaxan FR, which Manny Pacquiao endorses. You can see by the picture below that I was the referee in the commercial. My face can be seen for 2 glorious seconds in the short action-packed "vignette" and my shoulder was featured for an additional second. People don't ask for my autograph or whisper, "isn't that the white ref in the Pac Man commercial?" as I walk by, but that is not why I did it. Being called to the Philippines has afforded me way too much down time, waiting for others to respond or act and I want to be as productive as possible while I am here. Life is short, right? This job helped pay a few bills and gave me a chance to meet a great Christian man and hero to the world. The Congressman (and future President) signed several pair of boxing gloves for me. I will be giving them (via drawing) away to our supporters when we come home to the U.S. If you are a Pac Man fan....these would look great in your living room while helping the kids of the Philippines.
It may sound a little strange, but since we moved here in August of 1012, I prayed for an opportunity to meet Filipino people with "stroke" so I can share our mission and get local support. We need to empower the people here. They are more than capable of caring for each other, but the years and years of gov't corruption and wide spread poverty has made many of them numb to act. This was truly a divine meeting for us. Pac Man and I are not bff's or anything, but having my picture with him will give me lots of "street cred" here as we spread the message to some of the toughest street kids in the world. Kids that are living the same life that Manny Pacquiao started as. The love of a Father will soften the hardest hearts and I will beg, borrow or steal* to make it happen. (*"steal" hearts, not taking something with the intention of permanently depriving them of the item.) Please let us know if you want to meet us this summer and hear what our mission is doing in the Philippines. We would love to invite you in as part of the Worship On Wheels team. One truck is great but this is the most densely populated city in the WORLD with an unthinkable population of street kids that think they are forgotten. We want to reach as many children as we can. Their souls are perishable and our time is short.
The trip to Leyte was about 1,000 Kilometers from our home in Antipolo City. We left at 5 am on Dec. 20th. We arrived at the Matnog Ferry Port at about noon on Dec. 21st. It took about 4 hours for the 1 hour ferry ride. The truck was happy to rest and so was I. We arrived in Allen, Samar at about 5 pm and continued to drive the construction-riddled, un-lit, blind curving, uphill, downhill road. And those were the best parts. We averaged less than 25 mph on the trip and were so happy to arrive at about 1 am on Dec. 22nd. There was no electricity, so we arrived to a flashlight escort and a candlelit dinner waiting for us. My back and neck pain was excruciating, but it was INCREDIBLE to be there!!!
The new roof/rafters were installed (without a ceiling yet) and there were several water leaks, but it made for a great shelter. W.O.W.'s 11 foot truck filled Grace Baptist Church with 300 Supply kits which included: rice, bottles of water, canned meat, sleeping mats, towels, sheets, flashlights, crackers, toothpaste, toothbrushes and lots of other cool stuff that they really needed. We also brought Clothes, Toms shoes, Gallons of Drinking water, Ceramic water filters, solar flashlights/ cell phone chargers, Manna Packs & Soup Mix, rolls of tarpulin for roof repairs and much of our audio/video and cooking equipment. The members of the church went to work shopping through our clothes and supplies and soon began began to plan how they would be preparing meals for the neighborhood.
If you are like the Beaver's, you get excited to go to a hotel and get the little complimentary bottles of soap/shampoo. Imagine that excitement multiplied by 100. These people were like piranhas on a floating carcass. Most, if not all of the supply trucks did not get past Tacloban City, so they had been going without these items for over a month. Few things make me happier than being able to make others happy. I was told that I was an "answer to prayers" and I answered I did not answer them..."I'm just the delivery man for your prayers". God's people answered the call for all of the supplies and the funds to make this work . If it was not for generous donors, I would have been at home without the opportunity to GO.
How is your over working ladies? I'm taking nothing away from the American mom, a true superhero. But here a cook has to be an arsonist, a firefighter and a chef along with the ability to cook with garden tools. After they got their needed supplies to their shelters, they were back cooking for a neighboring barangay kids. They cooked over 10 gallons of vitamin fortified "lugaw", which is the "Texas chili of the Philippines" or the "Clam Chowda" if you are from the east coast. It filled a 200+ bellies that had not had a hot meal in weeks. By the time I headed back, they had fed and ministered to 300+ more Jaro citizens.
The most difficult thing to see in this disaster area was the mass graves. I captured a photo of this homemade tombstone where many families had been buried at a grassy intersection. It is hard to fathom the whole branch of a family tree being torn off at one time, in one place and during a single event. This was one of many sites like this. I have to just ask God: "Allow me to accept Your will, even when I do not understand it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.
I drove by this collapsed building almost every day while I was in Leyte. This was newly constructed and was a storm shelter for several hundred people who perished when the walls came down during the storm. The sustained winds were almost 200 mph for over 4 hours and gusts reaching 235 mph. After 20+ years as a first responder, this is devastation that I have never imagined. I'm sure that a politician's name was emblazoned across the front of this building taking credit for it, in all it's glory. Well he/she claim it now?
I have 100's of pictures of the unbelievable devastation and even more pictures of the awesome and abundant blessings that were shared during my trip. Grace Baptist Church will continue to share the blessings of hot food and clean drinking water for weeks to come thanks to God's people.
So how did W.O.W. end up in Jaro, Leyte when the whole world only knows of Tacloban City? We were commissioned by University Baptist Church in Houston (Clear Lake) Texas. One of the members there was related to someone that was in Jaro. She contacted us through the church and asked us to check on her family, since she had not heard from them since the storm. We finally contacted them and chose that location because they had not been receiving any aid. Most of the islands population is in Tacloban City. The longest bridge in the country connects the islands, so most of the supplies don't go past "the city gates". I cannot begin to thank enough, the people who made this trip possible. Jaro was very happy to see us, but I was more blessed than they will ever know.
This was the trip I (Thai) had been waiting for after Church camp this summer in Palawan. I brought the whole family with me back then, but this time I went solo. It was mixed emotions for me; I was very excited for another tribal adventure yet scared to be doing this all over again. After all it has been ten years since I last visited a tribe in Davao. I was faster & younger then but now I feel the old age just kicked in.
Our team, headed by Dr. Welthy Espina Villanueva*(Gawad Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Pilipino 2010 & Dangal ng Bayan Awardee 2012) went to a place called Kalakwasan. It is on the North part of Palawan, between Puerto Princesa and Roxas. A two hour bus ride from the city and another 2 hour hike(depends on your speed) & 10 rivers to cross to get there. We started the hike around 6 pm and we got there past 8pm on December 2nd. I was very thankful that one of my new buddies brought her flashlight with her(not sure why I intentionally left mine in Manila) otherwise both of us would be lost since we were the only ones who haven't been to this tribe.
Dr. Welthy aka "Wingky" invited me to celebrate this 3-day event with the whole Batak** community. She also invited Pastors, Church workers and volunteers, Barangay Kagawad's and other neighboring tribes.
The first day was the Sportsfest and Parlor Games. They divided the whole tribe into 2 teams; Team Tugas and Team Nara. Each team had representatives for kids' basketball tournament, Moms and Dads played as well. There were also parlor games like relays, balloon popping contest & drinking contest. Some parents who didn't participate in the games busied themselves in the kitchen. They cooked lunch for everybody.
Before the day came to an end, I was given the privilege of sharing Gods word to them. I shared from the book of Hebrews chapter 12 verses 1 &2 and then the challenge of Paul in Philippians 3:13 & 14 and Ephesians 3:20.
Team Nara beat Team Tugas with few points. The latter displayed extra ordinary gesture by congratulating the winning team with their happy faces oblivious to the competition itself but just as happy they all had a great day.
The second day was the Closing Ceremony of ABC's of ACE(kindergarten) Heaven's Eyes Tribal Mission Academy. Twelve students earned a certificate of accomplishments for the school year 2012-2013. They received numerous awards such as: good behavior, creative, industrious, perfect attendance, etc and 3rd, 2nd and 1st honors.
Third day, we celebrated three different occasions: First was the Dedication of the School Building, Second was their Community Christmas Party and last but not the least, we celebrated Dr. Wingky's 40th Birthday. It was also her way of thanking the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness in her life. It was her 10th year surviving cancer and 10th year in Tribal Education Ministry.
During this event, many groups rendered songs and testimonies of God's faithfulness in their lives and community. The Chieftain shared how they started praying to "Ama" (Father) for a school, how they heard about Dr. Wingky's work in Tagnipa, Palawan and how they started to approach her with this dream. It took four years for their prayers to be answered. But God answered indeed! It also took men and women of faith to get this work started. Dr. Wingky sent out prayers and developed good prayer warriors among friends. When I first got a glimpse of their community and saw the school was built in the middle of it, I couldn't help myself but praise the Lord for being part of this ministry. Their school served as a reminder that GOD is truly faithful.
W.O.W. presented a solar light to Heaven's Eyes Tribal Mission Academy as a gift to light up the school at night and also help teachers charge their cellphones (it is a NEED) everytime they need charging.
W.O.W and Heaven's Eyes are partnering together with Convoy of Hope in Kalakwasan, Palawan to feed the children daily while at school.
BUS Ride and HIKE
Sportsfest & Parlor Games
Closing Ceremony of Heaven's Eyes Tribal Mission Academy
School Dedication, Christmas Program/Gift Giving and Wingky's Birthday
I've learned so much about the Batak Tribe when I was in Kalakwasan. Their culture is very pure and they tried their best to preserve it. Some of the pictures I took were of women without their top on. I know it's crazy!!! I myself felt a little embarrassed whenever I see them walk around naked, but I was reminded that it is their culture and lifestyle, I need to understand and accept it. So please when you go to the picture gallery, be open minded.
***Please click on this link to check Kalakwasan Photo Gallery on Photobucket.
The Bataks are very shy people...at the same time they are very helpful, kind and honest. They offer help anytime they can. Actually, during the time we were there, the community would come back and forth the school to ask if they can do something for us. They do NOT expect something in return. They would shy away if we offer them food or candy in exchange to their labor. They do not want gifts or any kind of payment in return to their kindness. There was an incident when we asked the kids to sweep, four of them came over but three only did the task. The other one(the smallest) just watched and talked to the other three. After sweeping, we called them back and handed them one candy each. As expected they said they didn't want anything..but we insisted. The fourth kid, firmly said, "I am not going to accept that because I didn't help. I just talked to them the whole time." Man! That is some honesty!!!
The teachers learned this kind of attitude early on the school year so they devised a plan on how to divert their thinking. At school they have what they call a "Merit Store." A Merit store has some items for girls and boys like toys, school supplies, stuff for girls and boys, toiletries etc. and each of the item has corresponding points. When children do something good, for themselves, their friends, teachers and/or community that is NOT told, they will get points. If they spot an item they like, they would do a lot of "good works," save their points and wait to get the prize. They all compete in doing good because they know they will get POINTS. Sometimes, they would get earrings for their little sister or their mothers and cars for their brothers.
One of the things I felt sad about was the reality that these tribes sometimes go a day without food in their stomach. The Bataks are hunters, and if they don't get anything at the end of the day, they don't get to eat also. They eat root crops, but they will have to travel far to get vegetables. I remember, majority of the people I talked to after the 3-day event said, "we're all full...up to the brim." They couldn't imagine the food that was served everyday for 3 days straight. Some of them even packed some to take home. And whenever we see them walk by we would call them to eat the left over food with us. They would run away, they said they don't have space in their tummies for another food.
Living in Kalakwasan is like living in Baguio City. It is super cold at night. I had to wear at least 2 layers, long socks on, long pj's and covered with blanket. One night I put my jacket on and covered my head with the hood so the only flesh out was my face but after 2 nights, I noticed a "Tuko" (Big Lizard like Iguana haha) "Too-koo-ing" right above me. I was afraid the Tuko would decide to jump or poop or pee on me without any notice so I decided to cover even my face at night.
I have so many things to say about the children and my experience in the tribe. I felt changed, I felt recharged. I can only pray for them and hope that one day we will see each other again.
I am actually praying for a specific project for the school next year. Lord willing raise the amount before June(2014) so that myself and the rest of the Beaver's will go to Kalakwasan and do it as our family project. So please continue to pray for the Batak Community, Heaven's Eyes Academy, the teachers and staff and their needs and also for the said project.
I will keep you all posted as the plan progress...till then thank you all and God Bless!
* Dr. Welthy Espina Villanueva
Today was my 41st birthday. After my children arrived in the world, for me, birthdays were just another day closer to Heaven. But this birthday was different. I'm now in a great position to give to others with very little monetary expense. All I need to spend, is time! This was a great evening with a great organization (Destiny's Promise). I am so blessed to be able to be in the smile creating business. If I had a cake and a birthday wish today (but I don't cuz I'm on a soup diet), it would be that I can continue this tradition until I'm gone from the Earth and that my kids will continue it after me. I think we should change "birthday" to "LIFEday". You are born 1 time, then re-born as a Christian. LIfeday sounds more appropriate, since our Lord's commission is to live LIFE serving others ALL OF OUR DAYS! HAPPY LIFEDAY Everyone. Each day is a gift from God, so live like it!
Pag Asa is filipino for - "hope". It is the brain child of our Teach Beyond staffer's, Tom & Beth Potter. One of my favorite kids movies is 'Robots' and use one of the lines as my life theme. "SEE A NEED - FILL A NEED" (which is where W.O.W. came from)
This is exactly what Beth saw when she was working with Destiny's Promise in Metro Manila. Kids living in these settings have varying degrees of education, usually they are from poor to none. Teacher's here, have an average of 50 students per class, so these children do not get the attention that they need in the Philippine school systems and are actually a burden to the teachers. The children's homes take children from the Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) & Developement, but receive no funding from the government. Each orphanage is supported by donations, so private education is costly. Teach Beyond provides this to them at no cost.
The Potter's dreamed of getting these children where they belong intellectually, mentally and spiritually. Then, boost them into the top of their class and onto great colleges. As adults they will be motivated, educated and have the ability to obtain positions into high places in society, remembering where they came from and reaching out to the children travelling down the same road.
Teach Beyond is a great organization if you have a heart for missions, the gift of teaching and a love for travel - check it out. They staff teachers all over the world in missionary postings, allowing you to raise your own support. You can "SEE A NEED and FILL A NEED", too.