Friday, October 3, 2014

Philippines 2014 Visit #1 - Cashofia

Saturday September 27th, 2014

I was picked up from my hotel by Pastor Rick, Project Director of PH521, Davao Shekinah Child Development Center. We travelled by taxi to the community of Mandug, which I was told used to be a banana plantation, but it was pulled down amid riots caused by the fact that chemicals were being used, and people weren’t happy with this.

The Project is relatively new. It has been running for four years and has 160 kids. As a result, the oldest kids are only 10 and 11 years old. We arrived at the Project to a raucous bunch of joyful kids singing and dancing during their morning devotion time. They were wearing different colored shirts according to their age group. This was the first time I had seen this at a Project.

I was introduced and met with smiles and curiosity. Part of their devotion time was celebrating children who had birthdays. I mentioned that my birthday was in four days and they hastily adjusted the Powerpoint screen and put my name up there. They also sang to me, and I was asked to pray for the birthday kids. I felt very welcomed and ‘at home’ straight away.

Next I was taken to meet the Project office staff, who work behind the scenes to make sure everything about the Project is done with excellence and integrity. They showed me Cashofia’s folder and all the letters I had sent her. It was quite a thick pile. I was also taken on a tour of the Project and had photos taken with each class of kids. During this time I was approached by many of the kids and we interacted with smiles, high-fives and a funny finger trick.

At the Compassion Projects, groups of children are assigned a caseworker who follows up concerns with the families, takes care of appointments and many other things. I was introduced to Cashofia’s caseworker, a beautiful young woman named Cely. Pastor Rick told me the story of how they met. He was at a mall, and Cely asked to borrow his cellphone. They got talking and she mentioned she wanted to work in children’s ministry. It just so happened that Cashofia’s previous caseworker had just finished up, so he was able to interview her and offer her a job. The best part is that Cely is a former sponsored child as well, so she is able to offer the children a living example of God’s love and what the future can be like for them because of Compassion.

After having a wonderful time at the Project, we headed on a motorized tricycle to Cashofia’s house. Home visits are always the most challenging part of the day for me, but I like to see the children in their natural environment, where they are most comfortable.

Cashofia is now nine years old and in Grade 4 at school, which is right nearby. I met her mother (who I had already met in Manila in 2013), her 13-year-old sister Rachel and her seven-year-old brother Jomari. I found out that Rachel shares my birthday, and she will be 13. Mama teaches a Values class at Cashofia’s school and sells meat during the day. Her husband does not live with them due to some unfortunate circumstances which will not be solved any time soon. I found this out last year, and I knew it was risky to bring it up again. Both Mama and Cashofia started crying as soon as I mentioned him; they miss him very much. He works in a different area and sends money to support them.

The family’s house is right by a river, so they have it elevated a couple of meters off the ground. It kind of reminded me of a treehouse. It has three rooms and is made entirely of wood. The front room is entirely open, with no privacy, windows or curtains. I foolishly asked “What happens when it rains?” The reply was matter-of-fact: “We get wet.” They have one bedroom where all four family members sleep together on the wooden floor, no mattress, no pillows. They have to buy their water for washing, cooking and drinking, and have no bathroom facilities. They use Mama’s sister’s house, which is just next door.

Just like any family they are proud of their achievements, so medals and certificates are displayed on the wall in the front room. The family was very friendly and easy to engage, so we had a really enjoyable conversation. They showed me some photos of Cashofia and I showed some photos of my life at Ruel and also a couple of family photos of her new sponsors Paul and Clarisse McGregor. I think the family enjoyed the fact that Clarisse is a Filipina, and their three children look similar to them. I also gave Cashofia some gifts I had bought the night before: a puzzle, a coloring book, a game of Bingo and Snakes and Ladders. Her eyes positively lit up when she saw me reach into my bag. 

A significant moment of the day came when we met Cashofia’s grandmother. She is 49, though she looks a lot older, and had been paralyzed for a few weeks after a work accident. I was asked to pray for her, which is something I don’t take lightly. I was not able to put my hands on her spine, since she was on her back and could not move, so I put my hands on her head and we spent the next 15 minutes just praying. It was incredibly profound. The Pastor and the other staff who came along joined in with me as we called on the power of God to bring healing in the name of Jesus. We know that such a miracle would do wonders for bringing hope to that community.

There was no instant cure, and we knew that no matter how much begging, pleading, beseeching or proclaiming we did, ultimately it’s up to God as to when, how and even ‘if’ He heals her. It’s hard walking away from something like that with no immediate visible results, but it’s a challenging exercise in faith and trust, believing that the One who is mighty to save and heal will do it. I will continue to pray for her, and look forward to the day that healing comes.

We walked to Cashfia’s school which was just nearby, saw her classroom and met some of the teachers. Then we travelled back to the Project for a delicious lunch with all the Project staff.        

After lunch we went to a local hotel called the Waterfront Hotel. It was exquisite, with incredible views and amazing facilities. Pastor Rick used to work there many years ago, and still thinks it’s the best hotel in Davao. We had some family photos taken and went for a walk around the grounds.

Next stop was the SM Lanang mall for some games and ice cream. We travelled by jeepney, which was one of six modes of transport I experienced on this day. It was a great way to spend $7.50, and the kids had lots of fun in the arcade, with the basketball game a particularly big hit.

For me, our last activity of the day was the most amazing. So simple, and so taken for granted in our part of the world, but on this day the supermarket at Gaisano mall was the scene of a big adventure. Cashiofia’s sponsors, the McGregors, had sent a monetary gift for the family to spend on whatever they needed (and trust me, there’s a lot of things they need). So the family, Pastor Rick, Cely and I loaded up a shopping cart and went on a ‘grocery adventure’ around the packed supermarket FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!

There’s nothing that really adequately describes the looks of excitement on the kids’ faces as we traipsed the aisles, dodged countless other shoppers, accidently rammed people with the shopping cart and they were able to choose special treat items for themselves. To me, it was a pure example of the Love of God in action. People who have been given much were giving to those who don’t, supplying their needs and, as an added bonus, giving them a memory that will last a long time. Because of Compassion and Cashofia’s sponsor, this family knows that God loves them enough to provide someone to help them with their basic needs.         

Loaded up with several heavy bags full of goodies and enough rice to last them quite a while, the family took a taxi home, ending an amazing visit day. I have to say that no matter how many child visit days I do, it never gets old or any less impacting. The impact that Compassion, the church and sponsors have on these children and families is simply immeasurable, and to be part of it is the greatest way I can spend my life.

My day ended with a visit to another couple of US missionaries, Daniel and Marlene Bray. We connected firstly through Marlene’s blog and then via Facebook. Back in November 2013 she wrote a blog post that for some reason went a bit crazy on the internet nine months later. It was entitled “20 Things No-One Tells You About Moving Overseas.” For me it was literally a God-sent piece of prose, since I read it just as I was starting to enter the ‘frustration’ stage of culture shock and it gave me some perspective about what I was dealing with.    

The Brays have a ministry to street kids in Davao called ‘Hope Created’, and Daniel also teaches at a local school. They have two children; their son Andrew is living with them but their daughter is going to college back in the US.

When I knew I was coming to Davao, we got in contact and arranged to meet. On this night we went out for some Indian food. I’ve never been a fan of spicy stuff, but we found a couple of dishes that were very mild and I was all sorted. We had an enjoyable few hours together, and I was able to share about the work of Ruel Foundation and talk through some of my culture shock stuff. I was really grateful to be able to talk to some people who ‘get it’, and blessed to have some new friends.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing about your visits! It's always a treat to have a virtual visit to Compassion projects. It is also incredibly eye-opening.