Pushing Past The Obvious

When we seek to learn from those we do not yet understand, something shifts, we move from “us vs. them” to one body.

imageWe’ve been in Manila for a week. The emotions have spanned the gamut. It has been tempting to want to be the fixer, the foreign fixer, especially when we have seen the enormous discrepancies between those who have great wealth and power to those immersed in extreme poverty.

Initially we saw a gray film all over everything. We wondered why those in power didn’t seem to notice the film or maybe they did notice but were fine with it. Either way, we knew we had to push beyond the obvious observations, feelings of anger and frustration to find deeper understanding and purpose.

We began to seek the heart of the people, any who were willing to help us to see a bigger picture. We began asking “why” questions, and finding that there were many amongst all of the mess, who are faithfully living a life incarnate.

imageWe met Rameil on top of Smokey Mountain, one of the poorest areas in Manila. The mountain is actually a trash dump and any vegetation there grows on contaminated soil. The main source of commerce on Smokey Mountain is recycling and the second, making charcoal for cooking. It’s all hands on deck, with children as young as 4 yrs old working and digging through the trash, make fires, etc… 

Rameil, who was just diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, pastors the local parish and his job is 24/7. He grew up in the area and after an encounter with the living God, he has dedicated his life to not only being a spiritual mentor to this community but practically, he helps on a daily basis caring for the overwhelming physical needs of hunger and poor health.

imageIn fact, while we were with Rameil, we met a woman with eight children, her youngest in need of immediate medical attention. And so, we all escorted her and the precious little boy, named Romeo, to the hospital. For us, it was an extremely emotional experience. For Rameil and this mother, I’m sure it was emotional too, but it is every day for them. The opportunity to come alongside these kinfolk was a privilege and an honor and they will forever be in our hearts and prayers.

imageWe also met the Long family, through a mutual friend, Brian Hommel with UPI. He takes a crew from the US to serve alongside the Longs once a year and we tagged along this time around. We learned that the Longs moved to Manila, from the US, in 1991 with their five children. They started out as teachers in a local private school and in 2004, one of their children, Jannel, asked her dad why they couldn’t do more for the street children in their neighborhood. (We love “why” questions!) From that moment on, they began to dialog about what it would look like to do more. They went home to the states for a year furlow and returned with a vision to open a group home (orphanage) and that was the beginning of what is now the multi-dimensional, Kids International Ministries.

imageWe stayed at their guest house and from our birds eye view we saw that they have had and continue to have an amazing impact in their local community, as well as, centers in Mindanao and Leyte, Visayas and have a new facility in the works that will be more agriculturally driven in Palawan. While with them, we were invited to plug into local endeavours in and around Manila including feedings, singing at the school, and spending time with the kids at the Children’s home. There is always more than enough to do and the work can sometimes seem overwhelming but the Longs take it all in stride, and like Rameil, trust God to bring them just what they need each day.

imageNear the end of the week, we visited with friends at Lilok Foundation, whose main objective is to train leaders of urban poor communities to become change makers in their respective communities. We heard about these kinfolk from our Cambodian connection, who we will visit with in a few weeks. Adam, their community coordinator, met us in the city and guided us by Jeepney (local transport) to their office in Quezon City.

imageWe met Carol, the director, Kay and Conrad. They shared a local dish called Pato, took us to a local Philippino restaurant. They also taught us a traditional worship dance. They told us their personal stories and then told us about the imbalance of power and shared that those in poverty who have no means to be trained in the faith and their passion and vision was to provide an alternative training institution which would embrace those society deems unworthy.  In 1993, through the guidance and help of some progressive academician friends from the University of the Philippines and two theological seminaries the Lilok Foundation’s vision became reality and they now provide education that builds up the Saints, all of the Saints. It was encouraging to hear their story of building a bridge between those who have and those who have not.

Finally, on our last day, actually while I was finishing this blog, we were invited to sit out on the veranda to hear about Children’s Garden from founder Sharon Gersava Wark. Manila has over 1.5 million homeless, with a solid percentage of those being street children, who live every day vulnerable to trafficking, gang induction and exploitation. Children’s Garden exists to give these children a home.

imageSitting at the table with Sharon was Michael and his wife Ruth, both in their early twenties. Michael shared about his life on the streets starting at age five. He openly and honestly gave us insight into the mind of that little child he once was. He talked about the bitterness and anger that boiled in him at the age of four, after seeing his sister raped. He shared the feeling of betrayal he felt by relatives and by a wealthy American man who preyed on him at the age of 10. He shared about the fracturing in his own heart and at the age of 11, his part in an attempted murder. His story was raw but through it all, he referenced a knowing deep in the back of his conciseness, of the destruction in his own soul and that something wasn’t right.

He talked about the significance of drugs on the street and how they were used as numbing agents to soothe his rumbling belly.  He ended up in a drug rehabilitation facility, that had its own set of injustices, but while there met a man who came to speak about another option, about a possibility of knowing God and in that knowing trusting that God had a plan for his life. However, this just pissed Michael off because he though, where was God during all of these hardships on his life!

After being released from the drug rehab, Michael had intentions of joining the military with hopes of avenging his sister. However, God had other plans and his path collided with Sharons at the Children’s Garden. It was over the next few years that Michael saw a consistent faith played out both by Sharon and her staff. During his time there he had a few hard conversations with God about his past and through it all, his heart was healed and his mind renewed. He shared about the trials that came even after his commitment to God but that his faith is only strengthened by those trials rather than squashed.

It was an honor to hear his story, to see this strong and courageous man, willing to humble himself before God and to become the man he was created to be. And to top it off, it was sheer joy to be able to see Sharon, his spiritual mother, delight in her child.

What did we see in the Philippines? Both foreigners and locals, committed to love the God of all gods, understanding that they are the hands and feet and taking that love further than themselves. They understand when Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Knowing that whenever they do one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that it is to Jesus himself. Knowing that by these acts they are called faithful.

It is through their lens that we saw the gray film lift and hope arise. And, that is the most beautiful part of Manila. That is what we will take with us.



Glory and The Pink Lady

We were asked by a friend, how God gets the glory in our lives and service. This is a friend who is serious about his faith and… very wealthy. He’s a thinker, a debater and has watched us from the beginning of our process but there was always a question from our friend, regarding our motives. He knew of our marriage issues and reconciliation, we shared our parenting woes, as well as the amazing ways that we saw God working in, through and, around us. We recently send out a letter to friends and family asking for support and his question was asked in the context of potentially partnering with us financially.  

Now, this whole fundraising thing is a little foreign to us and we long for our friends to care for us whether they can support us financially or not. However, we’ll admit that, we do have some systemic issues with the perceived manipulative nature of it all. We don’t have any trouble asking for help but struggle with the expected corporate way supporters  are catered to, pulled on and adorned just so they share their wealth.  

For instance, the reason we were able to meet our friends for lunch, was because they were flown in and put up as guests at a lovely conference center for a “Presidents” weekend in Scottsdale, AZ. Apparently, they were scouted out by large ministry, and brought in to be lavished on and ministered to, in hopes that they would feel a connection and give. It sort of reminded me of those deals that the fancy hotels in Vegas send out, for free stay at their casino. They know if they can get you there, that you will probably spend your money on their slot machines. 

We also know of an organization that does research for some of the richest Christians in the country. They look at a ministry and analyze it in a quantifying way, assessing whether or not the ministry is kingdom worthy. I can see a need for this type of research, as most of the ministries that they are looking at are large organizations. However, it all just seems so distant from where God is really moving. And, can you imagine the hoops those ministries have to jump through, to prove they are worthy of those funds. Good grief.

Here’s the thing… about the Glory of the Lord. We know that humility and poverty has something to do with it. 

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28

…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Cor 6:10

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!  Phil 2:68

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:3

And then there is the story of the widow and the copper pennies. We see Jesus make note of what folks were giving and compares the gifts of the those who give out of their abundance. These were people who great wealth, and though they give much, they could easily spare it, and had enough remaining: but she, the widow, in her”penury”, gives all that she had, her whole substance, all that she had in the world; what was to have bought her food, for that day; she left herself nothing, and trusted to providence for immediate supply.

And then we read about the Corinthians who gave out of their poverty to Paul and Timothy. “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”

And so, we throw our hands up and we say, take our lives that we might really live. Take it all, that we might see you’re glory. 

20131104-124550.jpgWe arrived in Phoenix ten days ago, on our last financial leg, we had zero dollars. Our host, Kineo Community and our family have been gracious in caring for us. When we arrived we made note of things that might be helpful in our service at Kineo church and we put a shout out on our Facebook group ‘Tillers and Travelers” for art supplies, food and building supplies. Within a few days of voicing that request we had art supplies and a large box of fresh veggies show up. And then, yesterday, our friends The Huff family asked us to join them for lunch. 

We met Niqee at Camp Nebowa in Iowa three summers ago. We were in the process of getting our bus and heading out. She stayed in touch and two summers ago she invited us to join her family, Daniel, and two darling children, at an outreach in Shannandoah, IA. And, later at their home in Omaha, NE. we shared in community with this humble family. A few months later we heard that they had sold everything and hit the road, to serve. They travel in a minivan and similar to us, stay with host families and ministries, offering helps, encouragement and healing prayer. We watched them from afar and then two weeks ago they let us know that we were going to be in Phoenix together. We were excited to hear how things were going for them, to love on them and encourage them to keep rolling and serving. Little did we know that they were actually going to be the ones to pour into us. 

We sat at In and Out burger, enjoying our meal and sharing stories of God’s amazing tapestry in putting the body together. Then they pulled out a big yellow envelope and handed it to us. They spoke healing words over us, words of affirmation, letting us know that this gift was an act of obedience for them, that God recognized our faithfulness and wanted to bless us. In the package was a substantial gift for each of us. They wanted our children to know that God see’s how they care for others, and how He wants to care for them.  They wanted us to know that God gave them this blessing to bless us.  Mind you, these are kinfolk who live day to day, aka… in poverty. My eyes filled with tears, as I felt the presence of the Lord wrap his arms around us. 

We had but a moment to sigh and thank them when an elderly woman approached us. She was a tall woman with silver shoulder length hair pulled back into a pony tale. She had on a hot pink tank top and light pink shorts, pink socks and white tennis shoes. She had two bags with her, both pink. Her name was Debby.  She sat down at the table next to our families and said “hi.” A few polite words were shared and then she asked us, with all seriousness, if we had $10 dollars to spare.

Ok, so wait a minute… In a 24 hour period, I was sitting with my friend releasing him from any financial expectations, blessed by a significant gift from the unexpected and then asked for help.

Debby begins to explain her story about needing rent money. I tell her she doesn’t have to justify it to us, we’re happy to give. Craig pulls out $10 dollars, then Daniel follows. She is now holding twenty dollars. There is a small tear in her eye as she begins to share how that just impacted her. She tells us of a life that is filled with violence, poor health and constant rebuke from those with whom she asks for help. Daniel asks her if she would like us to pray for her. She says absolutely. We move to her table. He begins to talk with her about her heart, and God’s longing for her to move towards him. That God wants more of her. She is in agreement. We pray, Niqee puts a gift card in her hand and Debby whispers, “how much?” Niqee answers “$50 and to get whatever she desires with it.” Debby begins to weep and we all hug her. 

We say our goodbyes to Debby and to each other.

My heart is overwhelmed…. Love, Mercy, and Grace flowing from above. 

And so, to answer my friends original question: God gets the glory because he knows our every need and he uses unexpected means to care for us, and in caring for us, we are able to care for others. The glory is his because he orchestras it.   



Child of the Humble Sod

Hope thru ArtWe arrived in Phoenix on Thursday and jumped right into life with our friends at Kineo Community. We met Kineo through our dear friend, the late, Steve Malakowsky with Hope thru Art. This is our third visit to Kineo.

They are located on a large block in Central Phoenix between a mostly low-income Hispanic neighborhood and college students at Grand Canyon University.

Kineo has a heart for the broken hearted and use their time, possessions and talents to nurture relationships. They are committed to exploring ways to live in intentional community, caring for each other and for their neighborhood. One of those ways is to use their property as a gathering space. They are also in the embryo stages of planning an urban farm and we are excited to partner with them for the next five weeks. We are looking forward to getting our hands dirty but mostly for opportunities to encourage and offering a healing presence; to share the joys and woes of real life with our brothers and sisters here on the ground in this hot, tough soil.

TillingOur first weekend we literaly “tilled” the soil and laid sod. We cared for the little ones in the neighborhood and community by offering art, dance, games and music while the adults and older kids worked hard. Our friends, the Huff family, joined in the fun. We meet them in Omaha, NE two ago and recently they gave all they had away and began traveling and serving communities. They just happened to be in Phoenix at the same time and came over to help out.

Kineo has graciously offered us the space and freedom to serve along side of them. Five weeks are a long time for a community to care for us and so, we would like to invite our friends from around the country to partner with us by offering a tax-deductible donation towards our efforts here on the ground. We are specifically hoping to purchase art supplies, offer meals, and building supplies for the many project that they have, including building a chicken coop, paint, decking, and wood for the raised gardens beds.

Donations can be made at MODERN DAY. https://giving.modernday.org/client/index.php 

Thank you for caring for us so that we can care for others.

The Skinny on Finances

20130515-183702.jpgFolks often ask how we make our way.  In 2010 we started off with ideals that involved becoming self-sustainable, working on ways to market and expand our trade. The simple explanation is that we book shows that offer payment for our performance. Of course, through our travels we have found greater purpose in connecting with and serving communities, involvement in social justice and helps organizations and encouraging kinfolk to live their dream; all the while, still performing.  And, although our original business model only generates about 70% of what we really need to be sustainable we’ve experienced something bigger than us. We’ve experienced the gift of faith and generosity.

On our journey, when troubles have come, there always seemed to be someone who without knowledge or very little knowledge of our situation, that would bless us with just enough to keep us on our way. These moments are beyond our comprehension and we don’t take any credit for them. We didn’t market or try to convince anyone that we were worth it, they were unconditional gifts. Through these experiences we have learned that there is another economy that we can be apart of. It’s not capitalism, socialism, communism, utopianism, prosperity gospel, or even karma.. We call it the divine economy. We think the crux of it is listening, openness and to be genuinely others focused, not in a “pay it forward” sort of way, which says if you give, you’ll receive, but it’s an “even if there is no return, I will give, even my life for another.”

We aren’t taught to operate this way in the business world. Even in vocational ministry, we are taught to have flashy marketing and newsletters proclaiming our mission statement and worth in order to receive tax-deductible donations. And so, two months ago we began a quiet relationship with Modern Day, which allows kinfolk to give to us through their site. They keep a record and at the end of the month they process the tax-free donations, deposit it into our bank account, minus a very small %, and send us a statement. At the end of the year, they send out all of the tax paperwork to both us and our donors. We had planned on introducing our partnership with Modern Day in a smooth, thought out way. However, that graceful introduction was muddled when our bus broke down in Chattanooga a few weeks ago.

Already a difficult month, traveling a new territory with very little income coming in, we were beyond our means and struggling to find community or hope. We were also wrestling with the little things that start to pop up in nomadic life. Things like the discomfort of four people living in 300 sq ft, not having hot water, or the ability to have power without being plugged in, and we were trying to finish up the last month of school.  So when the bus broke down, our hearts sank. There was a moment where doubt crept in and we wondered if we made the right decision to link up with an organization, taking us in a more traditional route of fund raising. We wondered if we had stepped out of that divine economy. We were significantly in the red and we needed a miracle.

A miracle is exactly what we got! What we found was that through the traditional system of giving, the divine economy superseded and yesterday Modern Day sent us a statement with a $2200 in donations.  We had no idea that kinfolk had given to our need until they sent the statement. And, the exciting thing is that the amount donated covers almost all of the bus repair!  We are so absolutely humbled and grateful for that support!

The process of trying to communicate needs doesn’t come natural for us but at the end of the day, whether we have flashy marketing or don’t say a word, it doesn’t really matter. The divine economy is active and incorrupt despite all of us. Palms open, hearts soft, and to God be the glory!