Safe House

For most of us, when we think of a Safe House we think of a spy thriller like the Bourne series. Jason Bourne, government operative goes rogue and for the rest of the series he’s running from and fighting off those who want to take him down for fear of being exposed. At least once in each film Jason finds his way into a safe house, a place where he can get back on his feet, recover from any injuries, and refuel. Or maybe you’re more of a fantasy fan and remember the scene in Lord of the Rings when Frodo Baggins and the rest of the crew run for their lives, eventually finding their way into the Elfin safe haven, Rivendell. Maybe you’re a history buff and remember the historical safe houses of the Underground Railroad, the secret system that transported escaped slaves from Southern plantations to freedom during the 19th century. Or, stories during World War 11 of members of the French Resistance who hid Jews running from Nazi persecution.

img_2311For us, a “safe house” represents one of our most valuable resources, solid gold. We aren’t government operatives, we are however on the front lines of intense spiritual battles. Our war isn’t against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities.We trust our cause, our armor and our King. We are well equip with sincerity, righteousness, faith which quenches the darts of temptation, blessed assurance, feet shod with peace, and prayer knitting it all together. Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is sharper than a doubled edged sword and used as an instrument of healing for those that are oppressed, down-trodden or just plain stuck. We see an Empire that wages war on the human soul, traumatizing and binding those caught in the cross fire to debilitating lies and vices. We are love warriors and we battle for what our friend, Craig Greenfield calls the upside-down Kingdom. Oh yes! We freely use our gifts and talents, our story, our merrymaking and music, and a win for us is to see healing, reconciliation and restoration. But, sometimes we need a safe house, a place of refuge from the storm.

Over and over in the ancient text we read that the King of kings IS a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary for all times. In fact, there is a beautiful picture in Psalm 91 of what it looks like to dwell in the shelter of Adonai, the Most High.
It talks of the safety that a baby bird finds under the wings of feather and promises that no disaster or calamity will come near;  for angels will care for and guard us wherever we go.

img_2362We know these words to be true in our hearts mind but also by the evidence demonstrated through the Saints, many of whom we were once strangers to, who continue to offer us refuge along the way. One such community in Australia, has become more than a safe house but a sending house. They have offered us not just a place to heal and recover, but a promise that they will always keep the fire aflame, that they won’t quit in hard times, praying for us with steadfastness and that they will come for us, if we ever fall in the field. And, that is worth more than gold. That is priceless. 

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Medicine For The Soul; Fire In The Sky

Not sure if you knew this about me but I’m a human connection junkie. I look for opportunities at every corner to connect whether through a smile, conversation about the weather, sharing of story or deeper moments of spiritual formation. Some circles call people with this trait an empath, others call it extroverted. Whatever you call it, traveling full-time suites my thirst for this connectivity. I know and trust that seemingly random moments are divinely orchestrated and I wake up with great anticipation of seeing and experiencing these amazing moments of exchange. Security, comfort, and money are unfruitful drivers and I tend to spend little time thinking about them, trusting that my daily bread will come. I wake up longing to speak words of peace and affirmation over those I meet and when needed, to share a hard word of truth in love. I wake up open to receive. I have learned over the years, that filtering (discernment) is essential to being healthy in my gift set. I have learned that I must allow for times of quiet and solitude in order for the Holy Spirit to fill up my empty vessel. It’s important for my well-being and those I am surrounded by. 

And so it was, thanks to Abba’s faithfulness in weaving us together with the Saints, that we were gifted a week of solitude on a beach in South Australia. 

We met Jacia, a beautiful young soul, in Northern Thailand and shared a night of song and story. Before we parted ways, Jacia mentioned that if we ever needed a season of rest, that her family owned a little beach shack and would be happy to share it with us. We exchanged info and tucked it away for a time that only Abba could bring; for South Australia wasn’t yet on our routing pattern. However, that timing came to fruition sooner than we thought as it proved to be the soft landing spot after a tender return from the US where I was caring for my mother. 

img_0159We arrived to what truly was the cutest little beach shack, and a warm welcome from Luke and Diane Hopton, Jacia’s parents. They had us over for dinner and we were delighted by their faith stories. We found a few other times to connect with them and with some of their dear friends, but my normal capacity for friendship was low so as tempting as it was to fill our week up with meals and visits, I reluctantly declined.

img_0148The honest truth was that I was wrecked in my spirit, numb really. I tried to force any sort of feeling in the physical, nearly attacking my husband with affection, dancing wildly on the deserted beach, convincing my sweet son to walk miles and miles with me searching for seashells, trying to work up a sweat, just trying to feel alive. But it was in the stillness of the evenings when the sun was setting that benevolent rays of mercy would shine on me. Craig would bring out the guitar and strum gently or make a lovely cheese platter and we would just sit, quietly, night after night, watching the sun set on the horizon. It was in those moments, that I laid down my pride, laid down my sorrow, emptied myself out and opened up. It was in those moments that waves of Abba’s unending love and faithfulness came rolling in; dividing my soul from spirit, exposing the attitudes of my heart, and washing over me with precious words of healing. 

Words like: 

*The Great Physician is a faithful healer and can be trusted with even the most aggressive aliments. Tonight’s tonic included an epic sunset in the South Australian sky.

*In the stillness… in the quiet hour… You are with me.

*Faith is not a feeling. Faith is not an event. It is not a mystical or magical experience. Faith is not hope. Hope operates in the natural. Faith is the language of the supernatural. It the tether between us and the living God.

*Abba sees the things you and I can not see. You are going to recover. There is a level above science, there is a level above technology. It is the level where faith hovers and with the Creator of the Universe all things are possible.

*Faith goes into the future, secures the future, comes back to get you and leads you into that future.

img_0165I’ve written songs about the beach, about the living water that sustains me, and I’m so thankful that my Creator knows that this is a place that really fills me up. I love going to the beach with God! I’m also thankful for kinfolk like the Hopton’s who graciously care for us along the way, allowing us the time and space to allow the Spirit of God to care for us along the way. 

The Slow Heal

IMG_1535As much as I love an instant, fire from heaven healing, there is something very special and tender about the process of "slow heal." It reminds me of those encouraging words in Isaiah where Abba Father says "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty..."
A few months ago I left my husband and kids behind and flew from Australia to the US to help care for my mom. She had been fighting Lymphoma and was in her 10th week of an alternative therapy. Things were looking good but then one day she feel down her stairs and broke her pelvis. Her pain was immense but worse than that, the fall had shifted something in her psyche, and what erupted was a waterfall of emotions. Even with all of the precious care administered by my dad and sister, by the time I arrived, she was in a state of black and white thinking and all hope seemed lost. I made note of the fatalistic thinking and observed that as long as life moved steady she was fine but at the first road block, deep frustration and anger emerged and what followed was a total shut down, which would then exasperate her physical healing.  As much as I wanted to find a solution for her physical pain I sensed that her emotional state was blocking the healing and had to be addressed first.
After an initial assessment, we quickly began to establish new ground rules regarding the tone, pace and energy input/output in the house. Helping my mom to see the fragility of her emotional state was the first step towards healing. We worked on identifying and removing stressors, including topics that triggered emotional melt downs. Things like politics, Facebook, TV, and any conversation that involved logistics had to be shelved. We learned new ways to communicate emotions through journalling and focused on prayer and meditation as immediate “go to’s” when feelings of being out of control consumed. The more my mom engaged this emotional healing process, the stronger she became physically. However, the stronger she became physically the more the rest of the house would relax back into old patterers of relating thus raising the energy level in the house. And so, for Dad, Mindy, Josiah and myself, we would have to move more tenderly, allowing space for mom to drift in and out of her different emotional states. For a time, we had to put aside our own need to feel validated or justified, to be heard or understood. We had to diligently and aggressively zero in on, and isolate the pain so that healing could truly come. Whenever we would break from that commitment a relapse would happen and we would have to refocus. Consistency was essential.

IMG_1528As we all worked towards finding and maintaining a spirit of peace, mom began to improve. She began to see clearly, taking captive her thoughts, releasing her expectations of a faster pace, journalling (although, still not natural) and allowing the Holy Spirit to nurture and heal her inner brokenness. Our focus became all about “The Slow Heal.” We could feel it coming, hope was in the air, but the discipline and dedication that it took on all of our parts to continue to stay the course was difficult at times. The pay off was worth it and as we crossed over the hump, mom really began to recover. I was able to leave knowing that the spiritual ground had been tilled, cleared and ready for planting. And, I departed confident that just as the passage in Isaiah encouraged that once the rain came, that much fruit would come to bear.

I am amazed at all of the ways that the Spirit brings healing and especially thankful that I got to be in the front row for this one. My mom is precious to me no doubt but what was most encouraging was to see that she is precious to the Father. I think it totally rocks that for now healing has come to her body but even more than that, to see that at age 70, God is still after my mothers heart. This was the most encouraging part of the whole process. To me, that is what the “Slow Heal” is all about, that beautiful, mystical process of spiritual refinement. For the reality is that these bodies of ours will eventually fade away but the ancient text promises that our spirits will continue to soar like wings of eagles.

Recently my mom wrote an update about her healing. Here it is…

“Yay!!! Good numbers today set for another 6 months and I’m cleared to spend the summer in WI with my darling grandkids. Watch out Door County, here I come.

It is so good to be able to give my own update. When I fell in Feb I suffered a compression fracture to my pelvis but in the first few days I came to understand my whole body including my brain was effected. This changed our approach to helping me heal.

You all have been such a big part of this process. Just knowing you were saying my name to God, stopping by, sending meals. flowers,cards and words of encouragement have been a lifeline. Thank you so much.

Jerry is my #1 hero….he stepped into the role of caregiver, taking care of my needs even when I could’t get out of bed. A real test of our wedding vows we make almost 50 yrs ago…wow that’s a long time ago.

Melinda Kay supported her dad cooking cleaning and assisting me as needed. Sweet Joziah Marquez has been there cheering on my little accomplishments and giving me hugs. Nate, Heather, all 6 of the Price and the Hollands encouraged me on face chat.

IMG_1511Then 6 weeks ago Jana Holland flew in from Australia and relieved the team. What a blessing. She brought her great cooking and nutritional knowledge plus the understanding of the value of energy input/output in all our relationships. She’s back in Australia but a part of her is still with us. Thank you Jana for taking time out of your schedule to come and thank you Craig Holland, Banjo Graciana Holland for sharing her with us. Love you all.

Most of all…thank you God for the ways you work in our lives because there is still much work to be done loving people as you love us.”

And, that last line just sums it all up… “There is still much work to be done.” That is an encouraging and hopeful thing to hear my mother say.

Breaking Point

Through out SE Asia we’ve ridden our fair share of night buses. They are the cheapest and most efficient way to travel through the lands. And so it was, that we took a night bus from Bagan to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). Renting a car was out of the question because of the laws in the country prohibiting how tourist can travel. A flight would only take one and a half hours but was well out of our price range and so, the night bus it was. We booked the trip on JJ (Joyous Journeys) Bus line, one of the most reputable in Myanmar. The trip by bus would be approximately 10 hours and would drop us off at the Central Rail Station in Yangon.

These treks via plane, train or bus are all part of the journey and although we’d rather the transitions be more efficient, this particular trip allowed us to see a few things. One, we saw parts of local life on that overnight bus that we would not have experienced in any other way. And, secondly, on a personal note, it was on this particular night bus that I found my breaking point.

As we boarded the bus at 10pm, our seating was scattered throughout the bus and we noticed that we were definitely the minority. The hostess was kind and meek. She spoke enough english to communicate logistics but struggled to command authority from the other foreigners that were riding the bus. For instance, one of the bus riders insisted on taking the whole back seat of the bus, even though the seats were already assigned. The hostess was trying to explain to him in her broken words that the back was meant for the crew to take shifts sleeping in throughout the night. In the end, she didn’t argue but left the man to his own devices and resorted to using his single seat as their refuge during the ride.

We were all given a bottle of water and a wipe to clean our hands, as well as, a blanket and a small pillow. The bus fired up, the lights went down and people started to settle in for the long sleep. As I stared out the window, I noticed every now and then, activity along the roadsides. Even at the late hour, people made their way here and there, small burning fires, making street food, hoping for a sale from passers-by. And then all of a sudden, the night would go black again. No street lights or signs posted, just the ebony of night and the majestic stars dancing in the wide open sky.

At 3 am we eventually stopped at a “rest stop” which offered some western amenities (toilets and a cafe). The lights inside the bus went on abruptly and we were all told we had to exit the bus as this was to be a 30 min stop for our driver to eat his meal. We all stumbled off of the bus, while ladies with different food items on trays approached us aggressively trying to sell us their goods before we went into the cafe. Still getting our bearings, we took a quick look around the dark parking lot. There was a chill in the air as clouds blew in and shadows began to cover the sky like a thick blanket. There were small camp fires burning here and there. The locals were covered in traditional dress and scattered throughout the parking lot; some sitting or sleeping on mats and some cooking over open fires. We saw truck loads of migrants (men, women and children) and other trucks with loads of women and children, just silhouettes, being transported in the middle of the night, to who knows where, to do who knows what.

We all made our way across the parking lot to the toilet block but hadn’t discussed where to meet up after. However, assumptions had lead us all back into the cafe, all of us that is, but our son. My husband, daughter and I sat for a moment waiting on him but after an uncomfortable amount of time a wave of concern began to wash over us. We all split up and began to scour the area, checking the toilet blocks, wandering the faintly lit laneway, looking in other buses and trucks, checking the vendors and doing it all over again. Our hearts pounding, we were in a quandary. He was nowhere to be found. We had lost our son! I started to think the worst. He was taken. I mean why not? Our son is a handsome 14 yr old fella. And, after everything we saw and learned in Pattaya, Thailand, my mind started to wonder. Panic set in as the bus driver yelled for us all to get back on the bus.

We all moved towards the bus, Craig boarded first and announced that he was going to look on the bus, to see if our son had gone back before us. I was last to board, waiting with bated breath to hear from the back of the bus. Time seemed to stand still as I took my first steps onto the bus, darting my eyes back and forth over the grounds. This couldn’t be, we couldn’t just leave. Of course we couldn’t! I was about to alert the bus driver that we had a missing child. Language barrier or not, he should be able to hear the distress in a mother’s voice and take heed. Then, just before I could speak, Craig yelled from the back of the bus, he’s here! He’s here!!

He had been on the bus the whole time and had no idea that we had nearly lost our minds looking for him. He had gone directly from the toilet block back to the bus. He was just there, curled up like a baby, sleeping soundly in his seat.

As my rational mind returned I took note to breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. I gave him a big cuddle and went back to my seat. Sleep evaded me so I prayed. I could feel myself breaking. The episode at the bus stop had exacerbated what was already there, lying under the surface. All these years on the road, all these faces we had seen throughout the US, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and now Myanmar, all the divine appointments, all the stories, the sounds, the smells, they all took my breath away.  shutterstock_122158012_broken-heart1It was all becoming overwhelming and I was weary. Yes, we’ve had many amazing experiences but we’ve also felt the sting of injustice and tasted the bitterness of corruption. We had gladly allowed ourselves to be woven together with the saints, sitting and listening to story after story from those the “Empire” would deem unimportant. We had taken time to feel and understand, to help share the burdens of the afflicted, to offer prayer and share our gifts of encouragement. However, I had to admit that our battle wounds were deep and the load was becoming to heavy to bear. It was here in this moment that I realized that I had been shouldering some of these burdens on my own accord and finally surrendered them and laid them all down at the feet of the Almighty.

I wept, longing for “Thy Kingdom come,” asking for a new song, for a sort of prayer for restoration for those I had met along the way but, also for my own soul. A thirst for healing began to flow out of me and this poem is what followed.

~Here we are rolling along this same old road, ragged and worn, my heart is heavy, the hour is nigh and I’m still awake.
~Thinking about that river that flows, down the mountains into the fold of love and life and happiness, for all who seek.
~Child of Love, don’t you see, the trees that run down the river to the east where the water flows from salt to life and the healing is complete
~And, when those trouble come my way and pride has mounted, so I can not see, I ask the Lord to show me the way because my heart faileth me.
~Then His right hand lifted me up, brought me out of the pit that had trapped me, set my foot on the rock of life, now I’ve been set free
~Child of Love, don’t you see, the trees that run down the river to the east where the water flows from salt to life and the healing is complete
~Well I sat upon that rock, looking out over the canyon towards the west, as the sun it went down, my heart it filled up,
~Then said I, Lo, I come; in the volume of your book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God yea, I sing.
~Child of Love, don’t you see, the trees that run down the river to the east where the water flows from salt to life and the healing is complete
~…So I gave over myself and asked the Lord to teach me to pray, and he whispered in my ear, come down to the river with me.
~And he sang, Oh darling let’s go down, let’s go down won’t you come on down. Oh darling, let’s go down, down to the river to pray.
~And he sang, Oh darling let’s go down, let’s go down won’t you come on down. Oh darling, let’s go down, down to the river to pray.

Myanmar-river-small-mountain-river-Shan-State-Burma….And, this river of life, these healing waters, are all that make any sense to me right now. And, as each face, name or story comes to mind, I knew then, as I know now that I’m going to just need a little bit time to sit. Time to just rest at the water’s edge and pray. Time to allow the pieces of my heart to be woven back together.

The Heart of Pai; Shekina Gardens

We happened to be at a farm just outside of Lansing, MI last summer when we met a couple who heard our desire to visit SE Asia and India. They told us of a friend in India, whom we reached out to but found that our routing would not get us to India this time around. That friend in India, then suggested that we connect with her friends in Northern Thailand. When we heard about the kinfolk in Northern Thailand we wrote them a message and began a dialog about a potential visit. It was going to be some effort to get up to them as most of our contacts in Thailand were in the south. However, after our first conversation, learning about their community and meditation center, Shekina Gardens, for backpackers on the “Hippie Trail”, we felt deeply compelled to make every effort to visit them.

IMG_9803How we get where we go, and who we share in community with around a table never ceases to amazes us. And, so it was that we made our way 16 hours from Bangkok to Northern Thailand. We arrived in Pai, which sits three hours northwest of Chiang Mai, on Dec 31 just in time for a gathering at the Ford home. It’s a surreal thing to walk into a stranger’s home. There is a feeling of anticipation and a little bit of anxiety but time after time we find that it only takes the “hello’s” for us to feel at home.

IMG_0013We met many new friends that night, shared a meal and song and began to learn about this committed and creative bunch. The host of the NYE gathering was Rachel, a brilliant author and fantastic cook, her husband, Chinua, a fantastic musician, and their five amazing children, all of whom were an absolute delightful. We met a gentle soul named Naomi and her husband Josh, a self-described traveling monk and photographer and their darling children. We met Rowan, whom Banjo named my twin, and her husband Neil, both live performance artists in the circusy vain and our finally our initial hosts who we had been communicating with prior to our visit, the ever discerning Leaf, her husband, Brendan, a fantastic teacher, and their two beautiful children. There were many others there as well, and as the music flowed and we sunk gently into the night we knew that our time in Pai was surely going to be a refuge and delight.

IMG_9806Pai attracts people from all over the world both young and old who are looking for a chill environment to catch their breath and make deeper connections. The little town boasts about 2000 for it’s local population and on any given day can accommodate just the right amount of backpackers to still feel homey. As you stroll around Pai, there are signs out in front of businesses that lay claim to being the “Heart of Pai.” But, we reckon this committed group of four families and a few extra’s that have come together to create the sacred space/Christ centered ashram, Shekina Gardens, are the genuine “Heart of Pai.” These families have come from Australia, Canada and the US, via India, finding each other along the way. They have all exchanged their western cultural norms to live in community with one another, sharing resources, time and creative talents with each other and with those that cross their paths. Practically, the garden offers a sacred space for gatherings, meditations and meals which allows for breath and time for those who join them to genuinely connect with the Creator of the Universe.

Because of their tone of vulnerability and authentic faith we found freedom to let our hair down, so to speak, and feel things that we had been carrying since our first stop in the Philippines. We found solace and friendship in this safe haven and opportunities to belly laugh as well as cry our hearts out.

IMG_9820When we think of the experience we had with the Shekina Community, a beautiful letter written by the Apostle John to his friend Gaius comes to mind. In the letter he commends his friend and community for demonstrating a generous portion of hospitality towards others. The letter reads, “even when they are strangers to you, you treat them as family.  These friends tell the entire church how you have extended your hand to them in love. It’s good work you’re doing, helping these travelers on their way, hospitality worthy of God himself!” 

If there is one place that we think of going back to, it’s Shekina Gardens both for the serene canvas that Pai offers and mostly for the sincere friendship we found there with both the Saints and the Savior.

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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.

 

Bells And Wheels

Got a little change in my pockets going jing-o-ling-o-ling…

Two weeks in Australia with no vehicle or phone, really tested our fortitude as a family!

We landed in Brisbane late one evening, after Wallaby Creek Music Festival. We were tired, loaded with luggage and music gear, hungry and needed showers badly. Thankfully, our new friend, Zoe’s (Ladi Abundance), whom we met at the festival, welcomed us to stay in her flat in Brisbane, we just had to figure out how to get there. We checked on renting a car but found out that because of school holidays there were no cars for rent. Then we checked the shuttles but they wouldn’t drop us at her door, so that wasn’t an option, specially with all of our gear. Finally we hailed a taxi van and paid the $65 to get to the house.

12074861_10152989209836222_8878810417459657622_nOnce we arrived all of the feelings of uncertainty started to melt away as we found space to spread out and time to catch our breath. Zoe was a gracious host and her home was a fantastic little abode nestled in the bohemian and culturally diverse suburb of Brisbane’s West End.

As we laid our heads to bed that night, we contemplated the last 24hrs and though, how great it was that the person set to help us find our footing and resources happened to go by “Ladi Abundance.”

The next morning we woke, ready to tackle the tasks at hand, finding a car and phone. We sourced a rental car in the city at $40 a day. Craig took an hour bus ride to the rental car facility and picked up the car. He returned and we got busy scouring local papers and websites like Gumtree. We struggled to find a vehicle in our price range ($3500US) that would carry four passengers and a ton of music gear. Phones were just as discouraging to shop for, as most shops/websites were selling iPhones for well over our budget ($60). So we continued to search, pray and wait.

We took time to go grocery shopping, make a meal, do some laundry and caught up on wifi communications. The next morning, Zoe popped over to the house to pick something up and we asked if she knew of anyone who had a phone that they’d be willing to part with? She mentioned that her band mate, Mariel, had one and we were elated to find out that she was open to sharing it with us for exactly what our budget was!

We took the phone immediately and drove to the nearest mall to get a sim card and set up our phone. We chose Vodaphone as it was the cheapest plan at $50 for a month of unlimited calls/text to Australia and the US, plus 3GB of wifi for our maps and instagram updates. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I called my parents in the US and the call cut out. When I returned the call I heard a message that our service needed to be upgraded because we used all of our plan. I was miffed to say the least. We just bought the card. When I returned to the shop the young lady behind the counter didn’t seem interested in helping me much. She told me to call customer service and they would take care of it. I persisted to enlist her help and she finally took my phone and called the service center herself. They said they would reset my card and it should be up and running within the next two hours. We left, ate lunch and started back to the apartment to continue our search.

IMG_5914As we drove through the city we stumbled upon a little car lot and decided to take a look. Most of the cars in the lot were to small for us but there was one minivan available for $4999 AUST, and although it was above our price range we felt like we needed to have a better look.

The owner of the shop, Geoff, came out to answer our questions. It was a 2002 Honda Odyssey, white, with about 125,000 miles on it. We took it for a spin. And as we drove, we talked about our budget and prayed again. We asked in our prayer for the price to come down to $4200 (which would round out to about $3500US).

When we came back, we let Geoff know we were interested but couldn’t afford his asking price and asked him what his bottom line was? He answered, $4200 for everything, taxes, fees, etc… We looked at each other in amazement and said we’d take it! He was delighted and said he’d get the paper work in order and to come back in the morning to pick it up. Working through the purchase was a little more complicated than we had anticipated but all in all, Geoff was a great guide and in the end, we found all of the necessary proofs of identity and residence we needed to make the final sale.

In the morning, my phone still wasn’t working and our time was short but we decided that another visit to the Vodaphone store was necessary before we left the area, as any attempts to fix the problem by calling customer service were futile. We had to pick up our new car, drop off our rental car across town and then make our way south two hours to Byron Bay for a performance. So the stop off at the store was an inconvenience to say the least.

As we were working through the logistics for the day we sensed a critical spirit trying to sneak in. Our patience was wearing thin and the process of working with a clerk who didn’t seem to care about our problem didn’t make for the most enjoyable experience. I have to say though, that once we realized that pride was trying to steal our joy, we shifted our thinking and instead of allowing the clerk to set a tone of despondence we turned our attention to what we could control, our own attitudes. It’s easy to carry a sense of thanksgiving when everything is working out, but it’s in the trials that we find out if that spirit of gratitude is real and sustainable. This was a good test for us. In the end, the clerk changed her tune, she became vested in our case and as a result we walked out with a phone that worked and a humility that brought about great joy. And, honestly, we walked out feeling a sense of connection to that young lady. Which is even more cool!

Working through logistics isn’t really much fun. We’d rather be at the beach! However, working through logistics does offer opportunity to be apart of some wonderful human interactions.

We on our way now, in the flow, and thankful for Zoe, Mariel, Geoff and the young lady who helped us a Vodaphone. We’re thankful for those who cared for us ahead of time through Modern Day, in order for us to afford a van and phone. And, we’re thankful for the way the Holy Spirit continues to delight us with goodness and traveling mercies!

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