A Great Big THANK YOU.

As I step out of this year-long season of life in the Philippines, I am sure the words will finally begin to pour out of my mouth.  It will be a steady stream of processing, sometimes emerging like a roaring river, and sometimes just a trickle of tears where sentences fall short.

With two weeks left in this nation for a while, I am beginning to tap into the questions that conclude nearly every enormous season of life, such as “what was that experience for?” and “how do I move forward now that I have been changed in this certain way?” and “what’s next on the horizon?”  That is just a handful of questions from the well of inquiries that I’m laying out on the door of Heaven.  God is faithful to receive my prayers, I know, and faithful to return His answers in the most perfect phrasing.  So I’m resorting now to simply resting at His feet, waiting, and keeping my Spirit open for any way he desires to speak.

But before I start delving into the process of processing, I want to first express the depth of gratitude I have in my heart for the people who have followed my life this past year.  You have faithfully contended for me in prayer, spoken words of encouragement over my life, helped me fight the lies that have been screaming doubt into my soul, and have even supported me financially so I can pay bills and live here as I do what I can to serve these precious sisters that have wiggled their way into my heart.

Your prayers have moved mountains in my life.  Several of these impending circumstantial impossibilities, I’m sure, were moved before I had the chance to face them, or even gasp at the sight of them.  And for the looming peaks that I was called to climb and conquer, your prayers were the faith I needed for the ascent.  And as I look back and see the breathtaking views I’ve had over the last year from rugged, uphill travel, you too, my prayer warriors, get to share in my victories.  For all the girls who have received an unexpected second wind to continue their studies amidst every kind of trial, they say thank you, too.  They may not even realize it, but their battles are being won by a God who hears the prayers of people who are strangers to them, from thousands of miles away.  I cannot say enough how incredible it has been to be armed with such powerful intercession.

For those who have reached out to me over the last 12 months with encouragement and prophetic words, thank you.  There were even people on teams that visited and gave me such timely affirmation, maybe even unknowingly, and spoke bold words over me that shook off the lies and darkness from my mind so I could receive God’s true identity for me.  I’m shying away from even attempting to pretend like this year was easy, and for those people who took the time to push me to fight the good fight and believe in the infinite depth of God’s goodness—thank you.

Then to those who have been walking with me as I learn how to be more vulnerable, receive God’s truth for my life, and walk in my fearless, God-given identity–I am so honored to know you.  Specifically for my mother, Lucy, Coach Kenny, Mark, Ebie, Taylor and Maleah, people who sat with me and wiped my tears away or stayed up at late hours to go to battle with the enemy over a FaceTime call, thank you.  God specifically used you all to usher me into true freedom and healing.  I can’t even express how much that means to me.  You all have been a net that faithfully pulled me in closer, even when I wanted to give up.  And as soon as you knew God had revived my strength, you launched me back out to do what He asked me to do in this season.

And for those who have surrendered a portion of your finances so that I could live and serve here—thank you.  Your generosity put feet to my desire of being here with Wipe Every Tear in the Philippines, serving, loving, and learning from my sisters who are boldly pursuing all that God’s hand is holding for them.  Without you, I practically would not be able to have called this place home.  The experiences, memories, and people that I have encountered throughout this year have changed my life.  And I hope you know that everything God granted me to give to my sisters was made possible by your help.  So please celebrate with me in each victory!

Here are some of the greatest victories from this past year that every prayer warrior, encourager, and supporter who took part in this journey gets to celebrate…

  • Young women and ladyboys literally leaving their places of captivity and pursuing their dreams, through education and through the power of Jesus working in them and restoring them fully.
  • Six college graduates this last spring—girls who have put in the time and effort that it takes to hold a college diploma.  These are girls who once identified as fearful and ashamed and now are young professionals who are serving their community and relishing the beauty of their restored lives!
  • Acquiring a new safe house that is full of expansive space, perfect for healing, rest, and the feeling of home.
  • Scores of girls coming back into our care after leaving—that’s right, even when they give up, God doesn’t!  He continues pursuing them, racing after their hearts, and bringing them back to a place where they can truly pursue the futures that He has for them.
  • Conversations that my teammates and I have had with the girls that have been utterly infused with the Presence of Jesus, and have shaken off lies and hurts that have been assaulting our sweet sisters for too long.
  • Sisterhood with these sweet girls who are in our care.  I truly feel like I have family here.
  • An amazing Girls Getaway in May, where we were able to take our girls on vacation to the beach and give space for God to plant His peace, rest, and healing in them.
  • Healing miracles!  During our Girls Getaway trip, we did outreach in the rural countryside, and we experienced deaf ears opened and mute tongues speaking through the healing power of Jesus!
  • Victory in personal battles.  As I live and serve here, God has been weeding my own heart, allowing me to go up to bat with some of my biggest fears, hurts, and impossibilities.  But God hasn’t let me down yet and I am experiencing more freedom and healing every day—in ways I didn’t even know I needed!
  • Personal health.  Not once since being here did I have a health emergency of any kind.  God has been truly sheltering me this whole time.

I could go on and on, and as I come back to Boise, I’m sure I will write and post more of the thoughts that emerge as this season comes to a close.  Regardless of the challenges that I have faced this year, all of those trials have been trumped by the goodness of Jesus.  I truly cannot even fathom the fact that God allowed me to live such a dream at such a young age.  I am thankful and I am ready to take a moment to rest for God’s “what’s next,” and then run towards it with all my might.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who have sent me and kept me here.  I love you all so dearly.

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When You Realize You’ve Changed…

I’m procrastinating by adding to the Pages documents opened on the dock of my MacBook, each one filled with the last month’s random thoughts that I’ve picked up on this road of being a missionary in the Philippines.  Maybe I’ll finish this one before the work day ends and I head down the street to lead devotions at one of the houses.  Or maybe this is a thought that the Lord will continue in me before I post it and that’s okay, too.  But here’s how I start my blog posts.  Hope you’re enjoying it so far…. 😉

So on another, completely different note, my phone was stolen yesterday.  Yes that’s right, my sleek, rose gold, iPhone 6s that honestly helped me keep myself organized and on time to the many pencil marks in my schedule.  It’s also the thing that made me look and feel a little out of place when I sat next to a man on the jeepney with dirty feet and a weathered face, or the one holding my instagram feed when I looked up and spotted the thinnest man I have ever seen in my whole life.

The contrast of wealth and poverty here is so drastic that sometimes I feel like I’m choking on it in the same way I choke on the exhaust that pours into my lungs when sitting in Manila traffic.  It sits on my palate and I honestly struggle through such mixed emotions as I wrestle in my soul over how the one who has so much and the one who has so little can be literal neighbors and never share so much as a conversation.

I am guilty.  I don’t know the scale of poverty of my neighbors, though I see it on a daily basis. There are still some things about my life here as a missionary that keep a bit of my “first world bubble” in tact, like owning an iPhone, yet God keeps inserting push pins into that ever-thinning wall, and I feel my comfort zone being dissolved.  And when my phone was stolen, I felt another prick in the bubble.

For a solid 20 minutes after realizing my phone was missing, I shuffled through emotions of panic, frustration, and confusion as I tried to retrace my steps and recover an item that held so much of my life on it.

And then I felt deeply convicted.  I live amongst women who once had a hard time finding enough to eat.  It was then I chose not to cry about my predicament.

Later that afternoon, a friend loaned me her old phone, and I went to the mall to get a SIM card for it.  I spent some time browsing to see what my options were about getting a new phone, to remedy the current temporary fix.

Even deeper conviction set in as I looked at options, knowing God had blessed me with a larger-than-expected tax return and I was able to purchase an older model of a still brand new iPhone right there on the spot.

I’m still discerning if what I felt at the mall was conviction or shame, but the feeling plummeted itself deep into my soul.  How could I drop this much money on the same day my phone was stolen when so many people have to choose which kid to feed today?

I’m still waiting and praying and deciding on what to do about the phone, but I want to talk about what’s going on in my heart right now.

How do you know God has changed the terrain of your heart?  When the things that you once didn’t bat an eye at are now the things that bat you in the gut.

In a way, I’m glad my phone was stolen, and for a handful of reasons.  First, it gave me an option to choose joy during a frustrating circumstance.  Second, it allowed me to not be a slave to things while operating in a ministry (and in a faith) that promotes freedom. Third, it allowed me to realize that God has undeniably renovated my heart.

So yeah, it is really frustrating to have someone steal something that holds scores of precious pictures, notes that contain pieces of writing that I haven’t had time to develop yet, and all the schedules and to-do lists that kept me organized.  But on the other side of things, there is nothing frustrating about a day where I spent the morning organizing the donations that came from several of our supporters.  I was surrounded by watercolors and ibuprofen and clothes and I was overwhelmed at God’s goodness.  And there’s also nothing frustrating about serving in a ministry where miracles happen daily, dating someone who challenges me and cares for me so well, or simply having breath in my lungs and strong legs to carry me on my run this morning.  And aside from God’s many blessings, I need no other reason to praise Him other than the fact that “he saved my eyes from tears, my soul from death, my feet from stumbling.”  So I chose joy.  Because all of the things I listed outweigh a stolen iPhone.

I also work for an organization called Wipe Every Tear, that works to offer freedom to women and ladyboys victimized by the sex trade through means of education.  We offer options at tangible freedom as well as offer opportunities to experience Jesus, the one who sets us free from sin, death, and the shame of our pasts.  I’m free, body, soul, and spirit, because of Jesus. And as I sat on the window seat in one of our safe houses yesterday, I realized that it is possible to exchange one form of slavery for another. It is as possible for me to be a slave to material things as it is to be trapped by a bar owner.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey?” Romans 6:16

Is my phone a greater source of joy for me than the One who supplied it?  Do I feel lost when I lose it?  Does it unwaveringly dictate the course of my day?  Does it dim my sight for the Kingdom?  These are all questions I must consider now before I simply go purchase a new phone.  Being raised in America, I realize now how much of my identity is in material things, and how much of those things I obey before I listen to the King of Kings.  I have profound qualms about operating in a ministry and professing a faith that promotes freedom while being wrapped around the finger of an inanimate object.

Finally, and most importantly, I thank God for this circumstance because it has given me room to discover that God has transformed my heart.  A year ago if this would have happened, I would have been much more crushed.  But in the very hour I lost my phone, I thought of others and the need in my community before I went out and made an expensive purchase.  I’m not saying this to toot my own horn because I still don’t know what kind of a phone I’m going to buy, and if I feel peace about getting a new iPhone, then I will get a new iPhone.  There’s no shame when the Lord blesses us.

However, I do cherish that my lost phone allowed me space to be more present in conversations and relationships with others.  I am thankful for the blessing of having the capacity to possess a nice iPhone in the first place.  And I’m overwhelmed with joy at the fact that God has cultivated my heart-soil so much that I am able to look and act more like Jesus when difficult things happen.  Again, not saying this to brag, except to boast that Jesus has been working in my heart and life, and that I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

So here I am at the end of the first draft of this post!  Hooray!  Hannah might actually finish this one. 

I may go get a new iPhone in a few days.  Or I may allow the Lord to teach me some more through this if He desires.  Either way, God is moving mountains of materialism and selfishness in my heart and that’s where I’m purposing my mind to dwell.  I am now sitting in a room at one of our beautiful safe houses, listening to several of my newly liberated sisters laugh and talk over dinner, and I breathe in freshly falling rain as the rainy season rolls into Manila.  God is very, very good.

When my sister’s artwork unraveled me.

One of the most frequent activities we do at Wipe Every Tear is art therapy. It’s not anything official, we just put art supplies on the floor and our sisters express their hearts–the good, bad, and ugly–on the pieces of paper in front of them. Sometimes they create something simple and exquisite, sometimes it’s a watercolor piece that bleeds off the page, and sometimes girls just write. It gets messy, paint splattered everywhere, pencils strewn across the tile, everyone sprawled out, working on their projects.

The other night, a specific painting touched my heart.

Allow me to frame this for a moment.  Lately, I’ve been wrestling with so much shame. I mean, heavy shame, that feels like a crushing cement disc on my chest, stealing my thoughts and joy the longer it sits on me. I know I’m a missionary out here in the Philippines, but man, I struggle. I hurt. I wrestle. I fail. I cry. I sweat. Life isn’t one massive sunrise out here; often it’s a dark night. I’ve realized that there is a deep brokenness in my heart and that I need Jesus more than ever. I just never allowed myself to be stretched enough to recognize the ugly lurking in my heart.

With that said, accepting the Lord’s love and goodness for me has been a real challenge lately. Seems ironic, amidst me constantly reminding the ladies in our care that Jesus has eradicated their sin and shame and that they are no longer chained to their pasts. But when my soul is the sail amidst the tempest, its harder to navigate the way to the Cross.

Yet the love of Jesus has become more real to me here. I can’t even describe it, how much I feel at the true recognition not of just His forgiveness towards me, but how much He truly forgives, each and every day.  This concept of tidal-wave love is equally as overwhelming as my shame–and exponentially more, actually–but it’s weight is sweet and peaceful. Like finally crashing into bed at the end of a long day, no longer obligated to fight off sleep. It just comes, like an inescapable blanket, and washes over.

I sensed the touch of Jesus tonight, as we colored and painted. It was like He pulled the covers over me again, the blankets of his love and grace and mercy.

As we began our evening, one of my sisters started a drawing, barely managing to scribble one figure before she decided she didn’t like the way it looked, and wanted to draw something else. She crumpled the paper, and tossed it aside.

The sister seated to the right of me carefully picked up the page, flattened it out again, and began adding various colors to its center.

I watched as she would pick up her paper and allow each watery droplet of color to run along the crumpled lines, like a stream relocating its course at the first rain after the dry season.  Over and over, she repeated this gesture until every edge was adorned with color.

As she drew to a close with work, she crowned her piece with a red heart, drawn around the summit of paint.

The Lord spoke so deeply to me in that moment.

For all the times I’ve felt like a crumpled, used, discarded piece of paper, He’s picked me up, turned me over, and headed straight to work creating beauty from my plain and simple ugliness.

He doesn’t try too hard to straighten out my edges or cover up my scars. Instead He adds color and creates something out of their unique design. When He’s finished with me, my scars stand out more than they did before, but they constitute my story. They serve as my testimony of God making a masterpiece out of my rough edges and wounds.  My ugliness now has a purpose of letting others know what is waiting for them at the moment of their brokenness: love, patience, care, acceptance, healing, freedom, future, hope.

And the heart. The crowning beauty. The feature that ties this whole piece together and gives it the ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ love is what collects the pieces of my life, the discarded and the ugly, and uses His creative hand to work a miracle out of the chaos. The blood red of the heart reminds me of the only thing that will actually clean me and give me purpose. Only Jesus, only His sacrifice, only His life, can set me free and make me whole.

I truly was shaken (in a fantastic way) by this piece. I told my sister that she truly had allowed the Lord to speak through her artwork, and it was true. The Lord pierced my shame and anxiety that night with a simple, pure depiction of Jesus’ love.

Living here, doing ministry with Wipe Every Tear, and simply developing friendships with my sisters here is such a humbling experience.  I realize I am right alongside them on my own journey of healing and freedom.  Sure, we come from very different and distant corners of the earth, and we have varying sources of our wounds and points where we failed and fell short of God’s glory.  But now we are here, doing life together in the Philippines.  Merely watching the Lord speaking so personally to my sisters is what pierces the hardness in my own heart and conducts an Ezekiel 36:26 heart-transplant.  My stony, calloused heart is becoming clean and supple again by the lives of these women and by the sweet love of Jesus.

What a joy it is to know that God takes the crumpled, discarded, wasted pieces of my life and creates something beautiful.  That’s what He does with all of us.

Simple, Sweet Freedom

The other day, someone looked at a group of our girls for the first time and asked “are these all the girls you’ve saved?” 

My friend, Ebie, replied sweetly “Oh no.  We don’t save anyone, it’s all Jesus.”

It’s true, friends.  We don’t save a single soul.  Sure, we work for an organization that helps women and ladyboys leave the sex trade through the opportunity to pursue an education.  But freedom, rescue, salvation?  That’s all a deeper, greater, more miraculous story than any human can manufacture.

Working in this kind of a ministry is honestly pretty stylish right now.  We are on the edge of an anti-modern slavery movement that is tackling this dark issue through the lens and strength of the Christian faith.  We see regular, tangible results from our efforts to talk to girls about freedom, hope, and a future, and that makes it extremely tempting to jump on the bandwagon.

And I’m not saying that everyone who desires to partner with Wipe Every Tear is here simply because it’s sexy.  I’m saying that it’s a short step over the line between passion and pride.  I’ve definitely been guilty of confusing the two. But to think that we, the employees and volunteers of Wipe Every Tear, are responsible for any one of these girls’ freedom is well, pretty silly.

Think of the odds a girl faces by leaving the bar.  To start, it takes enormous courage to even believe that our programs are true.  I mean really, a college education, room and board, and all supplies and personal needs offered for free?  Livelihood opportunities to make extra money?  Child support for her two kids?  Seems way too good to be true.  Often, she believes she is going to get trafficked again, because the last offer that seemed like a dream turned into a nightmare.

When she daringly says yes to our programs, she agrees to the long-term commitment of pursuing a college degree.  The commitment is even lengthier if the has to finish high school first.  She has to go from the ability to live a lifestyle however and whenever she desires, and moves into a home filled with other girls with just as complicated of stories, and has to learn the systems in our houses.  She now can’t just coast in her coping mechanisms.  Walking in true freedom here means facing the dark memories that haunt her.

These obstacles such as fear of hardship, the lies of potential failure, and the incorrect interpretation of her God-given identity scream into her ears.  Silencing those voices is not a task for human ability.  We can operate in the power granted by the Holy Spirit inside of us, and that moves us to do astronomical things.  Nevertheless, it takes the love of the Father, the pursuit of the Savior, the kindness of the King to calm the storm that rages in her heart for her to first believe that freedom is an option.

So then she leaves the bar.  And it’s beautiful.  It’s like she jumped into a white abyss, a trifecta of fear, hope, and opportunity, and she’s free-falling with the sweet trust that Jesus will catch her.  And even if she doesn’t really know His name yet, it takes enormous faith for her to make that leap.  Her boldness inspires me, and she doesn’t even realize how incredibly brave she is.

The freedom that comes from her leaving the bar is a literal liberation.  What comes next is something that many don’t often get to witness.  It’s the emotional and spiritual jail break that occurs in these girls’ souls as they determine to walk in freedom day by day.

When I see our girls in the houses, they seem like the strangers I pass on the street.  They all have intricate, quiet lives.  None without hardship, but still, so normal.  I’d never guess that they were the ones that once worked in a bar.  Our houses are filled with music as their freedom translates into picking up a guitar for the first time.  Our walls are covered with their artwork, adorned with flowers and mindful phrases like “just love” and “you are beautiful.”  These colorful reminders shower truth on the girls when an argument breaks out in the house.  Things are so normal here, and sometimes it takes the intentional remembrance of what the Lord is doing through these simple things to realize how incredible this all is.

Like the other night, we took the girls to see a Bethel worship concert.  Fifty of our girls got dressed up, put on their makeup, and pulled out their favorite pairs of shoes.  They took scores of selfies and giggled incessantly as they waited in line to enter the concert arena.  It was beautiful, the miracle of their freedom disguised as a 20-year-old girl waiting for her favorite band to play.

The phenomenal part wasn’t the donation of the tickets, though it was an enormous blessing.  The miracle was that three hours earlier, Ebie drew on one of our girls’ eyebrows in preparation for the concert.  It was no big feat (though any woman will concur that the perfect eyebrow creation is a true work of art).  Yet in conversation with Ebie and her husband, Zac, later that evening, we talked about the subtle act of drawing on someone’s eyebrows.  Before Jesus rescued her, we still might have done her makeup, but perhaps in preparation for her next shift at the bar, not a worship concert.  And that’s what gives me chills.

It’s just doing life together.  I learn more from them than I feel I could ever teach.  Jesus does all the hard work; he speaks to the hearts and heals the minds. Personally, I am blessed by every opportunity that enters my hands to paint a girl’s nails, or go on a walk with her, or see her for the first time in her school uniform. 

These 65 incredible lives have unknowingly stolen my heart and I’ll never forget them.  They don’t know it, but they change me for the better every time I encounter them. We at Wipe Every Tear are absolutely not saviors.  Instead, Jesus uses ordinary humans and regular, every day tasks to do the impossible.  It’s simple, sweet freedom.

Here’s the equation:  Jesus brings the power, the grace, the freedom.

And we just love.

That’s Right, I Saw That…

In most ways, I’m getting fairly accustomed to the differences of lifestyle here in the Philippines, as opposed to my life in Boise.  For the most part, I’m starting to be okay with almost always being sweaty to some degree.  I am also now taking advantage of the moments when I’m caught in endless streams of Manila traffic as times to think, process, and pray.  I’m used to refrigerating every opened package of food, even nuts and uncooked pasta because ants are the real deal here.  And I actually have a rice cooker that I use willingly and regularly, sometimes even for breakfast.

But there are some experiences, some things I see and stories I hear, that I’ll probably never, ever get used to.  I’ll probably always find humor in the garbage men taking naps atop the mountain of trash loaded on the truck as it hauls down the road at 40 mph.  On a more serious note, I probably won’t ever get used to seeing filthy little kids on overpasses, asleep with a Jollibee cup in hand and 20 pesos inside.

During this last outreach trip to Angeles City, I had a conversation in a bar with one of the parents who attended the Parent Vision Trip through Adventure in Missions.  As my Filipina sister and I led our team through the slimy bars on Walking Street, there were multiple times throughout the night where I noticed the momma’s heart of one sweet lady on my team breaking over and over again.  Every time a girl rubbed her scantily clad skin to relieve herself from an overly air-conditioned stage, or teeter in her skyscraper stilettos, I swore this lady nearly jumped out of her seat to clothe her with the shawl on her back.  Every time a customer did something violating to the dancers, I thought I’d see a purse come slamming down on someone’s head.

But I didn’t.  And as we sat on the torn, pleather seats of the last bar we attended that evening, I fell into a conversation with this momma.  She asked me some pretty tough, thought-provoking questions.

How do you see this stuff so often and keep coming back?

How do you handle these experiences and sleep at night?

Truthfully, dwelling on the fact that a highly-paid dancer at one of these bars gets paid $5 for dancing on a stage all night in a bikini and stilettos while men harass and violate her really does make it hard for me to sleep comfortably in my safe bed.  And knowing that she can get forcibly plastered by men buying her drinks, where she receives the commission of a subway sandwich is even harder.  And the truth that someone can buy her for the night for the price of a jacket at the mall simply takes the cake.

How does one handle all the evil that happens on Walking Street?

Well I’ll be the first Jesus-loving, God-fearing, spirit-filled, Christian to say that at first, it makes my image of God look a little dark.  And I am not about to go into a theological debate over why bad things happen to good people because I don’t have that answer yet, and maybe never will.  I still know in the depths of my heart that if the God I love and know is true, then His heart is completely wrecked over His daughters’ oppression.  I don’t have to question His character.

And as we sit on those bar seats that have seen too much evil throughout the decades of Walking Street’s existence, I wonder if what I’m witnessing isn’t an accident.

We are Jesus’ hands and feet, right?  We as Christians, according to 1 Corinthians 12, are actually called the body of Christ.  If the purpose of our lives was to get saved and go to Heaven, then we might as well just die at the altar (sorry that’s a little dark), but I think you hear what I’m trying to convey.  Jesus loves us so much that He not only came to earth to die and save us, but to use His life as a model so that when He returned to the Father’s side, we could partner with Him, and embody the love of Christ as we do Kingdom Work.  In other words, perhaps we are the eyes that see evil, connected to the hands that reach out, connected to the legs that carry out Kingdom endeavors, connected to the head that gives practical gospel and direction (like helping bar girls go to school), which is connected to the heart.  And I mean, The Heart—The Father’s Heart. 

And that heart is so sweet on the broken.  Jesus’ heart is absolutely, 100% for every one of those girls’ chance at living and experiencing true freedom.  But for Jesus’ body to truly be aware of the task at hand, and for us to adopt the Father’s Heart for the broken, sometimes we have to see messed up things.  Sometimes we have to endure sleepless nights for people who hardly ever sleep soundly.  But how wonderful it is, that God chose me, a young, reserved, quirky, brunette, green-eyed, freckled, 20-year-old girl from Idaho to be His partner in doing Kingdom business.  And He is calling you, and you, and you, dear readers, to be His partners as well.

That thought reawakened something in me as I sat next to that mom on that bar seat that night.  I had a new resolve to be more aware of what I see, and decide what I can contribute to the need I perceive around me.  No, I can’t feed every starving kid in Manila, as much as I wish I could.  But I can continue to fight for the 64 girls who call Wipe Every Tear home, and whenever the Lord allows me to see something that pricks my heart, I will fight for them too, even if it’s only 5 pesos in a Jollibee cup.

I am not responsible for what people do with my love, kindness, and generosity.

I am highly responsible for the heart that sits inside my chest, the cultivation of it, and the love, generosity, and kindness that can, should, and will pour out of it.

So I ask: what do you see today that’s broken?  Is it a starving child or an abused neighbor?  Is it the homeless in Manila or the homeless under the bridge near your grocery store?  Is it the trafficked girl or the burned-out, single mother?  Allow yourself to be more broken for the broken.  Adopt the Heart of the Father for your community.  Be very brave, and very kind. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17

The Mathematics of Life in the Philippines

Well friends, it’s been five weeks since I landed in the Philippines, and so much has happened.  I haven’t spoken up as much about my experiences here in a blog format because honestly, I’m just spending this time learning myself and how to function in this new world full of Filipino sounds, sights, tastes, and all the emotions that come from working here with Wipe Every Tear.  There has been so much joy, and a decent amount of trying experiences if I’m being honest, and all of it has been so good.

At this point in time, I can say a few solid statements about life here so far.

I am finally getting used to the noise.  Compared to the quiet suburbs of Meridian, Idaho, our neighborhood is filled with sounds at almost every hour of the day.  From the crow of roosters (morning and evening), to the regular disturbance of the neighborhood dogs causing them all to chime in with barking and howling, to the rumble and clamor of the engines of trikes hauling down the street, all work together to create this Filipino symphony.  And it doesn’t really wake me up anymore, either.  It mostly makes me laugh and marvel and how different life can be, one place to another.

The food is wonderful.  Rice is served at nearly every meal, and I’m amazed at how I actually enjoy the consumption of it more and more.  At breakfast, rice is mixed with eggs and savory meat.  At lunch and dinner, it’s the substantial side dish to chicken, fish, or roasted vegetables.  It’s even made into a pudding or paste for dessert.  Despite the mass amount of this white grain, I’m not tired of it—at least not just yet.

The people are incredibly friendly.  Whenever we travel to the two safe houses that reside in a separate neighborhood, we take a trike (a motorcycle and cart vehicle).  Upon approaching the trike station at the end of our street, a couple of the drivers will jump up and proudly announce our destination to the rest of the street corner.  I’m not sure if they do it as a guessing game or because we are quite the scene of two tall American women trying to fit ourselves into a trike cart, but whatever the reason, it makes me laugh every time.  Nearly every person I’ve encountered here is extremely kind, hospitable, and welcoming of us into their culture.  Strangers have helped us learn the language, our cab drivers have helped us navigate to our own neighborhood, and the staff here at Wipe Every Tear has made this transition to Filipino life here so easy that I almost feel I’ve lived here quite a bit longer—that is until I begin fumbling over my limited Tagolog.

I am learning a lot about myself.  Not just things like how I handle the extermination and disposal of the all-too-menacing cockroach or how to order my exercise regiment around the warmer and cooler parts of the day.  I’m also discovering that I really enjoy teaching, as I spend time helping tutor the ladies in our care.  I never knew how much I’d love zumba until I was dancing right along with my new friends here.  I’ve uncovered fears, anxieties, and insecurities that I’ve tried to bury for years, and I’m finally learning how to deal with them, because well, it’s awfully hard to hide those kinds of things here.  I’m learning that true humility doesn’t come from denying my talents or accomplishments, but from celebrating the achievements and qualities of others at the same magnitude as I would celebrate my own.  I’m admitting to myself that it’s okay to be very vulnerable sometimes, and that transparency is one of the best and quickest ways to experience healing.  I’m navigating the emotions of missing my friends and family at home, and the adventure of a long-distance relationship.  I’m defining elements of my personality that I didn’t know were there, and realizing the unique way that I build friendships.  I’m deepening my relationship with the Father God each day as he teaches me about life and about myself.  I’m so thankful for this personal expedition of mapping out myself because to be honest, I didn’t realize that there was so much about me that I didn’t know.

I’m also discovering God in a new dimension.  It’s really hard to let the scenes of filthy children sleeping at bus stops and starving bellies protruding from skeleton figures not hit my heart.  With the world pitched in this kind of light, and the harshness of sin and chaos flooding the setting, it’s hard not to wonder, where is God in all of this?  But I am realizing that God is not in the origin of all this pain.  He is a good Father, who I’ve personally witnessed rescuing young women out of the darkness of modern-day slavery.  I may not have all the answers to why tragedies happen to these remarkable people, but I do know the goodness of God in my own life, and in the lives of the people around me.  Despite the sadness, our lives stand together as a choir of souls that praise the Lord regardless of what we witness or experience.  And everyone is on that journey to being a part of that chorus.  And it’s okay that some people don’t believe in all of this.  I know that I do, and that’s something I cling to when times get hard—and they’ve barely even touched true difficulty yet.

Finally, I can say this one thing above all: the women, ladyboys, and children in Wipe Every Tear’s care are quite definitely some of the most incredible, brave, and inspiring people I have ever met and ever will meet in my entire life.  Whether we are doing something as lighthearted as zumba or eating ice cream, or something as nitty-gritty as opening the wounds of the past and beginning the process of true healing, all our activities and moments together are riddled with the love of Jesus.  I can’t get over the idea of what it must be like to have your life change so drastically on a dime.  One night, a girl may be fighting for her safety in a dark and slimy bar while trying to put food on the table.  The next night, she is experiencing the freedom of a safe house and the opportunity of an education with the rising of the sun.  She can learn guitar, paint, exercise, or pursue any other passion that once remained dormant in her as she simply survived each day.  Today, we read a chapter of a philosophy textbook together, and yet the magic of learning about human rights and heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. was almost tastable.  Watching these women, ladyboys, and children rise up out of the dust is one of my absolute favorite things in the world and I feel deeply honored to witness it.  This unique and divinely intentional assortment of human beings is going to change this planet with their kindness, intelligence, and courage.  How wonderful to be in this exact corner of the earth, during this specific time, participating in such an extraordinary story.

So yes, I would say that amounted to a few solid statements, and maybe a few more.  Life here isn’t exactly rainbows and fireworks in the sky—although Filipinos holiday celebrations very seriously here and will be lighting fireworks until a couple weeks after the New Year.  Instead, life here is the arithmetic of a lot of ordinary days full of sweat and simple joy added with a few sparkling moments of profound healing or meaningful conversations.  The sum equals this: in all my attempts to help build the futures of my friends, I realize that they are simultaneously and unknowingly changing my world.  Life here is absolutely beautiful, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

Thanksgiving in the Philippines!

I feel like today would be a good time for a post because well, it’s Thanksgiving, in the tropics, away from home, and it’s actually quite a feat to find a turkey around here!  But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining.  Today is a different way of celebrating this holiday, and now more than ever, I have quite a list of things for which to be grateful.

This holiday, I will be spending it in Angeles City, with some fellow American (and Filipino) friends.  The girl who is hosting our Thanksgiving dinner is living there, working under one of our partner organizations, Bella Goose, a coffee roaster company that helps employ a few of our girls as a livelihood opportunity.  Angeles is also the place where Walking Street, a 1.5 mile stretch of road where 15,000 people are trafficked, is located.  On this Thanksgiving weekend, Lucy and I want to spend some time at Walking Street in the bars, hanging out with girls who don’t receive love very much.  It’s amazing how in the midst of a dirty, chaotic, and heartbreaking scene, Jesus makes a presence and deposits inextinguishable light wherever his followers choose to love and make him known.

So today, yes I am thankful for family, friends, my boyfriend, a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat, education, etc.  I’m also undeniably grateful for the opportunity to pursue the God-dreams of my heart here in this season in the Philippines.  But above all else, I’m earnestly brought to my knees by the truth that in the Presence of Jesus, there is freedom, hope, joy, peace, love, and every other excellency we could dream of.  In the Presence, our fears are exterminated, and our shame melts away.  Our dreams get bigger, our futures get brighter, our compassion flowers into kind and thoughtful gestures, and even colors seem brighter.  The Presence is what makes dirty, evil bars seem like pockets of hope, because you when you realize that Jesus is not afraid of sin, it dawns on you that Jesus has been there the whole time.  He just needed His hands and feet to stop being afraid of the sin that He already conquered, and join in the fun of our true callings: to set the captives free!

I’m so thankful that Jesus has eradicated my own fear, shame, and sin.  I’ve had the opportunity to partake in moments of genuine freedom here in the Philippines, whether that be a girl making the choice to leave the bar scene, or experiencing emotional liberation from trauma.  Every time God touches a girl’s heart with his healing power, I feel that touch as well in my own heart.  To know that God cares about His kids and sends the intimacy of his Presence to care for us is something that I will always take to the top of the charts in my lists of things to be grateful for.  I cannot stop thinking about my own personal prisons where the Lord has set me free, and every day I have the choice to exercise the blessings of that ultimate emancipation proclamation that was Jesus on the cross.

So while this holiday looks extremely different for me this year, I am so happy for it.  Though most of the Philippines doesn’t celebrate this day as anything special, I’m overjoyed to take this extra opportunity to thank the Lord for His daily Presence in my life.  The more I walk with the Lord, the harder it is to live without him.  Happy Thanksgiving from the Philippines!