New Lengths at New Heights
Births since last post: 12.
I also learned how to suture (repair with stitches) this month! I bought myself a whole chicken at the midwives’ urging and spent 2 hrs bent at a 90-degree angle over a table, stitching cuts of various depths and shapes back together. RN’s in the US aren’t legally allowed to perform sutures, so this was the first brand new skill I’ve learned over here, and let me tell you: my brain felt like mush afterwards. These midwives speak excellent English, but I was doing mental gymnastics trying to figure out what was meant by what was being said (just because you’re using English words doesn’t mean I understand the directions you’re giving in the way you intended them). One of the midwives recorded a video of my practice (so I could review it later on and “learn what works best for me”), and I can tell my thinking-space was at max capacity the whole time because I never once spoke in Taglish (a Tagalog/English mix that I, and everyone else, speak in everyday here). I’m still new at this skill, so I’m only repairing basic tears independently. I’ve already had the chance to apply my new knowledge, and I’m bitter-sweetly anticipating more opportunities down the road. (You kinda hate to hope a mama tears just so you can get better, but you gotta grow somehow right?)
Fun Tagalog word for today: maganda (“mah-gahn-DAH”) = beautiful, etc*
*technically, just “ganda” means beautiful. “ma-“ is an emphasis prefix used for a ton of words (magaling, masakit, malamig, matamis, malayo, malapit, etc). At first I was told that “ma-“ is the Tagalog equivalent for “very”, but there’s a different word (“sobrang”) that’s use is more like “very”. So you can say “ganda” or “maganda”, and either way it means beautiful. But it gets even more complicated; tack the Tagalog word for “morning” to the end (“magandang umaga”) and you’ve got “Good Morning”, and place “more” in front of it (“mas maganda”) and you’re saying “better”, neither of which really have anything to do with “beautiful”. Moral of the story: language is rarely a straight line. It’s a whole lot of nuance.
Feb 13 was a momentous day for Jessi Leigh. Not only as the day before Valentine’s Day (major, I know), but even more because it means I am now entering new territory for “length of time spent on foreign soil” in my adult life. 2 months spent in India when I was 18, 4 months in northeastern Nicaragua at 19, and now 5 months in the Philippines at 25 (I’ll almost be 27 by the time I leave here)! It will be quite a while before I break my ultimate personal record (4 years in Indonesia as a girl), but I’ll celebrate my adult-life victory nevertheless!
It’s been almost a month since my last update, so here are a few highlights from my 5th month in Manila.
Two weeks ago I spent 2+ hrs crammed in multiple Jeepneys (I have a love/hate relationship with public transport here) for the very worthwhile opportunity to spend just under 24 hours in natural beauty. This world-traveler is really still an Alaskan at heart, so living in the armpit-outskirts of Manila can be trying on my soul. My two friends and I watched the sunset over the Sierra Madres, spent the night with new-to-me friends at Mercy House (more on that later), and woke up at 3am to commemorate my new record with a new experience: trekking in the dark.
I didn’t have the best internal attitude about hiking 5.7 km in the dark. The Countryman family was not much of a physical exertion family (we were much more a book-reading type family), but hiking is the only exception to this anti-exertion sentiment of mine. I love to hike, but when you’re hiking in the dark you completely miss out on the spending-time-in-nature perks, and all your left with is huffing and puffing with your own self. And let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m not afraid of snakes; who wants to sign up to walk the Maysawa Circuit (literally translated “have-pythons circuit”) in the dark!? #wedidntseeanysnakes #ignoranceisbliss?
But we reached the top of the mountain just before the sun broke over the horizon, and instantly our 50 minutes hiking in the dark was forgotten. Humidity here in the tropics has fun with the cooler mountain temperatures, creating “sea clouds” in the valleys between the mountains. Thick fog banks hang low between mountain peaks, looking like a fluffy ocean below you. It’s not really a fair comparison to rival mountains, sea clouds and breath-taking sunrises with palm trees, turquoise-blue ocean water and 2 km of sandy beach (from my 4-day Christmas retreat on the island of Palawan in Christmas), but I can definitely say that this mountain-top sunrise gave me the most beautiful experience I’ve had on this island so far.
Another highlight from this month were two separate conversations I’ve had with missionary friends. For the first time I’m finally starting to feel like I’ve found some kindred missionary spirits (I just introduced my best friend J- to “Anne of Green Gables”, so of course that phrase came to mind).
Convo #1 took place over the course of an afternoon spent at a lovely little garden café where I had the chance to swap life-stories with a real-life WonderWoman. This lady is old enough to be my mother, and has spent decades serving alongside Filipinos in different parts of the country, pouring herself out for the overlooked and the very People I have a personal burden to work among. Not only was I profoundly encouraged to hear the life-story of a single woman who has devoted her life to furthering Christ’s Kingdom in a foreign context, I was humbled and inspired by her heart. This was the first time I felt like someone really wanted to get to know me here; she asked me my life story, rejoiced with me and sympathized with me; I left that café feeling “stirred up to love and good deeds” and oh so inspired and refreshed.
My second beautiful conversation took place in the living room of Mercy House, a home for boys age 9+ who had been living on the streets. Run by a Filipino-American man and his American wife, Mercy House is a real home and family for boys who have been neglected (at best) and encountered the ugliest parts of life. Getting to hear N-‘s heart about “her boys”, and seeing with my own eyes how loved, safe and renewed these boys are after encountering the hands-on love of Christ was such a privilege. I am definitely planning on returning to their corner of the island, and so you can look forward to more stories about Mercy House coming down the line. (If you want to know more now, head over to their website. They could use your prayers and support).
Friday brought us the biggest baby I’ve seen here at Shiphrah so far: 58 cm (22 ¾ in) long, 4.495 kg (9 lbs 14.4 oz). A 35 cm (13 ¾ in) head circumference with a 38 cm (15 in) chest meant I got to see how to handle my first dreaded birth complication: a gnarly shoulder dystocia. Baby’s head delivered, but when his body didn’t follow after 3 contractions we called the other 2 midwives in for support (making that 3 midwives and 2 interns helping with this last part of the birth). Baby required a bit of positive pressure ventilation (I was able to jump right into action here, grateful that newborn resuscitation looks the same no matter what country you’re in), but he was crying and moving his arms at 3 minutes old, and pink and screaming before 10 minutes. Every midwife prays against ever seeing a shoulder dystocias with each birth, but when I came here I knew that I would need to see how to handle these types of rare complications while I was still with experienced midwives (or else I would have to figure out how to handle them when I’m on my own somewhere else). Because baby was perfectly fine after birth, I’m really grateful to have had this experience.
I’ve shared in a previous post about my theme for 2019: God as my Pillar of Fire, guiding me one step at a time.
On Jan 17 I got another vision while praying: A glass full of gravel with water pouring in. As the water comes in, it slips past the rocks with no difficulty, just slips right past and causes the whole glass of gravel to shift and resettle.
That morning I wrote in my prayer journal: “I feel as though I am in a season of shifting and resettling. I can’t really figure out where to change; I just know change is needed and change is in the air (or should I say ‘the water’?) Holy Spirit: have Your way…” I was excited and encouraged to be reminded that God is working even when I can’t see what’s going on. He will slip past anything inside or around me to accomplish His work, bringing about whatever change He sees fit.
This metaphorical vision has come back to mind so many times this past month, where internal expectations of myself and difficulties in relationships have made me feel like so much is getting mixed up. It can be easy to feel like everything is in upheaval when stuff on the inside and stuff on the outside is constantly changing, but I know from God’s character shown throughout His Word (the only way to really be discerning that the any vision is actually from God) that He knows what He’s doing and He can be trusted, even when I don’t know what’s going on.
To remind me of the truth found in these two visions, I tried my hand at turning them into art above my bed. Now I see them every time I wake up and just before I fall asleep, visual testaments to what God has shown me and how He’s promised to work in me.
Lastly, my best friend (aka, my sister) sent me a link introducing me to an artist neither of us hard heard of before, saying the message reminded her of my Pillar of Fire idea for this year. Listening to the song for the first time brought me to my knees in my room, crying as the chorus repeated the song of my own heart over and over. I encourage you to take a listen (and if you like it, check out ‘Son of God’, ‘Fountain’ and ‘How to be Yours’ from this same album. Good stuff yo!)
Praises over my 5th month:
-I changed the shower-drain covers in my dark little bathroom this month. The old covers had holes big enough to let cockroaches crawl up from the drain pipes below; it’s really nice to no longer wonder if I’m going to have a “friend” greeting me in there at 2am. #happy5monthstoJessiLeigh
-My Filipino home church is amazing. Many of you have been praying for a good fit for me here, and each time I get together with these people it’s confirmed all over again that this is where I belong. I’ve attended services at the church for 2 weeks consecutively now (lots of interesting out-of-our-control circumstances have prevented consistent attendance up to this point), and both times I’ve been brought to tears with encouraging worship and sermons that were exactly what I needed to hear. The congregation really has welcomed me with open arms; I can’t wait to really dig deep with these people over the next 13 months!
-After 6 weeks of being the only intern here at Shiphrah, I was happy to receive L- from Germany. She’s been with me for the past 3 weeks, and it’s been fun to see how well adjusted I’ve become to life here (sometimes you don’t realize how you’ve changed until you see culture shock in someone else’s eyes). I’ll be sad to see her go; she has a sweet spirit, and I wish her the best as she finishes up her last semester of midwifery studies in Germany this year.
-My friends the C- family are really becoming my favorite people here. The live with honest hospitality, and they’ve really been sharing their lives with me. This is the stuff that keeps me going, and I’m grateful to have it with them!
Pray for me:
-I’m once again considering finding a language tutor to meet with once or twice a week; I’ve got about 5 months before my online school starts, and this would be the perfect time to strengthen my Tagalog muscles. Pray that I would find someone who will be a good fit; I’ve never had to find my own language tutor before, so I don’t really know how this works.
-My sister is a superhero, and even though she’s working more-than-full-time while in grad-school, she found the time to edit the video I made to send out to my various home churches (curse you developing-world internet!) This video will hopefully be shown Sunday morning within the next few weeks wherever you are (and if you’re not at The Branch Church or Peninsula Grace Church, just send me a message and I’ll send you the video directly). I need 45 people to donate $100 towards my schooling tuition so I can stay here my full 18 months. Pray that people would be motivated to pray for me, keep in touch and give through this video.
-Two weeks ago there was a fire in a squatter community (slum) close to here. The fire burned for about 3 hours, destroying 300 homes, displacing 800 families (you read that right, 300 homes for 800 families). Some friends who work in a different area of the city responded to the needs for basic first aid a few times throughout the week, including rushing a three-year old boy to the hospital (he had stepped on a nail during the fire, the wound was untreated for 6 days and the boy had gone septic with a high fever due to the inevitable infection). I was able to go visit the area with them this past Saturday and two weeks after the fire it was good to see a decent amount of rebuilding already in progress. The three year old boy was walking around, bright-eyed and chatty, and his wound is healing perfectly. The local government is supplying building materials and paying the residents a small wage to rebuild their own homes, so they’re hoping to have everything rebuilt within the month. But there is so much need for prayer still. While the adults are busy rebuilding their homes, the children in this community are left to wander, neglected and suffering various forms of trauma. Pray for the community of San Buena, that the church next to this neighborhood would overcome their stereotypical understanding of what “ministry” looks like and instead respond with the generous, sacrificial heart of Christ. Pray that these families would be protected from infection and lung damage as they live along a very busy, polluted highway, breathing in smoke fumes and powdered cement floating in the air during the repair process. And pray that Jesus would bring healing in every way to this area that is full to the brim with people who desperately need His Love, Provision and Comfort.