God has been faithful, He will be again

Births since last post: 10

Tagalog word for today: makulimlim: (mah-koo-LIHM-lihm), meaning “when it gets dark before it usually gets dark because a storm is coming”. Such a fun word to SAY, and I just love how specific it is! The PERFECT word for rainy season.

I was going to back-date this blog, but I’ve decided to just be honest. It’s been over a month since I last posted, and that’s just how it is. I haven’t been exceptionally busy, I haven’t had anything extra hard happen this month… I’ve just been dragging my feet to write this post. June was a “party month” for me here; June 5 was Ate H-‘s birthday (one of the Shiphrah midwives), June 8-9 was a mini-vacation for every Shiphrah staff member (10 Filipinas and myself went to the beach without kids or husbands, just us girls. And what a highs-and-lows trip that was!! #askmeaboutitlater), June 11 was my 26th birthday, and June 13 marked 9-months in country for me. And with me being here for 18 months, that means I’M HALFWAY Y’ALL!!!

We had SUCH a great time on our 3+ hr island-hopping boat trip
(bet you can’t tell which one is me! haha)
When your painted toenails match the ocean, you know you’re where you belong
The view from our hotel (only this empty at 6 am), Filipinos LOVE to vacation all together
Puerto Gallera, Mindoro, Philippines

My birthday was great; if you know me well at all, you know how much I love to celebrate things. Birthdays in foreign countries are always my favorite, but I was honestly a little bummed that my birthday might pass as just a normal day here. I hoped to catch a baby girl on June 11, but we didn’t have any births that day. Instead, I opened a package full of candy from my Mom (a wonderful surprise!), and video-chatted with my sister to open her package later that afternoon (quite the interesting dance when one family member is 16 hrs behind and the other is 12 hrs behind. #timezonesmakethingstricky). Lauren’s gift took the cake (she literally mailed me cake mix!) She knows my two main love languages are words of encouragement and quality time; when the majority of my life takes place not in English (and I therefore only catch bits and pieces), and I’m working amongst people who have strong, existing relationships built over decades, I usually feel like I’m desperate for a good sit-down and heart-sharing conversation. My INCREDIBLE sister managed to give me that for my birthday by setting aside time for a video call first thing in (her) morning and mailing me 11 cards filled with hand-written encouragement from my Family in Ohio. I cried as I read each letter; thank you, TBC, for loving me so well! I finished the night with Pho and Bingsu (THE BEST form of the snow-cone/shave-ice you’ll ever find. Korea has perfected this art #justtrytofightmeonthis) with my best friend J- and the two interns currently here. My 26th birthday ended up with the joy and celebration I had hoped for!

I shared earlier that I hoped to have 100 primaries by June 13, but I was laid real low with a nasty strep throat infection for 12 days in May. Combine those with my 8 days off while in Mindanao, and I ended up with 87 primaries at the half-way mark. (I’m not worried, though. We’ve had a number of months where primary opportunities had to be split 3 ways, and we’re entering our busiest birth season these next 4-5 months, so I’m hopeful I’ll still get 200 before I leave late-March/early-April 2020).

Pho at J- and my favorite Vietnamese place, with interns H- and K-
Matcha Bingsue and Banana Berry Bingsu (seriously, you GOTTA try it!)
“Ice cream” + best friends = Happy 26th birthday to me

I’ve done a lot a soul-searching this month, hoping for some grand revelation as I pass through my half-way mark. But I don’t really have anything monumental. I just finished reading through all my previous blog posts, beginning with the most recent and finishing way back in last July (!), and I can see patterns and progress. I have consistently had highs and lows these past 9 months (and I don’t think that’s going to change), but I really am starting to feel more settled. Language and culture are still so far from mastery, but I’ve got a bit of a grip on it now. I can sit at a table and listen to a first-appointment-interview between a midwife and a new patient completely in Tagalog and come away with a sense of what was discussed. Pretty great for 9 months of learning only on my own. #ifidosaysomyself

I’ve been meditating on a statement from sermon from my Alaskan-home-church, preached from 1 Samuel 16, where David is anointed as King. The Pastor noted that this anointing took place 25 years before David got his crown and actually begin ruling as King; God anointed David with His Spirit long before “the real work” began. One basic sentence from that sermon has been echoing in my mind:

God gives His Holy Spirit so that we can endure great conflict.

As I’ve thought more and more about this statement, I’ve realized that so often I think it’s my circumstances or my own immaturity that’s the root of the difficulty in my life, even in relationships. I’m beginning to see that in difficult relationships I have been connecting “forgiveness” with a transformed outcome; this keeps me thinking things hadn’t changed (the relationship is still difficult) so I obviously haven’t forgiven. That’s actually not true, none of it is. I can forgive, and things can still be hard. I can learn more language, and things can still be hard. I can get better at handling life situations in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way, and things can still be hard. God has already poured out His Spirit upon me, and there is still difficulty in my life. God keeps bringing this passage from Deuteronomy into my mind and my speech these past few weeks:

“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place…”

Deut 1. 29-31

We need to remind ourselves of the truth, all the time. God goes before us, He will fight for us; remember how you’ve seen Him fight for you/provide for you before (Egypt)? Remember how He didn’t abandon you when you got yourself into the worse mess, and when things were dark, and hard, and confusing (wilderness)? The image of God carrying me (us), “as a man carries his son”, through my current difficulty just as He has the whole way up to this point, that’s strength that goes down to my bones.

In the words of a favorite song of mine (a song sung at my Bible school graduation, and again at a friend’s wedding): “God has been faithful, He will be again”. It is easy to see the hard I’ve been through, and the hard I’m in now, and be intimidated about how most of that likely won’t change. But I fight to choose to see “God has been faithful, He will be again”. Not that “faithfulness” = the difficulty resolved and gone, but that His Faithfulness = the same power that has brought me through Egypt, and the wilderness, and up till now WILL sustain me for the next 8 months (and all the new and hard waiting for me after that when I’m in South Asia for 6 weeks living with a dear friend, and then back in the States working through re-entry and reverse culture shock!). #reversecultureshockisnojoke You guys might get tired of this narrative: “it’s hard, it’s been hard, and it will be hard, but God has got me through up till now”. But that’s all I got. Arguably, that’s all any believer has. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”. Can’t ever sing those words without bursting into tears.

Sometimes He takes the hard away (hooray for victories!!), but sometimes He “carries us as a Father carries a child all the way to this place”. God has been faithful, He will be again, even in the midst of great, enduring conflict.

Praise Reports for my 9th month!

-Because I have all the support I asked for to pay for tuition, I have been able to start supporting the newest midwife at Shiphrah. I give monthly “preceptor payments” to each midwife as part of my monthly expenses here, but this newest midwife has not been receiving payments because she isn’t technically a preceptor yet. She IS, however, a dear friend, a single mom, and really hurting for any extra income. This month’s gift came right as she was struggling to find money to replace her badly leaking roof before rainy season hit full-force. She had tears in her eyes to receive the surprising payment. (I share this only to say: thank YOU for giving me the ability to help meet this need.)

-I had a wonderful birthday!!

-School starts next Friday! I am praising God that I will have had more time just as an apprentice when I’m purely counting months than I will while doing apprenticing + school (10 months done so far, 8 to go).

-A new intern came this month who will be here until December. She’s from the States and is working directly under J-, TLC’s social worker, so I don’t see her a lot, but it’s going to be really nice to have an English-as-a-first-language familiar face that will stick around for longer than 4 weeks!

Pray for me:

School starts in 6 days. Indie Birth has a set up of three 10-week trimesters per year (for 2 years), and we do 5 classes each trimester. I have no idea to what extent throwing online school into my life here will change things, I just know I’m gonna be busy. Pray for discipline and creativity while I figure out what school looks like. Being on-call 24/6 (I take 1 day off each week as a Sabbath) + not having internet where I live will likely require a lot of flexibility and determination.

-More and more, I’m feeling at home at Point of Grace, my church here. I’m helping to lead worship about twice a month, and beginning to connect with the other members. I still have such high ideals, and I find myself wanting to have the same level of intimate, life-on-life connection I’ve had in my previous home churches, but I keep reminding myself that those relationships developed over years. I find myself wondering more and more if I’m ever bound to have this elusive “home” I have been looking for (even before I began my life here in the Philippines). Between being a Third-Culture-Kid and a Citizen of Heaven, I think the truest parts of me are never going to feel fully settled until I’m in Glory. Pray that I’ll persevere in putting in the time and effort to develop the relationships God has placed around me within Point of Grace, trusting His timing and His provision to give me (and them) what we need as we keep trying to “stir one another up to love and good deedsandoutdo one another showing love and honor”.

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Mindanao Mini-series, part 3: “Ramadan-cranky is a real thing” and other confessions…

Fun Maranao word for today: puasa = (PWAH-sah) = fasting. While I didn’t learn enough Maranao to make conversation during my 6 days in J-‘s village, I came to recognize this word pretty quickly. Ramadan brought hunger to the forefront of everyone’s mind, and everyone in the village I met was curious if I was fasting (and they all seemed surprised when I told them I was!). Since returning to Taytay, I’ve found I keep getting “puasa” confused with “puso” (the Tagalog word for “heart), which, as you’ll read below, is pretty ironic…

(Don’t worry about the ring. We just wanted to get a picture together the day before Ramadan began.)

So I have written (extensively #longwindedtalkersmakelongwindedbloggers) about my experiences in Mindanao, but I think I need to share a bit more about my impressions, lessons and takeaways. Buckle up, it’s time for a ride on the honesty train!

About three days into my time in Mindanao, I realized that this brief experience was altogether new on a number of fronts. 1) This was my first full immersive experience in a foreign context (all previous international seasons of life have involved living with westerners in some way) and 2) this was my first missions/life experience were I was the only Believer in a Majority that is full of the very people my heart is most burdened towards. And I was starting to see that this all this new was just as hard as it was exciting.

Added to the newness-foundation is the fact that this week was my first time doing a Ramadan fast (note: I did drink water during my fast, which most devout worshippers would say made my fast pointless). I have Christian-fasted (that fake word hurts to write, but there are significant differences that I believe mandate the awkward specifier) many times; it’s been a pet-fascination of mine, learning what fasting in the Bible has looked like, studying why God would want us to fast, etc… As a matter of fact, I was inspired by a close missionary friend who is part of a team that requires each team member to take a weekly 24-hr period off (a mandated Sabbath of sorts), knowing that boundaries in ministry are almost impossible to maintain if you wait for a free minute to rest. And in this 24-Sabbath, team members are urged to fast. The idea of fasting on my day off at first seemed backward; “why would I choose not to eat on the day when I have the opportunity to go out and eat something fun as a way to relax?”. But this urging is based in the heart of encouraging team members to seek solace and refreshment where it is most truly found: in Jesus’ Presence. As I said, inspired by this friend, I have done this type of fasting give-or-take monthly, and the journey has been incredible. But I digress…

Ramadan fasting was a completely different world for me. Like many other parts of that faith, the Ramadan fast has a lot of particular rules and requirements that were foreign to the freedom-in-Christ that I’m used to (arguably, what an opportunity to swing the pendulum of modern Christianity back towards the rigorous discipline that many modern believers would argue is “going through the motions without having the right heart”. #findthebalance) I could talk about all the unique particulars I found interesting, but I mostly want to address the things I learned about myself while fasting with J-‘s family.

But maybe, first let’s take a peek behind the curtain. I imagine some/many of you are wondering why I decided to fast and cover my hair while staying in J-‘s village. Certainly I am not required to do either, and my doing so could be seen as a confusing mix of signals about my personal beliefs,  but I decided to lay aside my liberty for a few Gospel reasons:

  1. I was a guest of the family and wanted to respect the normal patterns of their life (and the lives of their neighbors).
  2. While the practice of a woman covering her hair in this region is often a clear sign of that woman’s religious beliefs, it is also their cultural expression of modesty. While I don’t want to be confusing or contradictory in my speech or behavior about my faith, I also know that I, as a white single female, will already be in the spotlight and seen as somewhat of a spectacle. In an effort to be modest in a way that makes sense in their context (a Biblical principle), and with an intention of wanting to remove as many barriers between myself and those around me, I chose to cover up. I could not cover with the intention of being clear that I believe different than those around me, but that choice might reduce anything I say/do as impossible to recognize over the noise of my perceived immodesty. Being modest in a way that makes sense to them would “get me in the room” so to speak, allowing me to start friendships and conversations that would let me share more of my heart.
  3. Fasting with J-‘s family would give me a shared experience with them, creating a uniquely intimate memory.
  4. Fasting according to these rules would increase my affection for Christ.
  5. The laying down of my liberties in a heart for those around me is a reflection of Christ (Phil 2).

Neither an exhaustive nor an eloquent list, and if you’re confused or curious, I’d be HAPPY to chat with you individually about my current convictions and perspective. But, back to our regularly-schedule programming…

I wanted to share what I learned through my time with J-‘s family and the 4 days of fasting I did while living with them. These past months I had been working my way through John Piper’s “A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer”, reading a chapter each day I chose to fast, and I’ll share this quote:

“One of the reasons for fasting is to know what is in us… In fasting it will come out. You will see it. And you will have to deal with it or quickly smother it again.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. When you’re living in a tropical climate without AC and you’re not allowed to drink anything or eat anything from the start of sun-up to the end of sun-down (4am -6pm roughly for us), let’s just say energy and patience runs thin (out) by around 10am. You spend the day dreaming about what want (“ice cream”, “pizza”, “brownies”, “insert-the-most-delicious-food-you-can-think-of-here and add a tall glass-of-something-cold-and-wonderful”), but when the time comes to break your fast and you FINALLY get to answer that belly that’s been yelling at your for hours, you eat a few bites and find you’re full and still dissatisfied. I am learning to see this constant-dissatisfaction as a gift from our good God: our fickle hearts so often think we’ll be satiated with temporal things, but we aren’t made for them. And another note:

“The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower.”

John Piper, “A Hunger for God”

While fasting with people in a faith centered on works, I really saw how that concept is true. Despite my best intentions, I knew that I did not give the patience, love, grace and courage I expected myself to extend to my friends that week, but I know God’s hand was in that. I was humbled to see, once again, that I can’t do what I’m called to, and that God’s amazing faithfulness more than fills in the gaps I leave in my wake.

From my prayer journal written moments before Taraweeh prayers:

“… I found myself getting short with J- and I cried out to You for strength. Thank You for giving it to me. And thank You for the testimony you are weaving through my actions here. This family keeps saying, ‘You really are just part of the family” and J- has said multiple times [when her family expressed concern about not having Western food for me] “Jessi is not picky.” She even told her family, “Jess is like the best person to bring somewhere. She is very flexible; she is ok with anything.” Your grace is smoothing out the rough edges; may Your glory come from all my efforts here.

I ask that You would keep my heart in check. You don’t require abstinence from food for specific hours to earn Your approval, forgiveness and eternal rewards/provision (1 Cor 8.8), but the fast You require asks more of my heart than merely my physical discipline (Is 58.6-12)…

This is where the true missionary work happens. This is my first time in full immersion; no outsiders, all foreign languages [locals in J-‘s village spoke a tribal language and a regional dialect, neither of which was Tagalog which I’ve been learning], all foreign food, all foreign customs. And I, as well as my companions, are all hungry, short-tempered and on edge. Fasting is, as You would have us do it, a dying to self and I’m seeing in a whole new way that cross-cultural living is dying to part of myself too.”

I really am not a huge John Piper fan (calm down, we can still be friends), and since this is probably the only book of his I’ll ever finish, I’ll end with one last quote:

“When you take your stand on the finished work of God in Christ, and begin to drink at the River of Life and eat the Bread of Heaven, and know that you have found the end of all your longings, you only get hungrier for God. The more satisfaction you experience from God, while still in this world, the greater your desire for the next. For, as C.S. Lewis said, ‘Our best havings are wantings.’”

John Piper, “A Hunger for God”

My best Having will always be my most Wanting. I pray that He is your Having and Wanting, as well, and let’s keep praying that He would be Had and Wanted by those fasting all around the world this month. 

Mindanao Mini-series, part 2: A different late-night-prayer experience

Baby-catching update: It’s been PRETTY busy here; safe to say that rainy season = busy season at Shiphrah. We had two 24 periods in the same week in which 5 babies were born. As my half-way mark in there Philippines approaches (WILD!!!), I’m excited to see the numbers of my baby-catches increase. I gave myself the loosely-held goal of having 100 primaries by June 13; that deadline is 20 days away and I’m currently 16 births short of my goal. I’m hesitantly hopeful that I might still meet my goal; we’ve had two other interns here, besides myself, these past two months, which meant slower birth numbers had to be split three ways instead of the more usual two. But it’s getting more and more busy here at Shiphrah Bahay Paanakan, and as far as I know right now, I will only be sharing with one other intern for the next few months. Come on, babies! My catcher’s mitt is all warmed up and ready for you!

My first post about my time in Mindanao earlier this month was growing to the length of a short novel, so I decided to break up the chronicle into a few posts. Let’s pick up where we left off…

Tuesday, May 7, is another night I’ll never forget. After years of reading, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos of devotees explaining the ideology and proper procedure of the obligatory five-times-daily prayers, this was the night where my connection would move from student to eye-witness. I was invited to attend Taraweeh prayers with J- and her youngest sister that would take place at the village worship center. Worshippers in this religion are compelled to pray 5 times every day (at specific times, usually relating to the position of the sun/moon wherever you are), but during this holy month a sixth prayer is recommended to gain further merit in God’s eyes. Ramadan is an especially holy month, so holy deeds performed in this month have additional merit attached to them.

After dinner, J- walked me through the proper procedure of preparing for Taraweeh prayers. Step 1: wash “privates”. Step 2: put on new clean clothes. Step 3: perform ablution to be clean before prayer. This is called “wudu” in Arabic, and the process is as follows (please picture a super awkward white girl following along with these directions over a dimly-lit kitchen sink): wash your left hand and wrist in running water three times, followed by the right hand and wrist; next rinse the mouth and spit three times; then rinse the nose by sucking in and snorting a bit of water three times; then we wash the left and right hand down to the elbow three times; now the ears three times; next the face, starting at the inner eyes, all over the face, down to the back of the neck, you guessed it, three times; water over the back of your head three times; finally the left foot and then the right foot three times. Now that we’re all clean, it’s time to put on a “mukna” and “malong” (a matching skirt-and-hijab set) to be modestly covered.

Ready for Taraweeh prayers. #bluemountainwhitegirl

Fortunately J-‘s house was only a few hundred yards away from the center, but by the time I was finally ready prayers had just started. J- and her sister brought two prayer mats, and we slipped into the worship center as discretely as possible so as not to disrupt the other praying worshippers. It is standard for men and women to stay in different parts of the center, and in this building the men (and boys) were all in the front with the leader, while women and girls gathered in the back behind a separating wall. As this was only the second night of the holy month, there were a lot of people here to pray, so many that there wasn’t any space inside the building, so J-, her sister and I were outside on the “porch” with about 20 other women and girls.

As we were walking up to the building,  J- explained that Taraweeh prayers are a bit different from the other five daily prayers in that it has only one order of procedure that is repeated 8 times, usually lasting about an hour. If you’re late/you get tired/you have to excuse yourself and return, you can simply sit quietly on your mat and wait until the next repetition begins and join in (fortunate for us since we arrived after the prayers had begun). Once we got inside and were settled on our mats, J- kindly began to walk me through the steps for praying, but I asked if it was ok for me to just observe. I did not want to be offensive, nor did I want the other women present to feel like I was treating them like a spectacle, but I believe very differently from what was taking place, and my conscience wouldn’t allow me to go through the steps. Of course, J- was super gracious and said observing was just fine (she even said I could take pictures if I didn’t make it super obvious and kept my flash off). While I did my best to remain as discreet as possible and stay out of the way, I still stood out (#mylife); the village boys, able to see me through the chain-link fencing around the worship building, kept talking in surprised voices during the entire hour of prayer. J- said the noise was too distracting for her to go back the rest of the week to pray. Sorry sister!

To say that hour spent sitting cross-legged on my mat watching 20 women and girls around me pray was powerful would be an understatement. I was in tears from beginning to end, interceding myself. The leader would recite passages from the text in a beautiful, song-like voice, directing the prayer. At the end of each passage the men and boys would answer “ameen”; the women stay silent. Verses like Heb 4.16, John 5.25, John 6.36-37 and John 6.44 were ringing in my ears as my heart broke all the way to its core. I was altogether newly humbled that my Jesus doesn’t require me to make sure I’m fully clean before I go to pray to Him, that he doesn’t keep me behind a wall and tell me to stay silent in response to his word. I deserve worse, and yet he gives so much better!

Super grainy pics taken in the dark porch during Taraweeh prayers. 6 girls, likely around age 12, praying in front of me (when they weren’t staring at this obviously not-usually-here white face that’s been sitting during the whole prayer time sitting right behind them.) One of the postures used in the prayers is “sujud”, kneeling face-to-the-ground.

That evening I felt the clear impression from Holy Spirit bringing to mind one of my favorite moments from Good Friday:

“And behold the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

– Matthew 27.51

Among the countless things Jesus accomplished on the Cross, this is one of my most favorite. No longer is God’s holy presence limited to a precious few; now we ALL can access this One who tore through the veil for us. Hallelujah!

Immediately upon entering J-‘s family home, you’re struck with these beautiful “tapestries” (that’s the best English word I can come up with for these incredible handmade treasures. The Maranao word is mamandiyang”). The banner is a traditional part of a Maranao home, and it’s not unusual to see other forms of artwork depicted. (Below you’ll see a jar/pot inscribed with the name of the Prophet, as well as a “Buraq”. Religious myth states that this creature, body of a winged-horse with the head of a man, will be your means of transport to heaven after a believer dies.) Anyone who’s spent any time at any of my places of residence (#nomad) will know that if Jessi Leigh is going to stay in a place for more than 3 weeks, she’s gotta find ways to make the place look like she’s lived there. I’m a self-diagnosed DIY-project addict. Inspired by the new connotation to one of my favorite verses, I decided to make my own mamandiyang”, featuring the words to Luke 23.45 in Arabic script (when you’re handsewing something in a foreign language, do yourself a favor and pick the Bible verse that has the fewest words. #protip). I’ll post pictures when I finish my project, and you’re all welcome to see it whenever I’m stateside; this baby is coming with me wherever I go from here on out.            

The parlor (first room you enter) in J-‘s house, with the mamandiyang above, a tapestry depicting a Burap to the right, and the jar with the Prophet’s name to the left.
Beautiful. All hand-sewn!
Buraq made of sequins
The name of the Prophet in white Arabic script

On my final day in Mindanao, J-‘s father surprised me. We were sitting at a Starbucks (#yepwehavethosehere #dontputforeignexperiencesinabox) when all of the sudden, he turns to me and says, “I wanted to thank you for coming here. It takes a lot of courage and trust to put your life in the hands of complete strangers, especially since you have heard so many stories about how dangerous it is here. I am touched by your willingness to come and become part of our family. The same trust you have placed in us to keep you safe is the trust we place in you to keep our daughter J- safe. God be with you”.

This incredibly moving sentiment was immediately echoed by the man J- calls her “second-father” (she lived with this family during school). This man is a now-retired military man and a Christian, and he and J-‘s father have been close friends for decades. These two men have kept actively working to repair the burned bridges between their respective groups, and in the words of J-‘s second father: “We want to see [people from our two faiths] living side by side in peace. We know if either group gains ultimate power and takes over, there will not be the life-giving peace we all want. It’s only when we see each other in love that real life can take root”.

I couldn’t agree more. Christ’s kingdom is not one of military power, nor is it rooted in any government (praise God!). He wants his Kingdom to rule in the heart of every individual, something that is only possible when we live in His peace and love.

Mindanao Mini-series, part 1: A whole new world

Fun Maranao (yep, we get ANOTHER language now!) word for today: mapiya (MAH-pee-ah) = good. Add a few little words to the end and you get delicious: mapiya e taam (MAY-pee-ah EH TAH-ahm).

First sunset in this village, from the front porch of J-‘s childhood home

May 3-10 brought to me the fulfillment of one of my biggest dreams here in the Philippines. While approaching my new life here I brought two hope-filled wishes with me for specific experiences: 1) to attend a local wedding, and 2) to visit Mindanao. (*Note: at first it looked like I was going to get to go to a wedding on the first day of my soon-to-be-described trip to Mindanao, but as we were only informed of the wedding an hour before our flight left, we didn’t have the appropriate attire for this very-conservative traditional wedding. #sadday)

Similarly to how the US is separated by vague regions recognized by every citizen like the Midwest, the South, and the PNW (not technically the same as Alaska, but I love you guys!), the Philippines is often divided into three major regions. Luzon, where I currently am, is the biggest island by population and is home of the Manila-monster (which also means it’s the home to the majority of the country’s political, military and educational decisions); the Luzon region is the northern-most third. Visayas, the central portion, is often just called “the province” (super confusing to me when I first came. How can a group of hundreds of islands be called “THE province”? Which province are we speaking of here? #justletitgo) And, at the very bottom, we have Mindanao. Each of the three regions is fairly distinct in language(s), culture, even food.

The three main regions in the Philippines

The Philippines is considered “the most Christian nation in Asia”, largely due to the high Catholic presence resulting from Spanish colonization for 333 years. But even before the Spaniards came to this neck of the woods, Arab traders made their way to the southern Philippines, introducing their own culture and beliefs. While there are Christians on Mindanao, the majority of locals have been rooted in that historically-Arab, different faith for generations and generations.

So, needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard that J- wanted to go back home to visit her family, and she was interested in taking me with her!! What an opportunity!! Not only would I get to know my best friend even better by living with her on her home turf (my favorite form of world-travel), but even I’d have the chance to live among and learn from the people whom my heart most yearns to love!

I can remember hearing bits and pieces of whispered stories about unrest and war going on in Mindanao way back when I was a young girl living in Indonesia. Stories about families fleeing violence only a few hundred miles north of where I was living in Irian Jaya (unrest that my best friend here, J-, and her family experienced personally). This area has been in various forms of conflict for decades, with relatively peaceful periods sprinkled throughout more volatile periods. But I know J-, and I know that she would only say it was safe to go home if it really was safe. So I got my people praying, and the two of us boarded a plane southbound.

And what an experience! I can’t wait till I see you face-to-face to share even more, but I can easily say I felt like I was in a different world. We flew into CDO, the largest city in the region, and then drove for nearly 3 hours through successively smaller cities and towns until we reached the tropical equivalent of “woods”. I felt almost like I was back in Nikiski, driving down a small road with nothing but nature on either side as far as the eye can see. I had to keep reminding myself there was no need to look out for moose as we drove in the dark (each military check-point we drove through also helped me remember that this wasn’t exactly what I was used to back home).

 After a few days in J-‘s village, she told me she realized that I was the first white person who had stayed in her rural village for more than a few hours. Her father is the village leader, given the title Sultan, and he is very passionate about repairing and maintaining relationships between local Christians and the local Majority (the history in Mindanao of war from the “Christian” north in Luzon and Mindanao locals is very similar to The Troubles that took place in Ireland from the 1960’s-1990’s. It hurts my heart to see Jesus’ name attached to military choices that have resulted in so many dead and even more bitterly remembering). As the Sultan, J-‘s dad had hosted various missionaries to facilitate peace, but J- told me I was the first white person (not to mention white woman coming alone) who stayed overnight.

And I stayed for 6 nights; I could tell I stood out like a sore thumb wherever I went in the village. Even though I was sure to dress modestly according to local standards (I wore loose pants & T-shirts, and kept my hair covered anytime I was out of the house), anyone in the village stared at me wherever I went. I would smile, quietly greet the curious face with an “Asalaamu alaikum”, and see I had just made a new friend as they responded with a smile, saying “She speaks Maranao [the tribal language spoken in the village]”. (Clearly, this greeting phrase isn’t unique to that area of Mindanao, but I took this response as a win. I was blending in the with locals, speaking like they did). One afternoon, as I walked around the village in my hijab and malong, one of J-‘s aunts asked her if I was Turkish (evidence that my white skin was almost completely covered up. That’s definitely a first for me; never been mistaken as a Middle-Easterner before!) Almost everyone in the village was related to J- in some form, and they received their new visitor with a welcoming curiosity.

(Worn by both men and women in this region, a malong (MAH-lohng) is worn over a shirt and pants by women to hide the shape of the body. I now have two malongs made from Indonesian batik material, my absolute favorite.)

Certain everyday aspects of life in J-‘s family showed me that, though the unrest has mostly settled recently, “peace” in Mindanao looks different than it has anywhere else I’ve ever lived. All towns and cities in the area are under martial law, with a strictly enforced curfew; anyone out after midnight is arrested by the northern military. Frequent military checkpoints were scattered throughout the road system, usually just requiring the car to reduce speed and roll down the windows for a quick glance-inspection as you drove past. By the end of the second day, these checkpoints didn’t have me quite as nervous (though I definitely made sure I was as covered as I could be each time. Nothing quite like having the Luzon military look into your car to make you feel like you are the singular thing that stands out. #findthewhitegirl)

After spending the previous day visiting the city that had most recently experienced severe unrest, Day 3 was devoted to looking for waterfalls. A group piled into the car (J-, myself, J-‘s uncle as our driver, two of her male cousins, and her next younger brother and sister) and we set off deeper into the woods. We were driving out to M-, once a very secluded area only accessible by a poorly maintained dirt road. Before the road was paved a few years back, J- informed me this was the place where kidnapped foreigners would be brought and hid. She assured me that it was completely safe now, and if we detected any potential issues, we’d leave.

And then, all the sudden, the car came to a complete stop 10 yards before the next military checkpoint; we didn’t drive through like every other checkpoint before.  We pulled over, parked and everyone pulled out their cell phones, making calls in languages I didn’t speak. Finally, after a few minutes of silently trying to figure out what was going on, I finally asked J- and she said, “We just want to give the military at this checkpoint a courtesy call before we go through.” = a really kind way of saying, “We want the military from Luzon that run this checkpoint to know that we have not kidnapped the white girl in our car. She is our friend.” Eventually they managed to get the phone number of one of their friends among army-men working at this checkpoint, and J-‘s sister got out to speak with him (no doubt reminding him of who her father was, that this white woman was his guest and it was their desire to show her the beauty and stability of the region.) And, to the amazement of us all, not only did this army-man allow us to pass through, he offered to show us a few hidden nature gems that no one in the car had ever seen before. What a treat! We were all fasting, so the hiking in the heat made us SUPER SORE the next day, but I am so grateful to my new best friend in the Filipino army who gave me one of the prettiest days I’ve had in this country so far.

See the rainbow??
And J- says she’s scared of heights…
J-‘s brother and these super cool erosion holes #waterisamazing
I’m her big-little-sister
So grateful to be surrounded by nature
Hair covered in the blazing sun, but I’ve always thought it was a feminine look and rather enjoyed it

That night we had our first “Iftar“, the much anticipated breaking of your fast for the day. The first night of my first Ramadan I was sure would be a night to remember, and I wasn’t wrong. Food prep began around 4pm, with everyone sluggishly drooling over the food we couldn’t touch until the village loud-speaker declared it was ok for everyone to break their fast (often sometime after 6pm). Just as the sun started to go down, the power went out, so we finished up our cooking in the dark and ate our supper by the light of a few candles and one battery-powered lightbulb (you think teenage/young-20’s men eat quickly, try watching them eat after they haven’t had anything to eat/drink in 14 hours! I swear dinner-time never lasted more than 10 minutes the rest of the week I spent with J-‘s family). The rest of the evening was spent playing Pit, a super fun card game that’s simple enough to cross multiple language/culture barriers.

J- acting as Ate (“oldest sister”) = directing the cooking of the Iftar meal
I made lumpia from start to finish. These have been a favorite of mine since 6 years old! Deep fried food tastes even better after 14+ hrs of fasting!
Everyone eagerly awaiting the announcement to begin Iftar
Breaking the fast with Dodol, a traditional sweet made exclusively of slow-cooked-and-very-condensed coconut milk. #chewyfordays

 I treasure the memories from this night; after months of dreaming about the chance to visit this island, at last I got the chance to not only visit, but to finally live as part of a local family. Sure, this island is very different than what I’ve come to expect from the Philippines, but ultimately, good food in empty tummies and fun evenings with your family means the same thing wherever you are: joy.

Ramadan Mubarak, everyone.

Miraculous Provision and a Really-Long Migraine

This past week has been a bear. A Saturday night labor/Sunday morning birth turned into Jessi-has-been-awake-for-24-hrs-and-skipped-church-because-she-had-a-birth-hangover (#thatsarealthing #askyourmidwifefriendsaboutit #birthhangovers). I woke up from my insufficient 5-hr power nap with a killer migraine, and 5 days later I’m still hurting. (Because my adult-body has decided to be predisposed to headaches, I’ve taken to differentiating “headaches” from “real migraines” simply by the lack of/presence of accompanying symptoms. A “headache” is “just” head pain, even if it brings me to my knees; “migraine” means nausea, dizziness, light and sound sensitivity, and generally feeling fragile/shaky. I have had a migraine for 5 days now…) This pain has never let up. I took Monday and Tuesday off, hiding in my room with the curtains pulled. Excedrin Migraine, my state-side go-to for really gnarly migraines, has decided to make me powerfully nauseous in this country, so I have a catch-22 decision every time a real migraine hits: hurt and be nauseous, or not hurt and be REALLY nauseous. Monday I decided the second option, Tuesday had me choosing option #1, and Wednesday-onward has had me taking ibuprofen and muscling through it. There’s only so much time you can hide from your life while your head hurts. Sigh…

I was mystified by the intensity and length of this migraine; usually really bad migraines can lay me low for 1-2 days, but 5 is a new record. At first I wondered if it was simply the result of my funky sleeping schedule, but now I’m starting to think this is an atmospheric pressure thing. After days of dark storm clouds building all day and melting away each evening, we finally had a rainstorm last night (the first rain we’ve had in 6-9 weeks! I was literally dancing in the rain, talking to the sky while the kids at TLC laughed at me. It’s hilarious to have a tall white girl as your neighbor!)

Every time I’ve been knocked down with a migraine over here, I find myself frustrated at my physical limits, and this creates the perfect opportunity for my unkind-mind and my enemy to get me feeling defeated, worthless and trapped. I spent Monday at the house of some of my best friends here (you know who you are, and I love you!), holed up in their breezy downstairs “library”, journaling prayers in an attempt to find some sort of direction in the soup of pain and misery.

God, my heart and my body hurts. I’ve had this migraine for 2 days now, and I’m still nasty nauseous (like, walk-slow-or-regret-it nauseous). My spirit feels defeated; I woke up at 4:30 this morning and it was like an onslaught. Crazy physical pain, words attacking me… So I’m here, crying out for Your Presence, while the words to this song play in the background: ‘You keep drawing me, You keep drawing me closer to Your heart. You keep calling me, You keep calling me closer to Your heart’…

As I kept praying, I claimed two things I knew to be true, two things that had proved themselves true again that day: God has provided for me, and God has blessed me here. When my heart wants to see lack and suffering, I will recall to mind His incredible provision; the same clear guiding and open hand that led me here is keeping me here. And when I am tempted to think I am small and insignificant without an acknowledged title/role and my heart wants to “go back” just like the Israelites longing for Egypt in the wilderness, I remind myself of the powerful words my wise sister told me over two years ago: “Do you really think you can hold onto something God no longer has for you and find blessing in it?”

That quiet, painful Monday afternoon taught me all over again that prayer is my weapon and worship really is the antidote to lies and selfishness.

Pray for me:

-Today I leave with my best friend, J-, to visit her family on the island of Mindanao for 6 days. I could not be more excited! I have hoped to get the chance to visit Mindanao from the moment I decided to come to the Philippines. Pray for protection & courage as I spend a week in a new area (which means, once again, a new language and culture), and for guidance as I spend the next week among the very people my heart is most burdened for. God’s timing is incredible in sending me there at the start of this people’ group’s holiest season; pray for Jesus’ Love, Joy and Peace to shine through me and increase their hunger!

-Only 2 months before school starts!! Pray for rest and beautiful, fun experiences before my life gets REALLY busy. And pray for discernment in boundaries as I adjust to the new role/responsibilities given to me by the midwives (the result of that really hard day talked about in this post), especially once school starts. Sustainability and longevity are two things that are almost impossible to figure out in ministry and midwifery. I need your prayers.

Praise report!!!!!

THANK YOU SO MUCH, Y’ALL. I could not be more pleased to share that I have received the 45 one-time gifts I need for school, and I now have tuition for both years of Indie Birth Midwifery School, in addition to money needed to fly home next year (and do a few really exciting things on the way home. More on that to come #staytuned). God’s provision has been so powerfully encouraging to me. So many of the people who gave are my closest friends, people who could easily say they “don’t have any to spare”. But they heard the Holy Spirit calling them to participate in His work, and they said yes with their two mites. And I am left amazed; not only do I get to see God provide for me, I get to see His incredible love for me in using my favorite people to do it! And some of the people who gave are Family members I have yet to meet (PGC is growing like gang-busters and your love for this single woman all the way around the world whom you’ve never met is humbling to say the least. You’ve seen me on video, but I can’t wait to see you face-to-face and share what God’s done since we last “spoke”.)

To those who gave: thank you. God sees your heart and your sacrifice, and I know He’s got rewards waiting for you. I am blessed by you.

Season Song

At the beginning of my journey here, I shared my “season song”: New Wine. The themes of purposeful sacrifice, dying to self to see a beautiful harvest spring forth, emptying myself to be filled with God’s heart for/through me, seeing the hardship as “pressing” and “crushing and choosing to believe in His promised fruit to come,”… These were powerful, essential truths to get me through the weeks and months surrounding my start here.

But I’m in a new season now, and I’ve got a “new” song. “New” because I’ve actually loved this song for well over a year, but it’s got new depth for me, connecting to my current season of life in such a powerful way. Summer 2016 was “One Thing”. Fall 2018 was “New Wine”. Spring 2019 is “Build my Life” (it’s also great that this song is one of the current favorites of one of our main worship leaders at Point of Grace. Thanks, bro!)

Consistently in my time alone with Jesus, and on Sunday mornings during worship, I’ve been wrestling with feelings of resentment and bitterness towards persons of whom I had expectations, feeling insufficient in my person, my efforts and my motivation when compared to long-termers who’ve been doing amazing work for decades… and one Sunday, as our church sang “Build my Life”, God pulled back the curtain and showed me what’s going on. That evening I wrote my realizations in my prayer journal:

“1) I have been using the people around me as yardsticks. I go into all these new relationships asking questions with eyes wide open, and when I see something that is (or appears to be) different than what I think or what I’ve known, I automatically think, “Oh, I must be wrong”.

2) This has me feeling like I have no foundation. Everything is up in the air; everyone is right except me. 3) This is fed from my own flesh (at war with my True Self in Christ) and my enemy who wants me immobilized and defeated.”

That Sunday I struggled not to transition from tears to sobs during the service as the words were sung: “I will build my life upon Your love; it is a firm foundation. I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken”. Over and over and over.

I saw that I had been refusing God’s rest. He is the One to whom I must look for confirmation. He’s the only One who can be fully trusted as having the true perspective. I am changing here, and I have been so scared that these changes will result in selfishness, brokenness and set-backs (“how can I help but become that way since I have almost no community here?!?” my mind keeps telling me). But I keep forcing myself to come back to this same truth, the truth that is louder and stronger than the fear and lie in my mind: If I am running full-tilt towards Jesus, I can be 100% certain He will not let me become anything other than a more perfect reflection of Him and exactly who He designed me to be.

“God, I want to shake off this insecurity. I want to build my life upon You as my firm foundation. None of the “should’s” from my flesh; none of the shame and defeat from the enemy. Just resting in the unshakable knowledge that You can be trusted with myself.”

Hard Days Happen

Births since last post: 17. It’s been a while since I last counted, but 17 births in a month ain’t too shabby! (Many home birth practices in the US average 4 births a month.)

Fun Tagalog words for today: Malikot vs. Makulit (“mah-lee-koht” vs. “mah-koo-leet”). Active vs. Silly/Naughty. These two words have been my downfall lately. During a prenatal visit when I can feel baby moving and kicking I have an internal panic moment, wondering which word I’m supposed to say; while you could say a moving baby is being silly or naughty, I would much rather use the right word. And it’s the fact that these two words almost sound the same, and the meanings are so linked in my daily life, that has me always second-guessing myself. (My current trick: Malikot has “lik” in the second syllable; Nike has an almost similar spelling, and they’re both activity related words. That’s the best I’ve been able to come up with. #whateverworks)

Two days after my 100th birth at Shiphrah, I experienced another crucial, though less welcomed, milestone experience. The hardest day I’ve ever had at Shiphrah Birthing Home. This day started in confusion and miscommunication, and only got harder, more complicated and more confusing as the hours passed. By the end of the day, emotions were high, rage/frustration/injustice tears were shed in my viewing, and I was left so confused and disoriented I became too stressed to eat. I had been at Shiphrah for over 7 months at this point, had participated in over 100 births, and suddenly I was made aware of unspoken expectations that had been put on me from the beginning; everyone was hurt and frustrated, myself (definitely) included.

I share this with you for a few reasons.

  1. Missions, (life, really) isn’t always, or even often, rosy. But you probably already know that.
  2. Even though I definitely had to wrestle through the confusion of being told “this is how we always do it” despite 7+ months of experience and 100+ births telling me otherwise, there was a small part of me that welcomed this horrible day (and the many confusing experiences that have followed). I have shared with many of you how my time here in the Philippines is almost like a “practice run” for me. I’m living cross-culturally, full-immersion, seeing what life overseas can/will/might look like for me. And I know that there will be more of these painfully-hard miscommunication days ahead of me. Surely there are at least a few more waiting for me down the road during the next 10+ months, but, if I’m going to be living my life cross-culturally, I’m certain there are countless days like this ahead. Even while the pain and hurt was still real, I was able to remind myself (in the classic optimism you’ve come to know and love in me): “At least you got this experience under your belt now. It was going to happen at some point; now you get to figure out how to handle this too”.

If I’m honest, I’m still living in the fall-out of that succession-of-conversations. And I think I can’t go back to how things were before. I don’t feel quite a safe and certain as I did before; some of that will fade as the “new normal” develops, but some of that probably won’t go away. And as I’ve been meditating/processing/trying-to-figure-out-which-way-is-up after what’s happened, I’ve had a few thoughts. Miscommunication is definitely a fact of life in cross-cultural living, but it’s ultimately a fact of life period. People who come from the same culture don’t always communicate well, people who speak the same language don’t always communicate well (I’m hearing a lot of “amens” from my married friends). And, really, we don’t always communicate well with ourselves; if the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”, surely we are capable of deceiving and lying to ourselves. It hurts, it’s hard, and I hate it. But it’s part of living here (on this broken earth). God, give us grace with ourselves and each other, and the love/courage to keep pursuing instead of keeping a record of “wrongs”.