April, 2022 at IFL, Laguna, Philippines.
A mission trip is not just about numbers and events. It is about people and the ways in which God moves among us. Since we returned to the US a week ago, we are often awakened at night or remember scenes by day about those we visited and love in the Philippines. The snapshots below are examples of our personal contacts during our stay at IFL.
Keep in mind that the Philippines just opened for visitors. The country had been locked down for nearly two years. The pandemic much more severely affected many of our friends in PI than those in the US. We witnessed the economic and personal impact on this trip. While not intended, our visit was a picture to some of our loved ones that normal life might return, because many are not sure that life will ever be normal again.
A little one was the first child in the door of our quarters the morning after we arrived. She glued her herself to Faylene with those brown arms wrapping around my Lovely’s waist. Her little arms had grown longer, so now she could reach all the way around and clasp her hands together behind Faylene’s back. She’s six inches taller since we had last seen her in October 2019. After a long cuddle and tears, she took a couple steps to my side, and we embraced. She turned her face upward, smiling as she spoke in English steadily and slowly, “You know, you are my Daddy.” She reminded me of this several times during our one-month stay. She came so many times during the month that we cannot separate most of the visits, but it is that first scene that I vividly remember.
On the first full day at IFL I went to the school to greet a dear staff member. As she stood up, she began to sob. There wasn’t anything to do except hold her until she could speak. When Faylene saw her a few days later, the scene was repeated. It has been a hard time for our friend, and she is close enough to us to feel free to show some emotions. Somehow, we encouraged her and her husband without really saying very much.
One of several teenaged girls, for whom we were concerned, came to the door on the second day of our visit. She came in crying, buried her head in Faylene’s chest, and explained how she did not want to live anymore. We saw her many times during our visit. Just after we left, she frantically had a friend text us for her because she missed our departure. The ‘goodbye’ was different, however. The text was heartfelt, but not in despair, and implored us to return quickly.
At a retreat for graduates occurred the third week of our stay, where Faylene and I presented four sessions to sixteen students. After one of them, a young lady sat with us to ask questions. She also spoke of spiritual things, and the hardships to her family due to the pandemic. She left her food on her plate for two hours as we answered question after question, then prayed for her. She also wanted to know our story, and how we could be so sure that God spoke to us—or to anyone, for that matter. We recounted scene after scene where His direction had been so precise, so real, and so necessary. As we left, she remembered her lunch, and began to eat. We had deposited something special, but I don’t know if we will ever see what it was.
A young man knocked and came to our quarters to see me toward the end of our trip. He was not sure how to start but awkwardly said, “I came to see you.” For an hour we talked back and forth as he asked question after question. He is a new teacher now, not just a young boy in early college. Nevertheless, he is unsure where he is headed in the longer term, so he wanted to know how to step forward, and what I thought about it. Like visits from others, he closed by asking personal questions. “Do you ever argue [with your wife]? Do you always agree?” I could see him formulating ideas of what it might be like to be married. He had participated with us in several events, but he had also been observing us all the time.
Our friend, Roselle, brought her little boy to see us. We showed him his ‘baby’ pictures from 3 years ago. It was not long before I was on the floor with Harris as we paged through a dinosaur book. In understandable English, told me the names of over 10 big dinosaurs, then sang me his dinosaur song. We had many visits from him and his older sister. When Harris came to visit, I greeted him like other little ones about his size. I would call his name with a smile, gently pick him up, toss him in the air, catch him, and set him down. He and his sister exhibit the confidence that comes from loving parents. Raymond and Roselle’s children visited our quarters a lot.
We remember the parent’s faces on most days. I recall them telling us of their heart for people, their heart for children, the hurts they have recently endured, and the future they hope for. Their children feel safe and loved, which is a testimony by itself. We encouraged them to keep moving forward step by step and stay engaged with the Lord in their decisions ahead. They have big ones to make.
At the end of our stay at IFL we went out for ice cream with our close friend, the director and the ‘General’ of the IFL ministry. She explained some of the hardships of the pandemic. She also explained that the hardest parts occurred when friends had been hurt in their hearts by others. She could not keep from weeping. During our stay I had some time with her three teenaged boys whom she is raising. When we left in 2019 the household had two boys, but another boy had no family and no distant relative. Pat could not let him be without a family of some kind. Now he is a welcome part of the family. So, Pat is not just the director. She is a mom and a woman with a very big heart. We kept iced tea ready to serve her when she visited our quarters across the hall, and that occurred quite often. We know her humor, some of her trials with her boys, saw her on stage crying for people to know God, and helping staff with food distribution. She also repeatedly did little special things for us. It is all because her love spills out everywhere. Like us, she is in her 70s. Most every day we think of her, the ministry she oversees, and the people that work with her.
The last weekend of our month I was to present a seminar on biblical creation to staff and pastors during an in-person and online seminar. After the first hour of teaching and talking, I called for a break to give attendees an opportunity to look at fossils, while explaining how they came from the time of the Genesis Flood. I can still see them flocking around the exhibition table. Of course, I shared about key events in Genesis 1-11. Their eyes followed me as I explained the love and purpose of the Creator, who is righteous. They were quiet as I explained the events leading to the Flood, and how it relates to our need for Jesus, because we have the same problems exhibited by those early generations, which eventually lead back to Adam and Eve’s actions in Genesis 3. Attendees stayed engaged during the whole time. When I closed, they surrounded the table again to look at resources, examine the marine fossils, and ask more one-on-one questions. It was the first public seminar that had been scheduled in over two years.
A staff member approached me the last week of April. He is able to teach the Word, loves his wife, loves people, could easily have talked on the subjects on which I preached. I see his face, and the face of his wife and son. He took the time to explain how the clarity of my presentation on the Holy Spirit had ministered to his soul. He reiterated his statement with a text before we left. A week earlier his son, who respects his father and mother, asked Faylene and me about our relationship. He is another young man formulating ideas about marriage and how God can direct people as well as keep them safe in relationships. I still see his eyes as he looked into ours when we spoke with him. This family is another special one to God and to us. They hosted us in a visit to Cambodia almost five years ago.
Another young teenage boy came to talk to me after I requested that he come. I wanted to talk to him about his creativity and desire to enter an art field. With words and paper and pencil, I explained how he needed to think about steps that might be needed to be in a professional field, and then be creative in that field. I was aware his desires might change a dozen times, but the steps I suggested and illustrated could go in any field, and I wanted him to start investigating. I reminded him, of course, that there was One, who is the Creator of all things (and more creative than anyone), who wanted to engage him in his walk forward. I repeated this same idea to many young men and women during this trip. Those moments, like the conversation with this young man, flash by me many nights. That is how I remember to pray for them.
I watched Faylene interact as a mother and a mother in the faith to groups of the young ladies. They had fun – free to express joy and thanksgiving in some specially scheduled events. But the occasions were serious, too, as Faylene expressed the importance of engaging God in their walk. Sooner or later, most of them wanted words with me also, as we are Nanay and Tatay in our walk with them.
One young lady, whom I had asked to see several times, finally came to the quarters as we were ready to leave. She had told me that she was “not doing well” a couple days earlier. When she finally came to door, she was beginning to cry but spent important time with Faylene as suitcases headed out the door. I was able to speak to her when she was leaving, affirming our love and concern for her as she walks forward. We assured her that we continue to pray for her.
These scenes above are just a few of the many we experienced in April. Sometimes the recollections awaken us. They almost always draw us to pray. We have thanked the Lord for this sixth trip together to IFL. We had many opportunities to give testimony, encourage, or exhort our friends. As we explained repeatedly to them, God wants to engage us through it all, whether the times are hard or easy. Whether visited by the very young or older staff, we saw God move, steady hearts, and love without partiality. It was our privilege to be a small part of the process.
Besides all the presentations or counsel or preaching that occurred, He grabbed our heart strings once again, continuing to make us part of an expression of love to a people we cannot forget. As always, we are getting or sending messages to many of our friends since our return to the US.
We will return—probably late this year.