Dear Family and Friends,
The ride home was full of lively conversation with Raymond and the smell of warm, moist air. Home. Finally, after two years and five months of wondering if we would ever be allowed in the country again, we walked in the door of our quarters, overwhelmed with thankfulness. Friends had cleaned and freshened everything in anticipation of our arrival: fresh sheets and new pillows on the bed, food in the “ref,” the jerry can filled with water, a full tank of gas attached to the two-burner stove, and the dishes in the cabinet had been freshly washed and dried. We stood there together in the quiet of the night and wept.
The jetlag seemed more challenging this time. Since leaving Atlanta around noon on the 4th, the flight west across the dateline was a series of naps, meals, and trips to the bathroom. I looked out the window and thought I saw the moon, but it was the sun. That felt crazy when it remained in view for hours and hours. The very long day!
We made it through the security in Seoul and boarded the 5-hour flight to Manila and the immigration line we had been dreading. An official directed us to a line for senior citizens, mothers with children, and people needing assistance. We qualified. Four people worked continuously to check everyone’s paperwork – the paperwork we had struggled through, uploading documents, checking and rechecking to ensure we hadn’t missed anything. We proceeded to the entrance gates and waited only a short time. The man behind the glass with a camera ready to take my picture asked how long we would be staying. I told him we had followed the requirements and booked our tickets for 30 days. He said we could renew our visas now if we wanted. That was the first time we had heard that. When he handed me back my passport and the stamped boarding pass from Seoul to Manila, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Over a year ago, I dreamed about an immigration officer who handed me back my passport and said, “Good day!” His ‘thumbs up’ sign was just as good.
Our quarters were stacked with unopened Forex boxes, waiting for our return, and bins of clothes, linens, bathroom supplies, and kitchen utensils stored since October 26, 2019. Most were salvageable, but some died during the long pandemic. I searched each bin for my mother’s painting. Roland remembered packing it away. My heart leaped when we found it unharmed in the last bin we opened. He hung back on the wall above the bed.
It took several days to unpack and sort things out while children, college students, and staff began to unpack their grief, fears, and tears from two years of a roller coaster pandemic. All the faces were noticeably thinner. Somehow, though, our presence was a ray of hope that things might be changing for the better.
JU* was the first visitor the next day. She was taller and had a different sidekick, AN*, with her. I remember the days of RM* and JU* – sort of sisters/dormmates who feuded for Ma’am Faylene’s attention. RM* was adopted—one of the few. JU* announced, “RM* gone. MP* gone. DE*, my brother gone.” Her world was dwindling. She kept her smile while the eyes that never left mine filled with tears. We hugged and kissed. “I love you, sweetheart.”
“I missed you. Don’t leave.” It would be hard to tell her goodbye again. I tried not to think about it.
While children passed through to greet us, they noticed Sir Roland was putting together the two telescopes to check for damage to the optics during our absence. All asked if they could look at the moon again. They remembered. He promised to observe if the sky cleared. Nine excited children arrived in the courtyard that night with JU* in the lead.
The college girls and our MM* had been so excited we were coming back only a day after Sir Roland’s birthday – the tatay they loved and respected. They formed a group chat and planned a surprise party for him – cake and ice cream, the Philippine style song to Happy Birthday, and plenty of coffee – a treat they had longed to have again with their beloved “Daddy.”
JE* came – the 19-year-old in grade 9. RE* came – she collapsed in my arms with a tearful, “I want to die.” Her mother died years ago, and she especially missed her during the lockdowns and when she had pneumonia. The years until graduation and life after boarding school at IFL seem unreachable goals. The confinements and quarantines without leaving the compound until recently had left them both heartsick and without hope. There are just 21 days left for our presence to make a difference that will last.
Sunday service was face-to-face, but it has been for only a few weeks. Attendance was far below the level of the excited congregation we left two years ago. Mercy and her husband brought us duck eggs. It was sweet they remembered our fondness for them.
Today, waves of faces take turns on the couch or at the table in our quarters. Some come for coffee and a small taste of normal. Some look at picture albums of happier days or the map on the wall of the Philippines filled with names of guests, adding theirs. The younger ones come to draw or look at the dinosaur books. JE* and RE* bring their game of Bananagrams. Sandals, sandals, and piles of sandals get deposited by the door every time a little group of children comes to see us.
Like the signs of a changing season… after the tears and fears and silence, I hear the excited children playing and laughing outside… laughing like life is again as it should be. School is almost over. A rare family day is scheduled for Easter Sunday, face-to-face worship, and a baptism. Roland will speak and help with the immersion of over 30 pledges of new faith. Death to life.
On the road to Emmaus, talking with Jesus without recognizing Him, the two disciples were caught up with their fears and the disappointment and sadness of the recent events. Jesus called them back to the words of the prophets and God’s promise. He broke bread and opened their eyes to life and hope. It will be the core story that Roland will share on Easter morning.
We have had two years of fears and disappointment, and sadness. It’s time to celebrate the Resurrection, the promise of new life that springs forth out of death.
It’s time to have a “good day!” Thumbs up!
*Real names are not used to protect privacy.