Monday, December 19, 2011

Learning from my Team How to Celebrate Christmas:

Sharing gifts, clothing, food, and joy - meeting ALL the needs of the poor and suffering - even to the point of adopting a family of orphaned children into our team's homes for the holidays...

For the month of December, our team hosts Christmas parties
for children in various rural and urban poor communities.

I'm cherishing reunions with kids in communities
which I haven't been able to visit for almost two years.

My joy is also in watching these kids grow up to know
Christ and His great love for them. That love is shown even through
our team coming multiple times each year to support and encourage them.

"Maligayang Pasko!" (Merry Christmas!)

December is my favourite time of year to serve children in the Philippines. In part, it's because my teammates really know how to throw an awesome Christmas party :). But also, I'm reminded of the original reason why Christmas is a time for peace, joy, and love.

Often the real joys of Christmas are watered down by it's commercialization in a consumer culture. We all know that. I don't mean to say that we shouldn't appreciate the fun in presents, eggnog, and Santa Claus. But if the gifts we anticipate most are the ones under the tree and only shared with our family, then I know we're missing the point. What if the holidays involved REALLY spending more time meditating on what Christ has done for all of us. For many of you, I'm "preaching to the choir". Yet for others, you may have some issues with the church, some real qualms with religion, maybe even some baggage with Christmas and Jesus in particular. But I'm sure ALL of us can appreciate that there is great joy in giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, and visiting the lonely. That's something we can all do at Christmas. Actually, it doesn't get more "religious" than that - for "religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained" (James 1:27). "Religion" and "Christmas" are loaded terms that we can't help but misuse or misunderstand. But let's appreciate that at Christmas time, God sent Christ not to condemn the world, but to bring love and hope to those who desperately need it.

My Filipino team loves to demonstrate that love at Christmas. Over the last few weeks, my teammates and I hosted Christmas parties for children in need here in the Philippines. We celebrated 10 Christmas parties for a total of over 1100 kids! At most of these parties, we fed the children a healthy meal, enjoyed songs and games, put on a fun skit, and distributed a gift bag to each child. Inside the bags they found a stuffed animal, school supplies, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and more. In some communities, we also distributed clothing and groceries for the families.

Little munchkins receive their own little munchkins!

Opening prayers at the Christmas party.

Kirby & Shavonne Martin are a huge help on our team. They're also sent by
International Teams Canada and are serving in the Philippines on a two-year term.

Kirby jokes around with the kids while serving the meal.

Due to various reasons (malnutrition, worms, etc),
some of the children have a bloated stomach.

The children in Kanawan take me on a jungle hike.

Don't worry about the large animal creeping up behind us. The "carabao" is a
domesticated water buffalo commonly used by farmers in the Philippines.

Straw-in-mouth, Pauline is ready to scarf down and party down.
The last Christmas party we held was in our own community,
and Pauline is one of our daycare students.

Ally is another daycare student. She was one of
my first students, and she still shouts "Teacher John"
and jumps into my arms whenever she sees me.

Many of the photos above were taken in a rural community called Kanawan hidden amongst the mountains, jungles, and rivers. Some of you may recall that Kanawan is one of my favourite places in the world, and we've held many Christmas parties and summer camp programs there over the years. What really captivates me about that community is not just the scenery, but really it's the immense kindness of the children there. Perhaps there's something about the city that seems to "harden" the street children in Manila much more than rural poor children.

Last August, one of the fathers in Kanawan died of acute tuberculosis. His wife and six children struggled to carry on after his death, and his wife suffered from severe depression as a result. One month after their father's burial, Cynthia (the eldest, 14 yrs old) found the body of their mom lying lifeless and foaming at the mouth. There were rumours that either she poisoned herself or someone else poisoned her. Sadly, there was no way to know the actual cause of her death since they didn't have enough money for an autopsy.

After hearing their story, our team was cut to the heart and felt compassion for them. Anne Benavidez, the wife of my team leader Joshua, was particularly moved to help this family. While their community is still looking after the six children, it is a big struggle. Anne told me that the Lord impressed on her heart for our team to adopt these kids for a week at Christmas so they wouldn't feel alone or orphaned. I know that she might have even adopted the children permanently if she didn't still believe that they need to live with their other relatives. Nevertheless, our team is excited to show these kids that they will always have a "larger family" in the church who will always take care of them. On December 23rd, we will travel back to the mountains of Kanawan to pick up the six kids and bring them to Metro Manila for a week. The community in Kanawan is very thankful for this act of compassion.

Remember these photos from past blogs/newsletters?
Ishmael (above) is one of the children orphaned
after the tragic loss of both his parents this year.

Cynthia (on the back of my teammate) was the first
to discover the body of their late mother.

Ezperanza is another of the six beautiful and kind siblings.

Thank you again for reading my blog. While there's plenty of other news to share, I wanted to focus on those stories first and foremost. But in brief, here's what else is going on... I'm actually moving out of the dorm in January because I found a great little apartment just down the street from language school for the same affordable rent as the dorm. Praise God for that blessing! Also, my good friends Heather Kendall and Scott Weber (both from Elmira) are visiting me here from Dec 21-29! They have been teaching English in Japan for the last year and are now backpacking around South-East Asia.

Take care, God bless, and have a wonderful Christmas holiday!



  1. Good 'essay'/points about Xmas John. Kanawan looks like an awesome place (including the people). That is tragic about those parents dying and the orphaned kids, I'm sure happenings like that are more common than we'd like it to be.

  2. Thanks for sharing your Filipino Christmas with us John. Those kids are God's gift to you as much as you are to them. God bless you in your work now and always. And a Maligayang Pasko to you and the team!