Monday, October 15, 2012

Plans that give us hope and a future...

Dear friends and family,

Recently I was encouraged by my team leader Pastor John to be a counselor at a 3-day camp for out-of-school youth. This was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the situation of many street youth in Metro Manila. The camp was run by an NGO called Action International - a partner organization of International Teams. The focus of the camp was on teaching the values of Christ and caring for the community through teaching sports. We taught basketball and volleyball while simultaneously teaching teamwork, trust, and strength amidst adversity. The camp was also an opportunity for us to connect those youth to our free programs that offer tutoring to out-of-school youth for them to pass their high school equivalency exam. Each morning we woke up early to encourage the youth through a devotion and a time of prayer, then myself and an American missionary named Matt (who I met a few years ago at language school) led the youth in some morning exercises. In just three days, we made lasting bonds with many of the youth, and I was even able to meet with six of the youth from my cabin for dinner last saturday. Please pray for the street youth who attended this camp - that they will be able to complete their high school education and find fulfilling and sustainable work to provide for their families. Despite their struggles, many of them gave witness to the faithfulness and goodness of God in bringing them to camp and opening doors for new opportunities.

Shoes, sandals, or barefoot - everyone took part in the basketball training
and tournament. Basketball is the most popular sport in the Philippines.
Applying the teachings of Christ to the principles
of basketball through small group discussions.
Prayer and worship.
Every camper received a free medical check-up from a licensed doctor.
I've also been encouraged by the progress lately in our two daycare programs for street kids. Just across the street from my apartment in Alabang is the IT Tender Center where we are teaching basic literacy and numeracy to children ages 4-7. At the age of 27, Cecile De Jesus is the head teacher and administrator of SLC - "Simula (Tagalog for 'beginning') Learning Center". She is also a personal hero of mine, and I can attest to the incredible ways Christ has empowered and called her to volunteer her time, energy, and strength to teach these children despite her own struggles as a single mother living in poverty herself. Many days she would leave the center after class to sell various snacks, drinks, and instant noodles on the street overnight to help provide for her daughter and her parents. For me, people like her are the real heros and examples that I look up to. She dismisses any credit or recognition for her efforts and happily gives all the credit and glory to her God and her great Provider. How she always has energy and a big smile to teach the children would be beyond my imagination if I didn't believe in a very big and yet very personal, loving God.

The energetic class of 2012-2013 at Simula Learning Center.
Ate Cecile (right) and Ate Lorna (back) generously volunteer
their time to teach and look after our daycare students.
These bonds amongst friends are tight...literally.

I've already told many stories about Tin Tin Ramos and Toph Purificacion. They are the head teacher and administor (in that order) of our first daycare called Educare. Each time I volunteer at Educare on Wednesdays I'm excited not only to witness the development of those students, but also to see my godchildren! Most of the students in Educare are godchildren of either Toph, Tin, or myself. We feel very blessed not only to support the education of these kids, but also to be considered by their families as truly part of the community. Last Sunday we had another child dedication service at Jesus King of Kings Community Church and I was honoured to be named a Godfather to a handsome young boy named Dwane. We are amazed how much our church has grown in the last couple years as many new families are now attending. I think a big reason for this growth is because of the practical programs we're offering for the community and the personal relationships our workers have developed with the families in the streets.

Rhianne and Shane-Shane playing with educational toys

Ate Tin Tin leads the way at Educare, and we're blessed to
have helpers from the community like Kuya Ryan (back).
Dropping the kids off, including my goddaughter Shelly.

Arriving home, where the mothers await the return of
their kids while washing laundry in basins on the street.
Since completing my language studies at the end of August, two very significant changes have occurred in my life that have given me new joy and hope for my future here. Firstly, I met a very kind, lovely young woman by the name of Jamielyn Torres (...or "Jam" for short). Of all places, we met on the train on my way to my very last day of language school. Technically, the first time we saw each other we never even spoke. Her and her friends were seated across from me on the train that morning. Then later that very evening when I was in line to get my train ticket, by chance (or more likely by some divine grace) she happened to be right in front of me in line. Upon recognizing each other we then struck up a conversation. Her and her friends were happy to meet a Christian missionary as Jam attends a small Christian church in her community just a bus and a jeepney ride from my apartment. make a long story short, I spent the next month visiting Jam's church, her family, and of course, her! On my birthday she gave to me what Filipinos call her "matamis na oo" (or "sweet yes") - which is a confirmation that she is ready to be in an exclusive, committed relationship. I'm really blessed that God brought her into my life, and I'm looking forward to what God has in store for us as our relationship grows deeper.

Jam & I at Manila Ocean Park.
The second significant development in my life is a new program that I'm designing and proposing for 2013. As of now we already have daycares for children ages 4-7, a sponsorship program for elementary and secondary students, and a non-formal tutoring program for out-of-school youth and young adults to help them pass a high school equivalency exam. We praise God for the opportunity to serve almost every age group with the exception of children under the age of 4. However, we still believe that early childhood is a very critical stage in a child's life. The program that I am proposing is thus for children age 1-3 and is tentatively called SMART Kids. In reality, many children here of that age aren't receiving the attention and stimulation required for proper growth and health. The SMART Kids program would be a partnership with parents to provide opportunities for their children to experience stimulating play, early learning, good health care, a nutritious diet, and a hygienic environment. Our intention is not to take away responsibility from the parents, but to empower and equip them through training and modelling of effective parenting techniques. Of course, I'll need plenty of help from others with more expertise in this area. My role would be more of a facilitator of SMART Kids, and I would be recruiting Filipino volunteers in the community to assist us. Please pray for this as I spend the next few months researching the needs of young children in our community and determining the practicality of such a program.

Thanks again for following along with me here in Manila! I pray that you're encouraged by what God is doing here and that you too will be motivated and blessed at your work, school, and home!


"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

1 comment:

  1. The third picture from the bottom is awesome! Jam looks like a super nice girl, best of luck to ye!