dasma boy

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

More Than A Street Child

Just a week ago, we received a new client at Mercy House.  He's a lovely boy of 11 years. We fed him on the street several times and he was always polite, appreciative and pretty shy. His name is "MJ".
He drew my heart toward him once when we were doing wound care in the street. A very sick young man was being treated and, while we were treating him, he was asking us for money. MJ kicked his foot and told him in Tagalog "you don't ask people for money when they are already helping you".
And that stuck.
I could not forget that small comment.
It said more than those words I heard.
It said "I have a sense of right and wrong". 

Feeding "MJ" at McDonald's with his tropa (MJ in stripes) 

 So, imagine our reaction when we brought some American visitors to the government shelter for street kids just THREE DAYS after this McDonald's feeding and saw MJ at the shelter. He had been picked up by the city's task force that is assigned to take children off the street. When we saw each other at the shelter, he began to smile and then he hung his head in mock embarrassment, as if to say "they caught me".    We had devotion time with the children there and acted out the story of David and Goliath. MJ was chosen to play Goliath. He stood on a stool and played the part with gusto.
When it was time for Goliath to "die", he kicked his legs in the air and had a fake seizure. The children watching were in stitches.
Just a week later, we pulled into McDonald's again for visit with  the street children who congregate there and, lo and behold, MJ was in the street again. He ran from us and hid around the corner of the building. We went to him and asked why he was hiding. He said he was afraid we were going to take him back to the government shelter or that we would tell on him. We promised we wouldn't do either and brought him some lunch. I wanted to ask  him that very day to come with us and be admitted to Mercy House but my social worker was not available and I wanted to make sure we did it "right", so we said our goodbyes and  left him. My heart was heavy but I was glad he had a good lunch and some clean water to drink. 
The next week, we returned to the government shelter to have a sibling visit for one of our clients, and there was MJ AGAIN!  This time, I was determined not to say goodbye without a plan. So we counseled him on the spot about his willingness to come to us. We talked to him about going to school, having a family setting, getting off the streets for good, giving up sniffing solvent and a host of other things he would need to consider, even at just 11 years old, before he could come to Mercy House.   The biggest request we had of him is that he NOT run away from the shelter for a whole week. We made an appointment to see him a week later. When we returned seven days later. He was there. Waiting. With a big smile and saying he was READY.
So, on October 1st, we were ready too and he became a part of the Mercy House family.

Admission Day at Mercy House 

Admission Day meeting/introduction/orientation

The usual protocol for us when we receive children from the street is to admit them, help them get settled in with an orientation about the rules, an introduction to all staff and housemates and then, when we feel like they are comfortable, we start unraveling their histories, a little bit at a time to find out if there are any capable relatives around who have been looking for these children.
What we found in the case of MJ was a lot more than we bargained for.

His father is in jail. We took MJ to visit him. He loves his father and he began to cry when he saw his father from far off.  But his father will likely never be able to parent him again due to the seriousness of his charges and the time he will serve.  MJ does not want to believe this. He has built a fantasy around his father that does not include a true picture of the man.

We then located his mother and found a homeless woman who often roams around but sometimes lives for free in a public building. She struggles with her own poor life choices and tries to care for several children who decided not to become street children as MJ did. One of them is a 14 year old girl who is extremely ill.
Mj's "big" sister. Please pray for her healing!

When my social worker sent me a brief message and photo during her counseling time with the family of MJ, my heart just broke. I immediately thought of contacting my friend, Claire Henderson, who runs a beautiful ministry to sick and dying children here in The Philippines called "Children's Recovery Unit" or "Helping Hands".  I sent Claire this photo and the diagnosis the mother was given and asked for her input. Her input was one of the most beautiful messages I have read in a long time. It was along the lines of "I will take her in our home in Baguio as well as her drug-addicted mother if she is willing".
Can you imagine???? I was simply asking for advice as this is waaaaayyyy out of our league.
So, we have made plans to transfer this mother and child to CRU for a stay where we are asking you to pray for a few things.
First, for the mother's addiction to drugs to be broken. She told us she has not used them for a time. We cautiously hope she is being honest.
Second, for this beautiful girl to be healed of her illness. If not healed, that her pain can be well managed and her quality of life drastically improved.
Third, through Mercy House and CRU, that this family would be introduced to the love of Jesus and the complete healing of heart and soul that only comes through HIM.
In our ministry,  we are aware that serving a street child is not just serving a street child. It is serving his family, helping him connect the dots of his broken life, finding every family member who has ever loved him, opening doors to hopeful reunification and, after exhausting all avenues locally, exploring the option of a brand new family.  Serving our kids involves partnership with other organizations who are strong where we are weak.  It involves being willing to drive many hours sometimes to obtain help and just trusting the Lord with the outcome.
Because MJ matters so very much. He is a beautiful boy created in the image of God.  There is a plan and a purpose for MJ.
HE IS MORE THAN A STREET CHILD.  So much more . . .

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Buried Alive!

I need to share some straight talk with my blogosphere friends today about a dreamy statement I made many years ago. A statement that copious numbers of Believers and just plain old do-gooders make.  A statement of which I had no real grasp  when it was made. One with BIG ramifications:


I said those words when I was a teenager.  I said them again in college. I repeated them less-often as a young, busy mother but began to obsess on them after our first visit to The Philippines in 2005.   Finally, after much praying and selling and planning, we started our orphanage.

I love it. I love the work. I adore the children. I have a sense of purpose and usefulness that can only be described as "REAL" but the flip side of this life as Mama-to-Many is not at all like most would imagine.  Most days, I feel I am being buried alive.  And it's ok.

The kids here are wounded by terrible histories of abuse, neglect and abandonment.  They sometimes act out.  They need a LOT more attention than the average, well-nurtured child. They will do pretty much anything to get it.   But I love them. I get to kiss their scars. I get to remind them they are beautiful and valuable and accepted.  Some of them have never felt that before and when they start to believe they are worthwhile,  they almost appear to grow taller before our eyes.  And bloom.
On top of the treasured work of helping the kids heal, there is paperwork. A LOT of paperwork. I am abundantly blessed to have an amazing social worker who is more than capable of doing the bulk of the paperwork but we all have to do our part. The processing of a child for international adoption is a succinct art.  Every document must be properly executed, dated, submitted and updated. We have a strong commitment to making sure the children in our care are ready both legally and emotionally for a new family. This takes a whole"village". Professionals inside and outside Mercy House take part in the task and they take it seriously.   They have to.  It's precious human life.  There is no room for error.

Our precious social worker with some of the MH kids
And aside from the children and the paperwork, I am a wife and a mother. That didn't stop when we decided to open an orphanage.  Unlike some directors, we choose to live inside the orphanage with our own family and our Mercy House family. Why? Because we simply need to be close for the children in care to have continuity. Staff may come and go but it is our prayer that "Mommy Nikki" and "Daddy Anthony" offer a little peek at how it feels to have caring adults who stay.  Our prayer is their only move from our care is into their FOREVER families. It does not always work that way but that is always our goal.  Finding the balance between the roles of orphanage Mama, wife and mother-to-my-own is beyond challenging. Sometimes I have to put off the ones who deserve first place because there are emergencies of the melt-down kind.  Okay, not "sometimes".  "Often". I pray they understand. 

And then there are these street boys. Children taking care of themselves. They are often hungry and always dirty when we go to see them. When I look at them, I envision them in a school uniform, well rested, doing their chores or homework inside Mercy House.  I imagine clearing out a drawer for some clothing for them and getting that first "goodnight" hug when I tuck them in. I can not sleep some nights for thinking of these kids. I have lost a lot of weight since meeting them because, when I know the faces of children who are hungry,  my own food loses it's luster. It is something that is hard to explain if you don't live it.  It hurts a lot. But not nearly as much as being 11 and having no parents protecting you must hurt. We have to do more for these boys.  It is a fire inside me.  I have always believed that if you want to change a society, reach the boys. Help them to become responsible, Godly men and to start a new heritage. I want to be a part of that for these street boys. But it takes time, money and some other priority slipping down the list a bit. Sacrifices.

The issues of handling birth families, staff problems, anyone getting sick and, of course, the fact that we just bought land and are fund raising to build a permanent structure - ALL OF THOSE and more are scoops of fresh earth that have me buried alive.
This is such hard work.
Do I want to quit? Sometimes. Do I miss my life as a happy American driving my own car to Taco Bell and strolling through Wal Mart whenever I want? For sure! Do I feel like I'm only 1/2 alive sometimes for the ache of missing my two oldest children who are in the US? Every day.

But I believe I will never leave. I assume that, someday, I will die here in The Philippines doing this work I love and helping children know their God and find their families.  I will be serving with my husband and whichever of our own children feel called to be here. I wish they all did.

So, friends. When you say "I want to start an orphanage",  I hope you are wiser than I was. I hope the sacrifices and pain don't take you by surprise.  I pray you understand what you are REALLY saying when you utter those words is "Lord, I want to be buried alive".     Because you will be.  And you might even love it.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Formula Worship

This is a post I have wanted to craft for many years now.  It leaps into my thoughts at unwelcome times and I try to chase it away.

I tell this post that it will offend many of my dear friends.

I claim that it is the enemy trying to encourage me to stir up controversies and I shoo it away.

I insist that there is no useful reason to share these thoughts but the thoughts persist and I am going to share them.  If for no other reason than maybe they will quiet down once they are out of my head and resting in the blogosphere.

Because I was guilty and nobody shared this hard truth with me as a younger mother.  I wish I had known.


There.  I said it.  You can stop reading now or you can continue and hear me out.  

 My husband and I raised our children in the very best way we knew how.  We used a formula from our favorite authors and inspired by other families who appeared to have Godly children.  And here is how it looked:

We took "Growing Kids God's Way".
We read "Shepherding a Child's Heart". Often.
We homeschooled. (The Biggie)
 I stayed home from the time our second child was born.
We did not allow our children to watch shows we deemed inappropriate.
We prayed with and for our children daily. 
We had family devotions.  
We were quiverfull and trusted God with the size of our family - which resulted in two biological and four internationally-adopted children.
We allowed only "courting" and no "dating".  
We worked hard to make sure our children were one another's best friends and kept outside relationships as secondary. 
We ate dinner together almost every night.  
We made our children use the "interrupt rule" (hand on a parent when they needed to interrupt our talking to someone else). 
We made sure they asked forgiveness when they wronged another person instead of just tossing out "I"m sorry" halfheartedly. . .

I'll stop there but you know me or others like me. You either ARE like me or you tried to be and felt you fell so very short because of mitigating factors like your husband not allowing you to homeschool or not being open to adoption or . . . 

I worshiped that formula.  There were MANY times I judged other families who did not follow one or more aspects of that formula. Most of the time, I trusted the formula more than I trusted my Heavenly Father, who gave me my children and loves them more than I ever could. 

When my children were 4 and 6, I was fairly certain I knew everything about Godly parenting and was doing a bang-up job - even with one hand tied behind my back.

But something happened that shattered any notion of my beloved formula being foolproof. Something so shocking and heart rending that I was left, mouth agape, holding my tattered copy of "Shepherding" and wondering what on Earth had just happened.

They grew up.

My little treasures who hung onto my every word began to question things I said.  They began to meet people outside our homeschool bubble.  People with opinions and beliefs that were different from ours.  They began to ask me hard questions that "because the Bible says so" was not a satisfactory answer to.  Questions with "why" and "prove it" sandwiched in.  They began to put their pinky toes into waters that has always been forbidden.  They wanted to separate "real" from "imagined" and although I know and knew in the deepest parts of my being that the God they grew up knowing and loving IS ultimate truth, I could not FORCE them to  know this.

And I was heartbroken and terrified. 

 I began to curse the formula. I undertook the arduous task of rethinking every parenting decision ever made by my husband and I and trying to figure out where we went "wrong". . . where we diverged from the REAL, TRUE, TRULY, REALLY, SUPER TRUE formula.  And I made the wanderings and questioning of my children all about me, forgetting one tiny detail that was a game changer. 

We are all sinners.  Me. My children. The "perfect" friends with their "perfect" families.
All of our righteousness is like filthy rags.
No one seeks after God. All have turned away.
He is God. I am not.
He is jealous for the hearts and affections of my children.
Total Depravity of man trumped by the
Irresistible Grace of a loving God
Once saved/ Always Saved
So I share this in hopes of encouraging you, striving mothers.  You who have a formula that you truly believe will result in your children following HARD after God all the days of their lives.  I don't know if the phrase "the formula doesn't work" will encourage you but I pray it FREES you. 
Yes, point your children to Jesus.
Yes, guard their hearts.
Yes, monitor their friendships and the things they set before their eyes.
But know in your inner most being that their walk with the Lord is NOT about you and does NOT depend on you.
Some of the most Godly women I know were raised in homes without a single Believer. 
Some of the most unGodly people I know were raised in Christian homes.
If I could go back . . . well, that's another post for another time. And I would make a lot of the same choices as a mother. But those choices would be filtered through the knowledge that they are not an insurance policy, guaranteeing Godly children.  They are choices made by the desire to be a good steward of the time I had with my kids before they grew up and began sifting through their beliefs and trying to separate the precious stones from fool's gold.   

And then I remember that I wandered and questioned, too. I took a Philosophy course at my secular college and studied Kant and Descartes and existentialism and relative truth and I began to question the faith of my childhood.  
And I came back stronger.
Because He is TRUTH.
And lies, over time, erode, exposing paper bones.
The Holy Spirit in me spoke a quiet truth into the noise of my doubt.

So, if you, mothers, are willing to learn from the life of another, please listen up.  The word of God is a solid foundation.   Do not fear for the hearts of your children. Do not trust the formula.  Trust the one who created and entrusted those children to you.  Trust HIS word.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Before They Are Yours

 Yesterday I woke up with a nagging sense of dread coupled with a little tinge of excitement.  The major task we were to undertake yesterday was "roaming".   Roaming is the act of taking an older child out into the community to trying and locate his birth family.  In this case, our newest resident, J (far left in this photo) along with me, my awesome social worker, my husband and our youngest son set out to  roam.  
Before we ever set foot in the car or set a destination into our GPS, I started the day with prayer, always asking the Lord to help us find the birth parents and discern HIS will for the future of this child.  Since our resident is already 11 years old, has been on the streets for two years and only remembers a very old address, we had little to go on but "go", we did.
What we encountered was not in the script but was clearly the hand of God guiding us in His sovereign goodness.
First stop was McDonald's.  Roaming can be hard on the children in our center and we want to make it a little bit of a treat so, we pulled into the McDonald's not far from where this young man used to be on the street.  Immediately, three street boys who were there directing traffic for money recognized him. They ran to him and started hugging him and asking him where he had been. We invited these three inside to have lunch with us and when they understood that we were from a ministry, they started to open up and talk about their own lives.

These boys shared their struggles and the brutal crimes they have witnessed on the street. They told us where they sleep and where they spend their days. They broke my heart but they also gave us hope. Despite the hardships they face, they are still very much children with an inexplicable innocence that you can see in their eyes.
My husband prayed with these boys and talked to them about Jesus.  He shared with them that God has a purpose and a plan for every life.  The oldest boy, age 18, was visibly clinging on to every word.
As we were finishing our visit, a lady of about 70 years came to our table. She pointed her finger at our resident, "J" and poked him on the shoulder.  She began to say LOUDLY (I suspect she is hard of hearing) that J is a thief and a drug addict.  She went on to tell us that he sniffs glue and that he is not a good boy.   We all just watched her in disbelief.   J slunk down a little in his chair and stared at the ground.
I simply said "Okay, thank you" and waited for her to leave.  She did. 
As we rose to leave, she came back repeating the same story with a little less volume.  My husband told her that this child has a new life now and those things that he did before do not matter to us.
THAT shut her up.     And J heard  Daddy Anthony say this and the relief was clear.   
We will not define this child or any of our Mercy House children by the mistakes of their pasts.  Ever.
No Exceptions.
Then it was on to J's last remembered address!  When we pulled up to the area, he did not want to get out of the car.  He was clearly not interested in any reunion!  We assumed it might be because neighbors would recognize him and come out and tell us bad things about him. This has happened to us more than once when roaming with other children.  But this was not the reason.
We convinced him to come and show us the" house".  A woman came out and DID recognize him. But she did not tell us anything bad that he had done.  Instead, she started recounting to us the beatings she witnessed this little boy getting on a regular basis.  She kept saying "your step mother would beat you with a wooden stick" or "your step mother didn't give you food" - things that broke our hearts to hear but, at the same time, we need the true history of this child to make the best plan and deliver the best counseling to him.  The neighbor told us she  herself used to give him food and clothing but his "step mother" would not allow him to have any of it.   She would cut up the clothing and make rags to sell. She must have eaten the food herself based on her physical description. She was NOT starving. He was.
And then our little resident spoke up in a quiet voice and said "hindi step mother. Mama ko."  (not my step mother.  My real mother).
The neighbor was stunned.  She thought this child was being rejected by a step parent, which is all-too-common here, but he was being systematically abused by his biological mother. 
And now we understood more fully why he did not want to exit the car.  And why he flinched when Daddy Anthony went to touch him in a joking way. And why he flipped out and yelled when being verbally corrected for a misbehavior. And "why" a lot of things. . .
This helpful neighbor informed us that the family had moved more than a year ago to another barangay - a huge squatter area spanning more than 5 acres that is a maze of narrow dirt paths and homes on top of shacks.   The neighbors wanted to report the abuse many times but, out of fear of J's family, she did not.  We can not fault them for this.  We wish they had reported it but they are poor and voiceless.  Who would protect THEM afterward?
So we went to the huge squatter area.  J pleaded with us not to ask him to roam and we didn't. He stayed behind with Daddy Anthony while my amazing social worker, Love, and I walked hours' worth of hot, smelly streets asking for J's mother at every vendor stand and posting his picture and information on walls and posts with scotch tape and a prayer.
So far, no mother.  So we wait and we keep praying.
But what we gained from this day made every second worthwhile.  We gathered some history. We put pieces in a jumbled, messy frame and helped a very precious boy to have some background where there was so little.  We found some answers that will help us approach this beautiful child with extra caution and understanding.  We communicated to him how important his life is.  He is worth the driving and asking and hot, hot walking.  
He is accepted.  And acceptable. 
Our prayer for him is the same as for every child in our care.  We ask the Lord to take these hard beginnings and build a beautiful testimony that says to all who hear it:


He does. 

And He will.

The master puzzle maker, the ultimate worth-giver, the lover of His own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Great Adventure: Up Up and Away

So, you're adopting from The Philippines. You've waited, been matched, paid fees, waited for documents, waited for clearances and waited a little more for good measure.  And then, all of a sudden with a rush of unexpected expectancy, you receive . . . .


You might find yourself feeling very short on time, despite the fact that you've waited many grueling months for said call.  You may find yourself lacking in confidence as you call for airlines and hotel recommendations and research the currency exchange, food safety, needed travel vaccines and a host of other panic-inducing tasks that loom large, when all you really want is YOUR CHILD.

Let me share with you some tips I hope will be useful to you as you travel to The Philippines for the first time. I have lived here for two years and prior to living in The Philippines, completed four international adoptions FROM here to the United States so keep in mind my observations come from the viewpoint of an American traveling abroad. If you are from another country, you may not find these tips as useful as an American traveler might.  Keep what works and discard what doesn't. . .

1. Exchanging Money: The US Dollar is equal to about 43 Philippine pesos. This fluctuates daily but just by a peso or two on either side. If you are able to exchange about 100 US into pesos before you leave the US, you should.  Ask your bank for SMALL bills (20 and 50 peso bills rather than 1,000peso bills).  You may find you want to buy something to eat or drink at the airport or you need to tip someone who has helped you.  You can exchange larger amounts of money at your hotel or, for a better rate, have your driver take you to a local money exchange office.  Many malls here such as SM (Shoe Mart) have currency exchange inside. Just be aware of who is watching you exchange your money and keep it in a place difficult to pick pocket (front pocket, small zipped pouch inside a double-zipped bag, etc).  It is hard to give an estimate on how much money you'll want to bring or exchange because that depends on how much sight seeing and in-country travel you plan to do.

2. Hotels:  Many adoption agencies will give their clients lists of hotel recommendations to choose from. We have chains here like Holiday Inn, Shangri La, Inter Continental, Ramada, etc that are more familiar and streamlined for an uncertain traveler. There are also guest houses, which can be a wonderfully economical way to stay here and to be in a more "Filipino" neighborhood setting. Many mission organizations have guest houses where you rent rooms and the staff there cooks three meals a day, as in any home setting.  Guest Houses are often in gated communities or have their own guard at the gate to keep foreign visitors safer.  You need to ask for guest house recommendations from others who have stayed in them.  Online postings often look much nicer than they actually are and often, the neighborhood itself is not a good one but is not shown in the online advertisement.  If your adoption agency is recommending that you stay in Makati City, they are suggesting you stay in one of the most expensive and Westernized places on Luzon.  If that is the experience you are after, stay there.  There is a Microtel right next to Mall of Asia that foreign travelers love. You can get taxis and busses from there to anywhere and it is clean, safe and convenient to shopping and restaurants.  Often, agency representatives have not traveled here or have not traveled in quite some time.  Ask parents who have recently traveled about their suggestions. This place is always changing and the best information sometimes comes from your online adoptive group, not your agency. 

3. Vaccinations/Diseases:(I'm not a doctor. I just play one on TV) 
 While it's true that The Philippines still has cases of diseases that have been eradicated in more developed countries, this is a relatively safe place in which  to entrust your health. 
There is a LOT of tuberculosis here. A lot. That being said, TB tends to manifest in weakened immune systems and be overcome by a healthy body.  There is no "tb vaccine" that you can take prior to travel anyway so, there's no point in stressing out too much about TB.  The bcg vaccine is given to infants here often as a protections against tb but it's value is highly debated and it is not appropriate for anyone over the age of one year old.  IF, by some awful stroke of luck, you happened to contract TB while visiting here, you will be placed on a long-term regimen of antibiotics (6-9 months). The main concern for travelers here , that deserves some attention, is Dengue Fever. Dengue is a mosquito-born illness that lowers your blood platelets, gives you horrible joint aches and fever and is generally a sickness requiring hospitalization and possible transfusions. And it's not entirely uncommon.  The main way to protect yourself is by using mosquito repellant. But please don't let Dengue scare you out of enjoying this country. In the two years I have lived here and the times I traveled here before the move, I have been bitten by countless mosquitoes and, thank God, not contracted Dengue.  
We did not receive any extra vaccines prior to traveling or moving to The Philippines. Our regular boosters and childhood vaccines were considered by our own doctor to be sufficient and, so far, they have proven to be just that.  Hepatitis is more common here than in the United States as well but I am going to venture a guess that most adoptive families do not plan on exchanging fluids with anyone here locally and leave it at that. Universal precautions for helping sick or injured people should always be observed.   If you do find yourself to be sick or in need of medical care while you are here, your hotel or guest house can direct you to a trusted clinic.  Also, many medications that are by prescription only in the US are able to purchased over-the-counter here. If you feel yourself coming down with strep throat or an earache and know which antibiotic you would normally take for such an illness, you can simply go to Mercury Drug or Watson's Pharmacy - or any pharmacy-and ask for what you need.   

3. Shopping at the Markets: 
I don't like to "wheel and deal". I never have and I still don't. It's just my own personality. If you don't mind bargaining with locals, secure your belongings in a pick-pocket-proof place and head out to a local "pelengke" (open market) for everything from souvenirs to fresh fruit to street foods.  When you ask a local vendor how much something costs, you WILL pay "skin tax" but you can also get some great deals.  For example, if a vendor tells you a t-shirt costs 250pesos (roughly 7 US) and you offer him 150 pesos (about $3.50) you might both end up happy. Do not pay the quoted price from local vendors.  Always ask for a discount.  I like to send my Filipino husband to do our bargaining because he inevitably gets a better deal than I ever would.  I like to shop at SM (shoe mart) mall or Robinsons because it's price-fixed and there's no bargaining required. 

4. Public Transportation: This is a tricky one if you're taking a taxi.  We generally approached a parked cabbie and asked "how much to take us to xyz?".  If we thought the price quoted was too high (anything over 300pesos was too high for us), we asked the next cabbie. You can also request that your cabbie use the meter rather than a fixed price ride. Either way, he will expect a tip of somewhere between 20-100pesos at the end of the ride.  I have heard one story of a metered ride in which a cabbie drove in large circles to increase the fare.  The hotel staff later told the patrons their destination was about 2 kilometers from the hotel but the cabbie drove 21 kilometers!
You can ride in a jeepney (long, silver vehicle with no back door and bench seats along the insides) if you know a little bit about where you need to go.  I wouldn't have taken the jeepney without my husband just because I didn't know how they worked. You have to find the jeep with your desired route name on the side or the sign in front, get on, pass your fare to the front via the other passengers and say "para po" when you want him to stop and let you off.  Jeep rides run from 8 to 25 pesos per person per ride and can be a fun cultural experience IF you know where you are going. The busses are a little more organized and the driver can tell you if he goes to your desired stop.  The busses with open windows do not have air conditioning and are a little less expensive to ride than the air conditioned busses. I ride busses here alone regularly and have had no problems. You ask the driver if he goes to your desired stop. If he says he does, you sit on the bus and wait for the person to come to you, take your fare and issue a little stub.  It's pretty basic.  The busses and jeeps do not like to make change for bigger bills so you NEED small bills, once again. 

5. Speaking English:   English is one of the two national languages here. Some people are under the impression that everyone in The Philippines speaks English. That is not  true. A LOT of people here speak SOME English but do not come here expecting the cabbies, bus drivers and all the people you will encounter in the markets to be fluent. The staff at your hotel will likely be fluent. So will your ICAB social worker and all of ICAB. All of the professionals I have met here speak excellent English.  The children who come to our orphanage do not speak English until they have been here a long time. At public school, the students usually start learning basic english in grade 3 but many of your children will not have made it to grade 3 yet.  Learn a few simple Tagalog phrases like "thank you",  "how much does it cost" or  "where is ________?".  I could type them out for you but pronunciation changes the meaning of words in Tagalog so it's better if  you hear those phrases spoken to learn them.   It is just a respectful thing to do. You are in The Philippines, learn a little Filipino.  Locals are so gracious and very happy when they hear a foreigner trying to speak their language.  I have royally messed up some Filipino phrases and the people I'm talking to just laugh ("with" not "at"me) and bail me out. I have yet to inadvertently cuss but I'm sure that's coming . . .

6. Beggars:  This is such a personal decision each family has to make but please make it BEFORE you travel. Will you give to beggars or won't you?  You will be approached. Beautiful children with big, round eyes will approach you with a hand out. What will you do?  Do you give to everyone who asks? If you do that, will you have enough left to make it back home with your new child? I have heard so many streams of thought on this issue and this post is already long enough but here are a couple of things to consider:
Children who beg are often sent out by parents to make money for the family.  I have a friend here in street child ministry who refuses to give to child beggars as she feels it fuels the "industry". I understand her position. I  have another friend in street child ministry here who carries 5peso coins in her pocket specifically to give to beggar children and she tells them in Filipino that Jesus loves them as she gives them a coin if they approach her.
Some of the boys in our center told us directly that they begged and parked cars (directed traffic) just to have money for computer shops and ice cream.  Others have told us they would be beaten at home if they did not earn a certain amount each day.
I am not even willing to share my own opinion on this matter right now but please discuss this as a family and come up with a plan that fits best with your  faith and your conscience. Keep in mind, I have some former beggars in my center and they are pretty wonderful children at the core. If I knew their hearts before seeing them begging on the street, it would really muddy the waters for me.
7. Food:  Food is HUGE part of this culture. I, personally, think Filipino food is some of the best in the world. There is so much salty, sweet, stewy, colorful food here.  It is an important part of being accepted here to gracious eat what is offered.  There is a lot of fish in this diet. If you don't like fish, you are possibly going to offend someone at some point. I have never gotten sick from eating food at someone's home or from a street vendor. I do not drink beverages from a street vendor but I eat a LOT of kwek kwek (batter fried quail eggs), banana-cue and turon (deep fried banana in an eggroll shell with brown sugar) and have been just fine. These items are sold for 10pesos each and are delicious and filling. I recommend you try them.  In fact, I am making myself hungry just typing about them.  In restaurants, ask if the water is "mineral water". That is how they refer to purified water. I would avoid ice and non-peeled fruit unless it's from a bigger chain, just to be sure but, like I said, I am such a foodie and have eaten so much from everywhere we go and never had a food-born illness that I know of.  I have had intestinal parasites once but no idea where I got them.  If you are worried about getting those, buy one 500mg mebendazole tablet from the pharmacy (over the counter) and take it after you get back home. It is a one-time treatment for most human parasites and it will give you peace of mind. I take one every six months "just in case". 
The food here is rarely deboned. Your fish, chicken, etc will come with the bones. The fish often comes with the head. The skin is not removed from much of the meat as well.  I have had pork come to my table with hair and squid that still has the beak.  You just have to be aware and look it over before biting in so you don't lose a crown!

8. Waiting in Line:  People will cut in front of you in lines here if you leave much of a space between you and the person in front of you. It is a very crowded country. Personal space is much less than the "three feet on each side" that Americans enjoy.  I used to get annoyed when I was in line at Jollibee and someone would slide between me and the person in front of me and then I realized a space that size led them to believe I was still making up my mind. They are not necessarily trying to be rude, just efficient.  If you don't want to be cut in front of, put your nose about 2 inches from the back of the head of the person in front of you. Seriously. 

9. Non-Confrontations:  Sober people here tend to be fairly non-confrontational. If you are angry about service you receive or feel cheated in some way, the best approach is a calm, friendly, smile and a simple explanation about what is bothering you. The "fits" I've seen my fellow Americans throw in the airports would not be well-received here and might merit a call to the local police.  This is probably a good bit of life advice, no matter where you travel, but Americans specifically, are more boisterous and emotive than the average Filipino.  Please don't come here and propagate the "ugly American" stereotype.  Show grace.  After all, this country is giving you a pretty amazing gift. 

10. Gift Giving:  This is a big part of Filipino culture.  If you stay in someone's home, give a small gift (body spray, candy, pens and stationary, picture frame, etc and a card).  If someone invites you over to a meal, bring a gift.  You should consider bringing ONE gift for all of ICAB (like a bag of office supplies, a box of candy to be shared, etc) although they would never ask for such.  The same goes for your child's orphanage director and houseparents, staff, etc.  The cost of the item is not a big issue. Something very small is appreciated. 

There is so much more I could say about The Philippines, traveling here, living here and experiencing this place but let me sum it up in a short few sentences. This is the country of my heart. I love this culture, the people, the food and even the hard aspects of being here. The needs draw me but the culture keeps me. 
I pray you will come here with an open heart and open mind and let this place become a part of who you are.  To love the culture and country of your child is a great gift you can give him.  And, trust me, in a place like The Philippines, it happens effortlessly. 

Come. Enjoy. Learn. And Teach. 

God bless you on your journey . . . 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Precious Girl

Precious girl . . . I see you every single day.  I hear your loud laughter and I watch you being so sweet and mothering to the three youngest children in our center.

And I am proud of you.

I know how hard you struggle in school to learn and keep up with the other kids.  I know sometimes they tease you because some of them think you are too dark and not pretty.

But I think you are beautiful. Most people would agree with me.
And not them. Promise.

Precious girl, I have seen all those scars on your arms.  I hear your English getting better every day and I remember the day it became good enough for you to tell me who put those scars there. And how. And my Tagalog was just good enough to help you understand that it would be best to forgive. 

But if you do forgive, you are more amazing than I could ever hope to be.

I'm thankful. I get to be the one to hug you while you cry for that Grandmother and Uncle who used to visit you but asked not to anymore because it's too hard on them to see you and not be able to keep you forever.  There is no way for you to understand how they feel.  Or for them to understand how you feel about having family but not.  I am glad it's me.  For now.

I hope you can grow up and forgive me, precious girl, for not being able to take away
the pain of you not growing up with your brother. His disabilities are so big.
And we are so small. 
We just can not give him what he needs. 

Maybe someday, precious girl, I will be able to tell you how angry I am at the people who hurt you. You were just a tiny child and you did not deserve the things that were done to you. You were a baby and nobody protected you.  Instead, she watched while you were hurt.  Not every woman who has babies is really a "mother", sweet girl.  But when you grow up, if you want to be one, I know you will be.  You are already such a loving, caring big sister.  You had such poor role models and yet, inside you, you already know how to put younger children's needs ahead of your own.  

You are going to be someone great.
You already are.

So, precious girl, I want to end with telling you a secret. When I pray for you, my prayer always goes something like this:
 "Lord, redeem this life. Let her shine brightly for YOU. Let every hurt and every pain
be another layer of her testimony to how YOU heal and restore.
And, please, surround her with people from today onward who will love and protect her, even
at their own expense.  Bring her a "forever family" who sees the priceless treasure she is. Even on the hard days.   Amen"

On extra, extra tough days, when I want to pack that suitcase and go back to where I came from, I think about you. And the others.  I think "I don't want to miss the rest of her story".   I know it's going to be good.  So good.  

I am learning  a lot from you, precious girl. . . about the human spirit, about the resiliency of children, about how to CHOOSE JOY when it would be so easy to dwell on the pain of the past. 

One more secret, sweet one?  I want to be more like you. If you can choose joy, so can I.

Deal?  Deal.


Friday, March 20, 2015

A Bad Word

I remember back in junior high school, having a then-deep and philosophical conversation with one of my equally-deep 12 year old friends about what makes a bad word "bad".

We surmised that we should be allowed to freely use the F-word or the Sh-word or ANY word as long as we didn't deem it "a swear".   We decided, between the two of us, to use these words and see if we could erase their "badness" by insisting they were just sounds and syllables with no inherently evil meanings.    We substituted mundane words with swear words and the sting began to fade.  We laughed long and hard at some of the creative ways we wove our new-found verbal freedom into colorful tapestries.

We ran into problems with this "logic", however, when overhead by our drama teacher during a break between classes.  Apparently, she hadn't self-actualized enough to appreciate the fact that those words were just sounds from our throats. To her, they had definite and unpleasant meaning.    Oh, the shallowness of the adult world!

I have run into many discussions that seem to be about semantics but are about so much more in this life in The Philippines.

Many people here speak English and speak it well. Some of the words here are used based on their meaning, though, with no regard to or even awareness of how the words can be perceived. Connotation matters. A lot.

Case in point:  More than one educated adult here has asked me if Ezekiel is "a mongoloid"?  The first time it happened, my jaw hit the floor. We haven't used that word in the US for at least 30 years. It's considered derogatory.  They are not much on "people first" language here.  Thankfully, I hid my knee-jerk reaction and answered "Yes. He has Down Syndrome".   I understand the language is simply a label and not INTENDED to shoot any hurtful arrows at our family.  The askers always go on to tell us about some precious family member or friend whom they cherish who is also "mongoloid".
Another word that is used often here as a simple descriptor is "retarded".  In test results given by professionals, children are often referred to as "mildly retarded, moderately retarded or severely/profoundly retarded".   I suppose it would be easy to get all riled up but, the core meaning of the word is "delayed in development" or "arrested in development".  And I've never once heard it used as a put-down here. It's just a fact.  A person with a low IQ who is not meeting his milestones on the bell-shaped curve will be labeled "retarded".  So what?  It just lets us know, as workers and as parents that we should adjust some expectations for timelines and give a child some extra grace and guidance. 

My ethnocentric thinking has to die a little each day here. And that's a good thing.

But the REAL reason for this post on words and their impact and who decides what we can and can not say is THIS word:


If a "parsonage" is where a pastor lives, isn't an "orphanage" where orphans live?  Many cringe at this word.  It's archaic.  It's harsh.  It summons images of little girls in rags singing "It's a hard-knock life for us . . . "    The term "Child Caring Agency" or "CCA" is used here often to describe the place where we live with a slew of unrelated children who have no capable or living parents to raise them. 
I don't mind the word "orphanage".  It leaves no questions.  On the other hand, not all of the children in our care are TRUE orphans. Some are in mid-steam of eventual abandonment.  Some have loving mothers who just have no means to care for them and are trying to improve their lives and receive their children back. One set of siblings here even has TWO biological living parents who are together and working to bring their children home. 

But most don't. 

Most have a story that goes like this: " Mom and dad split up. Mom found a new man. He doesn't want to raise anyone else's children SOOO . . . . I became a street child. I begged and scavenged and eventually got rescued or referred to Mercy House.  I'm an orphan because the adult meant to love me decided having a boyfriend/girlfriend was more important than keeping me safe."  

The second most common story we hear is:  "My dad left us when I was a baby. My mom is in jail (or left us to work far away) and the neighbor/relative she left us with couldn't feed us so she took us to the local police to relinquish us. Mom is never coming back."

It's not the glamorous "both parents died in a small-engine plane crash off the coast to Tibet" story that makes orphans in the movies.  It's just bad adult choices trickling down to injure children.

So, they live in an orphanage, or a child caring agency or a care facility or whatever term suits you best.

The facts are the same. 

We look in the eyes of children every single day who do not have a single somebody in the world saying to them "I will be here forever. You are MINE always. You belong with ME.  We are your final and only FAMILY.  My last name is your last name.  When we go on vacation, you go. When we cry over the loss of a family pet, you'll be right here in the circle.  When the hostess at the restaurant says 'Jones party of 8' - that means YOU, too.   When we pick up that gray-haired lady from Minnesota at the airport and she starts handing out $5 bills, get in line because she is YOUR grandma, also. "

We, at Mercy House, can not, in all fairness, say those things to the children in our care. And Oh, how we love them! We tell them that all the time. We hug and kiss them and tuck them in and tell them about Jesus.  We nurse them when they are sick and teach them the rules of fair play. But we can't say THOSE things unless we want to break trust and be liars.  Or adopt them all.  And I've thought of that, believe me.

I think you get the idea.   Adoption is the cure for the ailing hearts of children who have never been told those things and do not even know, for the most part, that it is what they need to hear. 
How blessed you are to be on THAT side of the equation. I was there.  It was glorious.  Now I'm here. It's both heartbreaking and precious.  I know what these children need most and it is not a better orphanage.  Mercy House is wonderful. It's family-style.  We are proud of the work we do and stand clean before the Lord knowing we are doing the best we can.

But we aren't YOU.

We are no longer an adoptive family with the power to change the world for that child on Special Homefinding.  

We need YOU to say "forever". . . and to mean it.

Will you?  

"FAMILY" . . . now that's a good word. 

 English Standard Version
"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."  James 4:17