Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Journey In Following God (mistakes and all)

As a Christian, I have made it my mission to "do God's will", which I understand as meaning going where God wants me to go and doing what God wants me to do. Unfortunately this is not always clear cut. I sometimes wish He would just get out the big neon sign and say "GO THAT WAY!" (although since I am human, this still wouldn't guarantee that I would do it)

For me over the past few years, I have discerned "God's will" mainly through circumstances falling into place, guesswork, feelings and affirmation from people close to me. It has been a rollercoaster ride and I have bounced around like a yo-yo, sometimes doing what I perceived to be God's will and other times it was just a "me" decision.

Let me take you on that journey.

In 2005, mum and I travelled down to Portland, in south-west Victoria, to visit my cousin's church. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but I said to mum at the time "I reckon I'm going to be part of that church in a few years."

Funnily enough, at the start of 2008 my first teaching job was in.....Portland, and I jumped in and got involved with the church straight away. I lived in Portland for two years. At the end of 2008 I had to reapply for my job against a fellow teacher and I chose not to, due to "newbie lack of confidence." I spent 2009 working at several different schools in Portland.

There were no real employment prospects for 2010, so I made the decision to move back to Werribee to get a job. This was purely a "me" decision, and even though God provided me with a job at an amazing school and I was with family, I spent 2010 and 2011 in the "spiritual wilderness," not committed to any one church and deep down I knew that Portland was where I should have been.

When a job came up back in Portland for 2012 I jumped at it straight away, leaving ongoing employment in Werribee in the process. Things were great with the church until right near the end of the year, and it was a challenging yet rewarding year at the school. Unfortunately, due to the size of the school, they couldn't offer me anything concrete for 2013 so I decided to move back to Werribee. I applied at my old school and got a job teaching Grade 1. I left the church over a "difference of perception" with the leaders in the way I go about my Compassion sponsorship, so I reasoned that getting that job confirmed it was "God's will."

2013 was an incredible year. I had an amazing little class, I travelled to 11 countries visiting my Compassion sponsored kids and had a great year being involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews. However I was still flitting between churches, and the more I travelled to the developing world, I had a sense of discontentment and disillusionment with many parts of the Australian culture and lifestyle. Basically we live in affluence, abundance and prosperity, yet we're so proud, greedy, selfish, self-reliant, materialistic and consumeristic.

I just couldn't function properly. Internally I became angry at people, especially Christians for not doing more to help the poor and instead focusing on and living for themselves. Our lives are supposed to look different to the world, yet we worry about the same stuff and chase the same stuff. I was living a life of sacrificial generosity, trying to set an example and wished more people would follow.

I had to get out! At the end of 2012, I had been in contact with an orphanage in the Philippines called The Ruel Foundation. They needed a teacher and I wanted to 'escape.' It seemed a perfect fit, but I listened to some people close to me and chose not to go straight away. Then the job came up in Werribee, so it was definitely on the backburner.

Halfway through the year I had been on two trips to eight different countries and was still processing much of the stuff I saw. I was at the height of my feelings of disillusionment and not feeling like I belonged in Australian culture, convinced that God was preparing me for something else. In June the Ruel director emailed again, asking if I was still interested in coming.

That was all the prompting I needed. The answer was a big fat "YES!" I finished up the year at the school, God provided sponsors for all my Compassion kids, I sold up the majority of the few possessions I had and moved to the Philippines. I was convinced this was finally my opportunity to leave Australia behind and it was a long-term thing.

My parents took a lot of convincing that this was a wise move, but they couldn't really argue with "I believe it's God's will for me; it's the job He's created me for." That's bullet-proof, and I honestly believed it. In his wisdom, my dad said I would actually impact more people by staying in Australia: students, Compassion kids, nieces and nephews. I knew he was right, but I stubbornly persisted. It was just something I felt God was calling me to. Everything seemed to add up, fit together, all the pieces fell into place.

Basically I was running away. I was never under the illusion that life in the Philippines would be 'easy', but I realise now that maybe unconsciously I thought that with a new start would magically come a new me, a better version of me. My faults and weaknesses haven't disappeared, in fact they've become even more apparent. I struggle with the same sins and bad habits I struggled with back in Australia.

In all honesty so far it's been a wilderness year rather than the 'Promised Land' I was hoping for, but I know I've learned lessons, done some good stuff and grown in God. He has used me despite my weaknesses and foolish decisions, and for that I am grateful. I don't know how long I will be here for, but I know I need to make the most of every moment. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve God in another culture and wherever I end up I know He's got my back as long as I keep doing my best to serve Him.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Compassion Sunday Tales

For those of you unaware, Compassion Sunday is an annual event in which sponsors and advocates go into their churches (with the prior consent of their Pastors of course) and share stories about Compassion, with the goal of seeing more hearts moved toward sponsorship.

I've been a sponsor since 2006, but I'd never really pursued the idea of Compassion Sunday. People in my church knew about my advocacy and were free to ask any questions, but I just left it at that.

In April 2013 I went to the Philippines on a week-long group advocates tour. When I came back I prayed for opportunities to share my experiences with others. Hardly a week later I got a call from Compassion. St John's Lutheran Church in Portland (Victoria) wanted someone to do a Compassion Sunday presentation in May, but all the Victorian Compassion staff were already busy that day. Would I be interested in going down and sharing some of my experiences?

Obviously I didn't have to think too hard about the answer to that question, so I immediately said yes. What was amazing about this was that Portland was the little town I had lived in in 2008, 2009 and 2012, and I had taught at the Lutheran school, so I was going back to familiar territory.

Having visited 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries I had a wealth of stories to share, so I managed to put together a relatively cohesive message and travelled down to my former hometown Portland. I shared at the two morning services, to a combined total of about 60 people and despite many of them already sponsoring kids, 5 more were sponsored that day.

I was just amazed that God used me and my story to change the lives of 5 more little people.

As you may know, in 2014 I am now living in the Philippines, volunteering at an orphanage. God provided sponsors for all my Compassion kids, but my connection with Compassion has not disappeared. At the start of August I was contacted by friends from Victoria who were wanting to do a "long-distance interview" with me for their church's Compassion Sunday. It was a 5-minute spot for their kids talk segment, and I was to be interviewed by their daughter "Ruby Rose."

My friend told me it was a success; got lots of laughs and challenged people too. 10 kids were sponsored on the day, with a few more people taking information home to consider sponsorship. Even just to play a small part in that was amazing. 

Every child who is sponsored is another life changed and transformed. It is humbling to be part of. Here is my 2013 talk at St Johns (two parts) and my 2014 interview at Glen Waverly Anglican Church. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Power of the Gospel in Child Sponsorship Recruitment

As you may know, I am very close to publishing a book. It is called "Go Into All The World" and it focuses on the work of Compassion International and my travels to visit 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries.

Normally when an author writes a book, to help promote it they might go on a speaking tour, do press conferences, TV and radio interviews or something similar. My situation is a little bit awkward, since I'm currently in the Philippines working in an orphanage, so none of that "publicity trail" stuff is really possible, at least immediately.

What I'm hoping to do is return to Australia at the end of March 2015, do some teaching and hopefully speak in a few churches, since Compassion's "target audience" is churches and Christians. Hint: If you think your church or Pastor might be interested, please tell them about me. I am from Victoria but it doesn't matter what state you're in. I'm completely relying on God to give me those opportunities and I look forward to what He has planned.

When I'm in 'fantasy land' I think about, if I was given the opportunity to speak in a church, what I would talk about. I have so many stories from my Compassion adventures and they range from ridiculously amazing to incredibly powerful, to mind-blowingly heartbreaking. What stories could I tell to motivate people to join me and many others in becoming child sponsors with Compassion?

Then in May this year I read a blog that completely changed my attitude and perspective. It is called "
The Power of the Gospel in Orphan Care Recruitment" by a guy named Jason Johnson. Jason is a man I admire greatly. He's a champion and advocate of orphan care, through fostering and adoption, and writes some extremely challenging stuff. Best of all he lives what he writes about.

So he wrote this blog, and as I was reading it I immediately thought "This applies to child sponsorship as well." So what I've done is adapt that particular blog, and replaced all references to 'orphan care' with 'child sponsorship.'


I often ask questions like these:
What is the best way to motivate people to get involved in Compassion sponsorship?
How do we recruit more sponsors?
Are there things we can do to get our church more on board?

All good questions that are hard to answer - or maybe not.

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I can't help but believe the answer to these questions, and the many others like them, is not necessarily what we often assume it to be.

Counterintuitive Efforts

When we hear "recruiting efforts" we often think of strategic, coordinated programs to raise awareness and garner more involvement in our cause. When we think of mobilizing a church to get more on board we often assume a committee meeting is in order to plan a big event that will "hook" our people and redirect their interest and energy towards our particular mission. Generally speaking, our recruitment strategies and motivational efforts involve taking a concept which is external and foreign to someone (like Compassion sponsorship) and spending great amounts of time and energy to familiarize them with it in hopes that they internalize it as their own. 

Perhaps, though, our efforts are a bit counterintuitive. Maybe our inability to recruit and motivate enough people [and the ensuing frustration that forms as a result] is evidence that our tactics are fundamentally flawed. I believe that while good intentioned and rightly motivated, by and large our recruitment efforts could be done differently. Let me explain...

The Gospel From The Inside Out
Rather than beginning with something that is external and foreign, the Church has the incredible opportunity to lean into that which is already internal and familiar - namely, the Gospel. By and large the call of the Christian life is to externalize in real, vivid and tangible ways that which is already true and real and alive internally through Jesus. It's to ultimately bring to bear in the world around us that which Jesus has already accomplished in us.

The concepts of celebrating Christ internally and demonstrating Him externally are not mutually exclusive in Scripture. As a matter of fact, they seem to be one in the same. You could argue that any true celebration of the Gospel always manifests into a demonstration of it into the world around us, and likewise, our effective demonstration of the Gospel into the lives of others is but a signpost pointing to our authentic celebration of it in our own lives. The bottom line is this - you simply cannot celebrate the Gospel in you without demonstrating the Gospel through you, and vice versa

Reversing Our Recruitment
This is where our child sponsorship recruitments begin - not with the need "out there" but with the Gospel in us.
It rests upon the foundation of the work of Jesus on our behalf to rescue, redeem, restore, adopt and eternally care for us.
We were once isolated and orphaned from God - but Jesus.
We were once lonely and without hope - but Jesus.
We were once vulnerable and insecure - but Jesus.
We were once defined by brokenness and pain - but Jesus.
We were once without belonging - but Jesus.
His story of redemption in our lives was never meant to terminate on us, but rather spill over into an isolated, hopeless, vulnerable, broken and wandering world that desperately needs to hear and know as their own; the very story He has allowed to become ours.

In the efforts we put forth in recruiting, inspiring and mobilizing the Church to sponsor children we cannot abandon what is true for all of the Christian life - our work externally in this world is fueled by His work internally in us - child sponsorship not withstanding.  

Reframing The Questions We Ask
The questions we ask move from things like
Why aren't people getting more involved? and
What do we need to do to fix that?

What is it about the Gospel our people are not grasping? and
What do we need to do to ensure they are understanding it more deeply?

These are two entirely different questions because they begin from two entirely different points of origin - the first from why people aren't doing more, the second from why people aren't celebrating more. Again, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic or theologically unrealistic, I'm convinced the second question is the better question, and that when we answer it well we will have inevitably begun to answer the first one along with it.

Kindling For A Gospel Fire
I'm all for sharing the compelling stories of sponsored children or the experiences of young adults who have graduated and are now working. It is absolutely and unquestionably powerful to see pictures of children waiting to be sponsored. It is vitally important to hear the personal testimonies of people who have very real, deep and moving experiences of sponsoring and visiting their children. As well, it is essential to be educated on the statistics and figures of children worldwide, and the needs that exist. This information helps establish a clearer understanding of what the needs of children currently look like both locally and globally as well as provides people very specific opportunities to respond and get involved. This type of awareness is crucial.

However, I believe these types of motivational efforts and recruitment appeals are secondary to the primary and more profoundly motivating power of the Gospel. They are but kindling to what must first be a deep seeded burning Gospel passion in the hearts of our people. 

A More Compelling Vision 
I am convinced, if we want to see a movement thrive and sustain long term, that child sponsorship recruitment must begin with a deep celebration of the Gospel in us that then works its way out through us into the lives of the marginalized, neglected, abused and orphaned around us. We must be willing to do the hard, slow and sometimes tedious work of getting the Gospel deeply into the hearts of people and help them see in very vivid, tangible ways that our sponsorship of children is rooted in God’s care of us through Jesus – it begins not with the child “out there” who needs a sponsor but with the child in us that has been given one in Jesus.

Motivating stories are essential, but only the Gospel can bring people to the point of full surrender, celebration and demonstration. And yes, there are "millions of needy children out there and we should do something about it", but not because the need is so overwhelming but because the Gospel is so compelling. At the end of the day, God's rescue of us in Jesus acts as the greater and more compelling vision as to why we, the Church, should care for children through child sponsorship. The stories are beautiful reminders of that. The pictures and numbers are a constant accountability to that.

In our efforts to cast a compelling vision for why the Church should get involved in child sponsorship, let us continue to be strategic and innovative in how we raise awareness and educate on things that are by and large external and foreign - but never in the absence of or to the neglect of the more compelling power of the Gospel which is deeply internal and personally familiar already. The sponsorship of children begins there, with the work of Jesus on our behalf, then beautifully extends itself out into our work on their behalf.


So there you go. I hope you enjoyed that and found it challenging. I know as a sponsor and advocate with Compassion I am constantly frustrated by the "Why aren't people/the church doing more?" question. Maybe the trick is, when I get the opportunities to speak, to remind people that we have the Gospel - The GOOD NEWS of Jesus, and allow God to work in their hearts toward responding with positive action.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights from Month #7 (August)

Welcome to August highlights from the Philippines! Unlike last month, where I tried to do it all nice and sequential, these pics are in no particular order. Enjoy!
This is what happens when an 11-year-old gets hold of your camera! 
The complexity of caring for neglected and abandoned kids. This is my growing collection of "love letters" from, ironically, the child I am struggling the most with. She turns against me in a second, and yet stays near me. I can't imagine the torment of loving someone deeply, and yet the only way you can express it is through anger toward them and negative attention seeking. As challenging as she is, my heart breaks for her.
I took Little Mr C and Little Mr I out in the tricycle for something cold and ice-creamy. As you can see, they were overwhelmed with excitement

I was slugging it out at my new gym home when I first heard and then saw a goat walk past on the main road. Reminded me of this Homer moment "Hey you goats! Get outta here!"

Hello Ruel supporters and friends around the world, we have an exciting event coming up. October 26th is our Foundation Day, and to celebrate we are having the first ever "Ruel Foundation 5K Fun Run." This event will raise money to provide blankets for the Mangyan Indigenous people and also to help build a new Meeting House at Ruel Foundation for visitors, parents of our children who wish to visit them, the children and staff

At the start of August, these three special kids met their new parents and started their new life together in Spain! So exciting, yet so hard to say goodbye. On this day I took them on a special afternoon with lunch at MacDo and then they chose a toy from the mall. That way they'll think of me whenever they play with it

I know we're not supposed to have favourites, but....look at this one!!

I must say that since I've been in the Philippines I've developed a slower, laid-back "saunter", mainly to deal with the weather, but when I was in Australia this was definitely true of me, complete with eyes

When I first came to the Philippines I used to walk everywhere, but now that I have the tricycle the walks have stopped completely. It's partly because it's just so much fun, but also so I can get away from the staring quicker. I still haven't got used to it, and many of the starers have a similar expression to mine in this lovely photo. Just a bit unnerving.

...and that was one of the hardest mornings I've ever experienced. God has given me the privilege of investing heavily in these three precious lives over the last six months, and today we said goodbye. Miss P, Miss A and Mr F are off to begin their new life with their adoptive parents in Spain. It's been an amazing couple of days watching them connect with their new mummy and daddy, and I know God has brought them together. Miss you and love you, munchkins. (August 7)


I play a game with some of the little ones where I swing them upside down a couple of times then lift them in the air. Good fun for them and good weight training for my arms. Today Little Mr A and I gently bumped heads, but instead of crying like I was expecting him to, he rubbed my head and checked if I was okay. That's the kind of kid we're raising at the Ruel Foundation

Gee whiz, we get a bit of rain and all of a sudden I look like some sort of tricycle hoon! Wonky photo brought to you by 10 year old Miss R

One month until I get to see these munchkins again, and I'll be celebrating my birthday with Princess Joy and her family. For me there's no better way to spend a birthday than visiting my Compassion kids.
So apparently I wanted to make even more of a spectacle of myself than I already am, just by being white. I headed to the mall on my tricycle to get some beverages for Friday night footy on the Australia Network. My favourite route takes me on ridiculously narrow streets past the local high school. Today I was riding past JUST as everyone was coming out, as far to the middle of the road as I could be and I clipped a motorbike. He was parked and we got a bit tangled up. I then stood through an excruciating 2 minutes as a bunch of other tricycle drivers helped to untangle us, and I averted all eye contact from the amused hordes going past. His bike was fine in the end and as he went past, the smug bugger on a little two-wheeler signalled angrily to his eyes as if to say "watch where you're going." I wasn't going to take that, so I shot something back and we went our separate ways. I'm certainly the talk of the town now. (August 1)
A gem of encouragement that came at just the right time. The adoptive mother of the three kids who left on Thursday has only known me for a few days, but she sent me these words: "Thank you very much for all. You are an excellent teacher. The loving care that our children received has left us happy. They are in good hands. We will never be able to thank you enough. The kids and us will pray for you every day and thank God how lucky we have been. Many thanks for your time and trouble. All the best." I'll take that (August 10)

I took the boss to the pier at 5.30 this morning. It was her first ride in my tricycle and she was happy with my driving. There's a win for me (August 11)

Of all the places the poor fella with one leg had to sit in church, he sat in front of the Ruel kids! I tried to keep their staring and inappropriate comments to a minimum (August 17)

Discouragement is a BEAST! I've had a very up-and-down three weeks, in which I've never felt more like a stranger or an alien despite having been here for nearly seven months. I've been feeling quite isolated, despite being around people all the time, Tagalog still sounds like babble and quite frankly my favourite time of the week has been sitting in front of the footy on TV on a Friday and Saturday night. Before I came here I confidently declared this was a "long-term thing", and I seem to have overestimated my ability to cope. Kids are coming and going at a rapid rate and I've been missing Australia life, my involvement with Compassion and the family like crazy. However now I'm in a better place. The weather is magnificent, I'm loving hooning around on the tricycle, taking kids to church, soccer and the mall, increasing people's awareness of Ruel through the FB page and blog. Every day after lunch I head upstairs and I'm met by a bunch of outstretched little arms, awake from their sleep and ready to cuddle and play. And I remember: that's right, I am here for them. Thank God for the privilege of loving these kids. (August 19)

Thanks to friends for my "culture shock" diagnosis. As part of dealing with this I have been overeating (damn you McDonalds!) and over-drinking a bit, so today I went on a gym-hunt. Found one close by for p30 (75 cents) a session. I also grabbed a pair of $2 goggles and went for a swim in a local hotel pool. My feet cramped 13 laps in and I couldn't move for 5 minutes. Bring on the fitness! (August 22)

More from "Life in the Philippines": I never imagined I'd find driving here so FUN! It took me a while to get my poker face going, as I'd gasp and visibly react with every close call and near collision, but now I just pop my sunnies on, chew my gum and go! In Australia we are advised to keep a car-length distance from the car in front, for safety. Only problem is, if you do that over here the other bikes see it as an invitation to cut in. It happens quite a lot but instead of being white hot with rage like I often was in Australia I just shrug my shoulders and go "Meh!" It also seems that if my tricycle is parked it becomes public property. I took the kids to soccer today, went away for a bit and when I came back there were four college kids, a couple sitting on the seat and a couple standing, just chatting away. I'm also thinking of buying sunhats for all the people of Calapan after nearly getting knocked out by several big umbrellas while walking in town. Hats, people!! (August 23)

Quote of the day: 7-year-old looks at my beard in puzzlement and says "What is this? Grass?" (August 24)

The other day I met a frog sitting in between my screen door and the front door, busting to get inside my apartment. I (gently) kicked him out of the way before I went inside. Five minutes later I came back and the frog was nowhere to be seen, but there were three big lumps of excrement left as a present for me. That's one way of getting your message across I guess (August 27)
Hmmm, my voice seems to have completely disappeared! No sore throat or anything else, just no voice!? Sure makes this place a bit quieter (August 27)

Seven Months in the Philippines - Culture Shock Hits With a Bang!

Hi folks,

Seven months down. This means I am halfway through my planned first stint in the Philippines. The plan at this stage is to stay until the end of March, go back to Australia for three months to do some teaching and promote my
book and possibly come back again. However, you know what they say about the 'best laid plans'...

As I am writing this I am right in the middle of the "frustration" stage of culture shock, so I guess everything I write should be taken with a grain of salt. As an aside I also have absolutely NO voice right now (strangely no other symptoms), but fortunately that doesn't impact my ability to write.

August has been a tough month. Discouragement hit in a big way. I've felt more like an alien or a stranger in this foreign land than any time in the previous six months. The language thing was getting to me, the staring thing was getting to me, the lack of connecting with anyone was getting to me.

I put this 'lack of connection' thing down to three factors: I am male, I am white and I am quiet. It's not any one of those in isolation, because a few of the female volunteers came in for a while and when they left they were like BFF's with some of the caregivers. So it's the combination of all three. I generally don't have much to contribute beyond "hello" with most people, it's just my personality. So the combination of being in a female-dominated environment and Filipino culture has been a lot for me to process, and I guess I've responded by withdrawing.

I've also been missing things. Not necessarily the stress, busyness and materialism of the Australian lifestyle, but definitely my family and in particular my three nephews and two nieces all aged 5 and under. This was the hardest part of taking on my new life, since I was blessed to be a very involved and hands-on Uncle.

Also significantly, I've missed my involvement with Compassion as a sponsor and advocate. I poured seven years of my life into Compassion, sponsoring, visiting and advocating for kids, and it's been hard to let go. I started volunteering at a Project near where I live, but Compassion got wind of it and have vetoed it because it is "against their policy" to have non-natives working at Projects, seemingly regardless of the positive stuff they're doing (I was providing balls, games, helping serve the lunches and giving guitar lessons). So that's not happening anymore.

Lately I have fallen into the trap of comparing myself with others. I am blessed to know a few other Aussies who are in different countries serving God in amazing ways, and I have found myself comparing and thinking I somehow "don't measure up." I have a friend in Nepal who does an amazing job forming relationships in the community and he's putting together great fundraising campaigns to help them. Another friend in Thailand has been there less time than me, and it seems every week she's got someone from home spending their own time and money to go and visit her. I've had no visitors and I don't feel that I can just strike up a conversation with strangers in the street. Even my "hello's" get met with stares and blank looks. And I look at them, and I compare, and I feel crap.

As a result of this culture shock thing, I’ve been overeating and over-drinking on things that aren’t all that good for me (but so darn cheap).

Having said all that, I’m in a slightly better place now, and I’ve been able to make a list of the things I LOVE about being here:
- The weather is magnificent
- Driving the tricycle is SO MUCH FUN! I love any excuse to get out and have a ride.
- The cost of living
- My living arrangements – fully furnished apartment, all meals, cable TV and internet for about $75 a week
- Watching footy on the Australia Network (my favourite time of the week)
- Doing the Ruel blog and Facebook page
- Having the privilege of loving the kids here and knowing that I am one of the few constant things in their lives. Every day after lunch I go upstairs and I’m surrounded by little outstretched arms, and they often cry if they don’t get to be held first. I joke to the caregivers that I need to turn into an octopus, to be able to hold them all.

I have found a gym and a pool, and have started going regularly. I've also downloaded some "learn Tagalog" videos off YouTube and have started practising.

I recently came across a blog post entitled "20 Things No One Told You About Moving Overseas". It was an incredibly God-sent piece of writing, by a lady working in another part of the Philippines with her family. Unsurprisingly, I could identify with just about the whole thing, but the part that stuck out to me was "You will not become a different person. You will not be super person. You will grow and change, but don't expect to climb off the plane and be instantly a new improved you. If you weren’t serving or involved at home, chances are, you won’t serve overseas. If you weren’t an evangelist at home, you will not magically transform once you clear customs. And it’s OK. Find your niche, and do YOUR best. However, this is not an excuse for inactivity. Since time is more infinite, and tomorrow is always a possibility, it’s easy to settle for a lower standard. Don’t. Push yourself everyday, stretch yourself everyday."

I am continually trying to reconcile the limitations of my personality with living and interacting here effectively. What Marlene wrote is true: I haven't magically become a new, improved me. I haven't suddenly become a social person who loves being around people and loves conversation. I am a doer. I LOVE what I have managed to do and achieve here so far, and I know I have made a difference. But ultimately it's not those things which are going to keep me here long term, it's the relationships. And that knowledge is why I'm afraid if I don't get it right, I might not last here very long.

So I guess the bottom line is that I need to keep trusting God to sustain and strengthen me, one day at a time. I can't look too far ahead, because at the moment my opinion changes daily about how long I'll be here, or even IF I want to be here. I know it's just a temporary valley, and I'm relying on God to carry me through.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

David in the Philippines - Highlights from Month #6 (July)

These photos and often humorous snapshots are taken from my Facebook page.

Not sure what was so funny. Sometimes you don't need a reason to have a good chuckle I guess. (July 7)

* Yesterday I received a video of one of my nephews. It was exquisitely cute, and involved him wearing a purple wizard hat, getting sidetracked from a conversation with mummy and doing a little dance. The Ruel kids were in hysterics when I showed them. When I mentioned that seeing the video made me miss him (and the rest of the family), one of the kids said simply "Well, why don't you go home?" Fair question, and it got me thinking. It just makes sense: if you miss someone, you go and be with them. I explained that I believed God wanted me here at Ruel, to be with them and care for them instead. It sure isn't easy being away from family, but I know I'm doing what I'm created to do (July 7)

* Seven more Ruel blogs done in the last couple of days, thanks largely to the amazing camera work of volunteer Melissa Hamm. This one was probably my favourite to put together. WARNING: It may result in extreme "cluckiness" and the sudden urge to adopt a child. Enjoy! http://ruelfoundation.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-visitors-perspective-babies-of-ruel.html (July 7)

This tricycle is quickly proving to be more trouble than it's worth! As well as having a dead battery and now being out of gas, today a couple of the kids decided to show me what they think of me by dismantling a tail light, and then snapping and smashing my side mirror. Too bad you can't hold 4 year olds accountable for damage they cause. More money for the Philippine automotive industry here in Calapan.  (July 8)

* For those of you unaware, I have written a book about my experiences with Compassion International, and visiting 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries over the last few years. The book is full of stories about the challenges and realities of people living in poverty, as well as incredible transformation and change, brought about by the work that Compassion does in the lives of children, families and communities. With the publishing of the book (with Ark House Press) in full swing this week, I thought I'd put this little "visual preview" out there for you to enjoy and hopefully share.
The publishing package I purchased included publishing and distribution only, not promotion, so I'm really on my own a bit in that regard. Can I ask, particularly if you're a Compassion advocate or supporter, can you help me get it out there? I'm not motivated by profits or personal publicity (I've invested my own money into it). I'm just a little guy from Australia but I want people to know about the work that God is doing through Compassion and maybe motivate them to change a child's life through sponsorship. Thanks in advance (July 9)

 I am beyond excited! This year will be my fourth birthday in six years I have celebrated overseas, and I was thinking about how to spend it. Then I thought, "Since I live in the Philippines, why not visit my three Filipino Compassion kids, John Dave, Cashofia and Princess Joy?" They all have new sponsors now (Dani Moore, Clarisse and Paul McGregor and my parents), so it will be brilliant to visit them on their behalf. This journey will take me to Davao, Bacolod and Borongan City. Even more amazing is that my trip will be funded by my incredibly generous parents! They've seen the sacrifices I've made visiting 31 kids in 12 countries out of my own pocket, and now they want to help me out. Can't wait for September (July 11) 

* I got a haircut today, my usual Number 2 buzz cut. My hairdresser was a man with tattoos, bright pink lipstick and lovely golden hoop earrings. When he'd finished he said in his deep Filipino accent "You look handsome." I blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl, but in hindsight he might have been saying it to himself as he looked in the mirror. Oh well (July 12)

* Yippee! Today I rode my tricycle on the main road of Calapan by myself. I was "crappin me dacks" (that means 'very nervous' for you non-Australians) Reached the princely speed of 40 km/h (the speed limit), but it's a heck of a lot faster on a bike. I got flagged down by a couple of young guys wanting a ride (kept on going), had the dreaded scenario of trucks coming at me on my side of the road and even brought 7 kids and an Ate back from church. Huge thanks to Mylou Magpili for getting my bike back in action so quickly. (July 13)

* HUGE thanks to my Australian friends Wendy and Gary Weatherley. On the weekend they had a joint birthday celebration, and in lieu of gifts their generous friends and family raised a four-figure sum for myself and Ruel Foundation. Much appreciated (July 14)

The Ruel Foundation yard after the Typhoon passed through last night. Trees down, some flooding on the road, power out overnight. To be honest, no worse than one of those blustery nights in Melbourne when you find trampolines and basketball rings in other people's yards. (July 16)

Happy birthday to my wonderful sister Julie. We are living very different lives but I have endless admiration for the way she's bringing up three little guys under 6 and I am thankful for the trust she's shown me in my role as uncle, and being a part of their lives. All the best for the year ahead (July 17)
On Wednesday the majority of the Ruel caregivers and staff attended a seminar on Attachment. It was very interesting, relevant and a good addition to my teaching PD hours. (July 18)
Fantastic Friday:
- A day of beautiful warm sunshine
- Having lunch out with other people (being social!)
- Two successful tricycle rides carrying both adult and child passengers
- Celebrating Mr J's 8th birthday at Maccas
- Footy on the Australia Network tonight
Right now for me, days don't get much better than that (July 18)
* I witnessed a baby eat it's own poo today. Not something I want to repeat. (July 19)

Another fun morning for the schoolkids yesterday. I took them out in my tricycle to soccer training, then we went to a local mall for arcade games, drinks and ice cream. Very special to be able to give them these sorts of experiences, and a pretty good way to spend $10, I figure. I've now been driving on three wheels for exactly one week. When we arrived back at Ruel, one of the kids said straight away "Can we go for another drive?" Ah, the trust of a child (July 20)
* Miss M puts her glasses on the table.
Me: "You need those glasses to see."
Miss M: "No I don't. Watch this."
*Promptly starts writing with the eraser end of the pencil*
What does Kuya David know anyway? (July 21)

Eating out at Mang Inasal. Sarap! (July 22)
Potential front cover of my Compassion book. Wowee! (July 22)
* Many of the kids here have what we would consider to be "slightly violent" ways of showing their affection. One child came up to me yesterday and said proudly, "Kuya David, I have not hit you today." Well done kid, have a medal. (July 23)

* Well, I'll never live this one down. I took four kids into town, and after enduring a frustrating minute unable to start the bike, one of the kids pointed and shouts "You forgot to put the key in!" This led to many chuckles at my expense all the way home. *Napoleon Dynamite voice* "Idiot!" (July 25)

* Quite an adventurous morning. I've become so used to the tricycle in the last couple of weeks, that driving the eight seater van again was...interesting. Dropped three volunteers off at the pier for their journey home to the US then, because I'm still not confident parking the beast, went back to Ruel and got the tricycle for the trip to the bank and immigration office. Renewing my visa wasn't as straight forward as usual - a couple of phone calls and animated talking, then of course I was 80 pesos short. I swear they make these amounts up, it's different every time. While I was waiting, an old fella started clipping his toenails. As you do. Went to the ATM at the bank which only spits out 1000s, went back to immigration, only to be told "we don't have any change." I would have thought if you're going to take random amounts of thousands of pesos off tourists, the least you can do is have change. I gambled with the weather...and lost. So I drove back in the rain for the first time. Ah Philippines life, never a dull moment. (July 28)

* I've been the recipient of two contrasting acts of sharing and helpfulness in the last two days by the Ruel bubs. Today a little one randomly brought in my flip-flops/thongs from outside, plonked them at my feet and waddled away proudly. Yesterday a little guy took off his nappy and followed me around for two minutes trying to give it to me. Not sure about that one... (July 28)

Filipinos will forever be telling of the day they saw an Aussie guy and a Finnish girl accompanied by three little Filipino girls: two 2-year-olds and a mainly-Tagalog-speaking birthday girl. Miss P turned 9 yesterday, and the little bubs don't get to go out much, so I thought it would be nice to give them a couple of hours out and about. First stop was MacDo. Miss P couldn't decide which toy she wanted, and begged me to open the glass display case with all the toys in it. The little ones loved their ice creams, and we only had one spill, which is to be expected. We then stopped by the local mall. Miss P nagged for everything she saw, the little ones grabbed for everything they saw and ended up lying on the ground at the checkout (no tantrums though). Thankfully we had no need to visit the bathroom (though I did pack nappies just in case - I'm learning!) and we made it back to Ruel safe and sound and relatively dry (July 29)

...and then there was one! Today marks the end of an era (if you can call a six-month period an 'era'). For the first time since I've been at Ruel I am the only international volunteer. I've met some amazing people from countries including ...US, Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Poland. Thank you all for coming and helping make Ruel a fantastic place to be. If you're wondering about the photo, it's been quite rainy lately, so I have been in the habit of letting the pre-schoolers have a play in the schoolroom for an hour before dinner. This is the result of the "kid typhoon" but it's worth it to hear the squeals of delight and joy as they get to go in the "sacred schoolroom." It just means I'm left with the clean up


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Six Months In The Philippines - The Struggle To Love

“The people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it the most.”
This quote came up in my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago, and the truth of it smacked me in the face with force. There are a few of those in my life at the moment.

I have now been at Ruel Foundation orphanage in the Philippines for six amazing months. In that time I have, among other things:
* Coached in a soccer tournament
* Written a book
* Become a pro-tricycle driver out on the busy streets of Calapan
* Met many new people, from close to ten different countries
* Still not got used to being stared at, pointed at and laughed at
* Seen three kids go off to be with their “Forever Families”

Apart from my official roles of teaching, maintaining the blog and Facebook page, and being in charge of the petty cash, ultimately I am here to be a father-figure to the kids here; to show them the love of God. This is easier with some kids than others.

There is one child in particular who I am just struggling to love. God has used her to reveal some things about myself, many of which I don’t like. She just pushes all my buttons and, to be honest, annoys the heck out of me.

She has been separated from the other kids because of the way she treats them. She sleeps in the building next to my apartment, so hers is the first voice I hear in the morning and she is always the first to the schoolroom. She will seek me out in a crowded room full of people. She is desperate for attention and is determined to get it, through sometimes positive, but mostly negative ways.

I don’t know details of her background but I know she has been through some terrible things in her short life. She is desperate for love, and doesn’t cope well when people come in for a short time, she gets attached and then they leave.

My heart breaks for her as I see this rollercoaster in motion. Because I have been here for a few months and am around her a lot in a normal day, I seem to bear the brunt, though I refuse to take it personally.

She will be all affectionate one minute and literally five seconds later her face darkens and she says things like “I don’t want you. I don’t love you. When I go I will not miss you.” She sometimes hits and bites. It’s like someone flicks a switch, and an immediate transformation happens, often several times in a single day.

I carry on with what I’m doing and wait for her to leave, because that’s the normal reaction when you decide you don’t like someone, but she doesn’t. In fact, she stays nearby and moves closer. I can’t imagine the torment of loving someone deeply, but the only way you can express it is by spitting anger and hatred toward them.

With God’s help I continue to do my best to show her love, though I have failed so many times.

I am convinced that whoever takes this girl into their family, whenever that is, will literally be angels in disguise, because that’s what it will take.

We are praying there is someone out there for her.