Wednesday, August 29, 2012

rice or bread?

"Maayong hapon," we greeted the taxi driver as we stepped into his cab, giving directions in the Visayan language.  He turned in surprise.  Not many westerners learn this Filipino dialect.  Foreigners usually speak Tagalog, the national language.  "Do you speak Visayan?" he asked. His rapid-fire questions and comments dominated the remainder of our ride.

At one point he asked, "Do your children eat rice? Or bread?" 
"Okay," I thought, "it's a simple cultural question. Will your western kids tolerate eating our traditional staple?"

Amy digs into a plate of rice
I began to answer that yes, our children eat rice, though in all honesty, any one of us would be happy to trade a bowl of rice for a slice of freshly baked bread. My mind swept back momentarily to fondly recall the warm homemade cinnamon bread we had for breakfast, the cheesy homemade pizza from the night before, the pancakes and buttery rolls we eat as often as rice.

The driver interrupted my reverie as he continued his thought, confronting me with the real issue.  "Bread is for the rich. Rice is for the poor."  It was not an accusation. Just a simple fact.

Now I can't get the question out of my head. "Do you eat rice? Or bread?"

Rice is the staple food of over 1/2 of the world's population. In much of Asia, rice is so important that the word is almost synonymous with food. Here in the Philippines (according to a 2006 survey) 68 million out of the 90 million inhabitants live on $2 a day. And they're not spending it on Panera bagels.

So why was I born a bread-eater?

"For who regards you as superior? 
What do you have that you did not receive?" 
1 Cor. 4:7

Not only is 1/2 the world eating rice, but often they don't have enough of it to satisfy. Over one billion people across the world are hungry. Not just peckish. Really hungry. As a result they deal with chronic undernourishment, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness. They live in countries lacking the social safety nets we enjoy in the U.S. like unemployment checks, soup kitchens, and food stamps. There is simply nowhere to turn for help.

But what about those with a far deeper hunger? What about the millions of people who don't know about the Bread of Life? About Christ, who is the only source of nourishment to feed their deepest hunger, their eternal need?

And what about Christians who have tasted this Living Bread, but who, without God's Word in their own language, deal with chronic spiritual undernourishment, stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to false teaching? They live in countries where there is no pastoral training, no teaching resources, and nowhere to turn for help.

Our early Christian counterparts braved cruel persecution and trial, and in devotion to Christ and to the truth that set them free, gave their lives to bring this Bread of life to those who hungered. I have benefited from their sacrifice. Now what does it mean for me?

"You are already filled; 
you have already become rich..." 
1 Cor. 4:8a  

Bread is for the rich. I am rich. And I am responsible. Responsible before my Maker, from whom I have received every single thing I enjoy. 

I must not be lulled into thinking that my rich American lifestyle is what pleases God. 

 "Have I not wept for those in trouble? 
Has not my soul grieved for the poor?" 
Job 30:25.
I must weep.
I must grieve.
And then I must share some Bread.
 *edited from the archives

Monday, August 27, 2012

for the record...

Just for the record...

...we love the library.

There are no public libraries in Davao.
Government funding is not available for such a luxury,
and the climate, 
with high heat and humidity,
termites and mold issues,
is not a friendly one for books.

Here in the US, with the ability to go online and order materials to be sent directly to our local library branch, we are reveling in all of these amazing, free options for reading, movies, and researching.

In case you are wondering about those career option books...
we're definitely not looking for a job change;
Amy and Elise are just researching options for the future!

You can never get a cup of tea large enough 
or a book long enough to suit me
 - C.S. Lewis

Time to boil water for a cup of tea, 
and dive into a great book... 

Friday, August 24, 2012

mga bulak (flowers)

It’s a bright sunny morning, and the market is bustling with activity.  I dodge a jeepney, sidestep a dolly loaded with blocks of ice, and nearly crash into a man carting a gigantic mound of pineapples up the street in a rough wooden wagon, like a vehicle out of our medieval history book.  As I approach the flower section of the market, one of the venders spots me.  They know us well, us tourist-looking types, with our white skin and our extra money to spend on the luxury of flowers.  

  Flowers, Mu’m!’  one calls.  Soon it’s a whole chorus.  ‘Roses Mu’m!’ ‘Flowers Mu’m!’ There must be ten of them, all at the same corner, sitting around in beat-up plastic chairs talking and laughing and hawking their mountains of fresh flowers.  

‘How much?’ I ask the first vendor.  ‘150 Mu’m!’  Whew.  I don’t think so.  That’s $3.50 for a dozen short-stem roses.  Too expensive.  I shake my head and move to the next vendor.  ‘How much?’ I ask.  She’s smart.  ‘120 only, Mu’m!  I smile and shake my head, ‘Wala.’  By now they know that I’ve played this game before.  They can still make a bundle off of me, but maybe not as much as they originally thought.  I move on to the next vender with a lift of the chin, ‘How much?   This time the whole corner erupts into laughter.  They are playing with me now.  100 Mu’m!’ He’s selling the same identical roses as every other vender, and they are all watching me.  

I decide to try one more time, the next vender in the line, but her price is higher again.   So I move back to the lowest bidder, bartering for two dozen roses and a bundle of baby’s breath for 200 pesos, a birthday gift for $4.50.  He agrees with a grin, tying up the flowers in old newspaper and handing them to me with a nod.  Salmaat po, Kuya!’  I say as I walk away; ‘Thank you, sir!’.  Balik balik!’ they all call as I go.  Come back sometime!”  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

if only for a little while

How can I begin to express what a joy it is
for us to spend time again with so many of the friends we left behind?

Ah, how good it feels!  
The hand of an old friend.  
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 There's something unspeakably precious about seeing your faces,
and hearing your familiar voices;

even though the children who were small with our children
have grown and changed, 
the friendship remains.

“But people themselves alter so much, 
that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
  Jane Austen


 “It is more fun to talk with someone 
who doesn't use long, difficult words 
but rather short, easy words like 
"What about lunch?”
  A.A. Milne 

It encourages us to be with you,
to share meals
and play games...

 ...and quiet moments.

“Sometimes,' said Pooh, 
'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
― A.A. Milne

 “You meet people who forget you. 
You forget people you meet.
 But sometimes you meet those people you can't forget. 
Those are your 'friends”
Mark Twain

Our friends are unforgettable.

How we've missed you all!

And how good it is to be back...

if only for a little while...

Friday, August 17, 2012

the house of my dreams

Not long before leaving Davao to begin our home assignment, my friend Jessica invited me to take a walk with her to visit some families in a nearby village.  We started out together beneath the scorching afternoon sun.  Though the village was nearby, yet in ways it felt as if we were entering another world as we turned down a dirt road and wound our way past banana trees laden with purple hearts and tethered goats seeking respite in the shade.  

Bamboo woven walls and corrugated tin roofs fashion the homes of the villagers here.  Laundry hangs from lines and over makeshift fences to dry, and vibrant single-use packets of detergent dangle for sale outside a home.  Chickens peck hungrily along the dusty road while valuable caribou graze.

The sound of children’s voices grows loud as we approach the home of Jessica’s friend Em*.  Outside her place we find children lined up, waiting, eager.  Jessica pauses at the door and explains that this house once sat in a couple of feet of mud each time it rained, but after some investment and improvement, it’s now a dry home with two levels.  

Em greets us warmly, introduces her beautiful children, and proudly shows me her home.  The front porch has been converted to an enclosed room, a place where Em shares the good things God has provided for her family with the children of her village.  Here is an incredible treasure, unusual in Davao, and unheard of in a village like this – a library of children’s books, teaching resources, and space for children to gather and learn. It's a combined dream come true for both Em and Jessica.

Behind this room is their family area.  The bedroom is complete with a door for privacy, not a standard feature in most village homes.  A hanging curtain partitions the dining area from the kitchen, a room complete with built-in counter, sink, laundry area, and indoor stove.  
says Em with unmistakable delight,  
“is my dream home.”

She proudly displays her herb garden, growing lush and strong in cleverly recycled soda bottles.  But it’s the spiritual growth I’m really excited about.   

Beyond the explosion of shoes at her front door the eager children of the village wait for Em, who teaches the Word of God to them; words she received with joy and now shares with hearts hungry for eternal bread, an imperishable treasure, a salvation full and free and forever.

 I’m surprised to see familiar faces in this room, smiles of recognition, murmurs of ‘Hi, Tita Barbara!’  These children are some of the same ones who come to our gate for a job or to visit.

These are children I’ve longed to reach, aching for the words to communicate something of the gospel of grace when I speak so little of their language, and they so little of mine.
 And here is Em, in their very own neighborhood, teaching them His word, encouraging them in their very own dialect to hide this Word in their hearts.  It makes my heart swell with thankfulness to know that these friends of mine are here in Em's house, learning of God’s goodness.
Now, months later, I find myself thousands of miles away in a beautiful home prepared for us by loving hands for these months of our home assignment.  This place is pretty close to perfect, and as I look around, I find myself thinking of Em’s dream home, and reflecting on what MY dream home would look like.  What kind of neighborhood would it be in?  What floor plan would be just right?  What sort of furnishings would I choose?    

Then I stop to wonder: could all those carefully chosen material elements, regardless how perfect, truly compose the home of my dreams?  

Or does Em have it right? 
Maybe the most beautiful of dream homes is simply a place of contentment with God’s gifts, and a spot to share the goodness of God with others around me.   

Could I not do that wherever I live?  
Maybe this, right now, wherever I find myself, could actually be 
the house of my dreams.

Em* - not her real name

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

neighborhood tour

A couple of weeks ago we took you on a picture tour of our home.

Here's another picture tour...of our Filipino neighborhood!

 We start again outside the front gate of our home.
Most houses are gated here, and we're always happy to hear a friend at the gate!

 Turning toward the left the road runs into the next neighborhood.
Right here is where we can walk to catch a local jeepney to get around town.

Down the road to the right - 
there are lots of very nice homes on our street!

 A couple of our friends, Joel and Jasper, ride by on borrowed bicycles.

 Just down the street a few houses is a sari-sari store - 
 a spot where you might buy text minutes, 
a kilo of rice,
a small packet of laundry soap,
or maybe a Coke.
The store is attached to a home behind it, and run by the residents there.

 As you continue walking up the street a block,
you come to the corner store,
where they sell some fresh produce
in addition to the same things available at the sari-sari.

 Up by the neighborhood trash center,
a spot where we bring all of our garbage,
lives a family in this colorful shack,
constructed of odds and ends they've found in the trash cans.
This is Filipino ingenuity at work!

We're never quite sure what we'll see in our neighborhood.

We'd love to have the surprise of seeing you for a visit someday!

Friday, August 10, 2012

exotic fruit

My knife slices cleanly through the thin golden skin, 
revealing the bright orange flesh of a papaya.
And I am suddenly very aware of what I'm doing.
I'm cutting into a fruit that I never ate in the US,
because there it was a luxury.

Here, papaya trees grow rampant, and the papaya above cost 15 cents.
We eat papaya almost every day.
And we eat pineapple almost every day.
Yes, they are small ones, but they are the sweetest pineapple you've ever had.
They, along with the papaya, are the cheapest fruit in town.

These fruits, exotic by some standards,
are staples in this economy.

And this slicing open of a papaya also opens a door somewhere in my mind.
As the seeds slide over and around the blade of my knife, 
the seed of an idea plants itself inside my head.

Not all fruit is equally valuable to all men.

What is of value to us 
may be a fruit you would be more than ready to trade for one of our papayas.

I won't tell you how much we might be willing to pay for a fresh strawberry.
Or for any fresh berry,
or a Bartlett pear, 
or a peach.  
Fruit that's not only rare, 
it's just not to be found in this part of the world.

So, I wonder, are the fruits of the Spirit also not all of equal value in all men?

The fruit of the Spirit I might value most, because it is most rare in my life,
might be plentiful in your life.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. 
Against such things there is no law. 
Galatians 5:22-23

The joy I find most exotic, most unattainable, is more valuable
when it finally is found growing in the soil of my heart.  
Conversely, the fruit of gentleness may grow more naturally there, so though it may be considered of great value to another, could it be that God sees it of less value in me, because it came more easily, more naturally?

Could it be that not all fruit is of equal value?

When I find myself craving peace,
when I ask the Lord of the Harvest to develop that fruit in me,
and He, 
despite the hostile soil 
and the weeds that would choke it out,
finally brings the fruit of peace in my life,
is it not of greater worth than if it had come easily to me?

So I take heart.
Those most rare fruits,
the ones I crave to see in my life,
are the fruits that even in a small, under-grown, unripe condition
may actually be of greater worth in the sight of my Maker.
*edited from the archives 

We've been savoring the fruit of our homeland these past couple of months; 
the cherries, blueberries, peaches and honeydew melon.  
The tastes bring back floods of memories.
These are the fruits which, to a native Filipino, would be truly exotic!

Monday, August 6, 2012

from this vantage

One evening in early June, 
we took a ferry in to the city,
Mark, Elise, Amy & Michael on the Hong Kong ferry
where we hopped on a double-decker bus
and rode through the streets of Hong Kong.

Michael on the top deck of the bus
 It's a clean and pleasant city,
but full of traffic, 
and hedged in by imposing, massive cement structures.
It's not a place of beauty.

The bus took us steadily upward to Victoria Peak,
the famous hill overlooking Hong Kong.
Mark, Elise, Amy & Michael on Victoria Peak
This was the same spot where Mark and I stood in 1995,
when we lived in Japan and visited Hong Kong together.

It was here where, all those years ago, above the walls of the city,
we had watched the night fall,

and the lights of the city blazon in magical beauty.
This time we watched the transformation together as a family.
What a special evening!

From this vantage, 
Hong Kong looked like a very different city 
than the one we'd seen from the bus.

On the same tram Mark and I rode back down the peak in '95 -
racing BACKWARD down the mountain.
This view from Victoria Peak is the image stamped on my mind 
of the city of Hong Kong...
 from this vantage, a place of beauty!

I want a consistent life-vantage like this...
to see things from God's higher viewpoint instead of my natural one.  
To see beauty despite a massive or imposing prospect;
and even when I can't see the beauty yet, 
to joy in the assurance that His design is always perfection!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

evoking praise

I'm sitting on the front porch, giving thanks this morning
for a peaceful Georgia yard - alive with God's intricate design.

 Brilliant red cardinals at the feeder with their discreetly-colored wives;  
how I've missed their cheerful 'peep!'

photo courtesy of Flikr
The huge pileated woodpecker relentlessly 
tap-tap-tapping on a tree high above my head,
 and the trio of doves and nuthatches and mockingbirds,

together with a choir of hidden birds
all singing Your praise.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! 
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 150:6

 Silent hopping of timid rabbits...

and the squall of cheeky squirrels bounding from branch to branch
in some frantic chase.

Even the trees rustle their leaves in
sighs of contentment to their Creator.

Then shall the trees of the forest
 sing for joy before the LORD...
1 Chronicles 16:33

May all of it,
every single bit,
evoke my praise too.

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, 
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
Psalm 145:21

What bit of His intricate design are you thanking Him for today?