What I learned in Manila…

Though many may begin reading this post looking for insights into urban poor ministry, poverty or other very important and interesting subjects, that’s not what I’m heading towards in this post. My learning points on this trip were much more focused on myself and that feels quite un-missionary like to say or admit…but that’s what I had to learn…

I began this 4-week excursion to Manila, Philippines with a 1.9 year old in tow (gorgeous Kora Joy), a 5 1/2 month large pregnant belly, an awesome husband to encourage us…and a huge ego (mine that is, not Mark’s!). See I’ve been on quite a few short-term trips in the past to various places around the world, in differing levels of poverty, need and climate. I felt quite well equipped for a month in a Manila slum, sure that my expertise would allow for a relatively easy and enjoyable time, wrestling with the needs around me of course, but overall handling the new pressures of traveling as a family and 6 months’ pregnant with finesse. 🙂 Do you see where this is going?

First – My pride must be slain to protect the health of my baby and myself. I totally underestimated the heat & humidity of living in a concrete jungle of 9,000 people. Whoa baby – literally, with a baby incubating inside this body and an almost 2 year old wanting to cling to myself all the time, it was challenging! We would take a cold bucket bath in the morning to wipe off the sweat & then a few minutes later, the sweat would return resulting in heat rash, especially all over little Kora 😦 for the duration of our trip. We didn’t live in air-conditioning, though we had an electric fan to keep some air-flow going in our little abode. The few times we could escape to air-con, we would and this pregnant body fully appreciated it! I struggled with this…I should be able to deal with this – I should be able to plow through – I should be able to walk to the air-con shop and not take a local bike taxi – I should push myself because that’s what I’ve always done on these trips. Its not supposed to be easy! Ha, yes, not easy but we should survive it, right? And I was reminded on more than one occasion by my loving husband that the health of our baby and this mom was more important than my pride. Ouch…

Second, I am no longer my own. We traveled with an awesome group of 8 other Servant Partners’ new staff – 1 married couple and the other 6 were single, most in their mid-late 20s. It was so much fun to share our lives, our family, with this group. They loved on Kora so well & were a constant source of encouragement for us along the way – hopefully we were to them as well! I’ve known for awhile that this motherhood identity is challenging, I’ve felt it along the way as I’ve had to choose my daughter over other things I’d like to do or invest time into. For some reason this seemed to reach a tipping point while in Manila. We keep calling it a ‘pressure cooker’ experience because it felt so intense and full, though totally worth it. I found myself longing for the freedom of our friends that we were traveling with – to spend time on their own with God for hours at a time, to take their evenings and spend it with our Filipino neighbors, learning about the culture and singing karaoke, to sit through an entire training session and not be interrupted by someone’s nappy needing a change…the list could definitely go on & on. And at times, in the pressurised experience that it was, I felt resentful and very frustrated. I also felt limited and like my role and experience was not as full as everyone else’s. I missed at least 1/3 of our sessions (would have been a lot more had we not had the lovely Ate Cora and Ate Ema helping us hang out with Kora most days!!). I didn’t have the capacity in the mornings or evenings to process much of what we had learned or discussed – I was too exhausted and hot!

The journey of motherhood is both joy-filled and frightening. I’m becoming a new and different person, not leaving all behind but hopefully being re-defined into a better version of myself, one that is less selfish, more intentional, and lots more dependant on my Jesus! But that re-defining takes a lot of surrender, which is not the easy path for me. Some days I long to have moments to myself, to not be needed by little people, to fully pursue some areas of ministry and gifting I feel called to. God has been speaking into this space over this summer to me. He has been accepting my confessions of pride, resentment, selfishness, etc with abundant forgiveness. And He has been promising me the gifts instead of joy, peace, and fruitfulness as I seek to see my ministry of motherhood as integral to my outward ministry and gifts. Though I AM limited in capacity during this season, I am NOT without a mission or the opportunities to use my gifts. My children need to come first, which includes encouraging them to get out and love the people around us – so really ‘ministry’ flows from ‘mothering’ and I need to let off some of this pressure I’ve put myself under & actually enjoy where I’m at and pay attention to what God is up to. Because He sure doesn’t see this season as one of setting my giftings on a shelf until a more convenient season…

Plus, Kora has been a bridge to so many conversations and relationships as I share being a mother and having a family with so many we meet. She’s much more of an extrovert and seriously draws people in – God’s going to use that in mighty ways over the coming years, just wait & see! Even now, He is taking her lovely innocence and teaching this mom to not get so bound up with my own expectations of what ‘ministry’ looks like and actually embrace the opportunities arising moment by moment, both in seeing her blossom into a beautiful little girl and in experiencing the love for our neighbors that God so desperately wants to share through us.

So, I return to San Antonio humbled, limited, and joyfully expectant of how God wants to use me as I depend on Him and not myself. I didn’t expect this of our trip to Manila, but it was part of the training God needed me to be on to engage this coming season of ministry and new baby with more grace and peace. And hopefully with a lighter load, we will experience more of His fruit in our relationships with our neighbors here. We love where and to whom God has called us!!

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The Philippines

We are now back in San Antonio after a very busy couple of months on the road. Its hard to know how to sum up our last few months. We were in California at the beginning and the end of the trip. We spent the first 10 days in Pomona, LA, the site of the Servant Partners headquarters and the final week in Yosemite national Park at the SP staff conference, with almost 200 people from around the world. We made great relationships, soaked up some great teaching and learnt a lot, visited different SP locations around LA and were fully commissioned onto staff.

For 4 weeks, we lived in one of the slums of Manila, in the Philippines. And it it this experience that we wanted to write a little about here. Botocan slum is in Quezon city, about 9,000 people live there, its very densely populated, most houses are made from cement with corrugated tin roofs. The slum is also extremely hot and humid, some of the toughest conditions we have ever experienced. Manila is a chaotic city, with terrible traffic problems and a huge divide between the wealthiest and poorest. We were told it is the worlds most densely populated city. its certainly one of Asia’a megacties.

We moved into the slum to learn from a Servant Partners team that has been living there for 6/7 years. The team has pioneered a new church plant, and leads a range of other social transformation programmes in the slum. We witnessed a movement rising up amongst the worlds urban poor, young leaders being raised up to lead, disciple and mentor others in their slums. Botocan struggles with issues of poverty, addiction, unemployment, violence and family breakdown. It was hugely inspiring to witness the green shoots of recovery in this forgotten place.

We spent more time visiting a retreat centre run by Servants to the Asian Poor, a sister organisation. We were taught about creative ways to engage the urban poor in Gods word. We learnt about the arts of biblio drama and story telling. We spent several days at a prayer retreat overlooking Manila, learning and practising healing prayer, receiving intercession ourselves and dealing with some of the personal issues that come out when you live in such an intense environment.

Jennie and Kora did amazingly well. We all suffered with the heat, and Kora developed some heat rash. She was very, very popular with the local people living in the slum and everybody seemed to know who she was. Jennie coped admirably given that she is now 7 months pregnant. God looked after us and nobody became sick. It was hard and challenging, but also very impacting for us. We are still processing much of what happened, so watch this space – some of those thoughts might appear on here.

We also wanted to give you a small taste of Botocan, so here are some photo’s.

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Kora’s friends in Botocan

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Botocan Slum

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Lilok, the retreat centre with Servants to the Asian Poor, in Rizal Province.

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Jennie and Kora taking some rest under the mosquito net

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Karaoke time

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Our room in Botocan. A mattress on the floor, and a mosquito net. Our house had 2 rooms and a small bathroom, with bucket shower

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Botocan church

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The church