Monday, May 22, 2017

The worst and the best



This weekend, I able to hangout and catch up with my volunteer friends that live in my area. I’ve been traveling for about the past 6 weeks for various work events and our last YAV retreat (what!!!!) so it was nice to have some down time in Baguio this week to relax and spend time with fellow volunteers before I hit the road again in just a few days for the North Luzon Jurisdiction youth camp. During dinner, we decided to go around and share our best and worst experiences here, and it turned out to be a great conversation of solidarity and sharing of the many extreme experiences that make up our journey. So, I thought I would share my own answers here.


I’ve written about this before, but one of the hardest things I find about relaying my experiences here is that for every good day, there is an equally bad day. For each sweet release of joy I feel, I also feel the pain that makes the joy so sweet. It’s the reality of my, and many other volunteers, life here: a life that is experienced in the extremes. In my last post I wrote that I am happy, and I am happy, just not a kind of happiness I had normally associate with the word and feeling. It’s more of a happiness that comes with peace and contempt, built from the struggles and witness of life’s extremes. With that frame of mind, I’ll also say that it’s impossible just to pick one moment that was the best or worst, there have been so many, and for that I am grateful. But for this post I’ll write about the two I shared at dinner, which are also two experiences I have yet to write about.

Let’s start with the bad. My worst experience came in February, and was a culmination of events that all happened within 6 days so I’ve come to refer to it as my hell week. February, in general, was a slow month for me. I didn’t do much traveling so I was in the office most days. I’m not really an office girl, I go stir crazy with boredom, so too much consecutive time in the office really isn’t good for me. On top of that, my fellow volunteer who I worked with had just finished her term and had recently gone back home to Australia in late January, so I was adjusting to being the only foreigner in my office and home community. Needless to say it was already not a good time. But one Sunday morning, I walked out of my house to go to town and one of the many dogs in my home area was on my front porch. And, as what seemed to be a retelling of this past October, the dog bit me. He got a finger on my left hand and it broke the skin. I should also say that I live alone and my neighbor and boss was away for a meeting, along with everyone else in my office, so I had to tackle this adventure on my own. I took a taxi to the hospital downtown where it turned out the bite was worse than it looked, and I had to get a five series rabies shot (which spanned over about a month) and an additional shot to prevent infection.This shot had to be administered as about 10 tiny shots all around the bite, which was again on my finger right below my fingernail, a very sensitive area. The poor nurse was so nervous to give me the shot, because she told me it was the most painful shot and many people cried getting it. OH GREAT (as if I wasn’t already over this whole getting attacked by dogs thing). But after already going through the dog bite and rabies shot ordeal in October, and as a person who has always handled shots well and recently got a decently large tattoo above my ankle which hurt like hell, I assured her I was more than equipped to handle the pain. Welp, she wasn’t kidding. It has like smashing a huge amount of medicine ten times over in area that barely had room for the skin to cover it. I thought my finger was going to burst open. But, I got through it and held my integrity together enough to not cry and ignore the constant questions of “You got bit AGAIN?!” YES OKAY IT’S NOT LIKE I WANTED IT TO HAPPEN IT JUST MUST BE KARMA FOR SOMETHING TERRIBLE I DID IN A PAST LIFE.

The day was long, but I’m a tough cookie and I got through it. That was Sunday. On that Wednesday, I went into town to run some errands and get some money from the ATM for rent. To get to my office from town, I have to go through the big Baguio City Public Market, a huge market selling pretty much all you could think of in an appropriate Filipino-esk slightly sketch setting. I normally love the markets, I still do, but that day it was extra crowded and as I exited and thought I was in the clear, a woman stopped me and told me my backpack was open. Yup, I got robbed. The reality of life here is that Filipinos can often be expert pick pocketers and I usually am on my guard to avoid them but today was an off day, and my wallet got pick pocketed. Fortunately, my passport was safely at home, but they got my Filipino ID, my credit cards, and my cash for rent. I had enough stray pesos in my bag to catch the jeepney to my office, where my kind coworkers lent me some money, told me it would all be okay, gave me some much needed ice cream, and took me to the police station to file a police report. I then got in touch with my mom, who cancelled my cards, and the crisis was momentarily over. In reality, it could have been much worse, but it was still a frightening experience and another knock down on an already terrible week.

But wait, it isn’t over! That was Wednesday, fast forward to Friday, where I was at the office, like any other day, and my head was itching like crazy. It had been for a couple days and I finally let myself face the reality that I might have lice. I got my coworker Mishelle to check, and sure enough, I had lice. I was done. Completely. With everything. It took all my will power not to call the YAV office and demand to be sent home. But I didn’t, I left work to go to the pharmacy to get lice shampoo, went home, and began my month plus long battle with lice. And as I spent my Friday night washing and spending hours combing lice out of my hair, I couldn’t help but feel my own loneliness weigh down on me, like a thick, wet wool sweater I couldn’t get out of. I didn’t have any tears, just exhaustion and defeat. I was tired of fighting so hard to make this life work, tired of facing it all alone.

I don’t really know how I found the will to keep going just that I took it one day at a time. I didn’t let myself think of the bigger struggle or entertain the idea of going home, I just did my best to focus on making it through each day, and sure enough, the days got easier. Soon the extreme terrible experiences of that week were balanced out with equally happy and fulfilling ones, and I was thankful to have just taken those bad times day by day.

But enough of the bad. Time to let some light shine in. My most recent favorite experience happened just a few weeks ago, when I spent two weeks traveling with my coworkers all around Northern Luzon. During the month of April, my office travels to different church conferences for their annual sessions. It’s a fun, but long experience. We got to experience the diversity of Luzon but with long days filled with meeting after meeting. But to break it up, we worked out the timing so we could go the annual Cordillera Day. Cordillera day is a yearly celebration of the diverse indigenous culture in the Cordillera Mountains and their struggle to maintain their ancestral lands and culture. Representatives from all the different tribes attend, as well as Indigenous peoples from Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan. Most of my work this year has been with my office’s Indigenous Peoples Program so I have come to love and deeply respect indigenous culture. Cordillera day this year was celebrated in small village in Kalinga. We were in Kalinga for an annual session right before Cordillera Day so were able to easily tag along and go to the event.

As always is the case with traveling here, just to get to the venue was an adventure. My coworker, Mishell, and I had to get up at around 5am to meet up with other attendees to catch the jeepneys going to venue. Of course, we were on Filipino time, which means we got to the jeepneys at around 5:30am but didn’t leave until 8am. Three hours later on a crowded jeepney traveling rural back roads going up the mountain, we reached our venue, or so I thought. Turns out we then had another hour hike down the valley to get to the remote village. But upon seeing the view, I wasn’t complaining.

The village was located deep in valley with mountains covered in ancient rice terraces. The only way to get to the village is to drive up the mountain and then hike down through the terraces. This was in April, when the rice terraces are in their peak in terms of beauty. They are tall, full, and gloriously bright green. As we started our hike down, and got our first full look at the picture we were hiking in to, I was blown away. It was truly one of the most magical moments of my life. There were hundreds of us hiking through these ancient terraces. The air was crystal clear, it was sunset, and the mountains were alive. As I walked in the line of pilgrims hiking through the rice, I saw mountain after mountain after mountain, each covered with different levels of vibrant green, each with a tiny line of people wading through, and at the bottom of the valley, a tiny little village awaiting the arrival of hundreds. As we got closer and closer to the village, the sound of ingenious chants and hymns started singing through the air and I took a step back and stood in awe that moments like this were real. The next two days were long but filled with solidarity and celebration and gongs and dancing and pigs. I continued to be floored with the beauty of the culture and the talent in dancing and singing and music. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the young woman from Cambodia who sang in her native tongue a prayer call, her voice was almost unreal. Or, on the hike back up the mountain on the last day, the elderly woman hiking up the steep terraces in flip flops while balancing their backpacks on their heads.

But the icing on the cake was on the last day, when they closed the event by having a rally/protest to fight for control of their ancestral lands. After getting over my fear that I might get arrested and spend the rest of my days in Filipino prison when the police showed up (turns out it’s just mandatory for the police to be there and they just watched quietly from a distance) I just happened to see an Indigenous woman covered in the traditional Kalinga tattoos. Many of the tribes in the Philippines used to decorate their bodies in traditional tattooing, but since colonization, only one tribe in Kalinga still carries on the tradition. I love traditional tattoos and have been itching to get to that tribe since arriving in the Philippines, so I was on cloud nine when I saw her.I went to talk to her, but she only spoke her local dialect, not the regional one which I can mostly stumble through, so communication was minimal between us but she was absolutely beautiful. Her body reflected her culture and her struggle and her tattoos still held strong despite being decades old. She graciously let me take her picture with her and I nearly died of happiness.

The cycle of life here is often hard to hold on to, but I’m grateful I have. Finding the balance is tough, but filled with growth and fulfillment and joy. After all, it’s more fun in the Philippines ;)

Ingat!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

This Year I Have...

This year I have… killed a chicken with a bolo knife, watched children beat a chicken with a stick as a way to prepare to eat the chicken, see many many traditional pig butchering, preached my first sermon, got bitten by a dog on two separate occasions and had to get multiple rabies and disinfectant shots both times, gotten robbed, battled lice for over a month, survived my first typhoon, survived another typhoon, cut off my hair, cut off my dreads, continued to cut off my hair, got a little more ink, danced many Igorot dances, performed the energizer/dance Instanbul to churches all over northern Luzon, hiked through many ancient rice terraces, visited many indigenous communities, snorkeled with lots of marine animals, scuba dived for the first time, lived on my own since December in a developing country, learned about indigenous spirituality by balancing a giant squash on my head while hiking up rice terraces for hours, became a true vidioke queen, made my first music video, learned the art of waiting and patience, witnessed child laborer, witnessed the corruption of politicians, the police, and the government, learned to live in ”poverty,” traveled all around the Philippines, climbed many mountains, eaten my body weight in rice 10 times over, eaten literally every part of a pig and chicken multiple times, eaten with my hands more than with utensils, learned how to master using a bucket to flush, learned how to not rely on toilet paper, tried to learn 3 languages, gotten my heart broken many times by corruption and the world, yelled at God more than I have prayed, learned the true meaning of loneliness, of community, and of selfless love, and learned the spiritual and healing power of laughter. And I could keep going for pages.

I know that is a lot to take in at once (try living it ;) ), but this craziness, this adventure, this incredible journey, has been my life for over nine months. And it will continue to my life for three more.

My year is almost over. My year is almost over. Even as a type it, I have trouble believing it. I don’t think about it too much because it’s too confusing, too sad, too exciting, and just too much to process. What will I do when I can no longer just jump on the back of crowded jeepney to get anywhere? What will I do when I go home and massages are $100, not $6? What will I do when I ask personal, invasive questions when I first meet someone and they look at me like I’m crazy? But what would I do if I stayed, giving up Princeton, giving up family and friends, giving up a world where I can actually speak the language well and fluently?

I love the Philippines, and I hate the Philippines too. It seems like I have felt every intense emotional possible here, the good and the bad, and through feeling everything I could feel, this place has worked its way deep inside me, to the core of who I am. Leaving it will inevitably be leaving a piece of me behind, one I have grown to love and uplift and fight for.

People casually ask me how I am and how’s the Philippines all the time over online messaging apps. I know they mean well, and are interested in my well being and life here, but I tend to get angry (admittedly probably a bit too irrationally angry) over the idea of trying to communicate the deep diversity of my experiences and life here over a causal online conversation. My journey, these people, this place, deserve so much more than I can articulate. I fear I will I write and write and speak and give presentation after presentation and still not feel like I have done the justice of telling the beauty and reality of this truly wonderful place.

All I can say now, is that the Philippines has changed me in every way. Last August my world was turned upside down and started spinning, and it has not stopped since. But instead of fighting for it to slow and flip back around (as I did in the beginning), I grew to love the constant rotation of life, the ever moving pace, the things you lose because they cannot keep up with the orbit, and the things you find to help stabilize the rotation. It’s a speed that forces to let go: of control, of expectations, of standards, and of the idea that the purpose of your life relies only in your hands. I gave up control and found freedom and laughter, speed and adventure, and clarity and simplicity.

These days I really only focus on the present. On the people who currently bring me joy and love, the places I can explore right at my fingertips, and the home I continue to build within myself and the one I have built here in the Philippines. Right here and now, the Philippines is my home, my life is an adventure, and I am happy. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

7 Months in Pictures

It's almost April and I've come to realize I'm well over the halfway mark of my year here. Wow, the time has flown by! For this post, I thought Id give a different perspective, and share some of my favorite pictures so far. Here's a glimpse into my little life here in the beautiful Pilipinas

 Our lovely guide on our trek over Mt. Kabuyan


 Cheezin on Taal Volcano, the smallest active volcano in the world

 Hugs from fellow YAV and future seminarian Flanny on our March retreat


 My oh my, beautiful rice terraces seen during my three day trek over Mt. Kubunyan with fellow pastors in the area



Having some fun and bonding with my crazy coworkers

Ate insisted on carrying my pack for the day while we trekked through the mountainous rice terraces from her village to the neighboring one

 Peaceful nights spent painting on my balcony

Baguio (where I live) has some of the best sunsets

Learning indigenous spirituality in Sagada by attempting to balancing a squash on my head while going up the rice terraces. My host mom, who took the picture, was dying of laughter :)

The elders get ready to play the gong in celebration of a death anniversary

Always an adventure riding on these boats

 Waiting to ride the bus (called the rising sun) My coworkers wouldn't let me ride on top :(

Beautiful Ate in Cervantes

 And the celebration is in full swing

Learning how to make farming terraces with fellow women up in Sagada

 It's a good thing green is my favorite color


 My first taste of fresh buko (coconut) juice

 squad goals


The traditional butchering of the pigs. Quite an experience! Very loud


Hiking beautiful Mt Ulap


 Tasting fresh oysters on the white sand bar Christmas Morning

Good eats and good times

 Oh the endless rice

 "Quick! Raining is the best time to take a shower!" This happened our second week in the Philippines, when we stayed with a rural rice farming community. There were no showers so we learned how to take bucket baths, but one day it rained hard enough to take a shower from the water flowing off the house. Such a fun and memorable experience, laughing and dancing and washing in the rain with our host family

  I frequently have to remind myself that a place exists where people are actually taller than me

Randomly matching with the boys :)

It took a while, but I finally have gotten sweet Yana to warm up to me. Now its hard to believe I ever thought she was shy.

My fellow YAVs have been the best support system. I am grateful for their friendship and love.

Here's to 7 months down and 4 more to go! Tagumpay!

Monday, February 27, 2017

God as a Public Hiker: Encountering God in the familiar vs unfamiliar

I’ve always imagined about the day I’ll meet God. I hope it’s on a hike. Through the distance, the beauty of creation, and struggles of the terrain, a hike brings people together. Hiking is a territory I know, a territory I thrive in.

I imagine God showing up as a public hiker, probably the one that stands out- comes alone, isn’t from Montreat. Maybe God just moved to Black Mountain and is looking to meet new friends and see the beauty of this new home. God rocks a fanny pack and only brought one little plastic water bottle for the whole day. I glance around to my fellow rangers and we smile because we know God is going to be a lot to handle. 

As we all gather around and introduce ourselves, I find myself watching God. Watching how God never ceases to have a warm and loving smile. God pays attention to everyone while they speak and I see God repeat each name back, making sure not to forget. 

As the hike starts, I run right to the front, eager to avoid the idle chit chat with all the public hikers. Audrey joins me and we leave our other fellow rangers to do the entertaining, they are much better at that than we are. 

Audrey and I pass the time by pushing the pace, loving the sweat starting to form while the stillness of the forest takes over. We hike in silence, hike in peace. My dreaming, imaginative mind starts to take over and I hind myself blissfully lost in my thoughts while the rhythmic pattern of my boots trudging through the forest grounds me- I’ve found my happy place. A while passes by in my hiking bliss and I realize it’s time to snap back to reality, time to do my job.

So I rotate to the back to relieve the others of all the socializing pressure. Not long after, God slows and sets pace to match mine. I groan silently, not ready to fully let go of my hiking bliss to indulge in endless small talk. But it begins- God asks me where I’m from, where I go to school, the usual. I return the pleasantries and God and I begin to know each other. To my surprise, conversations flows easily while God stages the conversation so that I can talk about my passions. Creation theology, my upcoming move to the Philippines, and eventual attendance at Princeton Seminary dominate the conversation and I feel good and light that God allowed for so much time for me to spill that which makes my heart smile. Throughout my ramblings God is attentive and listens with love, love matching the excitement in my voice. 

We take a water break and God rotates to talk to someone else, and I reconvene with my rangers. I ask them about God and they each have had similar encounters. They remark at how cool God is and what a fun conversation they had. I smile, but am still puzzled, there’s just something about God that I’m missing. 

As we start moving again, God surprises us all by becoming the life of the hike. We have a small party with us, about 7 total, and God engages us all in conversation- cracking jokes and telling wonderful, gripping stories. God turns the hike into a live show, and makes us all not only feel like fellow actors but also the audience. The fun continues and we reach the top. It is a crystal clear day and the beauty is quite stunning. We take a break to eat and I notice God becomes quiet and still while eating. God sits a bit further away from everyone and looks peaceful looking over the wonders of the rolling blue hills.

After a while, I make my way over to join God. I sit next to God and for a while, silence and beauty passes the time. God is the first to break it, when asking, “Katty, why do you like to hike?” I smile, and think about my answer for a while and then begin to respond. “A hike is journey, a tough one that brings us back to our primal nature- one we must walk. We walk up hills and over rocks and through forests and our body begins to grow weak and we get tired and thirsty, but we continue to walk. And we eventually walk until we become face to face with this (I motion to the view), face to face with the glory of the universe. And when I become face to face with the glory of the universe, I realize that the God that created this universe with such beauty in mind, also created me. With the same beauty. That brings me peace.”

God smiles and we sit in silence, not needing to pass the time with words. Eventually, the hike continues and finally ends. God says proper goodbyes and thanks us for leading the hike. The day continues and turns into the next day and the next, but the subtle glimpses of renewed kindness and goodness and attentiveness that God brought continue to bring me peace. 

And for a while, that’s what I needed God to be: an unusual hiker who reminds me of goodness, kindness, and that which brings me peace. But these days, what I need God to be changes as much as my emotions and experiences, pushed to the limit by living in a world where I’m an outsider, secluded by my skin color, sex, and privilege. And encountering God in so many different and trying ways leaves your world unfamiliar even to the most intimate parts of yourself. 


I long for those days when encountering God was easy and familiar, in a territory that was my purest form of home. But there is beauty in the resiliency of humans, able to form spaces of home in foreign places and then having the courage to encounter God in them, no matter what strange or undesired form God becomes known in. And there is beauty in knowing that every encounter with God is one worth with having; it is part of the fullness of life to encounter God in all forms- not just those that bring us peace. But ultimately, there is beauty and such hope in knowing that after the journey of encountering God in ways that make you feel lost, and a stranger to yourself and your world, God will still show up, with a fanny pack and plastic water bottle, and welcome you home. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Moments

One of the most insightful things I’m learned from the Philippines is that time has no meaning. Whether it’s learned from the laid back culture that adheres to no schedules or deadlines, or from how plans and expectations always change every chance possible, somewhere along this crazy path I was forced to let go of the idea that time controlled my life: that there was something more important than the present. Within the difficult moments that seemed to last for eons, or the moments I felt like my soul walked on water, I blinked and realized nearly five months of moments had come and gone. When everyday life is filled with moments that define who you’re becoming to be, the present becomes the only thing that matters; the only thing tangible to hold on to, if only for a moment. 


I’m sometimes terrified by the reality of seven more months of diverse, defining moments, but then I relearn the lesson, that the only moment that matters is the present. And at present, I’m seeing this view






and am feeling grateful that are all moments are temporary, even the breathtaking ones. Because life, if taken only moment by moment, overcomes fear. And then what remains? To simply live the moments laid out before you. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tasting Heaven: Rediscovering and Redefining God’s Table

“And on the night Jesus was betrayed…” We all know how it goes. Communion, that is. The Pastor breaks the bread, pours the wine, we go up in our lines and eat the bread dipped in wine, and then we pray and give thanks. For 22 years, that was communion for me. It was all I had known. Sure, I learned the theology and meaning behind communion, God opening his table for us, forming a community of Christ Followers, but the repeated same action over and over again for 20+ years, I started to loose track of what communion meant. 
Fast forward to early December, when I went hiking with fellow members and pastors of the UCCP Middle Highland Conference to some of our churches within the Kankanaey community (one of the many indigenous groups of northern Luzon in the Philippines) located way up in the mountains, only accessible by foot. I work with UCCP North Luzon Jurisdiction doing research on the effects of Christianity in the indigenous culture, so I was invited to tag along to add to my research.

Needless to say, I was unbelievably excited. This was a dream come true, and quite literally a taste of what I want my future career to look like. But, as most people (including myself) would tell you, the reality of our dreams never turns out quite like what we thought they would be, for better or for worse. The reality of this dream was, that at the last minute, I was told my translator was not going to be able to come, but that the others in the group could help me out. So I went.

I should pause here and explain the language dynamic of the Philippines. The official language of the Philippines is Filipino, which is really just Tagalog. But in total, there are over 170 different languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. Which means that just learning one language here is not going to help you really communicate effectively. For example: at the North Luzon Jurisdiction office in Baguio City (where I am based), pastors from various parts of northern Luzon also work here and all speak a different language. Sometimes English is spoken in the office, not for my sake, but because its the only common language. English or Tagalog. It’s actually popular all over the Philippines for different friend or social groups to come up with their own language or words to be inclusive of a multilingual culture. Needless to say, I am constantly overwhelmed and amazed at the linguistic abilities of Filipinos.

The Kankanaeys, of course, speak Kankanaey, a language I thought I was a bit familiar with because I lived for about a month in Sagada, where they also speak Kankanaey. But upon starting this trip, I learned that this Kankanaey was a different dialect of the Sagada Kankanaey so I was really flying blind in terms of communication. 

What ensued from there, was a week of beautiful views, but an intense and frustrating battle of trying to communicate and learn but constantly reaching road block after road block. I was overwhelmed, angry, and heartbroken that I was there, present and ready to learn, but I couldn't scratch past the surface. The people were so kind and hospitable, and I just felt like such an enormous burden, one that was causing more trouble than its worth. 

The trip concluded on a Sunday, and we worshipped with our last church. Of course, the service was in Kankanaey, and lasted over two hours. It was about the fifth 2+ hour service in a week in a language foreign to me, and by that point, I was overstressed, exhausted, felt like a failure, and just wanted to be home in Baguio. My anger and frustration reached a climax during the service when I thought to myself, I don't feel like I'm worshipping my God. I feel like a guest, worshipping someone else’s God, a God worlds different from my own. 

The trip finally ended with no satisfying conclusions, and I spent the next day hiding in my house watching movies, trying to forget. The next day, I dragged myself to the office and met with my boss. We began to discuss the trip, its frustrations, crazy experiences, and insights. I told him that on the first night, the first church we visited was in the middle of a wake, mourning the loss of a man in their community. I was invited to attend the service that night. It was an experience to say the least- the tradition in indigenous communities is to keep the coffin with the deceased in the house during the wake and the services are held in the home, in front of the coffin (open casket). So I walked into this little house, filled to the brim with the community members, so many showed up that they had chairs set outside all around the house, and sat down in the front row in the living room, in front of an open casket. The preacher said a couple of prayers, we sung some songs, and then we took a break for dinner. Again, sticking with indigenous tradition, plastic bags full of rice were passed out to everyone (like 100 people) and a crate full of giant cuts of pork (from a native pig they butchered earlier that day) were also passed out to everyone. Because I was a guest I was given two HUGE chunks of pork. And we all sat there, eating rice and pork with our hands out of plastic bags. They called the sides of pork “wat wat” and everyone was so excited to having “rice and wat wat!” After the meal they continued with the service. Everyone was expected to come up and share a memory of the deceased or share in condolences (I also didn't get out of this tradition). This continued all night- sharing memories, singing songs, drinking coffee, just being a community celebrating and grieving the life of a beloved friend. They did this routine for five days before finally have a burial. 

This this series of events is pretty much the norm for wakes in northern Luzon so my boss could relate well to what I had experienced. As a way to help me process, he casually suggested that I could think of that meal as communion in a theological sense. If I had been a cartoon, my jaw would have dropped to the floor. It was a such a obvious and beautiful connection, how did I miss it?! I thought back of all the meals that had been prepared for me that week, and I was overwhelmed and almost ashamed at the amount of grace shown to me, and that I was so blind to see it. To see that the meal was a way of coming together in Christ, in a way that language barriers are broken

Back in April, at the YAV discernment event where I got placed in the Philippines, we took communion as part of the closing worship. When I went up to receive communion, the pastor (the head of the YAV program) didn't say the traditional, “the blood of christ, poured for you.” Instead, he simply said, “This is what heaven tastes like.” I remember that moment so clearly. I paused and smiled and the simplicity and clarity of that beautiful revelation. 

I kept that understanding in mind as I spent Christmas with Flanny and his host family. At the time, I was battling my first bad case of homesickness and just wanted to get Christmas and the holidays over with. I was sure spending Christmas away from home would make things worse. But on Christmas Eve Flanny, his host family, and myself all went to his host family’s Christmas celebration. His family was very warm and welcoming, and the celebration started with dinner. For dinner, they had prepared lechon baboi which is a special way to prepare a pig. They had a whole pig resting on the dinner table and they ran to us telling Flanny and myself that we had to hurry and eat. At first, I wasn't sure what the rush was, but I soon realized its need when the entire family (about 20-30 people) all grabbed forks and starting digging into the pig- skin and all. I was thrown off guard at first but quickly joined the fun, grabbing my fork and digging in to the pig. It was much harder than it looked- everyone was getting the fat and meat so quickly while I struggled to break through the skin but everyone helped me, flinging chunks of meat onto my plate. Someone even brought out a giant machete to help me cut through the meat. It was crazy, but it was so refreshing and filled with joy- to be able to just grab and fork and dig into a whole pig. 

That moment held special meaning for me when I thought of communion. I saw the pig as the body and blood of christ and felt the urgency of His follows to come to Him, to taste heaven. It was a unique urgency- when most people are urgent for something they bypass other to get what they want, in this case the urgency was inclusive, even more than that, it was an urgency dependent on community. That moment we all needed Jesus desperately, but through the excited chaos of celebrating God’s table together we helped and depended on each other to reach Him, to get a taste of Heaven.

It was the same at the wake, I saw a community broken and hurt that desperately needed Jesus. And through the community of eating rice and pork out of a plastic bag together, they found Him. His spirit was present and overwhelming in that little house filled to the brim with people mourning and rejoicing in the life of a beloved. 

So what I’ve learned, is that Heaven tastes like pork. But it also tastes like broken hearts and spirits being mended through strength in community, it tastes like a room full of laughter when life has gotten too ridiculous to do anything else, and it tastes like experiencing a love for a people and place that continuously knocks your whole world from underneath you, but then cements you stronger in the love of Christ.


But it mostly tastes like pork, which is just fine by me :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Taking Action

My heart weighs heavy these days. I wish I could say it’s just because of the election, but it’s been weighing heavy for a while now, the reality of the world does that to you.

Amongst all the wonderful advice I was given before coming to the Philippines, there’s really only one that echoes my everyday reality.. 

“You’re going to go, and you’re heart is going to break open, and God will be there to pick up the pieces.”

Welp. Step one down. God, where are you?

I find it hard to talk to God these days. Yelling is easy. But it doesn't help. It doesn't help the fact that the last typhoon completely destroyed my host family’s organic garden, a garden used to train other farmers about the benefits of organic farming. Or that the typhoons destroyed thousands and thousands of kilos of crops and flooded roads all over northern Luzon and destroyed homes but the world or even the Philippine government doesn’t seem to care care. Yelling doesn't change the fact that I met a strong young woman who was run over by a police van during a peaceful protest. It doesn't help my white guilt that makes me desperately miss warm showers, air conditioning, and my nice comfy bed back home. Or the fact that the President of the Philippines has mercilessly and unjustly killed over 3,000 people in a war against drugs. And it doesn't help with the fact that I was someone who used to pride myself on my ability to form connections with people but over here I am struggling badly to connect with this country and its people. 

Side note: When you have those dramatic movie moments where you’re walking the 40 minute walk through the mountains to town trying to outrun the sunset after a terrible week and all of a sudden it starts pouring rain and you forgot your umbrella (the ONE THING you’re supposed to have with you at all times in the Philippines) and you’ve just freaking had it so you stop and yell at God and the universe in the pouring rain wondering why they've turned against you, you don’t get an answer. In fact, you kinda feel really stupid for thinking that if you yelled at God dramatically in the rain your life would transform into a a classic hollywood chick flick and someone (preferably a hot guy in flannel with messy hair and a glorious beard who just happens to be your soulmate) would show up and then a montage of your perfect life together would start.

But it’s okay, God is good, the world is beautiful, the sun will shine, God’s got this. 

…..ummm no?

Let’s face reality and call that what it really is: an excuse. An excuse to sit back and hide in our privilege and do nothing while the world sinks deeper and deeper into poverty, corruption, separation, and hate.

Gonna throw another quote your way that again echoes my daily reality.

“You have not heard the Word of God until you have taken action because of it.”

If you had thrown this quote my way a year ago or even four months ago, I would have said something like, “Oh yeah, I totally get it.” Spoiler alert: I didn't get it. The Word of God requires action. It requires more than a solid attendance and donation at church every Sunday. It requires you to wake up and realize that it’s not God’s job to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth, it’s our job, and it’s time we acted upon it. 

Now I’m not saying we all have to just up and move somewhere crazy like, oh maybe, the Philippines, to act upon the word of God. I think this recent election showed there’s plenty of love needed to be spread back home. I am just begging that we wake up and realize that we should be ashamed of the reality of this world that God entrusted to us. We sat back and thought just because sunsets are occasionally really pretty it balances out the fact that we live in a world where children are taken out of school and forced into child labor?

Please believe me when I say I am writing this probably more to myself than anyone else. The realization of my lack of action prior to coming here haunts my thoughts, but I needed that wake up call. Right now, I’m mad. I’m mad at God, the universe, America, The Philippines, life, and the way it always works out the bad things happen to good people. But the anger, for me, is turning into action. Action that will hopefully help me find much needed peace in my life, and God willing, be a helpful step in my part towards bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth. 

To end, I’ll share a story (the number of stories I have from my two and half months here is quite ridiculous). A week after the last typhoon, I returned to my home in Sagada for the first time since the typhoon (I was evacuated to Manila to wait out the typhoon there). I already knew it was going to be a long journey, traveling in general in the Philippines is always an adventure. I got to the bus station at around 10:30 and found I couldn't get a bus until 1. One o'clock finally rolls around and I get on the crammed bus and find my seat, only to be kicked off the bus moments later because there were two buses leaving at one even though the sign only said one bus and I was on the second bus (The lack of information relayed here alone is enough to make me go insane). So I get on the second bus and find my seat, which is unfortunately the seat where the bus wheels are underneath which means there is no leg room which is really a disaster when you’re 5’10” living in the Philippines where the average height is like 5 foot so already a normal seat doesn't have leg room. Six long, claustrophobic hours later we are about an hour away when I discover that a typhoon flooded a bridge so we have to get off the bus, rock hop across a river (not a creek, a river) in the dark and then catch a jeepney for the rest of the journey. I would love to say I was surprised or shocked at this realization that I was currently rock hopping across a river in the dark with a weeks worth of luggage, but honestly, just another day in the Philippines. A total of nine, long, crazy hours later and I finally see my beautiful little house in the cozy mountains. As I walked the final stretch towards my house, the silence and stillness of the countryside took over and I stopped and looked up. I got lucky that night and the sky was crystal clear (that never happens) and the stars were out and boy were they shining. I looked up to see a sky alive and dancing. The dust of the milky way was visible and for a moment, just a quick moment, it felt like this peacefulness, this beauty, maybe it could last forever. 


I’m taking action for those moments; moments where peace, beauty, and brightly shining light, overcome darkness. I’ve got to believe if those moments can still happen in a world where people have to rock hop home because the government won’t help heal and rebuild after natural disasters, maybe if we fight hard enough, they can last forever.