Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas in the Philippines

 Back in September John and I began reading a book that would challenge us more than we have been challenged in a long time! And boy was it needed.  We had no idea how far we had become sucked into the world.  One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2 "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will."  Now, I try very hard to live by that verse, but without knowing it, we began to believe things that we as Christians say are "okay" and "justified", but in all reality it is removing us farther from God and His will.
  In Matthew 16 Jesus talks about denying ourselves and taking up the cross and follow him.  (See Matt 16:24-28) The more and more that we began to study this and take a look at what His disciples went through as they spread the gospel, the more we began to see that our lives were not as focused and centered on Christ as we thought they had been.  So we began to evaluate what were some things that we were being worldly about (not that we have dealt with all of them, but this was definitely the first hurdle that we had to get over), and we began to see that we that we had bought into the commercialism of our culture.  Hayden's birthday was coming up and here we were about to drop some serious $$$ on a party and presents, why? Because that is the norm.  It is almost expected of kids.  It is what many of his friends do, and we felt the pressure to keep up with the Jones'.  So we decided then and there that we would not do birthday's and holiday's the same again.
  We were being blessed continually and we were misusing what God had given us.  From everyday things to splurges.  How were we using what God had given us to help those that needed it?  We weren't.  Yes, we tithed to our local church, but what about beyond that?  Intentionally giving and being obedient to what we are called to do.  There are 6 million children that die from starvation each year, how many of those children were we helping to feed? What about orphans?  There are approximately 163,000,000 orphans in the world, what were we actively doing to help the fatherless?  We began to see a picture that was bigger than us.
  Now why did I give you this whole diatribe?  Because this is how we ended up going on a mission trip for Christmas this year.  We had already considered going to the Philippines over Christmas and had decided against it.  Even though our minds had made a decision our hearts were changed and we knew we had to do something different.  At that time our small group began to talk about doing a mission trip together and we jumped on board.  We decided to head back to the Philippines as families over Christmas.  Eight adults and twelve kids.  What were we thinking?  Nevertheless the tickets were bought and there was no backing out.  Each family made their own decision about how to do Christmas, but for John and I we decided to do Christmas pajamas and stockings.  No presents.  Now we just had to sell it to the kids.
  We told the kids about the trip and they were genuinely excited, and then we told them about the "No presents" and I think they began to second guess the whole idea.  At first you could tell that they sort of felt sorry for themselves for not getting any presents from Mom and Dad.  By the time that it was time to leave God really answered our prayers and helped their hearts to change and see the bigger picture.
  We left on the 18th of December headed for Manila.  Here are a few pictures of our journey to get there.
Hayden and I about to land in Taipei for our layover.

John rocking the front carrier!

Hannah and I being goofy while we wait for our ride :)
  After our long day of traveling we called it a night, ordered pizza, and rested before we headed to the orphanage the next day.  Being that this was John and I's second trip this year, I wasn't quite sure what to expect this time around.  I had a million questions running through my head.  Would the kids remember me?  Would I still have growth and a profound change take place like there was this summer?  How will the our kids handle being a servant instead of being served?  As fast as those questions came into my head...they quickly went out.  I was reassured that God's hand was in every part of this trip.
  Day 1 came and we were off to start this adventure as a family and as a small group.  I was scared for nothing.  The kids remembered me and touched my heart with how genuinely happy they were to have us back.  I was blessed the first day to watch toddler C and Henry get along so well.  I say that because they are so much alike! Both are about the same age and it was rather refreshing to see someone else's child throw a temper tantrum and be reminded that it is only a stage that we have been going through and that before I know will be over.  
These two are double trouble :)  Actually they are quiet cute together.

  The first big difference about this trip for me was having our kids there.  I didn't have the freedom to just go off and hang out with the toddlers, or go play basketball with the monsters.  I had to do the hand off to John if I wanted to be somewhere that wasn't Henry friendly.  This wasn't a bad thing, it was just different. John was great about hanging out with Henry in Ate's apartment or taking him down with him to the toddlers if I wanted/needed to do something.  Hannah and Hayden were like any other kid there.  They kind of did their own thing.  Their job was to play and they did that well.  They made friends fast and they stayed pretty busy with the kids.
  The other big difference was that this Christmas the children were involved in Christmas parties.  As great as that was, it was also a bit too much.  So Ate picked out 5 groups to come and do Christmas parties.  Each one had food (which is very filipino...when it comes to celebrations or is all about the food), some had games, some had presents or gifts, and one even had a clown.  
This group brought in Jollibee.  Also the guy on the right with the yellow cart is serving up ice cream cones!

Fresh fries and fried hot dogs :)

This game had toys on this rack with a rope attached at the top.    Then someone would lower and raise the rack while children would try to grab the toys.  

This clown led the kid in some games.  They really seemed to enjoy this!

Another day a group make these gift bags for each of the kids. 

Another group brought a gift for each specific kid...they also took a picture of the kids.  As you can see Hayden stands out a bit compared to the other kids..but that didn't matter to him or them.  They had a blast together!

John made some friends :)  They sure loved him!

Another game.

 One particular day was their own Christmas Party.  Everyone...and I mean everyone is involved in it.  Each of the different areas had to preform an act, song, or something to share with everyone else.  Some were serious, some were not so serious, but all were entertaining and it was a blessing to be a part of it.  One thing they did this year, is the older kids and staff who wanted to be involved did a Secret Gift Exchange.  It was neat to see how each person really put a lot of thought into the gift they were giving.  But one particular gift brought me to tears.  

Our kids preformed for the Christmas Party.  This was them singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

The older girls dancing :)  

The staff singing a song in tagalog.

This one of the most humble men I have ever met.  He is in his late 30s and was on the verge of death due to TB a few years back.  God healed him and he is still working hard.  One thing he has learned to do is to make some of the most beautiful bracelets.  These bracelets always seem to be a favorite to those of us who come to visit because it is more than a bracelet.  It is a story, it is this man, another man God has healed and is using for His glory.  Something tangible that can be worn to help remind us of God's faithfulness and power.
So this is what brought me to tears.  He makes beautiful bracelets. As a part of the gift exchange the person who had him, took some of his bracelets and had a beautiful picture taken of his art, and then had it framed.  When he saw this picture he was overwhelmed with joy and humble pride.  This picture was beautiful to him, but to me it was he that was beautiful.  

Sorry for the glare...but the other picture that I took did not do it justice.  It is even more beautiful in person.

 Another fun thing that happened on this trip was John along with the other men got to take the monsters to a theme park.  It was quite the action packed day.  Since there was such a large group going they took the Kia and rented a Jeepney.  Personally I love Jeepneys...I think they are pretty cool.  Anyway on this particular day John, two of the other men, and about 13 boys were in a Jeepney headed for Enchanted Kingdom.  However, while driving down the highway and after coming over the top of the hill and coming down their brakes went out and the driver had to purposely crash the Jeepney in order to avoid hurting anyone else or potentially going over the guardrail, which would have surely killed everyone on board.  It was actually quite a miraculous event.  Afterward everyone shoved into the Kia and continued on to the amusement park.  They had a great time and it was definitely a memorable day!

This is a Jeepney :)

This was the damage done to the Jeepney after the crash. 
This gives you an idea of the hill they came down and how the high up their were.  The driver intentionally kept running into the guardrail in order to slow them down and did a great job keeping everyone safe!

Everyone is excited and ready to have fun!

If only you could see some of the Monster's expressions on this ride. It is rather hilarious!

They hadn't left the ground yet :) Shawn is just funny!

18 people calls for 36 burgers, 18 fries, and 18 soft drinks!
I can only imagine the ride home was much quieter than the ride up :) 
So in the Philippines they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.  We had our own Christmas celebration with the story of the birth of Jesus, some carols, and FOOD!  It was a nice time together reflecting on Jesus being the reason that we celebrate!  At the end of the night we headed back to the Guest House and prepared for Christmas ourselves :)

Our candlelight ceremony.

Dinner was western style...not typical, but the kids were tired of spaghetti and fried chicken.  I will point out that I don't think there were ANY leftovers :) 

The kids throughly enjoyed this evening and meal together!

The little man on the right brings me joy every time I see him, and I was blessed to meet the young lady on the left on this trip!  It was a blessing to be used on this trip for His glory! 
Christmas morning was not typical for us, and to be quite honest...if I could I would do it every year!  Maybe we will.  It was so not about us this year...and I am amazed at how much it has turned into that through the years past.  This year it was so simple and it helped us to see the things bigger than us.  I can only hope to be serving next year and to never go back to the typical Christmas.  I desire to be Radical!
The kids got Christmas pajamas and stockings from us this year and it was plenty.  
This was Christmas...and it was beautiful. So simple :)

Christmas Day I spent somewhere between 1-2 hours braiding and doing hair for the girls :)  Its a new hobby for me and it was nice to do something special for them.

It is amazing how many children you can fit in your arms, lap, or within reach...I am pretty sure they touch my heart more than I touch theirs.

The last few days in the Philippines seemed to go by pretty quick and we weren't ready for our time there to end.  Anytime you go somewhere like this...I think we have the mindset that we are doing something great for them, but the truth is that most of time God is doing something in us.  My heart was hardening in some ways that I hadn't seen and God took this opportunity to show me that.  His grace, patience, and mercy were shown time and time again this trip, and I was reminded that I needed to be showing that to others, just as Christ shows it to me no matter how many times I mess up.  So simple and yet, something that I forget so quick.   
John helping Ate with a puzzle :)
Ate and John working hard on the puzzle, who says this stuff is fun? J/k.  It was a nice challenge. 
The TV isn't on much, but is sure catches the attention of the kids during this special treat :)
A night out as a family :)  The lights here are so beautiful for Christmas!

This trip was such a blessing and although this Christmas was unconventional, I would do it again in a heartbeat and God willing we will do it again in the future.  Thank you Ate and the Philippines for having us for Christmas.  We love you all and look forward to our next trip! 


  1. You guys are truely amazing. What a great experience and I can only hope that one day my family and I get a chance to do something as amazing as this. God bless you guys for being so selfless and giving! I know that reading this has moved in my heart, so I can only imagine the good it does for those children and workers at GH. You guys are amazing...that is really all I can say! And I don't think I could begin to say it enough to convey how amazed I am at your spirits. You guys are raising truely beautiful children!

  2. We are so proud of you guys and your commitment to the mission field. Reminds me of taking you kids to Mexico on the missionary trips. Glad the memory stuck.
    Love you all and miss you all!

  3. I loved reading about your amazing Christmas! What a wonderful way to commemorate the birth of Christ. Andy and I have continually been challenged and inspired by your family. The fact that you have such young kids and are bringing them along with you on your walk is great to see. Hopefully Andy and I will be able to follow your example :)

  4. Gretchen---I'm enjoying reading about your life and am so touched by this post. I'm continually inspired by people who "put their money where their mouth is," and explaining "no presents" to a 4- and 8-year-old is certainly a real example of that. And from the pictures they looked like they had a wonderful Christmas. Have a beautiful 2012, all of you! Much love, A. Leslie