Tacloban Four Months After Yolanda.

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The Conveyor Belt. At least, what was left of it.

The Conveyor Belt. At least, what was left of it.

At the last week of March, I was given the precious privilege to go on a medical mission to Homonhon, Samar. I went with OperationBlessing, a Christian humanitarian organization closely related to 700 Club and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

But before reaching Samar, I saw Tacloban first.

The sky was gray and overcast when we touched down in Tacloban. We stepped down the plane and approached a decrepit, one-storey warehouse-type structure, not unlike what is commonly depicted in old Filipino action movies. For a moment my brain refused to make the connection between this miserable structure and “airport”. Then I remembered: Yolanda. Storm. Poverty. Rain.

I followed a group of people gather around a huge hunk of steel – what was left of the conveyor belt. Airline personnel manually took luggage and piled them on the conveyor belt.

We walked out the exit and were instantly swarmed by 5 men – taxi drivers and jeepney drivers lighting up at the prospect of having passengers. They are so persistent, and I have to swallow hard. Having to think of the possibility that the reason for these men’s persistence is desperation to make a living washes over me. I am surprised at these almost instantaneous connections my mind makes and I remind myself not to get overly emotional.

Airlines personnel had to manually bring our luggage.

Airlines personnel had to manually bring our luggage.

You are most definitely having it easy, I remind myself. People had to deal with much, much worse when they first came here. There was looting, and trafficking, and whatever else.

“At least there are no more corpses,”  Doc Wen, the dentist I was with, tells me. “Months ago, the stench reeked.”

How comforting that I have one less of my senses to worry about.

My sense of sight, however, was put to full use.

Rows and rows and rows of ruined trees lined the road. Stumps of what used to be coconut trees are seen everywhere. Those that remained standing looked utterly miserable… and side-swept.

“As if the trees all got Justin Beiber hairdos,” said Doc Wen, my new commentator. She and Doc Sheila, my team leader, had been in Leyte and Samar many times since Yolanda came, doing medical missions.

 

A common sight was yero, galvanized iron sheets, wrapped around trees like tin foil on a barbecue stick.

Everywhere are signs of foreign and non-government aid: tents, logos and banners of various organizations.

“In the first few weeks after Yolanda, it was like the end of the world had come,” Doc Wen describes. “And all those huge C-130 planes! It looked apocalyptic.”

That’s one thing I heard a lot from the people I talked to – when Yolanda came, people thought it was the end of the world.

I sigh inwardly. So this is what Yolanda did.

Why I don’t live for Others

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Photo from campusministrytoolbox.org

Photo from campusministrytoolbox.org

“The ultimate purpose of life,” he said, “is to live for others”.

I remember a conversation I had with a Sports Science student last semester.

I was using the Perspective cards. We had reached the “Meaning and Purpose of Life” category, and so I asked him which among the cards represented what he believed to be the meaning and purpose of life.

He picked the “To Live for Others” card.

When asked why, he explained that the neighborhood he is from was where drugs and other unhealthy stuff abounded. He hoped, as a Sports Science student (and eventually, graduate), to be able to influence the kids in his neighborhood for something better. It was a very noble, honorable aspiration, and I told him so.

It made sense that he believed that living for others is the purpose of life.

With fervor in his voice, he explained further that helping others, “pagtulong sa kapwa”, is the noblest undertaking in the world.

He asked me what I thought was the Purpose of Life, so of course I chose: “To Live for God.”

“Why?” he asked.

I remember detecting a hint of an accusation in his voice: as if I had turned my back on the human race by choosing to live for something as abstract – or worse, divisive – thing as the “concept of God”. To him, God, or the idea of God, is synonymous or equal to, impersonal institutions, huge chapels, religious rituals and whatnot. Why would anyone live for THAT? Why not actually do something worthwhile?

I explained to him that God is not just a concept.

God is a person, and the ultimate Giver of my purpose. I told him God is for change and justice. God also desires that kids’ lives not go to waste because of drugs or whatever sinister element out there. God desires that evil be stopped.

And I told him that although there are many other noble things people could live for, I picked the “Live for God” card because ultimately, living for God will enable me to live for others, and live for all those other noble

I reflect on this experience because I realize that the question: What must I live for? is something that echoes in every human being. (Those who deny the fact that we must, indeed, live for something may try to brush it aside, end up in an existence of purposelessness.)

The Christian answers this question by pointing to the ultimate Purpose-Giver, Jesus Christ, who He is, what He did, and why He came in the first place.

Moreover, the kid’s question “Why not actually do something worthwhile?” and the implication that Christians are passive and oblivious to social evils and injustices is something challengers always throw in the Christian’s face.

It follows then that if my Purpose is anchored on what Christ did, and who He is, then I, as someone seeking to be like Him, should act on these things that God cares about: redemption, freedom, justice.

Do you see? A Christian so intent on being like Christ will – must – eventually learn to love others, and fight for them.

It’s the beautiful paradox: to live for others, I must live for Christ first.

Neo is telling me goodbye.

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Me: It’s been, what, three years? THREE YEARS!

Neo: Three years indeed.

Me: Think of everything we went through. We did class reports together. We did my thesis together.

Neo: We did spend a long time together.

Me: RIGHT? Remember all those late hours?

Neo: Yeah. All those nights we spent editing your thesis!

Me: And making all those citations and stuff.

Neo: It paid off anyway. You got the coveted uno.

Me: That’s what I’m saying! And what about those many hours we spent in my English-tutoring job?

Neo: Ha-ha, I remember. I almost always got so exhausted in that job.

Me: You did easily get exhausted by the third hour of teaching English to those Japanese students.

Neo: I did. Never really liked that job.

Me: But we were together. That’s what mattered. So why would you leave me? Why would you do this?

Neo: It’s not that I want to!

Me: What do you mean?! You were perfectly fine last week! We hadn’t even been engaged in any exhausting activity recently.

Neo: I don’t know… three years. That’s a long time.

Me: Please, Neo. I need you.

Neo: I’m not sure. I don’t think I can do this anymore.

Me:  Don’t do this to me, please!!!

Neo: It’s not like you didn’t want to replace me. Don’t lie! I know you’ve been looking around.

Me: But that’s unfair! I was never disloyal to you!

Neo: It doesn’t matter anymore.

Me: Why would you say that? Why would you even think that?

Neo: I’m sorry, Sarah. We were growing apart anyway. I know you’ve wanted to do a lot of things I couldn’t do, or help you do.

Me: Please, Neo. Please. Fine, please stay with me for at least two months!

Neo: Don’t make this harder, Sarah.

Me: Just two months more please?

Neo: (Sigh) I’ll try, Sarah. Can’t give any promises though. I’m dying. But I love you.

Me: I know. I love you too.

Neo: I hope your new laptop, whatever it will be, will make you happier.

 

…and that was my imaginary conversation with my three-year old laptop, Neo. Sigh. I can’t afford it breaking down anytime soon.

What if my Prayers do not bring me a summit experience?

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I remember the first time I climbed Mount Pulag. 

The sky was gloomy that day. That morning, I was almost convinced not to join the hike.

And when I stepped out from the Rangers’ Station and saw the mud resembling chocolate pudding in vast quantities, and when I felt the first slap of wind on my already nearly-frozen face, I was almost completely discouraged.

Still, the prospect of standing at the summit and having an amazing experience was very strong.

Ahh, the summit. The thought itself was very tempting.

So I climbed.

I climbed despite the continuous drizzling. I climbed despite the spectacular mud trails. And despite the extreme numbing cold, and the muscle pains, and even indigestion.

All for the summit experience.

Aaaand when we finally arrived at our destination….

It was NOT. Worth. It.

No, it was not. We clearly arrived at the wrong hour. The summit reserved its displays of beauty at sunrise. At that hour, when the sun first peeked from the east is when the glorious is revealed.

Sometimes, as I go through prayer and fasting, I remember that first Pulag experience.

To be sure, physically, it will be challenge… but haven’t I always told myself that difficulty breeds quality, breeds excellence?

As my pastor once said, you pray and fast for the results, for the end, that is of having specific concerns answered, or payers answered, and most especially having God reveal Himself more to me.

As I draw near to God, He will draw near to me.

But what if my expectations are not met?

What if, despite my pleas and prayers and meditation, God chooses to respond with silence? What if there is not glorious summit experience?

I will choose to believe that even in His silence, God has a purpose.

I will choose to trust that He will reveal Himself to me in His own perfect time.

And should this be the case, unlike my Pulag experience, I will not leave empty-handed.

Besides, in the Pulag experience, I only had the “glorious summit experience” to look forward to.

This time, the Glorious Himself is with me, every step of the way.

The Sea of Clouds: What we should have seen at the Summit, and what tourists and hikers come for. This artsy photo is by my friend Louella Marie Pader.

The Sea of Clouds: What we should have seen at the Summit, and what tourists and hikers come for. This artsy photo is by my friend Louella Marie Pader.

A “lovelife”-hack for Young Single Women (A Half-time Book Review)

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Oh, the woes and wonders of being a single woman.

I’m halfway through reading “Why Is There a Man and He’s Not Mine”, a book by my co-staff* ate Orpah Marasigan.

why is there a man

Why Is There a Man and He’s Not Mine is a fun, witty, easy read brimming with transparency.

Whereas many people, unfortunately including many people from the Christian community, brush off “singleness” issues, often with an air of condescension or even shame (a sad reality which merits an entire blog post or even a book), ate Orpah approaches them with style and honesty.

Her down-to-earth attitude allows the reader to explore with her the challenges a single woman faces. On the other hand, this also allows us to rejoice with her victories!

I believe Why is There a Man will speak to single women from the entire age spectrum.

For the record, I’m twenty one. Still, a lot of the things she wrote resonated with me. I actually feel I got a life-hack out of this. Well, to be specific, I feel like I got a lovelife-hack. Heh.

For a twenty-one year old like me only starting to look at the possibilities of opening her heart to the wonderful adventure of love and relationships, this book is a treasure-chest, a feast, a harvest.

And yes, all those men wondering how the female brain and heart works will definitely benefit from reading this too!

My highlight so far is Chapter 9: Anatomy of a Wounded Heart, where ate Orpah recounts her painful experiences with men – men who caused her pain and damage, which eventually and inevitably contributed to how she deals with men at present.

She tells stories of hurt, of pain, of men who “killed” parts of her feminine soul. I can feel her grief, and as I read, I grieve with her.

I also grieved for myself. I could not help but think of all the men in my life that consciously or unconsciously killed my feminine soul. They are few (thank God), but the damages were done.

Well, I’m off to read the rest of it. Hope you can get a copy.

 

 

*I have to say, calling ate Orpah my “co-staff” or “colleague” gives me that surreal feeling. You see, I was a staff kid. My parents were missionaries with PCCC too. But now, I’m on staff too, and so I get a thrill when I call these senior staffs my “colleagues” – these people twice my age, some of whom even carried and babysat me when I was a kid!

Safe in the Boat.

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Finally, the month of December has begun.

ID-100200369November for me has been challenging, more challenging that any month I’ve gone through in the 21 years of my life. Perhaps I’ll write about it someday, but suffice it to say that I have gone through a lot. Still, when people ask how I am, I say, “I am experiencing God in ways I never imagined I could.”

And it’s true!  I cannot believe — CANNOT believe — how much I have been experiencing God’s reality, possibly best expressed by Harold J. Sala at our church last November 17: “You haven’t tested the resources of God until you faced the situation you thought was impossible.”

See, I felt like a huge tsunami wave had hit. I struggled, and now I am floating. The waters have been slowly receding, thank God, but not nearly fast enough. I do not yet feel solid ground.

All this water imagery reminds me of something I wrote back in the summer of 2011.

Safe in the Boat. 

The boat was made of wood, the size of a normal sailboat.

I didn’t hesitate about its durability, didn’t doubt its ability to take us through this raging storm, which admittedly threatened to weaken my confidence on this wooden boat.

I sat in the boat with some people. One of my friends was given a rope; the captain was at the helm, guiding the boat, instructing my friend to pull accordingly.

How the storm raged! The downpour was enough to flood all of Baguio to about 6 feet. The highest point, SM Baguio, was the only thing not submerged. It was amazingly overwhelming to see everything flooded. As the boat rounded SM on the way that was normally the road to UP Baguio, I watched in amazement. Water cascaded down from SM like a great big waterfall.

I fought an inner fear, a fear that kept whispering that we wouldn’t make it, we would drown, the boat was simply not strong enough for such elements. I fought, and won.

And then, the boat surprisingly came to a halt. We had hit shallow water. I looked behind and saw that all the waters were fast receding.

It was a strange dream, one of the many I seem to be having quite frequently lately. It was a dream that left me woozy and feeling strange when I woke up. It inevitably brought to mind the story of the disciples in the boat.

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

(Matthew 8 )

The past week has been one of the strangest — new (painstaking) lessons on love a patience, the sudden realization of the gravity of future responsibilities, and a strange physical ailment. It definitely felt like a raging storm to me.

And yet, I felt oddly secure in that little boat. I pondered that oddity as I woke up. Then I re-read the passage in Matthew 8, and I knew what kept me calm: His undeniable presence.

And I then knew which voice countered that nagging fear threatening to drown me. It was His voice, whispering, comforting, rebuking: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?

God loves the Philippines.

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[This is a response to Jim Solouki's post God is punishing the Philippines].

tacloban

(Photo from rappler.com)

There are so many ways to respond to this blog post.

I may respond in rage, and anger, just as many have, as evidenced by the comments in the comments section. And if I do, I know many will feel it is justified and valid.

Still, let me say that what I feel most is not anger, nor rage, but hurt and disappointment.

Hurt at the apparent callousness of the writer.

Our kababayans ravaged by Yolanda are suffering greatly. I live in Quezon City – an area mercifully spared by the storm – and I cannot even begin to imagine the horrors my fellow Filipinos are experiencing out there. I see the photos, I hear the news, and I read the FB status updates of my friends and fellow CCC staffs assigned there. To say that it is depressing is an understatement.

My people are suffering. They have lost families, relatives, they are hungry, they are cold, they are hurt, they are angry, they are desperate… how do you think a people like that will respond to “…God will make an example out of you”?

At this point let me say that I am a Christian. I believe that God is holy, and that his holiness is paramount. God is holy, and therefore he hates sin. Yes, I believe He will punish the wicked.

Yes, based on the writer’s profile and from things he’s written I think I identify with the same basic beliefs.

Which is why I am disappointed.

Because if the writer is a “true Christian”, as he claims to be, then he must know, should understand, that such circumstances are immense opportunities to be channels of blessing and love to these “wicked people” (as he calls them, but are we not all?), so that they could be introduced to the Living God, and thereby save them from the wrath of God which is at hand.

Jesus never shied from expressing wrath to sinners.

But Jesus also spoke gentle, comforting words to the hurting.

I believe God is holy, and thus hates sin, and I also believe that God has a redemptive plan and purpose for the human race – which shows how much He is loving.

Which brings to question the writer’s motives.

I cannot help but wonder, what are his motives? Why did you write that (yes sir, if you are reading this, I am addressing you)?

Is it born out of a love and passion for God’s holiness? Is it out of love and concern for the rest of the lost world?

If the answers are no, as a sister in Christ, then pray, repent.

If the answers are yes, as a sister in Christ, I commend your heart. But there are better, more loving ways to express it, especially at times like these.