How my parents have gone global by starting local.

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The last time I saw tito Hector and tita Dae was about 15 years ago, in the Philippines. 

Back then, both of them were young, skinny students studying Engineering at the Cagayan State University (CSU). I was even younger and skinnier. I was about 5 or 6 years old.

Hector and Dae were part of a bunch of other CSU students whom my parents led in Bible studies (girls and boys were separate). These students would often hang out at our house, eating our food, watching our television, or just doing whatever. Most of them babysat me, I believe.

Their presence was a normal occurrence at our house. In my good days, I saw them as playmates. In my not-so-good tantrum-y days, I hated their presence — it meant them hogging the television when my favorite show was on.

With this awesome, brainy couple with their two adorable boys. They are so cute and cuddly!

With this awesome, brainy couple with their two adorable boys. They are so cute and cuddly!

This week I saw them again… in Thailand of all places!

Both of them are currently finishing up their PhD’s at Thammasat University (yes, they are really brilliant people) and they both have teaching loads. Their current position allows them to teach, meet, and engage a lot of Thai students. And because Thammasat caters to many other international students from all over Asia and the West, they are able to engage a lot of other students as well. They are, essentially, reaching nations while in Thailand!

Meeting tito Hector and tita Dae was such a powerful thing to me.

It was powerful because, well… these were the people who used to hang out at our house! And now here they are, with all their influence and undiminished passion for the Great Commission, always seeking ways and opportunities to witness to people about Christ.

It was also powerful for me because here, I see, the “fruit of my parent’s labor.” Here is a couple, people who I think are an excellent example of people whose lives are completely surrendered to God and whose hearts are completely captured by the Great Commission… and my parents played an instrumental role in influencing them.

Now that I am a campus missionary myself, and now that I know the challenges involved in campus ministry, I definitely have more respect for my parents now than ever before (I know you’re reading this, mom and dad).

In the campus movement at the University of the Philippines, we champion the idea of “Going Global, Starting Local”. If God wills it, and according to His perfect timing, it is my dearest prayer and wish that I be sent to places where the message of Jesus is not yet heard.

It is also my dearest wish, however, that I be given the privilege to influence other people and bring them closer and closer to Jesus.

Just as my parents did with tito Hector and tita Dae.

And that is how my parents are reaching nations, even though they have never, and will likely never, move out of the Philippines — by investing in young people and leading them to be true disciples of Jesus. This is how my parents have gone global — by starting local. 

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My parents, Ben and Connie. As an expression of their obedience to God and their commitment to helping fulfill the Great Commission, they joined Philippine Campus Crusade for Christ in 1993. They have since left PCCC, but are still committed to the ministry. This picture was taken after their Missionary training with PCCC. Oh, and I love my mom’s hair in this picture (she’s the shorter woman). What do you call that kind of hairstyle?

The lost don’t feel lost at all.

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You know when sometimes you have experiences, and then later you realize how much that experience comes in handy as a teaching illustration? This was one of those times.

Yesterday I was at SM Megamall with Windy, attending a seminar. We just had lunch at the Food Court and were making our way back to the Megatrade Center at the fifth floor.

Then we saw Ramila. She was crying, running around in circles. She was evidently, undeniably lost.

Windy and I approached her. Did you lose your mom? She tearfully nodded yes. (Just a side-comment: it surprised me that none of the other adults took responsibility. She was so obviously in distress I can’t imagine how they could possibly ignore her! Not judging, just an observation.)

Thankfully a security guard was walking by, and he immediately led us to the Costumer Service area. They will broadcast a memo to the entire building, he said. Just wait here, he said.

“So what do we do?” I asked Windy. I was actually thinking, maybe I’d just stay with the kid until her mom arrives.

“Well, we have a seminar to attend to, and we’re already late,” Windy said. “And anyway, this place is safe. There are guards all around.”

So we both turned to Ramila and gave her one final reassurance. “Don’t be afraid, your mom will come.”

Then we left. Later, when I exited the Megatrade Center, I returned to the Costumer Service area just to check if Ramila’s mom finally picked her up. Affirmative. Phew.

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I was tasked to facilitate today’s lesson for our discipleship group on the topic of Witnessing. I was preparing for the lesson and I was reflecting specifically on “the lost”, and I suddenly remembered lost little Ramila…

Then I had a sudden eureka moment: My experience with her is the perfect illustration of pre-evangelism or of being a Cojourner! Because Pre-evangelism / Cojourner is bringing people one step closer to Christ. I brought Ramila one step closer to her mom. I didn’t actually physically bring her to her mom, but I helped her get to her mom. Gets? Well, maybe not a perfect illustration.

But here are more thoughts about the experience.

We call non-Christians lost people. But the truth is: a lot of them don’t feel lost. They just don’t. They go happily about, perfectly content (or so it seems) with what they have and the path and place they are in.

Most Christians are only equipped to deal with lost little Ramilas, those people crying and acutely aware of their lostness. Most Christians actually only expect lost little Ramilas. But again, how about those who don’t know or feel they are lost? There are a lot of them out there.

So, as a Christian with a firm, unwavering belief and confidence in the Bible and what it says, how do you deal with that? We know God commissioned us to preach the Gospel and make disciples. But they won’t even listen! Deal with it. No, seriously, if we are to be effective witnesses, we HAVE to Deal. With. It.

And we can deal with it. And we are dealing with it, at least little by little.

The matter of how we can deal with it would require a far lengthier blog post than this one. Perhaps I’ll try writing one someday, or make a series of posts, but there are numerous excellent books out there on the topic, particularly Norman Geisler and David Geisler’s Conversational Evangelism book. Here in the Philippines, OMF Lit just recently reprinted it, and you can also buy it online.

Anyway, yes. We need to reach the lost, even if they don’t feel they are, even if they don’t think they are. Especially if they don’t think they are.

Everyone is moving to or away from God.

Writing Stories from the Mission Field Encourages me to Go to the Mission Field

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“Our desire is to send more workers to the harvest field. We have a lot of young people in our church right now, and we are encouraging them to go. But we are also encouraging the older people to go. Wasn’t Moses very old when he started his ministry?” –Ptr. Andy Parco

In the last two days I have interviewed people for some stories I am writing for CBN Asia (a freelance job).

It wasn’t an accident that when the list of stories were sent, I chose the stories related to overseas missions. That was not a random choice. I wanted to hear stories from the field, talk to different people, and listen to how God is actively working in their lives.

I was not disappointed.

Power in Declaration

I am blown away – blown away – by the intensity of their passion, the way they owned their ministry, and the systematic, organized way (at least from what they told me) in which they go to see things through. As a writer, these are some of the things that top my “Things I love to write about” list.

In some small way, I hope that my stories would be able to communicate the profoundness of their ministry, the love and devotion they put into it, and the hopes and dreams they have.

There is power in sharing, declaring the mighty works of God. Sharing how God’s power worked in our lives does something, both to the messenger and the listeners — whatever the medium may be, whether it is through the spoken or written word, even through music.

As I talked to these people on the phone, I wanted to say, “I don’t know you, ma’am / sir, and this is the first time I’ve spoken with you, but I want you to know, you are family because of our Heavenly Father. And I love you with the love of the Lord.

God is at Work in the Philippine Church

This morning, I concluded my last interview. I put my phone down, and opened a new Word document and tried to start writing.

I couldn’t write. Not yet.

I couldn’t understand – a sudden wave of emotion had gripped me, and I had to pause for a moment. I wanted to cry. I wanted to yell. I was overwhelmed with… something.

I was overwhelmed with amazement. Amazement at what God is doing in the Philippines. The people I interviewed are from Lucena and Ilocos, and they both had something in common: ownership. Ownership and an intense desire to mobilize their own kababayans to “go to the nations”.

And I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratefulness to God. For using the brothers and sisters I just talked to, to further His kingdom.

I don’t know you, ma’am / sir, but God is using you greatly. Your work is important, and I believe God is honored with your sacrifice.”

Writing their Stories Encourages me to Go

Listening and writing these stories is an awesome job.

It humbles me and gratifies me that in some small way, I am able to declare what God is doing through my stories.

But writing these things does something else in me: it stirs up a long-held desire to go. Writing their stories encourages me to go.

I don’t know you, but God is using you to speak to me. And if I ever get the privilege of meeting you in person, know that you are one of the long line of special people God has used and is using to nourish this passion I have to serve Him. Thank you.”

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A picture with my teammates in my first overseas mission trip back in 2012.

 

Dear Random People at the Book Fair

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Random girl sitting beside me

Random girl sitting beside me

Dear random girl sitting beside me at the book fair,

You must have been tired from roaming the Isles, touring the halls of SMX, browsing through the many, many, many bookshelves. You must have been sufficiently intoxicated (as I was) by the smell of books and decided it was enough. Or, you probably simply couldn’t wait to read your new books.

I just had to smile when I saw you, eyes focused on nothing else but the spot on the floor next to me where you immediately sat and opened the book I knew you were dying to read.

At that moment I felt a kinship towards you. Although we didn’t say anything, even though we barely even looked at each other, I smiled at the thought of sharing space with someone who had the same ability to dive into a sea, into the depths of ideas books provide us.  It is one of the rare kinds of silence I love and am comfortable with – the silence shared between people reading.

 

Random guy reading his manga. That's a Cosplayer in front of him.

Random guy reading his manga. That’s a Cosplayer in front of him.

Dear random guy reading his Manga,

You were sitting at the stairs, at the entrance of SMX. People dressed up as anime characters were right in front of you (they seem to be doing Cosplay events simultaneously with book fairs at SM). Those cosplaying kids were really an eye-chatching bunch. How could they not be, with their bright wigs, thick make-up and multi-colored costumes?

I found it a really interesting picture: there you were, reading Manga in front of people dressed up like the characters you were reading about!

But at that moment I felt an affinity with you. Affinity, and respect for you. For someone like you who preferred re-creating and re-imagining characters and scenes in his mind rather than be distracted by material, real, flesh-and-blood eye-catching characters.

I will always have an affinity and respect for people who can use their imaginations.

 

 

Random kids reading their storybooks.

Random kids reading their storybooks.

Dear random kids reading their new storybooks,

You just brought me back to my childhood, seeing you so engrossed with your new storybooks.

I could only wish for you:

That you would keep reading, and find that there are vast worlds yet to be discovered, millions of thoughts to chew on, even more oceans of ideas to dive into, stories of people of the present and from ages past… and they are all available to you, young reader.

 

 

Your Fellow Bookworm and Enthusiast,

Sarah

 

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I can’t write about the Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) and not give a shout out to my favorite bookstores.

My default stops during MIBF are OMF Lit, CSM, CGM and Navigators.

OMF Lit left us drooling with their sale bundles and cheap books! I just learned that OMF Lit is trying to make Christian literature more accessible to the masses by lowering the prices and publishing more Taglish (Tagalog-English) books. I totally respect the heart behind that.

CSM surprised me too – a lot of titles with very cheap prices (one hundred peso books!). A lot of their titles were the kind you could give to friends as well (a very good deal, if I might say so).

Navigators is always a great resource for discipleship books. Not surprisingly, Edmund Chan’s books were featured at this year’s book fair.

And there’s CGM, with their tiny but book-filled stall. I go to CGM for heavier stuff written by old (as in, old) authors, some of them dead. In other words, classics.

So far, I’ve finished just one book, one I got from OMF Lit: “Does this Dress Make Me Look Fat?”

"Does this Dress Make Me Look Fat?" by Stephen James and David Thomas. Very fun read.

“Does this Dress Make Me Look Fat?” by Stephen James and David Thomas. Very fun read.

The Choice Every Mother Makes

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This short story was two years in the making. I dedicate in now to my mother, who chose four times.

So pleased was the Lord with His creation, which he called Man, that He bestowed upon him gifts of the most wondrous kinds. He gave this special creature one other Gift He himself had only known, and valued as well – dominion, authority under every other living creature on the Earth.

When Woman was created, the Lord wanted to give her a Gift as well.

“We have given man everything,” the Lord thought. “What shall we give her in addition to what we have already given man?”

And then the most wondrous thought occurred to the Lord. “We have bestowed Man with one of our greatest pleasures. Why, we must allow Woman to experience yet another of ours!”

The Lord remembered the joy of fashioning life with His hands, the thrill of bringing life to existence, and gave this same gift to the Woman.

“You will play a very important role to our plans and experience joy beyond compare, as I have. As I have felt life fashioned beneath my hands, so will you experience life form beneath yours. Rejoice! For we have imparted to you mysteries known only to you.”

The Woman received this gift with great joy. She and Man lived happily, as two parts of a whole, made exactly for each other.

But the Enemy, who hated all good and despised all beauty, was bent on destroying their Paradise.

And Woman, who once sang and danced with a sweet beauty that was enrapturing, now shuddered with dread and guilt – emotions once foreign to her. Man, who once praised her and sought to please her every moment, was now blaming her.

Woman lay prostrate on the ground, with Man beside her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Serpent slinking away, bearing the curses the Lord had just pronounced.

The Lord’s punishments were severe.  He took Woman’s gift away, as well as Man’s.

Man, shaking with utter fear and shame, kept silent, prostrate on the ground where he had dropped in an effort to hide from the Lord’s searing gaze. Beside him, Woman was trembling, miserable as well.

Unlike Man, however, Woman did not keep silent – she could not help it. Heavy sobs rose to her chest and broke the silence after the Lord’s Voice pronounced His judgment. She knew He was angry, and she was frightened. She had never known anger before. That she was an object of anger of such magnitude – it was too much! The novelty of it all added to her fear.

Dare she speak to Him? But she did. With a silent, halting, quivering voice, she did.

“My great Lord, I am ruined! But I implore you, mighty God, take everything away, but not the Gift. Might not I know what it is first? Oh Lord, Man has known his gift, why not I? Have mercy, Oh God!”

It was insolence, for sure, yet she could not help it. For although Woman had not known exactly what her Gift was, she had sensed that it was to be extremely valuable. She sensed it in the very fibres of her being.

The Lord had mercy on her and consulted among Themselves. “She does not know. Perhaps if we tell her, she will refuse to have it back.”

Woman lay with her chest heaving, awaiting the judgement.

“I may return it to you, but it is now cursed. Your disobedience has brought it to its state.”

If more anguish could be borne, surely it was added to what Woman can bear. How could she have disappointed her Life Giver, her Creator, her God?

“You were to bring life into this world, to bring your own kind into being, to feel life slowly fashion itself beneath your hands, feel it within you. You were to bring life with joy, with singing… with ease. Without pain, or fear, or death.”

She caught her breath.

“It is tainted now. If you wish to still receive it, if you wish to bring life to this world, you must be willing to trade your life for it.”

And so it was that every Woman who chose to be a mother always made great sacrifices.

For nine months, her body is not her own.

When she finally gives birth, she faces extreme torment and pain, sometimes, even the prospect of death.

Still, after months of pain and discomfort, with the child already in her arms, she knows her life will never be hers. She will continue giving of herself, knowing that this precious child will bring her joy and love and laughter, but also pain and grief.

In choosing to give life to another, she chooses to give up her own.

My mother and I way back in '92. The first time she chose.

My mother and I way back in ’92. The first time she chose.

 

 

My Ultimate End

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My Ultimate End

Note: This was my Icebreaker Speech for the Toastmasters’ Club, which I just joined a few weeks ago. The assignment was to prepare a speech to introduce myself. 

Everything is a means to an end.

The thought has been running in my head in the last three weeks. Without sounding overly dramatic, I think this is most spectacular epiphany I’ve had in my entire life so far. Now, I’ve known and heard this idea my entire life, but I don’t think it really hit me full force until three weeks ago.

It is this: that everything I have, everything I am going through and will be going through, everything I should do – all of this – is a means to an end. Everything is a means to an end.

This idea revolutionized me, because I am naturally… well, I am naturally selfish and self-serving.

I remember when I was younger and I had just started college:

I joined the Debate Society even though the practices ran late into the night. My parents were furious – I was only sixteen and I was coming home at 10pm?! Oh, how I fought with my parents for this. I remember yelling at my mom with all the teenage angst I could muster, “Ma, college na ‘ko!”

Eventually they relented, as long as I always texted them when I was going home.

But why did I want to join the Debate Society so badly? Because they were an elite group in campus. I told people I just wanted “to improve my speaking skills”, but actually, I wanted more of the association.

I also volunteered as a Peer Facilitator, offering my time to “shepherd” the freshmen. People saw the sacrificial side to this, and I exploited it by not telling them otherwise. Actually, I just wanted influence and popularity.

Then I joined a Choir associated with the Philippine Madrigal Singers. The practices took a lot of time, but I told people the quality of vocal training was worth it. Actually, I thought it would be a great way to get connections for when I decided to seriously pursue Music as a vocation.

These are just some of them, but these things – the Debate Society, the Peer Facilitators, the Choir – they were all a means to some end I had in mind.

And guess what happened? I kid you not: the Debate Society got disbanded. The Peer Facilitators group was dissolved. And I got kicked out of the Choir.

That was a very, very humbling period in my life.

I thought I’d learned enough, until very recently.

Last year I began a lot of things. I began new relationships, new pursuits. But again, I began these things with a different end in mind.

Towards the end of last year and early this year, some very painful and humbling things happened: a very close friend died. She is believed to have committed suicide. And yes, the pain was unbelievable.

Then early this year, I had my heart broken when I got rejected from a job I wanted so badly and prayed for so hard.
It was a very stinging lesson, and I belatedly realized – I held on too much on relationships. And I made an idol of an idea of what God wanted for me.

But there is redemption, even for a hard-headed girl like me.

In the last few weeks I’ve been meditating on what my ultimate end could be, what my purpose could be. I’ve been telling myself over and over, like a mantra, that “there is a reason for this.” There has to be a reason for all this!

I was created with a specific purpose. I was designed for specific roles I am meant to fulfill in my lifetime. It is with these things in mind that I look to the future.

I recently joined an amazing Life Coaching Group called The Significant Woman, and we’ve been talking about design. God designed me and ingrained in me some passions and values that are essential to who I am.

Things like Creativity and the Arts, how I must have avenues for expression. Or my desire to defend Truth, and let others see Truth about Life and God. Or most importantly, my desire to bring the Truth about God to people around the world who have never heard of it.

It scares me, actually. Thinking of the future, and how inadequate and immature I am. It scares me to think of these things, because I cannot see how I can ever be prepared, or be adequate, or be mature enough. Truth be told, it rocks me to the core of my being.

But I press forward, because something else scares me. What do I fear more than that?

In the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aragorn asks Eowyn the same question. “What do you fear, lady?”

I love her answer, because it resonates within me so deeply.

So Aragorn asks her, “What do you fear, lady?”

And she replies, “A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.

Everything is a means to an ultimate end, and mine is to accomplish deeds for my Creator. And no matter how small or seemingly insignificant these deeds are, if they are accomplished well, then these deeds are great.

This, I believe, is my ultimate end.

"Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless 'til they find their rest in Thee."

  “Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless ’til they find their rest in Thee.”

What do you think your ultimate end or purpose is? Is it possible to find out? Or what do you think about all this? Tell me in the comments below. :)

Film with Surf

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It’s about time I wrote about Surf and the Film Workshop I’ve been attending the last few weeks. It’s been weirdly awesome.

“The Weird became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

Let me tell you about Surf, my teacher.

“Have you heard of the saying, ‘The Weird became flesh and dwelt among us’?” Surf asked us at our first session. “That’s me.”

He is like no one I have ever met, and is therefore by far the most interesting character I have ever met in my life so far. He is an artist through and through.

I went to CCP with him last Saturday. It was for the 100-year celebration of Gerardo “Gerry” de Leon, National Artist for Philippine Cinema.

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At the Dream Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines

There were esteemed guests – most of whom are veteran filmmakers, actors and producers themselves. Surf Reyes, my teacher, was invited at the screening, and he thought it a good idea to bring his students with him.

During the screening, Surf was recognized in public for the fact that Surf actually worked with Gerry de Leon back when Gerry was still alive! The Screening was in celebration of Gerry after all, so they gave Surf some time in front of everyone to share a bit about his experiences working with the esteemed Gerry.

That was when it hit me: Surf is the real deal.

It was a special moment for me when Surf pointed at us, introducing us as “his students”. I felt honored to actually learn from this unself-conscious (is there such a word?), crazy, weird, and extremely talented 69-year old man.

I didn’t mind that nobody knew us. The fact that I had a right to tag along Surf and stand nearby while directors and cinematographers and whoever in the film industry shook hands and chatted and took pictures with Surf were enough.

That was when I had the second hit of the night: everything that Surf is doing to us, with us, and for us – everything! – is no less than discipleship.

Indeed, Surf takes every moment as a teaching moment for filmmaking – whether it’s in the technical aspect, the creative storytelling aspect, or artistic / mystic philosophy.

With my film teacher, Surf Reyes

With my film teacher, Surf Reyes

On that note, let me just say: Surf is prolific evangelist of his own philosophies and beliefs. And while these are beliefs I do not necessarily agree with, his boldness and strong proclivity to share his faith is a characteristic I respect.

Surf practices what he teaches. At sixty nine, his passion to keep mastering, re-mastering and improving in his craft still consumes him. I love that about him. I am impressed that he is neither daunted nor intimidated by technology. He sees technology as a means to “better tell his story through images”. In fact, he is currently finishing up a documentary he’s been working on for about three months now.

Surf is a mentor forever – lifetime discipleship. At yesterday’s session he told us so: “You can come to me for consultation! All we need to do is schedule it.” I just love how devoid of snobbery he is.