Philippines - Final Thoughts
This is entry #15.
Link to entry #14.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.
What an amazing journey we had! This was a life-defining event for both me personally and also for my family. As I've now had several months to consider the experience as a whole, I do regret that we were immediately thrown into the chaos and stress of moving once we returned home; I didn't really get to bask in the experience the way I'd hoped. However, I am grateful for the time I spent noting and writing down the things that happened on this trip. My journal entries are long and perhaps too detailed. But I've learned from previous trips that the details and vividness of the experience tends to wear with time, so I'm hoping to keep as much of this as I can.
My favorite joke was "How many people can you fit on a jeepney?" Answer: "Isa pa, isa pa!" (One more, one more!) Here's a fun clip I put together on our orphanage visit to prove the point:
More seriously, my Heavenly Father's hand prints were all over our trip, from beginning to end. This journey was what I've come to refer to as a classroom experience for our family in seeing the hand of the Lord so visibly in our lives. I can't remember another time where we shared so many experiences clearly showing us how intimately involved He is in the details of our lives. Truly He knows who each of us are, the nuances of our lives. It's served to strengthen my faith and focus my efforts. And although it's a completely different story more appropriate for another time, I've also learned that this classroom experience was given to us to help us learn and trust prior to the next phase of our life, moving away from the home we had loved. We have since been asked to exercise faith and put the things we learned into action by stepping into the darkness, only to see that there's a lit path for a few more paces. It's been a transforming experience. A few examples:
- Setting the itinerary. You wouldn't think it would be that hard to match up reward tickets with cheap tickets so we could all travel on the same flights. It was. It took many hours, but I managed to find one single itinerary that would keep us all together, allow us to use my mileage points, and still keep the rest of things affordable. That wasn't an accident.
- Arranging for pick-up from Clark airport. Having someone we'd never met so readily agree to pick us up at midnight and drive us an hour to our hotel for no charge at all was another tender mercy. How we found him was even more so.
- Finding my way directly to De Ocera's home after so many years. With no difficulty whatsoever, on our first morning in the country, we were able to take a jeep right to the correct corner and then make our way to Normita's home like I'd been there just recently. I hadn't.
- Visiting with people I'd not seen or spoken to in many years and falling right back into familiar relationships. What was especially touching was being an mouthpiece of sorts in God's hands to tell them that He knew of their circumstances and loved them. I said those words only after feeling impressed strongly that's what the Lord wanted me to say, and the tingling sensation on the back of my neck confirmed as I shared. Traveling so far to share that message with a few select people was by itself a spiritual and rewarding experience. I knew when we set out on this experience that there would be someone (or more) whose lives we would specifically touch in a personal way as Heavenly Father reached out to answer their prayers. I can say now that I know of two families to whom that happened. One was the Garcias and the other was Armida De Ocera Emita.
- Searching for our rented-house-in-a-rice-field and stopping at the exact right turnoff on a dark and dimly lit road when coming from the wrong direction. We found it exactly, on the first try.
- Making just the right buses in order to get to the airport on time over a very long journey from Zambales
- Finding my iPad!
As the trip concluded, here's a few of my other thoughts that really stand out:
- The Filipino people so rarely meet their potential. It's not something I say lightly or as any form of disrespect for the people whom I love dearly. It's just a sad fact. Individually there are so many pioneers, so many people who triumph above their circumstances and surroundings. It's amazing, incredible even. And yet, as a people, they continue to suffer in much the same way year after year. Much has changed between my two visits over nearly 20 years, and yet much is exactly the same. I bet that will also be true in another 20 years.
- We are more blessed than we ever realize. The trip truly showed us just how blessed we are. I don't mean that as a trite cliche, though it often sounds that way. It also makes me wonder what I've done, though, to have such a different station in life than so many of the people that I've met. In those quiet moments of personal reflection, that can still be a difficult thing to reconcile.
- Boracay is a tale of two worlds. How strange it was to see four- and five-star resorts right next to shanties where families lived hand to mouth and barely got by. We all certainly live with much, much more than we really need. We grow to expect it, though we shouldn't.
- Corruption controls too much of this world. For example, our driver Jun's getting pulled over after dropping us off in Manila; the officer simply expected to be paid off to make the problem go away.
- Getting back to Korea was an immediate breath of fresh air (both literally and figuratively) by being back in a developed country with clean drinking water and other things we often have taken for granted. It wasn't that I was glad to have left the Philippines; that wasn't it at all. It was just a vivid contrast we experienced upon leaving.
- My family did a great job in a very foreign place, but I know they were ready to come home. For a first international experience I really put them through the wringer; they rode nearly every form of transportation: airplanes big and small, jeepneys, vans (rented and private), countless trikes, bangkas (boats) big and small, paraw (sailboats), buses (airCon), and many miles on foot. I'm proud of them for taking it all in stride.
- My kids travel well. It makes me proud as a travel-loving dad to know that my kids share in that love as well. We did incredibly well as a family and everyone pulled their own weight. This isn't a trip we could have done a few years ago, but even when it was hot and hard, my girls pulled through very well. I was impressed. On balance, however, I had hoped my youngest would be more willing to eat new foods and that my other girls would be more willing to engage fully with the people they met. They were undoubtedly perceived as a little standoffish, which I had hoped would not be the case. That said, my kids each did some great things:
- Kristen made friends everywhere she went. She was just so willing to accept kids and she wound up with some great friends. As a result, she became the star of sorts as she crossed cultural boundaries to have fun the way kids do.
- Misha has an affinity for learning languages. Tagalog lessons were a drag for most of the family, but Misha enjoyed learning. Her mind understood things quickly and she and I shared a special bond with Tagalog.
- Amy really jumped in at the orphanage. She has a gift with young kids, and they recognized that almost immediately. I believe that experience has touched her in perhaps a more meaningful way than she has shared with us.
- The toys we took were a great idea. They really helped to spread joy to the kids we met. They weren't super expensive or ornate, but they were a great way for my kids to share experiences with other kids who didn't fully speak their language. I'd definitely do it again. The Oriental Trading Company was a great place to get stuff.
- Our fundraising efforts touched me. The generosity of friends and family brought Jolayne and me to tears on more than one occasion. With those funds we were able to touch the lives of specific people. And while it can be hard to make any sort of meaningful difference in a place where there are so many needs, I'm convinced we made a difference in select lives. Normita told me after we returned home that she had been praying for a way to help her people. She knew it was beyond her own ability to do much, but that was shortly before we got back in touch and set things in motion. As a result, a number of students are able to attend school who would otherwise not be able to do so. And there are funds remaining to help these students in the future as well. Making a difference one person at a time is the way the Savior served, and it feels great.
- We now have cousins 15 time zones away from our part of the world. It was such a touching experience to see my kids and the De Ocera kids laughing and playing like the longtime friends/family they weren't. I believe in kindred spirits and that some of us knew each other before we came to Earth.