when the romance of missions crashes into reality…



Celebrating Christ during Holy Week

“We celebrate the death of Christ,” one cultural participant stated.

“Happy Resurrection Week!” an email greeted me.

These views of Holy Week are in stark contrast, and it is in the middle of them that we live. My heart pleads the latter, but my neighbors proclaim the former.

Our first Easter in the Philippines was a shock to me, not only culturally, but spiritually. Whereas Easter is celebrated in the Western world as the pinnacle experience of Holy Week…the celebrated end of Christ’s misery and the promise of new life, I discovered painfully that Easter to the Filipino was essentially a non-issue, compared to the death of Christ. I don’t draw the line here between protestant or catholic, because I believe that in the West, catholics also celebrate Easter and its promises. But Southeast Asian catholocism, brought here by the Spanish over 400 years ago, dwells on the suffering, and then the death, of Christ.

In the past, although we haven’t found people personally who truly believe this, “black Saturday,” the day on which Jesus lay in the tomb, was seen as an unlucky day to go out, because “God is dead…who is there to look after you?” Easter then is the day that God is “back in business,” and so people return to normal life.

The shock I had as a Christian on my first Easter in the Philippines was this: while Easter served in my traditional framework as the event of Holy Week, I saw that for Filipinos it was a day to get back to work, get back to life as normal. The events of the week, the days leading up to Easter, were the celebration. Filled with somber prayer vigils and processions, these were the days people took off work and gathered their families. Jesus’ resurrection was not the pinnacle, but as I could see, the “ok, now it’s over, back to work.”

One way this was driven home to me our first very hot Easter in the Philippines was that our trash wasn’t picked up on Saturday, “Black Saturday,” but on the day I naively assumed would be seen as holy, the trash truck came around bleating its loud obnoxious horn: welcome to Easter Sunday. Places of business were re-opened, people were back on the streets. I felt myself in a twilight zone. I was in a “Christian” nation, yet the activities around me did not represent an attachment to what the day represented.

Now, I don’t mind that people don’t hunt Easter eggs (I know that has nothing to do with Jesus, although we are doing it with Josiah this year because it is an American tradition we want him to experience). But what slaps me in my spiritual face is the fact that Jesus is who he is, and we celebrate and worship him because he did what no other god has done or can do for us: he conquered death. You take that away from the understanding of his suffering, and you have an incomplete picture of Jesus.

This year I’ve done some things to prepare myself for missing out on the large and bright celebrations of Easter I grew up with. We have invited a few mothers and their children to hunt Easter eggs with Josiah and eat sugar cookies. We will explain to them the reason we celebrate Easter like this is because it’s good to have a party to celebrate what Jesus did on Resurrection Sunday. I hope the message will be received. If nothing else, it will help us be not so lonely on Easter Sunday.

But as we are still in the middle of Holy Week, we are participating in ways with the cultural understanding of the week. We may not agree with the practices, but we’re trying to walk alongside our new friends in their traditions. One such tradition in our town, San Andres, is a procession through the town, stopping at various tableaus representing the Stations of the Cross. As a protestant, we don’t pray through or even think much about the fourteen Stations of the Cross. But as a good student of history, I know what they are, and have prayed through them in my lifetime. I’m thankful for that experience, as it served me well to better understand the extra-biblical representations I saw during the procession.

I was asked to be a judge, not necessarily because I’m someone special but because I’m an American. Edwin is also an American, of course, but because he’s ethically Filipino the locals find it hard to consider him an outsider. What’s funny is that I’m not really an outsider anymore, since I live in the town and belong to one of the neighborhoods where the tableaus are being presented (each town is divided into several neighborhoods which compete in the tableaus, the grand prize being around $400US). But I’m white-skinned, which makes me a forever outsider, and so I qualified as a judge, along with other white-skinned foreigners visiting the town for various reasons.

Regardless of the reasons I was chosen, it really is an honor to be a part of it. More than that, it gave us a reason to walk in the processional, which we would likely not have done if I hadn’t been asked. This gave us an inside point of view for what the majority of the town showed up for.


Above: Josiah on Edwin’s shoulders as we followed an image in the procession.

We started at the central catholic church in town, where the revered images of different saints were put on floats and started out in procession, following a route that would take them, and us, to see the tableaus. Josiah was excited because he was “in a parade, Mom. I’m in a parade!”

The tableaus were modeled after pictures of the fourteen Stations of the Cross which were notably not historically or culturally accurate. Jesus was frequently portrayed in the pictures (displayed at each station), as seemingly “too holy” to be really suffering. The people playing the part of Jesus are revered in the community as having served a kind of penance. The more difficult the pose they hold through the event, the more talked about they are. In some parts of the Philippines people actually volunteer to be crucified on a cross, as an act of penance and a way to keep themselves “safe,” or “covered” for the rest of the year. Covered. Only the blood of Jesus can do that.


Above: The 11th Station of the Cross: Jesus Crucified
Locally available natural fibers were used to recreate the Stations

Despite my sadness at the misunderstanding of who Jesus is or what he really did for us in his Passion, I was taken aback by the artistry and beauty with which the tableaus were constructed. We judged based not only on visual accuracy (again, based solely on how they matched the pictures of the Stations), but also on their use of indigenous materials, such as abaca, a tree bark fiber most commonly known as hemp and harvested on this island, one of the highest qualities of its kind in the world; coconut in various forms: open shells, cut shells pieced to make various designs; bamboo reeds; palm branches and other parts of the palm tree. It was spectacular.

But one Station stood out as the most troublesome to me. The one in which Jesus dies. At the foot of the cross Mary stands, lit up looking holy and beautiful. She is surrounded by several worshipers, lifting their hands to her in prayer and adoration. Jesus has two worshipers, in the shadows, at the foot of his cross. The obvious central figure is Mary. It is heart breaking. In a place where Mary is honored and revered, worshiped with songs and novenas, “Mama Mary” is the one in the hearts of the people. Jesus is a peripheral. He may be the way to the Father, but Mary is the way to him. Mary is tangible, someone the people can relate to, and somehow the one through whom miracles are expected.

Our town’s local claim to fame is a stone with Mary’s portrait on it, purported to be growing.  People pilgrimage to the church that holds the stone, encased on the altar.  Each Holy Week the stone is removed from its casing and travels along with the processions, the prized possession in the hearts of the people.  Thursday night we heard people walking the distance to the church where the stone is housed, and awoke Friday morning to hear a mass being said in the plaza outside our house by pilgrims on their way to see the stone.  Holy Week and the Passion of Jesus aside: this stone is the real point of interest for worshipers in the area.  (You can see more here: http://batongpaluway.blogspot.com/ and here: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/101031/news/weirdandwacky/miraculous-stone-with-image-of-mary-grows-in-bicol)


Above: The 12th Station of the Cross: Jesus dies

In a culture where Jesus is revered, he is merely second to his mother. No wonder his resurrection is not the point of interest in this week where “we celebrate the death of Christ.”

As a Christian, I only celebrate Christ’s death for what it did for humankind, and what it lead to: he had to die so that death would lose, so that he could come back to life and restore the world to its original glory. Do not hear me to say that I diminish the Cross of Christ, for I know what was accomplished there. I daily acknowledge the grace that flowed out there, and I know that the death of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary was and is a significant accomplishment in the Story that I step into because I’m forgiven in the Cross, covered by the blood shed on the Cross, and alive because I take part in the Bread of Life, slaughtered on the Cross. Yet if we linger in the death of Christ, we don’t know Christ. How can we? There is no Spirit there. There is no Life.

But the Resurrection…that is where the life and works and death of Jesus Christ meet their grand climax: the conquering, victorious Christ, risen from death as Lord and King, plowing the way for his followers to know him in Spirit and in Truth, and that forever. That is the prayer we have for the people of San Andres. Might there be someday a celebration of Christ’s passion so that people will celebrate Life in Christ, celebrated on Easter Sunday as the beginning of knowing, truly knowing, Christ.



Town Pageant


Mr. and Miss San Andres (in Tagalog it’s Ginoo at Binibining Calolbon).  I was asked to judge the competition which was a tremendous honor.  Other judges included politicians, presidents of organizations, CEO’s, etc.  I sat down at 7:05pm and didn’t get up until 2:30am!  I also didn’t tabulate my score sheets correctly…multiple times.  Pretty embarrassing.  There were tons of people there and it was a great cultural learning experiencing for me…and Amy and Karen.



We graduated our second set of students on December 8.  It was an awesome occasion in someone’s backyard…which happens to be right on a beach.  There’s so much excitement for the upcoming year that my next set of classes has a waiting list.  But of course I could only teach a few people at a time since we only have 7 available computers.  Someone donate!

A week in pictures (winding down 2012 #1)

Inspired by our friend Karen Anderson’s “Photo of the Day” and due in part because of our lack of internet reliability, we’ve decided to start a photo journal for the upcoming year.  We’ll wind down 2012 with a series of collages or single photos that will hopefully give you a glimpse of the adventure.  You may have already seen the one below.

Computer Literacy and Reading Comprehension: Kindles and Microsoft

This is my new “old” classroom.  I’ve been moved so that they can renovate the audio visual room.  Jem and Karen helped me out during this particular week because I was struggling with Rheumatic Fever.

Aloha Update

We haven’t kept up on our blog so here’s a quick video update on what’s been happening…on location!

Enrichment Center Outreach

On October 25, 2012 a group of staff and volunteers from the Enrichment Center (our community development non-profit), went on a mission to reach remote communities with compassion and love. It was pretty much a Vacation Bible School. But remember, we don’t know any other Christians…yet.

Our volunteers serve because they believe in the mission and vision of our organization. We seek to enrich the community through service. So when they came up with the idea of doing a children’s ministry, I laid out all my resources on the table. They chose between what they already had and my new ideas and came up with a format identical to a Vacation Bible School, complete with a Veggie Tales movie.

Though our service certainly helped the community we targeted, I hope it takes the volunteers one more step toward Jesus Christ!

Check out the video.

a boil of biblical proportions

I have what my research online defines as a carbuncle.  A carbuncle is a cluster of boils connected under the skin, which come together in one head.  If you’ve ever had cystic acne, that’s actually a form of a boil.  In fact, any pimple that forms a white head of puss is a boil.  But don’t let that fool you.  A full blown boil, or its evil cousin, carbuncle, is infinitely more intense than any acne.

Are you grossed out yet?

Welcome to my world.

I’ve been utterly disgusted by my own flesh for the past week, and in utter, sensitive, burning pain for the past 10 days (although the pain has subsided remarkably now).  Ever time I change the dressing on this oozing would I feel like I’m going to throw up.  And then the memory of the image of it stay sin my mind for the next few hours, making me want to throw up.

I never wanted to enter the medical profession.

Although, I must admit it’s been fascinating watching this thing progress.  Once I finally figured out what it was (thanks to Mom, who said she remembered them being called “risin’s” in her growing up in the South.  The moniker fits, since your skin literally rises like a bubble of lava before it pops.  And it probably burns about as bad.)…and was able to research it online, discovering they’re common in tropical places, I had settled into the fact that the mysterious round red patch of sensitive skin on my thigh was about to get infinitely more disgusting.

Of course, the timing of this thing was perfect, ironically and literally.  Its progression promised a head and subsequent infection and contagious oozing puss during the exact time I was supposed to accompany Edwin and the interns to the north, where we’d planned some fun events and a hike on an island I’d wanted to visit for a while.  I knew I’d need to stay home to properly care for my wound, and the decision was made for me to stay behind.  I was faced with increasing pain and disgusting self-nursing on top of caring for Josiah and our still-in-the-chewing-phase puppy.  I could barely walk, and at times the pain seared so badly I couldn’t walk at all.

I felt sorry for myself.  It seemed as if I always had to be left behind when things were going to be fun.

But lately, I’ve been learning more about, thinking more about, and trying more to apply the Gospel to my life.  So my self-pity lasted on a moment (or a day), and I let it go.  Because, the days I was left behind were already in Jesus’ hands.  I didn’t regret not going because I was with Jesus.  His presence was enough.  And he provided two loving women to come cook and clean and care for Josiah so I could be sick and rest.

In a strange sort of way, the boil was a gift to me from the Lord, because I was able to sleep uninterrupted and know Josiah was ok.  I was able to focus on my health.  Our recent move had taken a lot out of me, and rest is something I’ve needed, to restore sanity and normalcy to a broken and hurting heart.  And I rested and refreshed and quarantined myself until the wound was controlled enough to pose minimal threat to anyone else.

On the third and last day of isolation, my computer died (it was just a faulty charger), and then I was forced to read books not on my “Kindle for Mac.”  This pushed me to a book called Screams in the Desert, a devotional written by and for missionary women.  Honestly, I wanted to check if it had any entries about boils (it didn’t).  There were stories, however, about life as a woman on the mission field – about caring for a family in another culture, about dealing with teasing from other children to your child, about being stared at like a spectacle, about hating the place you live.  And through all of them the answer for the struggle was always Jesus.

Always Jesus.

His plan for our lives as women overseas might be a mystery.  But He is not.  He is constant.  His arms are always open.  And He is where our identity is secure.

And that’s what I’ve been claiming in the pain and trial of this boil.  That, and an intense empathy for Job.