Sunday, April 24, 2011

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Holy Week as we know it

It's Easter weekend, which is hardly mundane around here. Tradition is extremely important in the Philippines and Easter week is a BIG DEAL.

Here are some interesting Holy Week facts about the Philippines (these are generalizations and do not apply to every Filipino!)

- People do not see doctors during this week because they believe God will heal them instead
- Malls and most shopping centers shut down from Thursday on
- On Maundy Thursday thousands upon thousands of mostly youth walk more than 20 miles one way from their homes in greater Manila to the stations of the cross in Antipolo, near the birthing clinic
- Some believe that Jesus dies every Good Friday and is raised every Easter Sunday
- Life grinds to a halt from Friday to Sunday because "God is dead." (This is the BEST time to travel because there in NO traffic!!)
- All over the Philippines, Good Friday finds all forms of penance from crucifixions, flagellantes (self-beating), and even sliding up the side of a mountain on one's belly with hands and feet tied in an effort to earn favor and forgiveness
- Palm fronds blessed on Palm Sunday are prominently displayed in the home all year long as good luck and nearly a year later are burned to use the ashes for Ash Wednesday

One unforgettable story was when we visited the region that holds crucifixions (San Fernando, Pampanga). As a note, the men and sometimes women are tied to the cross with nails driven through the palms and feet, then raised for 3 minutes before they are lowered and the next people get their turn - they do not die. We paid a small fee and got into the press circle at the base of the small knoll where the actual crucifixions take place (hey, we write newsletters so we're journalists too, right?). One forlorn looking man was sitting on the grass waiting for his turn on the cross. When asked why he was getting crucified, he shared that his wife had been very sick 17 years ago. He "made a deal with God," that if He spared his wife, then he would crucify himself for 20 years. He had 3 years left.

This is so sad because God does not make bargains...we cannot earn His favor...we cannot earn forgiveness. It is a gift. And yet it is hard for our finite minds to grasp this.

I am so grateful to serve a Risen Savior who paid it all. He is no longer on that cross like so many crucifixes show. It is an empty cross because it was paid once, for all.

I praise Him because He is Risen. He is risen indeed!!
"He is not here; he has risen , just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay."
Matthew 28:6

Friday, April 15, 2011

Giant Waves, Circumcisions, and Awesome Beauty

After a very rough trip there, including battling rough seas and lots of sea sickness casualties, we finally made the island nearly 12 hours after leaving Manila. (Praise God I was spared from hanging over the side of the boat!)

When we arrived to Balesin, we were all struck by the incredible, unsullied beauty. Until a year ago, there was no electricity on the island and the people barely scraped by with fishing. After a brief recovery period, we jumped in and saw 200 patients our first afternoon. We limped back to dinner and our bunkbeds in small cabins (leftover from the old family who sold the island to the development corp).

The next morning we were back at the elementary school where the clinic was held and went back to work. I took vital signs and then later assisted with minor surgeries such as circumcisions (it is a rite of passage for young boys here) and cyst removals. I was too chicken to help in the dental room with tooth extractions. Yuck. I think we saw about 400 patients total. The prevalent issues were vision problems, hypertension, tuberculosis, and rotten teeth.

Before leaving the island, we were given a few hours to play on the beautiful beach and take a quick boat ride around the western side of the island. It was stunning to see such a beautiful island without neon signs and bars. It looks much like it must have looked 100 years ago.

Thanks so much for your prayers and partnership! It was a wonderful trip and I look forward to hopefully going again during future annual trips.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Visa Success!

Thanks for your prayers! After waiting around for 2 and a half hours, in a hallway crowded with nuns, what looked sort of like Buddhist monks, and several boring looking people like me, my name was finally called by an overworked commissioner. After taking up to 30 minutes with some cases, he quickly glanced at me, our mission director, and my father, flipped through the pages of documents that are required for my application, and looked at my passport. He grabbed a piece of paper and had the director and I each sign our "Acceptance of Authorization." Then told us we could go. Three minutes max. YES!
Now I need to wait 2-4 more weeks for them to process the application (what that means, I don't know), and then I can take my passport back to Immigrations and get it stamped with the right visa.
THANKS for praying!

On to the next adventure!

Monday, April 11, 2011

a letter

In case you don't get my prayer letters, sent tonight:

Hi folks!

Well, after missing my first immigrations hearing because I never got the summons, I have a second chance thanks to a friend who is a judge and knows the boss of the boss of the boss who is in charge of the hearings...and of course because we all know the Big Boss! That second chance is tomorrow at 9:30am, Philippine time or 6:30pm Monday night Pacific Standard Time for West Coast peeps. PLEASE be praying for God's name to be glorified above all, and of course that the commissioner in charge of the hearing will show favor. (This need for first-time applicants of the missionary visa to have a hearing is very new, thanks to a new commissioner appointed by the new president.)

Then, at 1am on Wednesday morning, I will be departing Manila with a group of 30 Christian medical doctors, surgeons, and dentists to help conduct the very first medical clinic on a remote island off the eastern coast of the Philippines. To get there we take an overnight 5 hour bus ride to the coast, then a 4-7 hour outrigger boat ride across the waves. It is a 1.6 sq mi island that is privately owned by a multi-billion dollar development company who is planning to turn the island into a 5-star resort, employing the 850 local islanders as hospitality servers. The organizer of the trip is an elder in our church who is also in this company. He has warned us that the island is full of darkness and that there is only one professing believer. Please pray for God's holy anointing on us, for protection from the powers of darkness, safety, and for God's name to be lifted high. The goal is to return annually to assist with the medical needs of the community.

Thanks so much for praying for these two items. It's exciting to be a part of His obvious working here...and so are you!


Friday, April 8, 2011

real anger

*note - this deals with an issue that may not be appropriate for some folks. read with discretion*

Today I drove along with the sunrise up to the clinic to help out with prenatal check-ups. There were about 10 nursing students there to help out and help they did. Before the day started while they were in preclinical (at about 0730), I introduced myself and shared a bit of what we are about and why we do what we do. I also stressed the importance of breastfeeding, family planning, and how we are equals with those we serve. I asked them to sit beside the mom while they interview new patients so that they are participating in therapeutic communication. It's the little things that make the difference. I also asked them to refer to me any moms who indicated that they were planning to give formula to their baby.

There was one 16 year-old primip who looked older beyond her years who came for her first check-up at 7 months (most come around 12-20 weeks). The weight of the world was in her eyes. Now, most moms say they plan to mix feed their babies, such as when they go back to work or if they "don't have enough milk." This gal said she was planning to exclusively formula feed. WHAT?!? I gently asked why and she said her "mister" wanted her to. I had recently heard from a long time missionary doctor that sometimes the fathers don't want their wives/girlfriends/mistresses to breastfeed because it causes the milkbar to sag. So when I asked if she knew why her mister didn't want her to breastfeed, she just shrugged. I delicately (as delicate as one can be when asking this) asked if it was because he was afraid her breasts would sag and she hung her head and slowly nodded.

At this point I was ready to put my fist through the wall. Are you kidding me? This idiot of a schmuck would keep himself and his girlfriend poor, scrapping together money for formula, mixing it with non-potable water, risking malnutrition, disease, and developmental problems for the sake of delaying gravity? This guy is only 20 and most likely very uneducated. His friends have probably encouraged him to keep his girlfriend from breastfeeding as a matter of machismo. I had to remind myself that he is just as deserving of grace and education as his poor girlfriend.

I asked the girl if he was here and no, he wasn't. I explained to her the importance of breastfeeding and asked if perhaps I could share this with her boyfriend the next time she came for a check-up. She said she would ask him to come. I really hope and pray that he does. Will you pray with me? Before she left I made sure she understood that I wasn't upset with her and that we would work together for the best care of her baby.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Those pesky pests

There are all manner of pests here in the Philippines. Rats the size of a small cat, flies, mosquitoes, roaches, scorpions, itchy caterpillars, and the kind on two wheels. They are simply everywhere on the road like so many fruit flies. It didn't used to be this way...I think there's a motorcycle conspiracy here. Now, I'm not anti-motorcycles, in fact, they can be quite fun. But I absolutely HATE them when the weave in and out of traffic with no regard for the bigger vehicles. I can easily count at least 20 of them idling at any given red light as they squeeze their way through waiting cars. I've had no less than a dozen near misses since my arrival and have been repeatedly warned about them. Motorcycle deaths are to blame for the highest road fatality numbers.

Yesterday I had my first run in with one. I won.

I was driving up to a medical clinic run by an American missionary doc to learn how to conduct ultrasounds. There's this "secret" back road that skips out on much traffic and angst. It's pretty small and unused. At this particularly sharp turn going up a steep hill, I get stuck in a line of vehicles behind a big truck chugging in first gear up the hill. It was too tight to safely pass him. Folks, he was going PAINFULLY slow. Of course there were dozens of those little fruit flies passing us on the left and right. We finally neared my left turn to pull into the subdivision of the clinic (and the birthing clinic!) and I was excited to skip out on the rest of the funeral march behind the truck. I put my blinker on, glanced in my mirrors, checked the oncoming lane and started to turn left.


Shocked, I checked the left mirror and there was a motorcycle falling to the ground in very slow motion. I quickly pulled into the subdivision, hopped out, and ran down the road to check on my victim (or was I the victim?). Not only was there a thoughtless, reckless dude driving the motorcycle, he had his two young kids he was taking to school!!! The kids were standing up and walking to the edge of the road and the guy was picking up his bike, quite shaken but appeared to be unharmed. I checked over the kids, kneeling down to see their eyes while I asked them if they were ok. The driver pulled off his jacket and revealed a cop uniform! Yikes, this guy was a cop! By this time all the guys hanging around the clinic came running down and started chewing the driver out for being reckless. Then I yelled at him because he still had part of his bike in the road, just asking to be hit again. I asked him if he was ok, he sheepishly showed me his scraped knuckles, but he was extremely lucky he was ok and his bike was unscathed. His kids piled back on the motorcycle and he skedaddled before the other guys took their own vengeance on him.

I didn't bother with taking him to the police office to file an accident report because who knows what cronies he has there that would conveniently make it my fault. As a white person, it's always our fault. A friend recently had a drunken motorcycle driver hit the back of her car, dislocating his shoulder. And SHE was expected to pay his hospital bill and purchase his sling simply because she's white. So I wasn't going to push it.

My car has a scratch and a small dent which I should be able to get hammered out. I was shaken, but thankful it wasn't worse. A different missionary turning left at the same corner creamed a motorcyclist and that dude had broken bones. God knew I didn't need that kind of drama this soon.

On a happier note, I scanned my first fetus yesterday under the gentle and guidance of a fantastic Swiss missionary doctor. I loved it! I'm very excited to be able to do this confidently and competently in the future for the moms at the birthing clinic.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Guess I'm Here to Stay

Folks, there's no denying it. Today I used my very last Target brand cotton round. Tear.

Now this isn't that big of a deal, but it is the last of the package I brought with me and I had to go out and buy a local replacement (which will work just fine). It's weird how I mourn the little things that mark the passing of time. After all, it's these little things that make me release the grip of the US and make me feel like I'm really here to stay for a while, such as cotton rounds, toothpaste, shampoo & conditioner, and lotion. (You'd be surprised how HARD it is to find lotion here that doesn't have whitening agents in it. As if I'm not white enough, thank you very much!!!)

So slowly but surely I'm adjusting, settling, and figuring out my place in this land.