It is nearly impossible to put into the words all that happened on our trip to the Philippines. We are in awe and so thankful. If you prayed for us, THANK YOU! We had smooth, uneventful travel (on international flights, ferries, inter-island flights, and various vans, trucks and busses while on the islands). None of our team of 30+ got sick, even though the final days and all of our various departing flights were in the thick of the corona virus outbreak.
The 15 kids who joined us were just incredible and are now so dear to my heart, it brings a lump to my throat to think about them!
They were so sweet, prepared, hard working and fun, with such joyful, playful, worshipful spirits. They sang everywhere they went. They helped each other, served happily whatever was asked of them, and were absolutely radiant on every stage. It was delight to travel and do 8 concerts with them, as well as the handful of other adult leaders--friends of Pastor David and Jen Hinchey's from Japan, California and the Philippines.
Here is a photo of the whole gang, after the last event at a school in Manila. I like the banner hanging above us. He is what this tour was all about. (Missing from this photo: Daniel Callaway who returned to Japan earlier.)
We could never have even dreamed of this tour, let alone pulled it off without all the leaders you see in this photo above. And I can't forget Gi (on the far left)--what a gem! She has been training the team for years, and was in front of them at every concert, doing the motions and giving them confidence. She's also engaged to one of the Californians, so I can't wait to see her on this side of the Pacific. Oh, and some of these ladies were incredible hair braiders! I never did get mine done, and I should have!
All of the concerts were a joy and inspiration to Ron and me--all of them packed, with so many people singing their hearts out! We kept shaking our heads and praising God.
The people of the Philippines are some of the sweetest, most joyful, playful and contented people we've ever known. We've heard that the Philippines are known as the "islands of smiles." I agree. Just check out these smiles...this is Pastor Bem (one of Jen's many brothers, who now pastors the church in Himamaylan) having fun with some of the local boys at the back of our concerts there. These are the kinds of smiles we saw all over the Philippines!
Some of the concerts:
Robinson Mall in Cebu
Ayala Mall in Bacolod
Fellowship Baptist Church in Kabankalan!
Hope Christian School in Legazpi
Ikthus Church in Bacolod
Calvary Chapel Dumaguete
As always, Ron worked his magic with the various sound systems. We were blessed by the legwork done by the locals in acquiring sound systems for these venues. Thankfully Ron was there for most of the larger venues, like the ones in malls. After he left, Pastor David Hinchey (the mastermind and organizer of the entire trip) and Nick Metroka covered the sound needs well. I was in good hands.
My voice did start to wear out during one of the concerts, and there were plenty of times I thought I was in serious trouble. So, I sent out a call for prayer to some of my prayer warrior friends back home, and as always, God provided just enough. I'm continually learning (as God continues to teach me) that the end goal of these concerts isn't about me at all. Even though the concerts might have my name on the poster or banner, and our songs are what's on tap for the evening's celebration, it's about bringing glory to the Lord Jesus, pointing people to His great love for us, and leading others to praise Him. He can accomplish that through imperfect, tattered, unlikely vessels, when we are willing and we just step out in faith. Hearts that are completely His usually aren't sizing up the quality of someone's voice or the aesthetics of a venue...they are happy for an opportunity to worship Him. And the more I can get out of the way and point to Him, the better. I'm forever learning this...
The concerts, organized by David Hinchey and faithful volunteers from many different groups and churches, were in malls (Cebu and Bacolod), at churches (in Kabankalan, Dumaguette, Himamaylan, and Bacolod) and at schools (Hope School in Legazpi, and Tabernacle of Faith in Manila). At every one of these events I got to interact quite a bit with the people, hugging and sharing my sweat with them! Even though January is "winter" in the Philippines, and it wasn't unbearably hot outside, a few of the events were not air conditioned well or at all, and the active crowds quickly turned it into a sauna, with me sweating the most of anyone! I left my heart and sweat everywhere we went.
Pastor David and his team arranged months ahead of time to distribute gift boxes to the students at a couple of local public schools. Each child was given a shoe box prepared especially for him/her by a family in either California, Japan or North Carolina. Oh, the JOY of this experience! Such gratitude, sharing, zero grumbling!
One of the unforgettable little concerts was the one we did at our "home base" church in Himamaylan, Simbahan sa Bukid. This is the church started by Pastor David and his wife Jen and her large, wonderful family. Her brother Bem is now the pastor. They built that church from literally ground zero. There was nothing but sugar cane fields there (complete with lots of dark spirits and legends). Now that church is an oasis, a light on a hill, a place where people all over the mountain come to play, visit, and worship and grow in Christ. The 15 kids who traveled with us are from this mountain village, so Simbahan sa Bukid is like home to them. Doing the concert there for their peers, friends and family was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Three times they had me sit down while one of the girls on the team put on a fake headset and played "me." It was so adorable! I also sat down while they performed our newer ballad Jeremiah 29:11. Watching them brought me to tears. God has given them a hope and a very bright future in Jesus.
Pastor David also organized two workshops for children's ministry leaders, one held at a beautiful Calvary College campus in Dumaguete and the other in Legazpi. These leaders have such passion and joy in serving the kids in their churches. I was honored to share our songs, some helpful wisdom (hopefully), and encourage them in their callings.
One precious thing (which unfortunately Ron had to miss) was seeing the kids on the team fly in a plane for the first time. They were so wide-eyed and appreciative! In fact, they were treated to so many firsts...staying in a hotel, eating breakfast at an all-you-can-eat buffet (many of them had never scene anything like that). Twice we stayed in hotels that had a pool--they couldn't believe it and soaked it in...always with those smiles!
Our mode of transportation on the first three islands were packed multi-passenger vans, but in Manila we were all together on a nice bus. The sound of the kids singing and singing, laughing and singing all day NEVER got old.
These kids are lights in their world. It makes me teary just thinking about them, what God is graciously doing in their lives, and that for some crazy reason God gave us the joy of making music that is written on their hearts and lips. We feel crazy privileged!
Our last concert was in Manila, where we did a chapel concert for kids at a wonderful Christian school, Tabernacle of Faith. I had been there two years ago, so what a joyful reunion! Oh, the volume and joy! I also loved learning how this school got started...a dear couple pulled kids off the streets (orphans) into their home, and eventually saw they needed to be educated. From 20 kids in their house to a respected school of hundreds of students...now out there changing the world.
I kept meeting and getting to know people with stories of faith that inspired and humbled me so greatly. People who left the comfort of home in Colorado to start churches on completely undeveloped islands there in the Philippines (David Matthews--see next blog). Another family who heard the Lord's call to start a church in an extremely rural area outside Dumaguete, and they simply obeyed. And I told you about Pastor David Hinchey whose obedience in starting a church in Himamaylan has been an unspeakably life-changing blessing for hundreds of people who now follow Jesus, have a place to call home, and are shining for Him out in their community at large. (Below: David and Jen Hinchey, David Matthews...and Ronald McDonald)
These people are all so humble, they would never want to draw attention to themselves. That makes me admire them even more.
One more incredible person I got to see again over there is my friend Cecile, who every Sunday goes out to a street corner in Manila to do a Bible Study with street kids. This gathering started years ago with a handful of kids, and now 60-80 of them are out there waiting for her when she arrives every Sunday, rain or shine. The passion, dedication and joy with which she does this...if fires me up, truly. I was so blessed, so challenged over and over by so many courageous, humble heroes like these.
Cecile De Guzman
I barely slept on this trip, as per usual when I'm in S.E. Asia. I'm not quit sure why this is...maybe its the time change, but surely its also because I'm just too excited to sleep. I couldn't wait to wake up every day and see what the Lord had in store. I loved hearing roosters waking us up to each new day, welcoming us to another day of adventure (including hair-raising drives on the streets of the Philippines...so fun!) friendship, faith and fellowship. I'm not getting any younger, but as long as God provides and he gives health and an abundance of energy to us, Ron and I will keep saying "yes" to adventures. It is when we say YES that we see the Lord in new ways...in people...in His endlessly awe-inspiring creation...in His endless ability to connect hearts in Him as if we'd known each other all our lives...in His ability to work all things for good as we trust Him. I will keep on followin, keep on followin You, Lord.
Our very last stop was to treat the kids to a trip to the Mall of Asia. We ate, wandered around, and had ice cream at a ColdStone Creamery, where their staff was super playfully launching cups of ice cream to customers and doing dances for us. Someone finally asked who this large groups of fun kids were (us), and a leader explained and told them what we had just done all over the Philippines. They asked if we would do one of our songs. The song "ROAR" definitely was the theme song of the trip. The team loved it, and the message, "I'll Sing to You My King" was definitely our goal and passion. What a FUN surprise and joyful way to wrap up our time together, with those kids one last time shining the love of our Jesus!!! It was a trip of a lifetime...if the Lord wills and tarries His return, I really hope to go back. But for now, I praise God for all these sweet memories and more. And thank you for coming along, going alongside in prayer. I could feel it. We are one.