This video doesn’t capture the extent of transformation amongst individuals, local partners and Gawang Laya as a whole. But it captures something… we hope to share that as faithfully as we can.
Many things happened during this third GL trip.
Boxes were shattered. Faith was stretched. Perspectives were changed. Preconceptions became misconceptions. Comfort zones were left behind.
It has now been over a month since we finished our third Gawang Laya trip. I wanted to make sure I wrote this post a month later and not during the trip, to reflect deeper and end this trip’s blogs by beginning a new chapter. What I mean by that is that the reflections of the GL13 trip will be brought to a close but we want to begin a new journey. We have come to our goal of going to three awareness/exposure/engagement trips, and we now have the opportunity and challenge to make important decisions regarding the future of Gawang Laya. Decisions about partnerships, long term projects, organisational identity and core values. These decisions shaped by the countless stories of what God is doing with people and communities, and involving us in His story of transforming them. Stories that are filled with hope - where the people of God choose to partner with the great Hope-giver - but also stories of darkness, which can leave one paralysed to act.
Let me tell you ONE – a story about dots on a page.
I met Dr. Maggay back in 2008 and she has a passion for healthy social transformation, specifically for Philippines. Out of all places, I met her in Canberra through Micah Challenge, as she was a keynote speaker… Dot.
I met Pastor Roel Tabasa in 2007 as he was doing a speaking tour for Compassion. They sponsor over 600 kids, through their church, with a heart for people in poor communities. His church was located in a red-light district and the place where I grew up as a kid… Dot.
I first knew of Ruth Callanta back in 2007 when I decided to write an essay regarding the situation in the Philippines, because she had a book on Philippine poverty. This led to our connection with CCT (Center for Community Transformation) – an organisation that started with addressing poverty through micro-financing and now has grown to address many areas of poverty. Dot.
Now one can either believe in ‘coincidence’ or ‘God’s plan’ – I decided to choose the latter.
I told you that I was going to tell you one story, and that seemed like it was three stories plus my own personal story, but let me tell you that that is actually ONE STORY. It is a beautiful story about how God put three dots on a page, which did not seem to connect, but as we stepped out in faith, God started to ‘join the dots’ and paint a beautiful kingdom picture for us. To make it even more complicated, and much bigger, he added more dots to the page.
(For a further look into my reflection after the first trip, click here http://gawanglaya.tumblr.com/post/12275757214/connecting-the-dots)
God was creating a beautiful kingdom masterpiece of what Gawang Laya could be… what it will be.
I cannot begin to describe how life changing it has been to be part of what God is doing though Gawang Laya in the last few years. It started as a small dream and now it has become a movement. People are rallying around a cause that is not revolved around ‘self’ but rather around ‘others’. People daring to believe that their small existence can be used by God and for God.
Part of this ONE STORY, however, also includes the depth of darkness and confronting powers of it. It can lead many of us to the point of paralysis and inaction. This is a tension that we live in where darkness is ever so present, and it seems to be everywhere, but there is also the power of light – God’s light – and we, the children of the light, must shine brighter beyond our individual fears, static knowledge and perceived hopelessness.
Tension, Chaos and Questions…
We must BE though we are NOT. This is the tension we live in.
Part of our collective reflection is that these short-term trips are not enough. We feel that we are treating Philippines as if it were a ‘zoo’ that we are visiting as a field excursion. We know that it is for the purpose of long term projects but we do not want to do damage to our local partners and what they are doing by treating their ministries as our ‘righteous tourism’.
This is the tension of our trips.
We want to faithfully engage the missional context of the Philippines by being incarnational and kenotically immersing into the community – but we are never going to be part of the LOOB (inside) because we are from the LABAS (outside). There are oceans that separate us, and how arrogant it is for us to think that we could ever truly know what it is like to be them?!
This is the tension of our reality and the demands of kenosis (journey of emptying like Christ – Philippians 2).
We have taught English, conducted music lessons, ran sports clinics, did home-stays with locals for days, visited hardworking NGO’s, donated money to churches and development organisations, financially supported typhoon relief, funded our own trip, played games with kids, facilitated feeding programs, taught art classes, etc. But did any of it make a difference? Did we just parachute in, consumed, and out a few weeks later? Is that what Jesus would do?
This is the tension of our practical mission experience.
We are being so blessed by the local people in the Philippines but why is that so? Aren’t we suppose to bless them? We are trying to make a two-way relational bridge but all we seem to be able to offer is money… why do the poor bless us so much and all we have to give back is money?
This is the tension of God’s kingdom economy.
Over the years, we have learned to embrace that tension and see that tension is healthy - tension will also be our guiding compass.
I, this year, was in the group engaging in Mindanao and particularly with a people group called the Magindanon. I was reflecting on the same questions regarding the place of tension we were in, like I have been over the last few years of Gawang Laya. One night, one of the local Magindanon leaders shed light on this tension. He taught us the word tademan. He explains that the ‘work’ that people do that helps the world (humanity and creation) is tademan. This means that it has some eternal kingdom value that continues beyond our time (my interpretative words). It does not have to be measured, quantified and justified – it is tademan – the ‘legacy’ and work of the Kingdom of God.
There is still much tension for Gawang Laya but this will not drive us into paralysis. Instead we will embrace this tension and, this discomfort that it brings out of us, will be our compass, as we seek for God to guide us as we surrender control to Him.
So as I write this post here at home in Australia, I do feel like I left another one. In the end, we are at ‘home’ when we, His children, are joining the Father in His mission to restore creation – to announce and demonstrate that this creation was CREATED FREE. Our true home is God’s kingdom.
We are still coming…
Liz wrote this post (http://gawanglaya.tumblr.com/post/38994776231/we-are-coming) before she came to the Gawang Laya ’13 trip. She reminisces of a creative response wall back in Hillsong 2007, in the Compassion tent, where one writing stated, ‘We are coming’. Weird and idealistic as that statement was, it connected with her. What Liz didn’t know was that I was the one who wrote that statement. It stemmed from a decade of searching how to respond to the human trafficking in the Philippines and the people there in desperate need. It was naïve faithful cry of a child of God discontent with the way the world is.
It was a promise.
Three years later, a few stepped out in faith. Three trips later, we have a movement. This now goes beyond just one person or a few – it is a movement of God, and a movement of His people.
BUT it is not enough for us to come to Philippines, though it is a start. There’s still much work to be done but we can rest assured that it’ll be accomplished by the gracious hands of our Father. We are simply, and faithfully, joining Dad with our little hands – holding his guiding hand in trust and working with our hands, with what he has given us.
This song was written by Daniel J, Marie & Roni (from the Cebu team) during the trip to share with the rest of the Gawang Laya team.
Who knew so much joy could be found?
You wouldn’t think it, when you first look around
But once you stop and see, their community
You’ll see there’s so much more
Maybe our hands are too full
Maybe our hearts are too hard
If we listened better
If we worked together
Open our eyes to this,
World we’re living in
We would see more of You
God knew so much joy could be found
God saw it, when He first looked around
God help us to stop and see, their community
To see there’s so much more
Let us put aside our distractions
Let us lay down all of our fears
Let us not forget
Who we’ve met
And what we’ve learnt from here
God our hands are too full
God our hearts are too hard
Help us listen better
Help us work together
Open our eyes to this,
World we’re living in
So we can see more of You
So we can hear more of You
God, we want more of You
Going to the Philippines with Gawang Laya in January 2013 has taught me a lot. I knew I was going to be blessed but I thought that “we” were going to bless others (in the Philippines) more than they will bless us. How egotistical of me. God indeed taught me so many things on this journey, one of them is humility.
He showed me that the world consists of many - our global community. That “I” is irrelevant when there are so many that need help. But in discovering this, God also showed me “who I am”. And “who I am” is the reason why I must care. I use to identify myself as Australian (with a Filipino background). Australian because this is my adoptive country who has fed me, given me a good job and a home where I have raised my young family. I am ashamed to admit that I have disregarded my Filipino roots. This is a discovery I am not proud of but I know that this is part of what God wanted me to learn in this journey. Going to the Philippines has made me re-discover my Filipino roots. I now have a better understanding of who I am as a Filipino-Australian.
God showed me so many wonderful things in the Philippines. He showed me how “community” is important to Filipinos and this is the reason why they care about their neighbours. They lean on each other when they need help but also share the good times (the happy times). They serve their community with unconditional love. I saw darkness but saw God’s love in the people that we met who were the light in their communities.
My peeps (my people) taught me to be joyful in the simple things in life. I realised that I have gotten used to getting lots of blessings and have not appreciated the small doses of goodness that God has given me.. To be thankful that I can have 5 meals a day compared to some in the Philippines that can only afford to have 1 meal a day. To be thankful that I can enjoy clean water and drink straight from the tap, that’s a biggie you can’t do that in the Philippines. To be thankful that I have a toilet, that was challenging for some of us in the group who had to use a bucket during their home stay. The people we visited did not have a lot. They worked hard but only had enough to feed their family but they were truly happy because they have God and that’s all they need. This is the true meaning of faith. When they trust in God that he will provide today’s daily bread (literally). They don’t know what they will eat tomorrow but they trust in God that he will provide for them. They believe with all their heart that God loves them and will not forsake them. How amazing to see all this in action!
God is good and just, he is love. Therefore, I can no longer be self-ish, I need to spur into action for my global community. The story has just begun…
- Grace Juco
Wow, it’s crazy how fast 3 years has gone when you learn and experience so much. During those years, I’ve heard stories that have made me feel overwhelmed, happy and sad aswell as seen lives making me angry, hopeful and blessed. Experiencing God’s mission has opened my eyes on how awesome and strong God’s love is. It is funny to reflect on who I was on the first trip, a 16 year old boy entering a culture that he never thought existed and now a 19 year old, experiencing their lives by immersing into their community, their home.
Going into this third and last awareness trip, a question ran through my mind, “What is God’s plan for me in this trip?” and soon enough God would show me the answer to my question.
In this trip, I had the opportunity to experience the lifestyle of different families by immersing in both provincial and urban areas. Leading up to the home stays, nerves started to overrun me as I focused more on myself rather than the families I would be staying with. During our orientation with CCAC (Cebu City Alliance Church) I remember hearing Pastor Roel (their Pastor) telling us “You are not there to bless them, you are there for them to bless you.” and as I heard those words I felt God taking my nerves away and making me start focusing on Him and what He has planned for me. As I arrived at my provincial and urban homes, all the nerves and my western culture mindset was overtaken by excitement and passion. During my stays in Bacay (Provincial) and Kamagayan (Urban), I was so overwhelmed by the power of God, hearing the stories and dreams of the family members. Even through the hard work they go through everyday, their passion for God is so amazing. As I talked and created a relationship with the family, the hardest thing for me was to leave their home. Each night I would lay in bed, reflecting on what they have taught me: their dreams, their stories, their lives, and their passion for God.
I remember the final night of my provincial stay, I was sitting on the shore with Pastor Mark and Alven (second youngest in the family), and Alven shared his dream to me. “My dream one day is that I will be on that plane going to another country.” As I heard his dream for himself and his family, my heart broke as the realization that for some of us that dream would be small but knowing that the dream is BIG makes it more heart breaking but at the same time felt happy as I knew God had a plan for him and his family. It was amazing to see that no matter if the family and community’s dream was big and hard, I felt the sense of joy and God’s grace within the family, which made my short stay memorable and such a blessing.
Through the trip, I was so blessed by different stories of the families. Sitting down in Kamagayan (red light district) watching TV with Ate Inday (Host Mum), Lovely (daughter), Xeana (grand-daughter), I had the opportunity to be blessed by their stories and the joy in their family. During my stay, as I played toys and laughed with the family I felt the happiness, the joy within them, even through particular situations their joy and faith in God was so strong. As my stay with them approached the end, I was encouraged by the words of my mum, Ate Inday as she told me “It feels like you’re my adopted son, I will always remember you”, the welcoming feeling made it hard to say goodbye.
As I reflect on this year’s trip, God has shown me many things, which has changed me in everyway possible. I have met and created friendships with people so passionate for God, willing to join in His mission. From learning about Philippines culture to immersing into it, God’s love and grace is amazing. He truly does make beautiful things.
- Chris Flores
I’m writing about this now because I’ll probably forget about it. The past 5 weeks have been the best five weeks of my life. Going to the gawang laya awareness trip has made me see a different point of view towards life. It all started last year, 2012.
My mum kept asking me if I wanted to go on this trip. I had no intention of going. Soon, she gave up and forced me. I started helping at the GL (Gawang Laya) fundraisers so she would think I don’t have to go for some reason, but yeah, she didn’t change her mind. We had meetings about what we were going to do there and that we would split into 3 groups. Luzon, Mindanao and Cebu. I was in team Cebu.
I kept thinking that it wouldn’t come quick and I still had the rest of the year, but the year went really fast. Next thing I knew, it was school holidays and we were packing for the Philippines. We went to the airport, said our goodbyes, and headed to Darwin. We spent our new years eve there. Soon, we were flying to Manila. It was about 4am or 5am when we arrived. We were taken to ‘Bayview hotel’. We ate at Jollibee, and I remember walking the streets seeing so much poverty, I wanted to go back home. It was all too much for me. After 2 days we headed to Tagaytay. On the way, I saw so much poverty, it made me more homesick. When we arrived at Tagaytay, it was amazing. It was cold, windy, and you couldn’t smell pollution. It was a retreat, and helped me take my mind off things. While we were there, we heard some inspirational stories and were given further briefing. We had 2 stays, 1 in the provinces and 1 in the urban areas. A lot of us, at this point were frightened, and did not want to go at all.
3 days had passed, and we left tagaytay to go our separate ways. My family stayed in Manila for my cousins wedding, so I was pretty glad I didn’t have to go yet, even though we were still in manila where it’s full of poverty.
After the wedding, we left for Cebu. I was glad to be in Cebu, because I had already been there 7 years ago, so I was pretty comfortable.
We stayed at Crown Regency. As we were driving there, I could remember everything. It felt like.. home.
The next day, we went with Pastor Daniel who was part of CCAC (Cebu City Alliance Church) to pick up the team staying at their provincial homes. At Marie’s home stay, I met a guy named Eugene. He told me he didn’t like the Philippines. He wanted to go somewhere else. It really shook me when I heard this.
They were all sad to leave and loved their host families, communities and area. It really pumped me up for our home stay in urban.
A day before the urban, we went to CCAC to talk to teens sponsored by Compassion. It wasn’t very easy for me, because they spoke Cebuano and were crushing on me. Yeah..
2 days later, we were into our urban. My mum and I stayed in Cogon- Pardo with Ate Michelle and Marie. We got to meet Marie’s family and stayed with them for two days. We were mostly with the daughter, ate Iy-Iy. They had a small house with a big family. They were very welcoming and we really enjoyed our stay. We had a feeding for the young ones and a performance for them too.
As soon as we knew it, 2 days had gone and we had to leave. I didn’t want to leave though. In fact, I don’t think anyone did.
It was sad to leave.
We had a debrief at CCAC about what we learned and how we’ve been. Everyone enjoyed their stay and wanted to go back again.
Little did they know we were coming back in 2 days to give them some food and supplies.
We all got to see each others home stays. Some had it better than others. Some had it easy. Some had it really hard. But it was good to see everyone happy to see their families again and show off their houses, families, beds and toilets.
Soon after, the other teams arrived and we showed them our home stays. Everyone was comparing each other’s place, which wasn’t such a good thing.
The next few days were just debriefs and sharing what we learnt and did during the past week. It was good that everyone, even in the circumstances and whats been happening, enjoyed their area.
On the last day at CCAC, we had a surprise dinner for us. All of our host families ( the Cebu team) had come. It was good to see them one last time. We had food, photos, presents and said our goodbyes to our our host families, CCAC, and our teams.
The next few days had been R&R. On the last day at Crown Regency, we had a final debrief before we left Cebu. Everyone didn’t like the fact that they had to stay at Crown. It’s like they just went back to their Western lives, and forgot everything they’ve been through the past week. We all hoped to remember this and go back home remembering what we did.
The next few days were holidays for us. It was a good way to bond again. Half went to borocay and the rest went to Palawan. We went snorkeling, saw fireflies, went on a zipline, saw crocodiles, and ate food. Lots of it.
After 3 days we headed to Manila where my whole family got sick so that sucked. Haha
Once we got back to Australia, I couldn’t help but miss the Philippines. I still do. This Gawang Laya trip has helped me to see things differently. With a positive view and look ant the bright side of life. I wish I could do it all again.
- Daniel Juco
For years I heard Marbz “debrief” about Philippines. So many questions asked, so many strategies formulated.
What do we do about a Philippines that is so … sinulog?
We knew in the end that God was already answering the question, but we wanted to know it and be part of it. As I lay on the floor with the rest of the family of my host home stay, with cockroaches flying around and swooping down attacking my eyes, the smell of piss and poo mixed with soap from outside and a cat that kept freaking sleeping on top of my head, in a place called Lorega (a town of about 12000 people living in a cemetery); Angel, the seven year old daughter of my host mother, would look up at me from her place on the banig that we all shared, smile a big smile and say “Hi Kuya Jung”. It was this kind of thing that made me say to myself,
“Joy in my heart, man”.
Be careful what you ask of God coz He might just answer you, and not a Disney fairy tale answer, but the real hard truth. The kind of truth that reveals true beauty - God was there! In a place that was so dark, there was light. And I saw it in the workers and members of the CCAC. And they loved the light!
“I am thankful because God provided today and I pray that He’ll do the same tomorrow. If He doesn’t its ok, coz I know He is in control and His plans are good”.
These were the recurring (paraphrased) words of some of the people that I met in Lorega. Sounds so cliché for us, but for them, it was real. What did I learn in Phils? Something that I already knew but keep forgetting … God loves us, He has a plan to restore everything and that plan is in place in different ways through different brothers and sisters in Christ! God is good! I look forward to being part of that plan.
It IS more fun in the Philippines when you’re parasailing across the waters of Boracay. It IS more fun in the Philippines when you wake up to the view of the sunrise over the ocean just a few steps from your door. It IS more fun when these “Raybans” only cost $1.50 and this buko shake in hand, 80 cents. It was fun until I mistook a boy child to be a dog. It was fun until my rose-coloured lenses from which I viewed this place were shattered. How quick was I to be quickly blinded by my pursuit to have the best at the lowest price? How did I become so blinded to the people we came here to serve? These people –my people– I came to learn more from…
After this re-awakening, this fun experience was shortly lived and one can only deduce it to an experience of paralysis. Paralysis in my desire to reach out and engage with these children like the Luzon team did in Magdalena however I felt paralysed because… well I still have to figure this part out. How do I commit to this partnership in God’s mission to make His Kingdom realised in this world as one person, as Krystle? How do I commit without a team behind me to support and affirm the decisions I make? What does it mean for me as an individual to partner in God’s mission in the context that I have; through my pananaw –through my worldview? I am paralysed with not knowing how to help.
Suddenly all the hope I had been privileged to see was not as easily visible as an individual.
It’s been 2 days since my encounter with the streetboy and my responses to what I’m confronted with varies as each day passes by –encounters ranging from awkward smiles, admiring their sandcastles to giving them Skyflakes crackers. With each reflection I come to terms with the fact that I am not the solution, I am but a partner in God’s mission already present here, even in Boracay. I still don’t have the answers as to what this means to me personally but one thought that continues to nag at me is that I need to know what it means for me to live with my “excess”; to shake off my paralysis and give with what I can give within my means.
As we venture back to our own vortices of self, our prayer is that these encounters will remain in our hearts, compelling us to maintain a sense of kenosis in whatever context we are placed in - ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will. I am comforted that we Gawang Laya, are made up of a network of communities all willing to open our hearts and our hands to this mission that is beyond what we first imagined, His mission that is already moving long before we were here.
On our last night in Cebu, the last night we would all be together, Marbz called us all for one final debrief. We discussed what we disliked most in the past 3 weeks and how that was related to our self-entitlements, such as the lack of communication between each other and how easy it was for us to revert to our western ways of thinking. The latter was something that weighed on my heart, especially as I was on the plane home. My biggest fear as the trip was nearing its end, was that I’d once again recommence my mundane day-to-day life and forget how I’d been changed and challenged in the past 3 weeks. That my pananaw or perspective on life would once again be clouded by my drive to achieve and my need to plan every aspect of my life.
A key theme, that was brought up since the beginning of the trip and which we were all reminded of again that night, was kenosis. We reflected on how we had allowed ourselves to be emptied at various times during the trip, so that his Spirit could fill us. And it was this reminder that assured me that my journey of transformation wasn’t over, it was merely the beginning. God had begun to stir in my heart a passion for the lost, the needy, the hurt and the hungry. As I continue to empty myself and be receptive to God’s will, I know he will continue to reveal to me His plans and dreams for my life. I only need to be obedient to his calling.