A year ago I decided to write a real life blog. No mask, no rose-coloured glasses, no filters, just the reality of my everyday life living on the mission field in the Philippines. I titled the blog Missionary Unfiltered. Another year has passed and we have experienced many incredible blessings, and have witnessed God working in miraculous ways. We are constantly grateful for the enduring support and generosity from those who partner in our work and the prayers that are offered on our behalf. We enjoy being able to update our supporters with newsletters focussing on our various Safe Haven ministries and sharing stories of the children and families that God has sent to our door. But If I’m really honest, sharing our ministry stories is the easy bit; it is so much more difficult to share about ourselves. Perhaps it’s time for Missionary Unfiltered Part 2. So once again, make a coffee and sit back as I share a little of my challenges on the mission field.
As a child growing up in church, I was always in awe of the missionaries who came to speak at missionary conferences. I would sit glued to my seat with wide eyes as they described the conditions that they lived in and their incredible experiences. These people were everyday superheroes, and I was the kid who had an autograph book (very popular in the 1970s) who would run up so I could meet them face-to-face. To me these missionaries were amazing. They seemed to have incredible strength, stamina and a ‘Bat phone’ connection direct to God.
My husband and I have been working in Manila for five years now in a transitional home for abused, neglected, abandoned and traumatized children. As I have mentioned before, if people had told me years ago that I would be a missionary living in Manila and be traipsing regularly through the biggest garbage tip in Manila to work with the urban poor, I'd have laughed loudly and fallen off my platform shoes. But here I am, and not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I don't feel saintly, chosen, or even the least bit like a superhero. I am just plain old Cherie, a woman who hates to sweat, living in an incredibly humid country, who struggles each day with the reality of living and working where God has placed her. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and some days I laugh so hard it hurts — and some days I don't.
As a child, as I listened to the missionaries of my childhood, what I did not see or realise was that they, too, were just ordinary people responding to the call that God had made on their lives. They had no hidden superhero cape nor did they have super powers, but they were just simple jars of clay (2 Cor 4:7). Imagine – we are but human clay vessels that carry God’s amazing message, so precious and so valuable. There is nothing special about a clay jar, it is what is inside the jar that is precious. Clay jars are vulnerable, easily battered, cracked and worn.
So let’s get real and raw. I struggle being separated from my eldest son Nic who lives in Australia. I struggle being away from my parents and family, and from my husband Dave’s parents and his family. I miss my friends too, so very much. I miss eating lamb dinners, being able to quickly go to the shops, having four seasons in a year, breathing fresh air, seeing blue skies, smelling the freshly mown grass, and being able to swim at the beach.
No matter how long I live here I will never get used to the smell of Payatas (the garbage dump area) or the heartbreak of meeting a traumatized child for the first time. I still wince at the stories of kidnapping and incest, and still cry when the children share their stories of abuse from the very people who were supposed to love them most of all. My heart aches each time I stand beside a child in court as they have to testify against the offender who has abused them in horrific ways.
I struggle daily with the corruption that runs rampant within this country — that filters through from those who hold positions of responsibility and power in government organisations, all the way down to the simple everyday services offered by the person in the street. I feel helpless when the drug raids happen in these communities in which we work, killing innocent fathers and uncles and sons, removing the family’s providers and increasing the poverty. I feel useless when a young mother shows me the bullet lodged in her leg when she was simply caught in the crossfire; when the young beggar boy asks me for Panadol as he has a sore leg — and then I discover that only a few days ago he was hit by a motorcycle and his leg is badly broken. I feel exhausted with the many trips through heavy traffic to different hospitals and government facilities, and the constant stress that comes with advocating for those in need.
I also find it exhausting to deal with the cultural differences: Why do two people have to count the money I hand to the cashier when I do the shopping? Then there are two more to count, pack, then recount the items as they pack? Why do they have to place vegetables that are already wrapped in plastic in another plastic bag before I can purchase them? Why do people step off the escalator and just stop? Don’t they see the hundreds of people behind them who are falling like dominoes? Why is there a naked man dancing in the street? Why do the six policemen want to tow my car away because I parked within the lines? Can’t they see that parking across the painted bays is just ridiculous? And how can I convince them that the car they want to tow away isn’t even mine! And then today, why does the carton of eggs need to be decorated with a plastic ribbon, and why are the eggs deemed unsafe until there’s plastic tape around the box they have been packed in? This place is just messing with my head!
Then there is the day-to-day administration, organisation, time and unending paperwork needed to run Safe Haven and plan the educational and social programs we provide for our children. Add to that the challenges of managing and mentoring staff and volunteers, balancing the finances we need each week just to make ends meet, keeping our support team back at home informed, and networking with local churches who have indicated interest in our ministry. Oh, and then to be a wife and mother. . .
Simply put: this human vessel is often left feeling inadequate, exhausted and a tad dusty. Yet what I have learnt is that it is in our inadequacy, our weakness and our exhaustion that we need to cling closer to and depend upon the One who never grows tired or weary.
GOD doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.
(Isaiah 40:28-31, The Message)
I know I am not enough. But what I do know is that God is enough. Jesus sees each tear, hears every cry, and loves each and every little one who lives at Safe Haven even more than I do. I also know that, as followers of Christ, we are asked to be His hands and His feet in this world. That means moving out of our comfort zones, putting our faith into action and getting messy, and even sweaty, for Jesus. We are asked not to just to carry but to share the good news we carry around in our beaten clay vessels.
So, that’s me being real and unfiltered. This is my world here in Manila and the world that I will continue to embrace until God leads me where He wants me next.
by Cherie Snellgrove