Monday, 25 August 2014

The real McCoy

It has been a long time since I wrote a blog, but I just have to tell you this story.

A month before I left the Philippines to visit the UK, while in the mall in Pampanga, I was amazed to find a Martin guitar in a small music shop.

To people who don't play the guitar, this may not mean anything, but to one who plays an acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar, the Martin is the Mercedes Benz of guitars.
I had the privilege to visit the Martin factory in Nazareth PA USA in 1987, and even then the guitars were way too expensive for me, and it was just a dream to ever own an original.

So I was amazed to find just one Martin in this small music shop in the Philippines, and what's more it was a 12 string, which is what I have played for the last 30 years.  Although it was a Martin it was made in Mexico of a cheaper wood that made it more affordable.

I was tempted!!  The assistant quickly got it down and offered me a "test drive".  Once I played it I was smitten!!  The sound was so mellow and the action was so easy that it was a delight to play (it even made my playing sound good- so that had to be a big plus!!).

The assistant clearly thought there would be some easy commission here, so he began to tempt me even more.  He told me that there was 30% off the original price, and that I could trade in my old guitar (the 12 string Takamine that one of our prison team members decided to recline the car seat into) and he even offered me 12 months interest free credit.  I was so tempted!!

For the next 4 weeks, every time I went to that mall, I would go to the music store, pick up the Martin and allow myself to be tempted just one more time.

I so wanted this guitar, but somehow, the Holy Spirit just didn't allow me to have peace about going into debt in order to buy it and I was really not happy with Him about this.

Here's the thing, Jesus promised us in John 16:13 that He would send the Holy Spirit and He would guide us.  And if we are to live the 'Spirit filled' life that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 5:18
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit. then we have to be willing to die to our own desires, and be willing to fully submit to His.  We face this choice day by day or even moment by moment (that's why the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 ..... I die daily.     

So, if we are children of God, the Holy Spirit is leading us, but sadly, so often we just don't like to follow His dictates.  After all, our Old Nature never likes being told what to do.

So I was quite unhappy about not having my own way.  So, as often we do, when we don't like what the Holy Spirit is telling us, we ask someone else's advice.  So I sent two of my children into the music shop too, and asked them to have a try, and tell me what they think.  Both of them loved the guitar too, and told me that I shouldn't feel bad but just treat myself.

Of course I reasoned too that I would only be using it to play praise and worship in the prisons and in the church, so that couldn't be a bad thing.

This went on for weeks, but still I had no peace about buying it.

Like a spoilt child I complained and asked God why I couldn't have my own way and just buy the guitar?  Why couldn't I just be like anyone else who sees what they want and just buys it?  Anyway at 12 interest free payments, it was affordable.  So why not?

Of course, God just wants us to be obedient in spite of what we feel.  So in the end, I made the decision to follow the Lord's leading, and I stopped going to the music shop.  And that was the end of that.  Or so I thought.....

Until a few months later, while Nathanael, Aaron and I were in England and we stayed with friends from our home church.  I had gone away for a few days with a good friend and supporter of POC and when I returned sitting on my bed was a brand new Martin 12 string guitar, complete with a hard shell case and an extra set of strings.  What's more it was the real McCoy, not made in Mexico but made in Nazareth PA USA.

I have to say, I was moved to tears.  I was so overwhelmed by the kindness of the couple who bought me the guitar (who I know would prefer not to be named, because that is the kind of people they are!!) but I was moved too by the goodness of God, who still chose to bless me in spite of all my moaning and complaining.

In my many years of knowing the Lord, you know what I have discovered!!  His will is not only good, not only acceptable, but it is perfect!!  Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world; but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
And friends, "perfect" means it cannot be improved upon.  God really does know best.  His will is perfect.

To think, I could still be in debt paying off a guitar that isn't even the real McCoy.

When we submit to His will, we get the blessings and He gets all the glory!!  Now you can't get better than that!!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Wawandue Landslide part 2

After sharing the story of the landslide victims on facebook, I was amazed by the response. Donations started to come in to help these dear families.  After facing the tragedy of losing their children, parents and siblings, they were faced with the reality that they had also lost their homes and their every possession.

The amazing thing about the Filipino people, is their resilience.  When facing overwhelming obstacles, they have this wonderful ability to be thankful for the blessings they have, rather than focusing on their personal loss.  

We went to visit and distribute food parcels to the 40+ families from the landslide area who had been evacuated and they were living on the concrete steps in a disused indoor basketball arena. But unlike the evacuation centres for the typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) victims, there were no donated mattresses, blankets, clothes or food, no foreigners visiting and no TV cameras.
Among the evacuees was Rolly and his family, who had lost their 3 sons in the landslide.  They had a few pots and pans that friends had lent them and they slept on cardboard boxes and a blanket given by their neighbour.  

The evacuees told me that the mayor had promised them land so that they can start to rebuild their homes, but the days had turned to weeks and even months.  Then one evacuee told me that she had heard that the land will be given after the New Year.

Rolly, Orpah and 2 of their 3 girls

As soon as funds came in I made an appointment to speak to with the mayor.  I thought that I would be able to persuade the him to hurry along with donating land if he knew that I was going to build them a homes.
It took a couple of weeks to get an appointment, but as soon as I received the text to say he was in the office, I quickly dropped everything made my way there (hence the not so appropriate dress code in the photo below!!).
When I told the mayor my plan to build homes, he wanted me to help all 21 families that were still the evacuation centre.  I had to explain that my budget would not be much use when divided by 21, but that we could at least provide homes for the 3 families who lost their loved ones.  I told him that I hoped to get them moved in time for Christmas.
He was very appreciative and very helpful. He told me that I along with the could go with his staff the following morning and each of the 3 families would be given a small plot of land in Wea (a resettlement village in the hills of Subic).

With Mayor Jhay Khonghun 

We went immediately to give the 3 families the good news and to invite them to join us when we went to see the location mayor was offering them.

Though it must have sounded like a dream come true, I knew that there would be some drawbacks. 

As we went to the location, it was a very long walk!!   We had to cross a small stream because the rain had destroyed the footbridge and the road behind it.

this little brook is the nearest water source for all the villagers.
The man in the posh outfit was sent by mayor to assess the damage. 
He has promised the residents that the bridge and road will soon be replaced

From the brook there was quite an uphill hike to their plots.
View from the donated land
The nearest water source is at the bottom of the hill 
and has to be carried up by hand

Whilst their new homes will be quite out of the way, really hard to get building materials to and quite far from the nearest water source, there is electricity, which means that in time they can improve and possibly drill for water etc.  I thought they would be discouraged with the "out of the way" location, especially as Jomar is a fisherman and needs to get to the sea for his work, but they were so grateful and really elated that they should have a chance again of having their own homes.

One of our workers said to Rolly's wife Orpah, "So you will have a nice Christmas!" tears filled her eyes.  How can there possibly be a "nice" Christmas?  She sobbed as she thought of Christmas without her 3 precious sons.  Nevertheless, she was very grateful for a new start.

They were all so excited it took just two days to get the buildings underway.  Young men in the neighbourhood were grateful for the extra jobs of carrying materials to the site.  Within just a few weeks, the houses were almost built.

The Ytac family home built by neighbours in Wea

Rolly is in the building trade and enjoyed building his own home

POC workers built the home for Donnalyn who lost her 
father, step mother and 4 siblings in the landslide

The houses are now almost finished and the families are excited to move in.

To think I almost didn't get involved with these dear people because I had no money to give!!  Now they are attending church at POCF.  

We at POCM wish to thank all those who gave and helped make this possible.  God Bless you!!

We couldn't build for all the 21 displaced families, but we could make a difference for these 3 families.  How I wish we could do more!!!

Of course since we started this project, there has been another terrible disaster through the strongest typhoon to ever hit land.  Now we are busy trying to at least reach out and help a few.

Follow our trip to Cebu and Leyte to the typhoon hit areas in my next blog

Wawandue Landslide part 1

Every year the Philippines is hit by 20-30 typhoons and it's just something we learn to live with here.  Usually there is ample warning as to when the storm will arrive, what its intensity will be and  which areas will bear the brunt of it.  So we pump water, buy candles and canned food in preparation of the power cuts.  

There is usually only one or two typhoons a year that will cause severe floods, damage and possibly loss of life due to drowning.  

This disaster however, was not due to a typhoon, but rather due to monsoon rains, so there was no warning.  It also occurred in the early hours of the morning when most people were still enjoying their sleep in the cooler rainy season weather.

On August 21 Typhoon "Maring" caused floods and devastation throughout our region and Manila but the worst was yet to be.

Heavy monsoon rains fell throughout the night and early morning of September 23 in the Zambales area.  As people slept soundly they were unaware of the danger they were in. Landslides claimed the lives of 33 throughout the province.

When we heard the news that 11 had died in a landslide in Wawandue, we went to check that all the kids who were part of our "Shine" children's club from that village were safe.  We were devastated to learn that 9 of the 11 victims were children and all 9 were "Shine" kids.

The Cuanan family (husband, wife, 3 daughters and 1 son) were all buried alive while they slept.
Daughter Donalyn who was working in Manila survived alone.

Rolly Ejorcada Managed to save his wife, 3 daughters  (including his baby just a few months old) but by the time he got them to safety it was too late to save his boys.  All 3 sons (ages 4, 6 and 8) perished.

It was 6 o'clock in the morning and Jomar Ytac had just stepped out of the house.  All three children had been in the bedroom but the boys were teasing their toddler sister.  She had just run into the arms of her mother, when suddenly they were being buried alive.

As Jomar responded immediately trying to dig out his wife and baby with his bare hands, he could hear his sons (8 and 12) crying out for help.

I remember when my children were small and we had a strong earthquake.  My first thought was "Which of my my 5 children do I save first?"  It's a terrible dilemma and a terrible reality. I  tended to think of rescuing the youngest first simply because they are the most vulnerable and helpless, but nevertheless, it's still a terrible dilemma to face.

By the time Jomar got his wife and baby out, it was too late for the two boys.

After not many minutes the rescue mission turned to a recovery mission and 11 bodies were recovered from the site.

                                         Volunteers desperately search for the missing

                                 candles burn on the site where the 11 dear ones perished 

I really felt so desperately sorry for these families.  The first time we met was at the funeral home where the 11 open caskets were displayed.  What help could I offer them?

At first I thought not to approach them.  After all I am "White" and they may think I am rich, and at the time we were struggling to provide for the 80+ children in our POC Children's Homes.  I almost talked myself out of reaching out to them, just thinking that I had nothing to offer them financially.  But as I looked at their faces, a picture of hopelessness and despair, I knew that I needed to reach out to them if only with some love and care.

It is amazing what caring sentiments can do for people in their hour of need.  Friends, it really costs nothing to reach out and offer a few minutes of your time to show someone you care.

I approached Donna first.  She is the beautiful young girl who lost her whole family.  I told her that whilst I had no money to offer help, I told her that we were there for her if she needed us and  I asked if she would like us to do a memorial service in remembrance of her family.  Her face lit up and she smiled and thanked us for our help.   Rolly and Jomar also wanted us to include their children in the memorial service too. 

                           "Shine" team comfort bereaved children as they remember their friends

We had a wonderful memorial service, as many POCF and "Shine" members came to offer their love and condolences.  

It was wonderful to see how the bereaved were uplifted just to know that people cared, but I wanted to be able to do so much more.

And so we did..... 
Find out what happened in my next blog

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Pillars and Posts

September 2013 when I will celebrate my 30th anniversary of being a missionary here in the Philippines and, as you are aware, I was hoping that I would be celebrating from within a prison cell.  Unfortunately that is not looking very likely at this point.

When I first voiced my proposal of a "sponsored jail sentence" to the jail warden at 164, she was very enthusiastic and gave the impression, as she referred me to the Regional Director of the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) that it was just a matter of formality getting his approval. 

As I prayed however, I really felt that the Lord showing me that it was not going to be easy. Which has indeed proven to be the case.

Many years ago, when I first started my ministry, I was used to being able to walk into any office to speak to any official with exception only to the President of the Philippines.  I have spoken to many judges, Director of prisons and the Secretary of the Department of Justice in the past, but how times have changed and just getting to the people I needed to see has proven to be near impossible.  

When I went to the Regional Director of BJMP I was told that the BJMP were not qualified to give approval for such a request.  As I explained my purpose they were very sympathetic to my cause and suggested that the surest way to get to serve a month's jail sentence was to steal something.   I was told jokingly, "A case of 'simple theft' is bailable so you can bail yourself out after one month!!" 

Then I was told that as long as there was a court order for me to be detained by any judge in Olongapo then I would be accepted by the BJMP without question.

So the Regional Trial Court was my next destination.

At the court I was also told that the Judge has no grounds to give a court order for my incarceration unless there is a case filed against me.  The secretary jokingly offered her handbag for me to steal.  To which I responded, "Mam, I don't have to steal your bag, you only have to accuse me of it!!"  Lol!! 

So, though the Regional Trial Court staff were very sympathetic and even enthusiastic about my cause, it too was a dead end.  They advised me to go to the DOJ  (Department of Justice) in Manila to get permission from Secretary Leila De Lima.

I called the DOJ to make an appointment and they sounded very helpful and told me to e-mail my request and they will send me an appointment.  Three weeks, 10 e-mails, 5 calls, and a referral to the Undersecretary later, still no appointment.  So, I decided to go there in person (after all I had been to the office of the Secretary in the past and had been shown favour).  

When I arrived at the DOJ there was no way that I was going to be allowed to see the Secretary without an appointment, but when I told of my referral to the Undersecretary I was allowed in to go to his office in stead. Though I was able to meet the Undersecretary, I was informed by his PA that the DOJ did not have jurisdiction over the BJMP (who deal with inmates on remand who are not sentenced yet the DOJ are only over the Bureau of Corrections such as the prison at Muntinlupa). (Although I don't understand why they couldn't have told me that in an e-mail???)

So once again, though they admired my cause and wanted to help, they could not give approval, but kindly referred me to the National office of the BJMP.

Literally five minutes after I left the DOJ there was a bomb scare that was aired on TV (but I promise it was nothing to do with me!!!! Lol!)

As I didn't want to waste a costly trip to Manila, I went directly to the BJMP.  There I was told that the BJMP is not likely to give approval for such a request because they don't have the authority without a criminal case but if I sent my request via e-mail they assured me it would be considered by the Director.  

I am still waiting for their response.

I was told by a court attorney that the reason no one wants to give approval is that no one wants to take responsibility for my safety throughout the time of my voluntary incarceration.  To which I responded that I had stated that I would produce a waiver and disclaimer.  The attorney told me that that was not enough because maybe the BJMP would be accused by the British Government should something untoward occur during my incarceration.

He told me that in the end the only person that can give the approval is the President himself. He suggested that I write to the President via the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government).

I wrote to the The British Consul to make him aware of my proposal and to ask if he would consider producing a waiver stating that as my pending incarceration is voluntary, the British Government would not hold the BJMP liable.  

He kindly responded to my e-mail immediately but he too said that he couldn't give his approval but suggested that I pursue the idea of producing a waiver and disclaimer. 

So my next Post is the DILG

As you know the Philippines was hit with floods recently so I have had to accept that my proposal is not a priority for the government to be considering at this time.

Some skeptics think that it is very foolish of me.  Of course I would not be in a hurry to do this if I had not seriously sought the Lord about it.

I believe it is His will and purpose for me.  However if God was just testing me to see if I would be willing to do so, I am OK with that.  After all who, in their right mind would want to subject themselves to such physical and emotional discomforts?

If I am servant, am I not obliged to obey my master?

If it is the Lord's will (and I still believe it is) then He will open the door which seems at this point to be securely closed.

I do promise you this, I won't be stealing any handbags to get in!!!  If the door is to be opened I will let God do it His way! 

Don't you think it is funny how the government will allow me to do this? ....

(Don't tell me!!  I look at this and wonder how I could be so crazy!!  My fingers were just centimeters away from this tiger's teeth and the guy said, "Look at the camera!")

Though we might think a person is foolish getting into a cage with tigers, but if that's what they want to do they can take the risk for a small fee.  But not to get in a jail cage with a bunch of women who need to see the love of God? That's way too dangerous!!

Actually, on a positive note, I have been blessed by the positive reaction of all the officials I have spoken to.  Whilst no one is willing to put themselves at risk to say "Yes" to my request, as of yet, not one has said "No!"  So for the meantime, I will just keep knocking.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Philippine Jail Trivia

I don't know why I thought that getting permission to live behind bars for a month was going to be easy!  My experience here in the Philippines is that nothing is easy when it comes to approaching the authorities.  It is always a case of ... "The answer is no!  Now what is the question?"

On the other hand, I have learned however that there is always a way if you just don't give up!!   We'll go there in another blog.

First I will give you a bit of Philippine Jail Trivia....

Jails are where inmates are detained while under trial and awaiting their promulgation (judges decision) or as we would say in the U.K. "while on remand". This process allegedly takes 3 years (though I know inmates who have been in jail as long as 18 years without being sentenced). In my 30 years experience working with inmates, I would say that for a case of simple theft it could possibly be done in 3 years, but for other cases it is more like 6-8 years minimum waiting for a decision (which is why the jails are so severely overcrowded- often as many as 50-100 in one cell).

There are different types of jails here. The Municipal Jails are run by the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) and inmates are usually detained here until their cases are filed in court.  The District or City Jails are also run by the BJMP.  The Provincial Jails however, are run by the Office of the Provincial Governor. 

What does all this mean?  Simply this, the Provincial Jails are much less strict than those run by the BJMP.  Inmates in Provincial Jails have the luxury of using cell phones and going to hospital in cases of emergency without having to secure a court order first.  When female inmates have their babies they can wean them for a few weeks before they have to find them a home.  In the BJMP jails there are strictly no babies or children allowed.  We have taken babies into care as young as 2 hours old! 

In the BJMP District jails, the inmates have to wear yellow t-shirts to get out of their cell either to receive a visitor or to attend religious activities.  Provincial inmates do not.
BJMP jails have programs and services provided to help rehabilitate inmates, Provincial Jails do not.

In all jails the inmates are given a very basic food ration and that is all.  They are not given soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet tissue, soap to wash clothes or other basic hygiene essentials, which just adds to the pain and frustration of inmates who have no visitors (though of course for inmates with money, these things can be purchased inside).

In some jails there are now wooden beds provided, but no mattress or foam to cover them. These were not initially given to provide the inmates with comfort, but rather so that there could be bunks to accommodate more inmates.  In the cells with higher ceilings bunks are 3 storeys high (4 in some cases where they use the floor as the lowest bunk!!). The wooden bunk usually serves also as storage space for all the inmates'  belongings.  Each cell usually has one bathroom/toilet (bath being a bucket of water) to accommodate all the inmates, but in newer facilities this is being improved.

 If you want to see what a typical jail is like you can go to this link I found on YouTube:  

Once a sentence is pronounced the inmates are transferred to the Bureau of Corrections (prison) to serve their sentence.  There are only a few Correctional facilities in the country, the main being Muntinlupa's New Bilibid Prison for men and Mandaluyong Correctional for women (though there are a few others) where there are literally 10's of thousands of inmates.

Whilst this all seems terrible to us in the west, these are actually vastly improved and far more humane conditions from when I first visited the jails in 1983. The BJMP incidentally, was only established in January 1991.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Sponsored Jail Sentence

It has been a long time since my last blog.  In fact this is my first of the year 2013.

I do like to talk a lot and write down my thoughts, but I'm very conscious of what a wise man once wrote...
Ecclesiastes 5:3
New Living Translation (NLT)
Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.

So I decided to cut back on the words for little while!! hehe!!!

The last time a blogged was when the children in our children's homes were doing a sponsored  "Walk to Wash" project to raise funds for washing machines.

We didn’t quite make £8,000 but we did earn enough to buy 3 washing machines and an extra one was sent from the UK, making 4 in all.

Aside from having a great day with our kids, with a pit stop at the Logos Hope ship, they were able to put the P.O.C Children’s Homes on the map here in our home city.

Many shops and small businesses made contributions and some very generous individuals sacrificed greatly to help in our endeavor.

We are very grateful to all who worked hard to make the day a success and to all those who sponsored.

My next project, should it be legally possible is to have a sponsored jail sentence.

Well readers what do you think?

Actually it has been in my heart and mind now for almost a year.
I have been working in prisons for more than 30 years and though I love my job, I cannot really empathize with the inmates because I have never encountered being locked behind bars.  I want to be able to feel what they feel and to understand what it means to be longing for a visitor but no one arrives. 

I have been going into prisons and jails for all these years telling inmates how to make their burdens lighter and instructing how they can make their sentence easier to bear, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could show them how to do it?

Having it as a sponsored project as a means of raising funds for POC Children’s Homes (as the children of our homes are children of inmates), is merely just the tool to persuade the authorities to approve of the project, but really my purpose is to live among the inmates and to show them how much I love and care for them and at the same time gain some insight that will help my job immensely.

I know what you are thinking…. “Didn’t you say you didn’t want to be shown to be a fool???”
When people say to my son Nathanael, “Are you crazy?” he answers, “I’m not crazy, Chrazzy is my mother!!”

An American friend of mine working on the U.S naval base here in Subic Bay 
way back in the 80’s when he first saw the 3 story hospital building that I want to turn into a school he looked at me and  said, “Well, they don’t call you Chrazzy for nothing!! 

Maybe I am a little Chrazzy, but I want my life to count for something.  I have never been satisfied with ordinary.  So if people think I’m crazy, then that’s ok (as long as my many words don’t prove them right!!  Hehehe!!).

So readers, why not drop me a message and let me know what you think? And if my project goes  ahead how long do you think I should remain behind bars?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Apology Blog

I do apologize for the links posted on my last blog.

I was in a hurry after drafting the text (and to be honest I still need help to post!!), so I opened my facebook and asked one of the girls in my office to kindly post it for me.

Thinking she was helping, (knowing that I lack the technical 'know how') she placed links for readers to make a donation for our 'Walk 2 Wash' project before posting it.  Sadly some of my readers were offended that I should try to raise funds that way. It really was not my intention.

Sorry for that!!!