Upon our arrival, Tita Lulu our contact with the Gawad Kalinga (GK) organisation and few drivers were at the airport waiting for us. She was such a friendly and humourous person and along the ride in van, she introduced all the places in Manila. The excitement in me rose but I was also worried hearing about the poverty issues in Philippines.
The journey from Manila to GK Toyota Village which was located in Sta. Rosa, took about 1 ½ hours. Along the way I was shocked and surprised by the aggressive driving and the countless homeless people sleeping by the roadside and wandering around. Their clothes were so dirty and their faces were so dull; it seemed like they haven’t had a meal for days. I felt pity and made me wonder what the situation at the GK village would be like. I prayed for the people and strength to face the upcoming challenges.
When we arrived, we were greeted by happy and excited villagers and we received a round ribbon from the women and children. Then some of the kids held my hand and brought me to the gathering place. I felt the warmth as if I were their relative who just returned from far away. The 21 participants; 9 men and 12 women (9 Malaysians 12 Americans) were divided into foster families.
I’ll never forget my foster mother Tita Menggay as she had the sweetest smile for us when we first met. The moment I stepped into the house, we were met by 5 cute little children waiting for us. Tita Menggay showed us to our room; the only room in the house yet they offered it to us! The toilet was very small too but my foster family lived happily without any complaints; they were more contented and appreciative of things that I who had so much more back home.
The villagers were very humble and polite and every morning, we were greeted with love. I was also surprised that I didn’t see any children being scolded or punished; everyone in the village was like a big family that shared everything. It made me recall the unhappiness of my childhood, being compared against others, living with high academic expectations in a competitive atmosphere; it really affected my self-esteem. Here at the GK village, I felt God showing me the love that I had been craving for all these years. I really enjoyed and appreciated all the moment with the villagers and friends as a gift from God.
I was also a happy blessing to meet the FOCUS American students and full-timers during the three weeks of Faith formation and Mission trip. All of them shared their strong faith in God and showed it in their actions. During the Mission Trip, Frank as the leader always made sure that we went for daily morning mass. We also learned to spend our time in silent Holy Hour and Adoration. In the evening, we prayed the rosary with the children of the village as our mission is not about building houses but to bring Christ to the people. The kids sat with us as we slowly taught them how to use their rosary. They were fast learners and within a few days, some of them already knew how to pray the Hail Mary in English. I was really impressed by their perseverance in learning new things and realised that nothing is impossible if we are willing to try.
Every night, all of us shared our high moment, low moment and God moment. Some also shared their life conversion testimony too and we would end with Night Prayer from the Divine Office. I loved this whole spiritual formation because I felt that I was getting closer to God and the Holy Spirit working in me. Hearing everyone’s God moment, I really felt happy that God had touched everyone’s heart. One time, someone shared: ‘some of you might have scar in your past until now; although it is painful but if you don’t want to overcome it, it will haunt you forever.’ I felt God speaking through me through those words.
A bible verse which really struck me during this whole mission trip is ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’ (Luke 11:9-10). During my Holy Hour, I reflected on this verse. I recalled my past and I was certain that I should ask God for the courage to overcome it and let it go instead of holding on. The next day during the Mass an unexpected thing happened. As we didn’t understand the Mass in Tagalog, someone shared his bible to me to read silently the day’s Gospel in English. I read the passage and smiled with a great warm feeling- it was the same passage I read during Holy Hour! I could sense God is telling me: Just ask if I need anything because He will grant it to me. Father preached in English and said: sometimes we ask from God what we want but somehow our loving Father doesn’t grant it all at once. For He knows what is best for us, our prayer which weren’t granted doesn’t mean that God does not listen to us but He know that it was not suitable for us. It really motivated me after hearing the homily.
This Mission Trip, I finally realised was not about me helping the villagers to build houses but for me to receive the love of God. I gained a lot of unexpected love and care from my foster family and my close friends. I felt grateful toward Tita Menggay and the Mabuhay ladies who really took good care of our welfare during our stay. They sacrificed their time waking up every morning at 1am to go marketing for our meals. Even though the villagers are poor externally but for me, they are rich because they know how to show love to one another. Though them, I realised that love has no boundaries; we should love everyone no matter who they are. I learned a lot of things from them and now I understand why I was on this Mission Trip.
By Sharon Lee