Hello devoted readers!  I am honored to make an appearance on the My Refuge House blog and must first extend my apologies for 7 months of relative silence.  In lieu of writing a 20-pager on the numerous events of this past 7 months, I will try to do what we do at our weekly staff meeting- share some highs and lows!

Nicole, at My Refuge House in Cebu

I arrived in the Philippines in April 2012, where  I spent Easter in Cebu and then marked my 31st birthday at My Refuge House.  I was immediately introduced to celebration Filipino style- good food, singing and dancing.  Thankfully, I was only required to eat and not sing or dance, because the girls at My Refuge House are far more talented than me and always excited to perform.  April was a challenging month with intensive training and cultural immersion.  I quickly realized that there was a very steep learning curve ahead and  I was perhaps in this role much in the same way the Jesus’ disciples were- not in spite of my weaknesses, but because of them.

Now I would be amiss to talk about May without talking about dengue.  In fact, the truth is that in May, I had a very severe case of dengue fever (a mosquito born tropical illness common in the Philippines) that very well could have killed me. In any event, my dengue experience was quite the “mabuhay” or “welcome” to the Philippines.   When I just appeared to be improving a week into the illness and after a couple of blood transfusions, the dengue went to my brain.  I had a crazy weekend (literally), but the community here including friends, staff, and nurses, were real troopers in bearing with me through a severe seizure, delirium, and “personality changes” (read: disagreeability and delusions).   As my mind gradually came back, some internal problems lead to me needing an endoscopic surgery.  20 days after I entered the hospital, I was able to leave it alive and grateful.

June was really a month devoted to recovery and slowly returning to work.  I was on a strict diet and slowly returning to normal, or at least my brain and internal organs were.  I finally went back to work and began again to develop relationships with the team and girls at My Refuge House.  What impressed me most was the great cohesion among the team, the good work ethic, and the competence of the staff.  I really can’t overstate how amazing it is to have such a solid team of people working for a common mission.  It is unfortunately quite rare, even in the type of work we do, to find people who remain committed and passionate despite the challenge of dealing with such difficult issues on a day-to-day basis.  I think it is a credit to the great program that has been developed these past 4 years and God’s involvement in the hiring process.

In July, I took a trip to the US for work and leisure.  We met as a board on the US side to plan ahead for the coming year.  I began to get excited about the giftedness and professionalism of the board.  We mapped out plans for the next couple years.  Some of the things that struck me the most were the board seeking to support each other in personal growth, planning ahead for expansion of the facility, and the development of the clinical program, which is one of my top priorities.


August was “homecoming” for me and I looked at it like my new beginning in the Philippines.  It was finally time to be well, be present, and dig into the work.  I spent a great deal of time in August following the operations of the house more closely and meeting with staff frequently.  August marked the beginning of a period of stability, wherein the staff and girls were all doing really well.  The education program began celebrating monthly themes with presentations and awards for the girls, which was fun to be a part of.  The staff are truly passionate and the girls continue to feed off of the commitment and care being shown to them.

September was a very busy month as we celebrated My Refuge House’s 4th anniversary! I also started Visaya language lessons this month and got moving on the counseling program, training and supervising a couple staff to develop their therapeutic skills.  I also recruited a couple team members to create a program that will teach the girls about their inherent dignity and worth, incorporating biblical lessons and Christian moral principles.  We are really excited offering this teaching to the participants of our program as a beautiful alternative to the distorted vision of sex and womanhood that they have learned from years of abuse.  Overall, September was a real whirlwind, but a very good kind of busy.

October is the month of Canadian Thanksgiving, but I will admit that it brought many challenges and I often found myself feeling ungrateful and beat down.  The weight of leadership has been bearing on me as the work progresses and I take on the role more completely.  I was struck this month with what Christ said in Mark’s gospel: “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)  It is a tall order to lead and be a servant at the same time, and I can only pray that God shows me how. In the short time I have been director, I have already fallen short and been humbled by my mistakes, whether the result of a cultural divide or my own inadequacies. Thankfully, the staff and girls at My Refuge House have developed a “micro-culture” of openness, wherein they usually feel safe sharing when they are upset or have a differing idea.  This is actually quite a feat in a society that is so oriented to respect of authority and accommodation.  So, I end the month of October ready to celebrate the American Thanksgiving with more gratitude in my heart.

Amid the many good times, smiles and laughter, we have had too many challenges to mention these past 7 months.  The girls have shared a lot of grief with us, and in some ways, we may feel like we can never do enough to address the problems facing just our participants, let alone the city of Cebu or the world!  But I will share a final thought that came to me this long weekend as we celebrated All Saints and All Souls days here in the Philippines (thanking God for Holy people and the loved ones who have gone before us).  This weekend, I spent 24 hours on the neighboring island of Bohol, where the beauty was stunning.  Wading in the waters at low tide, I found a starfish- the first live one I’d ever seen.  As I held it for a moment, I was reminded of that story of the girl who found countless starfish on the beach and began throwing them back in the water.  I assume you know how that story goes (if not, please google it!)  I conclude that there will always be naysayers from the outside (or even personal feelings of frustration) that say that you’ll never solve the problem.  That is true.  But, thankfully, the motto of My Refuge House is not to be perfect or to fix everything- it is restore, one life at a time.  With God’s grace, restoring one life at a time is something that we can and will do.

“Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.” (Psalm 33:22)


Thank you for your support, for believing in My Refuge House and in the girls we serve.


27 replies
  1. Waigwalucy
    Waigwalucy says:

    wow!!!! it amazing how God has used you to be a blessing to the girls and staff at My Refuge House. I am truly blessed reading the wonderful things that have happened over seven months. Good job!!!!!

  2. Juls
    Juls says:

    Good stuff Nicole! Really encouraged and blessed to read your post! May God continue to do you good as you serve his people! Blessings!

  3. Marion
    Marion says:

    God’s grace is and will always be sufficient for you in every situation in this life! Never give up! One minute at a time. I am praying for you! Marion

  4. Gamgranad
    Gamgranad says:

    Thank you for writing! You are an inspiration! May God bless you and those under your care abundantly! Peace and prayers, Gabriela and family

  5. Abyot
    Abyot says:

    Thanks Nick for sharing the good work you are doing with those girls! It is really wonderful wise investment of your time, being part of changing some ones life for better and giving hope and inspiration to live is more meaningful than any thing else. Despite all the challenges i believe that you are making changes. It is quite impressive that the way how you kept your momentum so far with all cultural, health, other numerous problems, your sacred vision to help the needs people inspires me a lot. May God bless you and your job! The protection of all known God be with you!

  6. Jhon
    Jhon says:

    Si recuerdo el tema de la estrella de mar. lo aplico cada que puedo tiene profundidad.
    ¿ cual es el texto en la camiseta de las chicas?

  7. Lilicecilia Edwards
    Lilicecilia Edwards says:

    Hey Nicole!!!

    We are so honored to be your friend. Few people in this world are so charitable as you. Your humility with God brings the wisdom you need to lead this endeavour. I am sure God will keep working through you and restoring lives one at a time.

    We miss you, love you, and keep you in our prayers,

    Lili & Tito

  8. Orwa Consolata
    Orwa Consolata says:

    Hi Nicole

    I read this with a bit of tears in my eyes, especially the very trying time of your illness. Thank YOU for all you are doing for God and the good of souls. You are in my prayers. I really thank God for having such a wonderful friend.

    Consolata in Nairobi

  9. Fr. Ed
    Fr. Ed says:

    Nicole, what an amazing experience for you! May God continually bless you with the knowledge of His presence in all of your experiences. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps 118:1)

  10. Rina Grella
    Rina Grella says:

    Hi Nicole: I’m happy to hear that you overcame your illness. God bless you always for the wonderful work you are doing and may He always give you ‘Refuge’!!!

  11. Subha
    Subha says:

    Hey Nicole! I’m continuously blown away by the roles that you have the strength (or develop the strength) to pursue. Your work is challenging even without added complications of health issues. From a young age, you had to deal with potentially life-threatening operations but seem to recast them into opportunities to express gratitude and accumulate “life experience”. I really respect what you do and am thankful to know you!

  12. Lbalsam
    Lbalsam says:

    Hello Nicole! I’d been wondering what good stuff you were up to, now I know. I’ll keep you and the program in my prayers. You write so well, perhaps someday you will put your experiences in an inspiring book.

  13. Mtraher
    Mtraher says:

    Hi Nicole,
    What an interesting summary of your wonderful work with the young women you serve at My Refugee House. You have experienced a lot in the short time you have been there,What I especially appreciated in your blog was was the loving support you received from the girls and the staff when you were faced with your own health concerns. A true sharing of God’s blessings through each other. May you continue to be surprised by God in the days ahead.
    Fr. Mike.

  14. Tscotchburn
    Tscotchburn says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Here is a quote that has inspired my day…

    “My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings.” — St. Isaac Jogues

    You are an inspiration. I look forward to visiting you in Cebu.

    With love and prayers from Canada,

  15. Manuel Tavara
    Manuel Tavara says:

    My gran amiga!! I can say that you continue in God’s path and that makes me inmensely happy. You will never be alone for sure. I will always check your steps like a source of inspiration. I hope the holy spirit never leave you.
    We miss you here in Canada.

    Tu amigo de siempre por siempre.

    Manuel Tavara

  16. Jonathan Huang
    Jonathan Huang says:

    Thank you for the blog post Nicole! We have never met, but my wife and I pray for you regularly, and were especially praying for you in May! We are grateful for you, keep up the good fight!

  17. austinmc
    austinmc says:

    Nicole, I love the starfish story! It’s stories like that which help us to persist against the hopelessness of our situations. I hope you can share more stories of your struggles and successes. Every little bit really helps us to know how to pray and join you on the beach!

  18. austinmc
    austinmc says:

    Nicole, I love the starfish story! It’s stories like that which help us to persist against the hopelessness of our situations. I hope you can share more stories of your struggles and successes. Every little bit really helps us to know how to pray and join you on the beach!

  19. Caroline Kibanya
    Caroline Kibanya says:

    Hey Nicole keep up the good work its quiet challenging but dont give up .Fight the good fight of faith .All my love Carol kenya

  20. Paula
    Paula says:

    Thanks Nicole for reminding me of the Starfish Story. I had forgotten about it, so as you suggested, I googled it! I loved reading it again and was inspired also by the comment written below the story. This is what it said, “Perseverance against great odds and against the criticism of others is the very hallmark of value-based idealism, as in refusing to accept failure. The understanding that we hold in our hands the power to change a life, a mind, or a circumstance today – right now – is a powerful insight and motivator. At the same time, idealistic acts, even highly symbolic ones, have the power to inspire others to act, and sometimes in numbers significant enough to make a major or even complete impact on the problem at hand.”

    The best to you in all that you do and I thank you for all that you do to make a difference in someone”s life.

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