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!
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)