Fire is a destructive force in a city like Cebu. Squatter areas are especial vulnerable as houses are often made of wood, are close together and the roads around them are often too narrow to accomodate fire trucks. Recently a big fire hit the area behind our office and teen home in Sun Valley. Although our house was not affected, several homes of our workers and former employees were destroyed. And houses of current and former residents' birth families were also destroyed. Some of these folks lost everything they had to this fire.
Today our social workers went to survery the damage and talk to the families that we know. They are being housed temporarily in a large sports center in the community near where they used to have houses. It is crowded and is a place of despair. The city government is handing out some food supplies, but, like one of the families we know reported, they cannot cook food because all of their cookware, gas tank and utensils were destroyed. We cannot provide for all their needs but we can offer comfort and gifts of clothing and footwear. CSC workers have brought in used clothing as donations for their co-workers. The CSC kids have been praying for the aunties who are affected.
Please pray for these people who, in a matter of minutes, lost everything that they owned. None of it was insured. We thank Him that the people we know from this community escaped with their lives, but are now faced with the incredible challenge of starting over.
Thursday, June 27, 2017. First day of the 2017-2018 school year. The journey of all the students is about to begin. Students and teachers are all excited. It has been two months since the summer vacation started and now it has come to an end. Students have grown and become more mature.
On this promising day, I witnessed God’s love and how He touches each person’s life. It was the last period of the afternoon classes. Science was the subject which is everybody’s favorite. I was nervous yet excited knowing that they were the toughest class last year. There were a lot of “what ifs” running through my mind. To my surprise, as I stepped in the classroom everyone was sitting nicely, smiles on their faces, and they welcomed me with enthusiasm.
Student 1: Wow! Teacher Lyrah!
Student 2: Are you our science teacher, Teacher Lyrah?
I answered them back: Yes, I’ll be your science teacher for this school year.
Everybody started clapping and kept on saying, “Yes! Teacher Lyrah!”
I couldn’t hide the happiness inside of me when I heard those words coming from the students. They showed so much excitement as I began teaching the lesson and they were even engaged as we discussed the rules.
These students are more than just a blessing because they fill the empty space in my heart with this phrase, “Thank you!” Such a polite expression coming from them. Each time I distributed their notebooks, pencils, erasers, and their science books they never failed to utter the phrase, “Thank you teacher!”
They made my day extra special! I am excited to continue to teach them throughout this school year and help mold them to be better individuals in the future!
Most people get a "watered-down" version of Cebu when they come as tourists. Some only see what the tour guides want them to see. Some fly into the airport on the neighboring island of Mactan, but never cross the bridge that connects it with Cebu City. They experience the five star ambiance of the lush resorts and rub shoulders with wealthy people and well-trained staff who pamper them, but they never observe the realities of life in this Third World city. They are sanitized from the poverty, the pollution and the suffering of people in our city.
Visitors to CSC also get an abbreviated version of the story of the ministry. Although we show them our facilities and let them meet our staff and, when appropriate, some of the kids, we aren't able to give them the bigger picture. They see our wonderful homes and get a sense for the quality of care that our children receive. They visit our school and learn about the education that we provide. And they often have questions answered about where our children come and how they can help us.
But there is so much that goes on behind the scenes at CSC that is not apparent to visitors, even if they stay for more than a few days. They probably don't see the efforts of the social workers, child development team, teachers, nurses, therapists and other personnel who make it possible for us to bring children in and provide them with the comprehensive care that they require. Efforts like these:
- Social workers out in the field, working with birth families and gathering information needed for procuring birth documentation, or processing referrals;
- Meetings, meetings, meetings. There are at least ten meetings every day, both formal and informal, involving child care workers, house parents, counselors, therapists, office staff, social work and child development teams, school faculty and security and maintenance workers. These meetings involve financial planning, behavioral issues and updates, strategizing difficult case management issues, and sitting down with people from other agencies, both private and governmental, to advocate for our children;
- Nurses bringing children to labs, doctors' offices and clinics for medical assessment and care;
- Counselors meeting with children to discuss issues from their past or difficulties they may be having at CSC;
- Workers meeting with house parents to discuss problems in the home;
- Team-building activities, staff development and training that aims at making CSC a better place for the children who live here.
- Office staff handling the payroll, purchasing, banking, bill paying and other financial management tasks that are essential to keep things running smoothly;
- The work of transporting these workers to accomplish these tasks, and to get children to school or to doctors or dentist appointments. Our fleet of 10 vehicles is constantly being used to support the many activities and appointments that are needed.
- And, while they may get a sense for the financial needs of a program like ours in Cebu, they don't see the constant fundraising and promotional efforts going on in Minnesota through our stateside office. They don't know of the decisions being made by families and individuals to give generously and sacrificially to CSC for the care of the children, the same ones that they are observing on our playground, at the supper table or marching off to school.
We are thankful for each person who makes a contribution to the ministry here in Cebu, back in MN and around the world. People like you. I wish you could each be recognized by those who lead the tours here at CSC, because you help make the good things that they see possible.
There are few things more rewarding than carefully preparing something for someone special to you and then showing it to them. That happened this past Tuesday in Banawa, the site of CSC.
At 8am a long line of little bodies walked up the dirt road from the shelter to their school and every face was filled with anticipation. The dedicated staff of the Cebu Children of Hope School had carefully worked and planned for two weeks in preparation for the start of the school year. Our first day began with an assembly where the students were introduced to their new teachers. The excitement from the children could have been from each one getting a new pair of shoes last week, it could have come from having extra CSC staff present to see the first day of school, it could have come from the immaculately clean building they were entering. I think it was something else. I think it was because each child knew that someone who cared about them had spent time preparing something special for them.
At the Cebu Children of Hope School children know that every teacher cares about them and is willing to do what it takes for them to experience success. I am honored and excited to lead this dedicated group of teachers who daily love on these beautiful children. It is going to be an amazing year!
God's grace shows itself to me in many ways. Some are glorious and some are not. By the grace of God, for instance, I have enough to eat, a good place to live, money for my diabetes medications and meaningful work that provides many emotional, material and spiritual blessings. But just 0utside my office are children who go to sleep hungry, who wake up with nobody to say "good morning," and with only bleak prospects for having their basic needs met. This noon I drove to McDonalds for a late lunch and was heading back to the office to eat. At the stoplight a little boy approached my car, tapped on my window and held out a deformed hand to ask for money. He motioned to his stomach to indicate that he was hungry. In his eyes was a hunger that went beyond his need for something to eat to indicate a hopelessness at life in general. But he doesn't have the luxury of looking at his life reflectively. He was hungry, and was looking at the food that I had purchased at the drive through that was on the seat next to me, food that I could easily do without. I gave him a handful of fries and drove off. On other occasions I might have just shook my head and not given him anything. Nutritionists might say that he was better off with nothing than a greasy fry, I don't know. But as I drove away my mind came up with many questions that I have considered often in my 38 years in Cebu, questions that don't really have answers but weigh heavily on my heart on occasions such as this.
- Why does this little guy have nothing and I have everything? Is there a single thing about how I have lived my life that qualifies me for advantage? Has this little guy done anything wrong to deserve a withered arm and a hungry tummy?
- Why didn't I just give him my whole lunch instead of a few paltry fries? By suppertime I would be dining on a good meal and he would be hungry again. Likely, I just wanted him to go away from my car.
- What does he think about me and what I represent?
- If he ever does look to the future, does he have a shred of hope that things will get better for him? With little or no positive family or other adult influence, with no access to health care or decent education, and with daily exposure to the many dangers from living on the street, is there any chance whatsoever that he will? What will be different for him, his eventual children and theirs?
- What is life like without hope? Can I even begin to understand that?
The disparities of life in a country like the Philippines are hard to grasp. Living here provides graphic proof that God's grace has nothing to do with merit. Not a thing. That kid deserves a break much more than I ever do or will. All I can do, perhaps, is to think about why God called me to live much of my life here and not in the country of my birth. Some people think that, in choosing to live here, I forsook the luxuries of life for the difficulties of the third world. But I live in the lap of luxury here, too. I just have to pay an emotional price for doing so as I come face to face with people who struggle just to stay alive.
I've been dealing with these same questions for 38 years! At CSC we have been able to help lots of little guys like the one I saw today. We have taken in the hungry, the lame, the disfigured, the homeless. We have dispensed food, medicine, knowledge, even hope. But we aren't helping this little guy at all. Except for a fistfull of fries. Of course we can't help everyone, I know that. But that knowledge doesn't remove his image from my mind or, on the other hand, make his life one ounce better.
I pray for wisdom, to accept the things that I cannot change, to be an agent of positive change where I can, and to know the difference, even though knowing that difference does not provide emotional relief from the confrontations with hopelessness that are a part of life in a place like this. I guess the best way to accomplish the dictates of the above-cited Serenity Prayer is to focus on the things that I can change, not on what I cannot. On the tree, not the forest. But I'm very sure that there are things that I can change if I open my mind to them, to see people not as an inconvenience but an opportunity. Maybe I can use some of the incomprehensible advantages that have been bestowed on me to offer some measure of relief and, maybe, even hope to people like the little boy who I cannot get out of my head.