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Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Cycle of Hopelessness #rugbyboys #philippines

Today I went to look for Dina (19) - the girl that weighs just 29kg, has advanced tuberculosis and has a baby to care for whilst living on the street. I last saw her 3 Sundays ago when she and her sister came to church. Every time I try to find her I'm always hopeful that the TB medicine will finally have started to work and that she will look less like a skeleton and more like a human, and that she will no longer have the hacking cough that makes me wonder if she will live to see another day. It sounds dramatic and it is really, but I have to keep reminding myself that I've seen many people here in worse bodily condition seemingly continuing without improvement for months on end. I'm afraid of becoming desensitised to this kind of suffering due to the indifference of many of the local people. It is daily life here and therefore accepted as normal. I'm also genuinely worried for Dina as I just can't see how she can continue living as she is. Every time I see her I'm relieved that she's still alive but so disappointed to see no visible improvement.

Anyway, it wasn't Dina who I saw initially but a very large group of teenage boys. They were in the vicinity of a petrol station where Dina's family are living but on the other side of the road. Some of the group were partially hidden behind a white truck but even from a distance of a hundred metres I could see what they were doing due to the plastic bags they were holding and waving around in the air or inhaling deeply from.

I crossed the road to speak to the group. As I got closer I recognised quite a few of them from the Drop-In (homeless people outreach) at our church. The Drop-in sadly closes for the summer break from April until mid-June so I hadn't seen any of these boys for quite a while. Some of them recognised me and came over to greet me but others stared vacantly at me with glazed eyes as they swayed from side to side and tried to form words without much success. One boy stood in front of me and took my arms and then just kept repeating the same word over and over again and although I listened carefully I hadn't a clue what he was saying. Looking around I was surprised and disappointed to see a few adults in the group although they seemed to be passed out and there were a fair number of girls present. The adults were mixed gender and one woman was lying in an undignified heap her clothes not really covering her body properly. Seeing the adults really made me sad as it just legitimises the behaviour in the minds of the teenagers.

I asked a few of the kids that looked very young how old they were and they all said 13 or 14 but I knew they were lying. Another boy that I knew told me some of the kids were 10 but I believe they were younger than that, maybe 8. Some of the group looked sheepish as I stood in their midst, other leered at me and made stupid comments whilst others asked sensible questions. I counted at least 25 mostly teenagers by the end of the short intervention. It was like being in the presence of a group of animals as they stumbled around senselessly mumbling unintelligible things to each other and trying unsuccessfully to focus their eyes. No matter how many times I see this it always makes me sad. I don't see animals or dirty rebellious street kids, I see lonely, helpless souls desperate for someone to notice that they are throwing their lives away because they just don't care enough to live anymore.

Then Matt* appeared. Matt was a regular Drop-In attendee and had previously stopped taking solvents and had even gone back to school for a while. I asked him what he was doing there and he said he was bored at his house. He seemed solvent free but I knew it was only a matter of time if he stayed in the group.
He seemed to want to stay there though so I had to leave him. The one thing I found really difficult is that the solvents kept coming out whilst I was present. During our ministry in Olongapo, on most occasions, the boys were ashamed for us to see them taking solvents and would hide them. This was a whole different ball game as even when I confronted some of the really young kids telling them to stop they just ignored me, oblivious due to the effect of the drug.

It always astonishes me that they do this so openly in public on the edge of a main public road, with numerous adults milling around and making no attempt to stop the children who are basically sniffing themselves to a slow death. Even on this day there were at least 10 men across the road watching me as I spoke to these teenagers and not one of them did or said anything to assist. Later when I left they wished me "Good day" as if they hadn't a care in the world.

After a while I realised that there was no point staying there as there is currently no specific long term ministry for them and they were in no fit state to communicate with me. A few of them also started asking me for food, sometimes I can do this but with 25 of them high on solvents it just wasn't an option today. Most of them know where the church is so I reminded them of the Drop-In opening on June 18th as I left.

I then saw Dina sitting across the road watching me. She was with a few older ladies and some very young children who grabbed my legs as I approached. I went to chat with her, disappointed once again that she still looked as thin and as ill as she had 3 weeks before. She confirmed that she was still ill and that she hadn't been back to the church as she was too tired. I reminded her that if she wanted real help she should ask God as I can only help her in small ways. She asked me again to rent a place for her family but I just can't do it even though the money is there as it's not possible to supervise them properly and our Olongapo house project was a disaster. I told her that I would like to one day have a Night Shelter for them but that it can't happen right now. If it was just her and the baby I would definitely do more but there are numerous people in the family and I'm not even sure that they aren't linked to the group of solvent teens....

I invited Dina again to come to the church but she said she was worried about clothes. I told her she could come to my house before church and I would give her food and clothes and she could accompany us to the church. I said she could bring as many people as she wanted with her and one younger boy seemed quite keen on this idea. I shared the Gospel with him in brief and was even able to use my new Tagalog phrase "I was freed from sin."

As I left Dina I glanced back across the road to the large group of solvent kids and the few adults. I watched them for a while rooted to the spot wanting so much to do something, anything to help them but knowing that it is not yet possible. I can pray for them though and hope that each of them will one day be saved.

So how do I feel now? Honestly pretty helpless and overwhelmed by the scale of this problem right near my house and at a loss as to know how to move forward with wisdom. It's easy to offer the world practically without making any spiritual progress but it's also a temptation to walk away as the problem is just too big.

Please pray for wisdom and a clear strategy moving forward. I was reminded of the verse;

Matthew 19 vs 26 "With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible"

and Helen Keller's quote;

"I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know? at Amazon

Saturday, 23 May 2015

God Bless the Asher Family #supportashers #freespeech




 I have been monitoring the Asher Bakery case in the UK since the story first made headlines. For those that don’t keep up to date; Asher’s Bakery are a family run Christian bakery in the UK. They were asked  by a gay activist to bake a cake for a gay wedding containing a slogan indicating support for gay marriage. They declined on the basis of the slogan which conflicted with their Christian beliefs about gay marriage. They were taken to court not by the gay activist but by the tax payer funded Equality Commission primarily for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Bakery have been supported by the Christian Institute.

I found it especially interesting that the people jumping to defend the Asher family were in most cases non-Christian’s who were concerned about the potential impact for freedom of expression. Maybe this is not surprising as many Christian’s don’t seem to be able to make up their minds where they stand on this issue with comments like “I don’t really know what to think about this” and other such bland statements appearing on social media platforms. But the absence of comment from many Christians is just as concerning. Maybe they feel that “Christian faith is a private matter” or maybe they just resolve to do whatever it takes not to find themselves in a similar situation. I don’t really know the reason for the eerie silence.

I think what many are forgetting is that the Asher’s didn’t in any way choose to make global headlines or to be thrust suddenly into the public eye by their stance and I’m sure did not intend to be controversial or to upset anybody. They were simply trying to live their Christian lives in peace as a Godly witness in an increasingly secular country. They have been forced to defend their Christian faith in a tax-payer funded court case which has really been a disgrace to our country from the outset. I followed the case in disbelief at first thinking that at some stage the craziness would come to an end. It did end this week with the Asher’s being found GUILTY.  After my initial shock and disbelief and “What was the Judge thinking?” type statements to those in my circle. I grow increasingly confident that the judgement MUST be reversed on appeal as the negative consequences for so many areas of public life would be staggering otherwise (and not just for Christians.)

I am writing this post to highlight the many incredibly profound statements that have been made by the Asher family throughout their trial and to encourage continued support and prayer for them, That they have been able to maintain their Christian witness and dignity at “such a time as this” is a remarkable testimony to non-believers and I hope will convict those Christian’s who feel that faith is a private matter that needs to be kept hidden. Statements like 

“We feel that the Word of God is of much more importance than the words of the Equality Commission,”

Have a profound ring of truth to them. On hearing this statement, I was ashamed to recall the times as a Christian where I had been afraid to take a stand because of a secular authority or person and their potential reaction. But really if God is God and the Bible is God’s Word then why aren’t we all taking a leaf out of the Asher's book and standing up for what we believe. Is it really okay that a Christian should be forced to violate their sincerely held Christian beliefs by doing some action that they know will offend a Holy God? Who are we serving and who is our Master?

The Asher’s are a great example to all of us as Christians, as even when they were no doubt devastated by the outcome of the court case they still released statements firmly reiterating their faith in God and His plans for their future.  Even stating that they were “happy” to be part of His plan!

“It doesn’t change how we feel about God and it doesn’t change anything about why we took our stand, we don’t regret that for one minute. And we believe God has a plan for the future and whatever that will be we are happy to be in His plans.”

The Asher’s were also contacted and encouraged by a Christian bakery in the USA in similar circumstances and facing a hefty legal bill. They now join the minority of Christians who have stood against secularism in the UK and abroad including 


1.       The B and B owners who refused to allow a gay couple to share a double bed.
2.       The Doctor who was sacked after 30 years of practice for offering to pray for a patient
3.       The Judge who is being investigated for refusing to place a child for adoption with a gay couple
4.       The Registrar who refused to marry same sex couples
5.       The Nurse who was investigated for wearing a cross to work
6.       The Taxi driver who was investigated for a Christian symbol in his taxi
7.       The lady who is being investigated for offering to pray for a Muslim colleague
8.       The Street Preachers that have been arrested for quoting Bible verses and thereby “offending” people
9.       The parents who complained that their 5 year old had been told he wasn’t allowed to read his Bible in his free time whilst at school.
10.   The students and hotel visitors who stood against their universities  and hotels banning Bibles from the rooms.



I could also appear on this list as the Police Officer who was disciplined for attending a peaceful protest at a Gay Pride event, but there will be more about that in my Police Biography to be published later this year. 

There are no doubt many more that haven’t made the national news and others who have quietly accepted their predicament and resigned without a fuss knowing that God will bless them for their failure to compromise.

I think we need to remember that this is not about politics or political activism. I would agree that Christian’s should avoid getting too bogged down in politics as a life focus. These people are defending Christian liberties. If they don’t then ultimately Christian freedoms will be eroded to the point that there will be no legal evangelism. Christian’s need to take a stand on this issue and remember the words of Jesus;

”If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8 vs 38 (NIV)

(NB I am grateful to the Christian Institute for a lot of the facts. Please visit their website to keep up to date The Christian Institute)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Once Bitten, Twice Shy #filipinohospitals #foodpoisoning #cultureshock



The topic for today; NOT my love-life but Filipino hospitals. Sorry to disappoint those of you that were expecting something different :)
 
I am thankful that in the 2 and a half years I have been in the Philippines I have only had cause to attend a hospital twice, for myself that is, I’ve been with other people many times.

My first experience was back in 2012 when I had been sent on a challenge team from the Logos Hope ship to a place called Dasmarinas City in Cavite.  Within the first few days of arrival I started feeling unwell with increasingly violent stomach cramps and other obvious symptoms of food poisoning. I re-treated to my mattress-on-the-floor-bed and waited patiently for my recovery. The church that was hosting us were mortified by this turn of events and tried desperately to speed up my recovery. They brought me all the types of food and drink imaginable; most of which made me feel even more unwell as I tried to at least sample a small bit of each to avoid giving offence. The most difficult thing to deal with was a bright coloured energy drink that the Filipino’s insisted would solve all my problems (and replace lost fluids) straight away. The trouble was that even the smell of it turned my stomach and bringing it in all different flavours and colours didn’t help.

Really the worst place to become seriously ill is in the Philippines as the local people often already treat foreigners with undeserved reverence and therefore is just unthinkable for them to allow a foreigner to continue to be ill in their presence as they feel as if they have somehow failed said foreigner. The fact that the cause of my illness was most likely my own stupidity having purchased a coconut drink from a street vendor shortly after our arrival didn’t reduce the attempts to somehow force me back to good health. When you are so ill that you just want to suffer alone and have the time to get better, the pressure to welcome a constant stream of people entering your room with various items and trying to help, feeling the need to be polite and cheerful…well you get the drift.

After a few days I began to recover but then awoke one morning with a huge lump above my eye. Assuming an ant or other such small insect was responsible, I emerged from my room to be reliably informed that it was a cockroach bite and that the swelling would soon go down. It was then that I recalled something during the night that I assumed had been a dream. I had woken up having obviously felt something crawling on me and had then thrown my sleeping bag across the room to get rid of whatever it was. As I did so I saw a large black thing scuttling away across the room. The memory made me cringe with disgust. This has happened twice since; once causing my lip to swell up to three times its normal size and protrude from my mouth, unfortunately that was on the day I had to have my photo taken at Immigration and recently where it just looked as if I had been punched in the face. 

After a day of starting to feel better and even venturing outside I began feeling extremely unwell again and headed back to the safety of my bed. I then got very very ill and was literally crying from the pain at several points over several days and seriously wondering if I was going to make it. The strange thing was that the pain would come and go, it wasn’t consistent. I began to wonder if the original problem (drinking the dodgy coconut juice) had been replaced and surpassed by something that I was now doing. Examining my behaviour and then asking questions and comparing it to the others in my room I realised that I was drinking water from a different source to all of them. The locals had helpfully placed drinking water directly outside our room for me and I had been filling my water bottle from the large blue plastic tub. I discovered that everyone else was either buying water or getting it from the main building. I began to suspect the water but didn’t want to upset anyone. I switched water supplies and we opened up the blue tub, which had been sitting in the sun for a few days, to find it was full of ants! I continued feeling ill but then realised that I was still somehow drinking the old water as I had previously mixed it with the gross energy drink that I had given up protesting about drinking. 

I was advised to try some type of salt solution in the medical kit from the ship to replace lost fluids. I casually prepared the solution having read the packet, thinking that anything was better than experiencing one more hour of excruciating pain. I took one sip, and then to the shock of my crew mate that had given it to me, was forced to immediately spit it out onto the floor and run to wash my mouth out. I still don’t know what was wrong with the solution but drinking it was not an option. It tasted like poison on its own. 

By this point I was becoming afraid of drinking or eating anything as everything I touched seemed to make things worse. It felt like I was being offered a million different things and cautiously testing them only to find they weren’t as they appeared to be. As it had been nearly a week it was decided to take me to hospital and to the supermarket to see if I could find anything I actually wanted to eat. Feeling very weak, I staggered around the supermarket with one of my crew mates pointing at anything I might be able to eat; Pringles and tomato soup were on the list. At the hospital I had various tests and was made to lie on a stretcher bed. Then the Doctor appeared and guess what she was carrying…that’s right it was the dreaded energy drink which was apparently the solution to all medical problems in that part of the Philippines. I tried to reason with the Doctor and explain what had happened as did my crew mate. She then gave me an anti-biotic prescription based on my test results which satisfied us because at least if I took medicine, I was being treated and had a chance of getting better. It didn’t occur to me not to trust the medicine.

Feeling a little relieved we headed back to the church, only for me, on entering my room to promptly burst into tears. The cause of my distress; I had accidentally left an empty biscuit wrapper on the floor next to my bed. The wrapper was now swarming with ants which were also marching in a line (as only ants do) all the way around my bed, up a nearby wall and on into the distance. The thought of having to deal with this “crisis” in my weakened state was just too much and I was eternally grateful when my crew mate took pity on me and dealt with the ant parade so I could return to bed. 

Thinking that I must be nearing the end of my health crisis I happily took the prescribed medicine as instructed. However, the next day I felt as if acid had been poured down my throat and had continued into my stomach. At first I didn’t attribute it to the medicine but assumed it was just another part of my ongoing mystery illness. But as I continued taking the medicine I noticed a correlation between taking the medicine and how bad I felt and my body also was telling me that I should stop taking the medicine. Kind-of like when you get food poisoning from something or drink too much of something and you can never eat or drink it again. So I eventually looked up the medicine on Google to find that it was a very strong anti-biotic to treat a serious infection….? No-one at the hospital had mentioned that I even had an infection let alone that it was serious. And the side effects of the medicine; you guessed it. I stopped taking it and began at last to feel better much to the relief of our hosts.

So when I became ill last week you can probably understand why even after nearly a week of pain I was reluctant to see a doctor or attend a hospital. Eventually I did go as I had regressed to lying listlessly on my sofa or bed, afraid to move any part of my body as my muscles and head hurt so much. The Doctors were all at a 3 day convention?! so I was sent to A and E where I answered some questions and then became one of the patients on beds that you see in all A and E’s lying in hallways looking miserable whilst waiting for a doctor.  I wasn’t really able to rest due to the curious stares of the locals that a foreigner attracts wherever they go in the Philippines. Normally I am quite polite and will greet people but on this occasion I was glad they didn’t get too close as I may have said “Stop looking at me, I’m sick!”

After a few hours of waiting for test results, the doctor told me that I didn’t have dengue fever (which was a relief) but that I did have, wait for it…..a serious infection and she gave me a prescription for anti-biotics. The name of the medicine seemed familiar but as I’m not organised enough to have written it down on the first occasion I can’t be sure. Three days later; not feeling much better, but no acid, so I guess that’s positive!
I have had time to read some good books as I haven’t been well enough for my language classes this week. I found this quote in an article which is helping me to persevere.

“God loves his servants so much that he allows them to suffer, so that his grace will sustain them in order to make his glory known. Our weakness is the God-ordained instrument through which the Holy Spirit fills us with the power of Christ.”  (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-missionary-life-no-shortcuts)

Thanks for your prayer...