After months of prayer, one of our team members had received news that a long-sought after job possibility was coming together. He was being made an offer that met the specifications he had articulated and the job would be ready for him. It was a mixed blessing. While we were happy for this answer to prayer, it was an answer that meant that he could not accompany us and we were going to be short one team member. Undaunted, Luz started recruiting like a whirlwind, seeking to gain another member to fill in the slot. Through a series of events that simply fell into place too quickly and orderly to be considered anything less than providential, Alex Ramos joined the team… and the fun began!
Alex joined a cast of characters that reflected diversity, balance and completeness in what one hopes a mission team will become. Our team comprised of children, teens, musicians, craftsmen, technicians, a real estate expert, teachers, medical professionals, missionaries, a preacher, a hairstylist, a counselor, a pension/benefits specialist and a cheerleading coach. The youth take the prize as our team MVP’s. Michael, Dylan and Joana threw themselves into the mission as if they were “on something”! In fact, they were: powered by the Holy Spirit, these three ministered with the energy of atomic reactors, winning friends and gaining fans wherever we went. Though embarking on their first missions trip, Dylan and Michael proved that when one comes spiritually prepared, there are no limits on the impact one can have on those you’ve come to help. Children chanted their names as they tirelessly gave of themselves without restraint, sharing God’s love with intensity, humility and consistency – a beautiful spectacle to behold – day and after day with no letting up!
We were blessed with several rookies of the year! Maria signed up at the very last minute and came on board with an attitude to serve, share and make friends. When we touched the ground, Maria began to engage the culture. Not intimidated by a new culture or linguistic limitations, Maria immediately visited homes in the most difficult settings, reached out and loved on children in severely impoverished environs with no thought of her personal well-being. When the time came for her to put her expertise to work, she blessed countless people by styling hair for hours on end without breaks, helping folks who were already beautiful on the inside to reflect a little more of that beauty on the outside as well! Jeremy also joined our team just under the wire and proved himself a game servant by engaging in home visits, where he was exposed to crushing needs up close and personally, meeting every situation with love and a smile. Even when asked to do unexpected smile, “no problem” was the normative response.
We were also blessed with veterans who set the example with unassuming humble service. Nancy took on the monumental tasks of organizing the VBS curriculum and children's activities. Under extremely challenging circumstances, she always engaged the children and kept us on track with fun and meaningful programs for the children to enjoy. Her use of the Bubble Machine to subdue overly energetic children is one for the books! She also never turned down a task where her help was solicited. An absolute angel of mercy! Bertzie and Rich were our senior representatives. Successful in business and in life, they joined the team and immediately began to encourage and support everyone else on the team! They raised funds for others, offered encouraging counsel for teammates, took on all sorts of behind the scenes tasks, and helped to support the team during times of tension and challenge. They were absolute models of a good attitude never once uttering complaints or being difficult with others.
The Taylor's were one of our family team representatives. Having a heart for engaging whole families on mission, the Taylor's: Pat, Teri, Naomi, Tabitha and Michael brought experience and compassion along with them as they served, forming friendships with the people they met and supporting the team by ministering wherever a need presented itself. Their family’s presence on the team communicated the power of God in transcending barriers and building unity to all those with whom we came in contact. Jennifer and Jarrett Janes came representing their family as mother and son. Having just learned of her pregnancy a short while before our departure, Jennifer ministered gamely, enduring some of the early changes and challenges that go along with the first trimester of pregnancy to encourage and support the team. Jarrett was a joy to watch as he participated in every aspect of the mission, including the basketball tournament where his courage and willingness to try something new won the respect of all who witnessed it!
Of course, I also came with my family. I was blessed to have all of my children participate in some aspect of the mission as well as my grandson and one son-in-law. Only one son-in-law could not break away to join us due to work commitments. My oldest daughter Coco reminisced of her early childhood as a missionary kid serving in smoky mountain. She spent time interacting with families and missionaries putting many of her counseling skills to use as she also introduced our grandson Jackson to his Filipino heritage. My son-in-law Mike was game and courageous. Bombarded by pestilences, animal bites and other trying experiences, Mike’s sense of humor and hands-on helpfulness never diminished. He came in smiling and departed smiling having made a huge difference on the team and to those he served. I have already mentioned Joana’s spectacular service, which also characterized our daughter Maris who stayed beyond our team’s time in the Philippines, having arrived with suitcases full of items ready for donation and a heart ready to help and minister. Her energy is not unlike her mother’s and she can always be counted on to willingly take on the hardest ministry with the most eager spirit! I’ve elsewhere mentioned my sister-in-law, Rose, whose assistance to Luz freed Luz to fully engage her gifts and as ministry opportunities presented themselves. Our niece Roliza was a fine missionary at large as was our Victoria. Ramon, Nene, Jon and Christian? Well, their work speaks for itself! What a blessing to witness my own family so engaged in serving the Lord!
Chris Simanek proved to be a Jack of All Trades – serving as a photographer, evangelist, helper and leader depending on the need of the moment. I had the blessing of traveling with Chris in India a few years back where his servant’s heart saved the day at a time of critical need. Chris spoke encouragement to many along the way and engaged the communities in which we ministered fully without reservations or hesitation! Then, there’s the man now known throughout Bohol as “HOUSE!” Alex Ramos' stature gives him the appearance of a giant in most settings in the Philippines. While showing the Jesus Film, Alex found his way in between the projector and the screen. Agitated with Alex’s obstruction of their view, some of the men in the village began to shout out “BALAY!” (Pronounced Bah-LIE!) or house in Cebuano. It is the equivalent of saying, “Hey man, sit down! You’re as big as a house!” Alex complied immediately, but was thrilled to have a new nickname as the men patted him on the back to reassure him that everything was cool. The man called “House” was a huge blessing to our team, playing music, offering encouragement and reassuring those he met of Jesus’ care and love – everything one would want from a “house”!
This was the team that God put together - unique individuals who came together to accomplish His purposes in this time and his way. Luz and I have been greatly encouraged by the examples these team members have set and were so fortunate to serve alongside them. From the challenges of our son-in-law Mike to the triumphs of the man called House, the Lord has overwhelmingly shown His grace and goodness to us in abundance. We can’t wait to see what He has in store for the future of this ministry! Until next time…