Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I wrote this post about 3 days ago, but for a couple different reasons (mainly the internet in this country is terrible!!!) haven't been able to post it yet. Enjoy!
I have officially survived my first week in the Philippines!!! I am now starting to adjust to the culture and am beginning to love it. Which is a good sign because for the first few days I was fairly terrified to say the least. I still haven't settled into a set schedule or routine because I'm leaving for a 4 day SCA (Savings and Credit Association) training on Tuesday for a few days. A couple of Hope International workers are flying into the Philippines and we are going to some sort of CCT (Hope's partner organization that I am working for) retreat center for a few days. After this training I should be settling into more of a set schedule and should begin some kind of work that I am itching to get started on.
For those of you who are itching to know, basketball last week was quite the experience to say the least. We took about a 30 minute Jeepney ride to a pretty poor area of town (There were around 7 CCT employees with me). In the middle of this neighborhood was what looked like a government sanctioned basketball court. In other words, this basketball court was straight out of NBA Street for all you video gamers out there. There was about 2 feet between the sidelines and the concret houses that lined the court. But the houses weren't the main thing constricting the court. All around the court sat motorcycles, cars, and motorcycle rickshaws (which I'll talk more about later) which the men use during the day as transportation to make some money. So if a ball went flying out of bounds, you had to avoid all the different modes of transportation as well as the 150 or so people who were lining the courts to watch.
However... that is not what made the court so ridiculous. What made this court so crazy was the fact that the court was not just a basketball court, it also served as the main road intersection for the neighborhood. So while we were playing, we would have to stop every minute or two to wait for a car or motorcyle to pass through. One of the roads went along the baseline, while the other road went all the way across on one of the sidelines. It was truly unbelievable. The other internsting thing about Filipino basketball is that there is always a wager on the game. Money is always invovled, no matter how poor the people are. Our particular game had a 500 Peso bet (around 12 dollars). We won, which meant that I got to take home a whopping $1.50!!! My first Filipino basketball experience was wild to say the least, but I loved every second of it.
After the game, literally every single kid watching the game came running over the me, the "Americana", and started asking me all these crazy questions. They all really wanted me to dunk, but I had to disappoint them, because unfortunately I can't dunk. I think I broke a few kids hearts that night :(
The rest of my week was spent going to one of the branch offices in a little province of Manile called Intramuros. This province was one of the first places the Spanish settled in the 1500s and contains the oldest Cathedral in the Philippines (around 500 years old). I went with a girl from the main office named Keren on both mornings and we went early for staff devotions. After worship, prayer, and reading the word we took what I consider the most dangerous mode of transportation on the planet over to some of the client meetings.
This hazardous mode of transportation I am referring to is the lovely motorcycle rickshaw. Think back to WWII motorcycles you see in old movies with the passenger seat attached to the motorcycle. There is one main difference. The passengers in the Philippines are completely boxed in by a big metal box. So essentially, 4 of us crammed on the back of this motorcycle and into the "box of death" as I am beginning to refer to it and await certain death. Since we are really heavy for 1 motorcycle to carry us, cars, taxis, and buses go whizzing by us like we are sitting still. I had the following order of thoughts on our first journey in the box of death. "Wow, we are going really slow right now." "Wonder what would happen if one of those cars hit us?" "I wonder if our driver is paying attention to all these cars around us?" "Let me check." "Oh good, he is listening to his ipod while driving and can't hear any of the traffic around him." "I now know how I am going to die..."
Once we survived this trip we got to sit in on what Hope International calls client meetings. These are once a week meetings with all the loan clients of a particular neighborhood where they gather together for what they call the 5 Ws: Welcome, Worship, Word, Work, Wrap-up. These meetings are mandatory for all loan clients of CCT and Hope around the world. This way, the loan officers can easily monitor clients and ensure that their clients are hearing about Jesus at every meeting. Someone does not have to be a Christian in order to become a client of CCT, however it is the explicit goal of both CCT and Hope International to tell all their clients about Jesus and ensure that the kingdom is growing.
Following the meetings on both days, I was able to walk around some of the neighborhoods and interview two of the loan clients. I have sent these interviews back to Hope so their marketing team can use them to spread the message about the work Hope and Hope's partners are doing around the world. The first woman I interviewed was a woman who owned a soda selling business. Out of her home she used to sell around 200 sodas a day, not a terrible living, just enough to feed her family every day. But after taking out around 15 loans with CCT, she now sells over 4800 sodas every day, has hired 3 full time workers, bought a new house, and can afford to send her two sons to a very good school. In the process of working with CCT, she has come to know the Lord much more fully and said herself that God has changed her family's lives through the loans and spiritual discipleship she has received from CCT. In her own words, "The neighbors now notice something very different about my family." It has been incredible just to see how these loans are actually changing people's lives. No words to truly descibe the feeling.
On a slightly different note, I was able to attend my first Filipino wedding this past Saturday. The wedding was between two people who work for CCT. One of them is actually my boss who I didn't meet until after the ceremony, haha. One of the older women in the office found out that I had never been to a Filipino wedding before and made it her mission to get me an invitation. I found out later that this wasn't that big of a deal because Filipinos typically send out their invitations only 10 days in advance. So Saturday morning I woke up super early and rode about 45 minutes to the outskirts of Manila where the ceremony was being held. The ceremony was great and a lot like an American wedding, although quite a bit longer.
After my wedding experience, I went to my first Filipino megachurch, called Cathedrals of Praise. It was a massive auditorium which was unlike any other chruch auditorium I had ever seen. The main stage was an octogon in the middle of what was basically a stadium of seats. The worship was great and contained no less than a 200 person choir, a full rock band, and at least 50 dancers scattered across the auditorium. It was loud, passionate, and most importantly all in English, praise the Lord!! The pastor was an American man who started the church in 1980. It was a little difficult to figure out exactly what the church was all about given some of the natural cultural barriers, but I am still excited about attending next week.
After church, a few of the people I had gone to church with went to the local mall to grab some food and catch a move. Movies here only cost 125 pesos ($3.50), but we went to the 25 peso movie, The Warrior's Way. Which was actually pretty good considering the price we paid (50 cents).
Following the movie we headed to a huge park for about an hour, where there was a 100 foot statue of a man named Lapu-Lapu who is a national hero of the Philippines. Evidently he is the man who killed Ferdinand Magellon in the 1500s when Spain was fighting to take over the Philippines. Everyone loves him and his statue makes him look pretyt fierce to say the least. I wouldn't want to get in a sword fight with him.
So all in all, this has been a pretty challenging week for me. I guess that comes with being in a completely different culture you have never experienced before, especially when you don't have someone to laugh with you at the crazy drivers, or the way elevators are over here. Which reminds me!!!
Filipino cultural difference #8 and #9
8. The "Close Door" button on the elevators here are incredibly responsive. Like, too responsive. I personally have been smashed by the elevators doors multiple times since arriving here and witnessed countless others undergo similar fates. This may become the #2 way that I envision myself getting horribly injured while I'm over here, getting smashed by an elevator door.
9. The Filipinos have a fascination with techno music. I don't really understand this one yet, but in most of the fast food places I go there is techno music playing. It is starting to get really annoying.
If I had to summarize what the Lord has been teaching me so far, it is patience and absolute reliance on him. I am finding that I am way too reliant on the comforts America's culture provides me. It is my prayer that the Lord can continue to grow me and humble me which he is obviously doing so far.
It is my prayer today that the Lord would reveal himself to each of you in an extremely powerful way, much like how he is showing himself to me here in Manila.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; Let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you." Psalm 5:11