“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing – who is sending a love letter to the world.”Mother Teresa
If you took the 600 million orphans and at-risk children in the world and had them hold hands, they would circle the globe 18 times. The need is enormous.
Hunger, war, injustice, disease, abuse, exploitation, ignorance, and human trafficking are just a few of a host of other God-sized problems that roam the earth without remorse. Let’s face it: unlike those born in underdeveloped nations, people born in the United States win the geographical lottery and, for the most part, are not plagued by these atrocities – or at least have the resources, access, and/or the opportunity to overcome them.
Personally, I feel compelled to aid in the responsibility of tackling the world’s problems, and so I try to do my part and lend a hand. Your stay at Talus Rock Retreat has been a significant part of the solution cycle, for without it, we could not go out there and serve.
My 17-year-old son, Kipling, and I formed the duo that spent the entire month of May and part of June traveling to the hot (105 degrees in the shade!) and humid (100% dripping sticky-wet!) lands of the Philippines and India, where we worked tirelessly on behalf of International Children’s Network (ICN) and the Matsiko World Orphan Choir.
As International Director/Asia for ICN, it is my job to carry out the usual charges of updating sponsorship pictures and letters and to make final audition rounds for the upcoming World Orphan Choir U.S. tour.
My volunteer work also includes initiating and solidifying relationships with field pastors to make sure that ICN-sponsored children are indeed attending schools, doing well, and that earmarked money is being stewarded properly with strict regard to transparency and accountability. As the person responsible for physically checking on the kids, schools, teachers and pastors, it’s a wonderful privilege to witness first-hand the effects of generous U.S. donations that change the lives of so many poor and otherwise forgotten children.
“Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”
-Saint Teresa of Avila
I should add that our humanitarian trips are not easy and certainly not stepping-stones for a first time traveler. Mission dollars are not spent on comfort – ironically, the entire trip is much the antithesis of American comforts and conveniences – let alone the luxuries of Talus Rock Retreat.
Sometimes, as I am trying to catch some sleep on a hard orphanage bunk bed or a moldy church floor after an 18-hour day in filthy slums and mosquito-infested remote villages, the occasional rat, spider, or cockroach scrambles across my face.
My thoughts often drift back to the Retreat (mind you, these thoughts come after I fly out of bed brushing myself off like a crazy woman.) “Dang! If the Talus Rock guests enjoying the clean, hot water, soft sheets and luxury accommodations could see me now!” When I say that Talus Rock is not who I am, but what I do, I really mean it!
I’ve come to realize that poverty is an extremely complex issue – so much bigger than simply the absence of things; rather poverty is fundamentally the result of a lack of options.
People who are poor are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change. ICN seeks to pour hope and compassion into the poor by tangibly providing orphans and at-risk kids with an educational opportunity through sponsorship. This activism helps to end the cycle of poverty giving motivated children a chance to fulfill their dreams.
“Don’t fail to do something because you can’t do everything.”
Our journey began in India with a community of ultimate recyclers living in tarp and cardboard shacks literally built around a local garbage dump. The children, known as ‘waste-pickers‘, are employed as early as three years old, to sort through the trash for $2/day looking for recyclable newspaper, food, tin foil, plastic bags, cans and other valuable discards. Kipling, our local pastor/orphanage contact, and I showered them with toys, clothes, shoes, and sunglasses (Special thanks to our Ponderay Goodwill and First Christian Church).
We hope that eventually, we will be able to encourage the parents to allow their children a chance to attend school; this is ICN’s key component in breaking the poverty cycle. The work is slow and the results may exceed our lifetimes but, one child at a time, perhaps we can make a positive difference.
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
From India, the two of us traveled to the Philippines to check up on the islanders that were so poor there was not a pencil to be found. From Bohol, three of us squeezed on one motorcycle; I was wedged in the middle like a pancake for the 120 km buzzing through twisty jungle roads, speeding past water buffalo, stray dogs, people and oncoming traffic.
To compound the issue, we were laden with the act of balancing 20 lbs of sacks stuffed with clothes, toys and sponsorship supplies. I doubled up on prayers and was glad to dismount and climb aboard the small wooden motor boat.
Penny-wise and pound foolish we did not want to be, so we splurged on the $6 for a shade tarp that attached to our boat. Despite being “shaded”, we still burnt to a crisp for the two hours under the scorching sun as we journeyed across the Philippine Sea to Cauming Islet (I could only imagine what our backs and shoulders would have been like sans tarp!) I was sure I could hear my skin crackling during the trips to 4 more islands the following day.
Fresh water is precious, as rain water is collected and used for island cooking and drinking. While we were half-baked, parched and fatigued, it was difficult to accept any food and water from our hard-working island host families as they had so little of it. Everything (and I mean everything) bathroom and kitchen related is handled with a bucket of cold water and a cup.
Part of every evening is spent hand washing some of our 11 clothing items packed for the 6 week trip. Due to airline luggage constraints, every extra pair of anything means foregoing a toy or clothes for people in these foreign lands. That being said, we’ve learned to pack extremely light over the years.
Between the sting of the saltwater on sunburned skin, and the lack of fresh water to wash off the sticky salt, we spent long, island nights swatting mosquitoes off sticky painful skin.
Food is also an adventure when working in the remote slums, islands, hills and mountains. Between goat brain curry and knuckle soup; chicken head, feet and intestines (kabob-style); pig blood stew (deceptively nicknamed ‘Chocolate Soup’); balut (18-day-old chicken embryos hard-boiled and eaten at dusk so you don’t see the beak, feathers and veins after peeling the shell), I thought I had eaten it all.
But on this particular trip, I ate beetles. Large ones. The size of oval cough drops. I have been recently told that these particular beetles are cousins to the cockroach.
The children took us to the bushes, shook them, and flushed out the giant beetles. The chickens were fighting over the ones overlooked by the 20 tiny hands scrambling to collect the insects before dropping them in the net covered bucket. Fifteen minutes later, dumped in boiling water and void of their wings, head and legs, the grape-sized nuggets were deep fried with garlic, onions and vinegar. We held our breath as the kids eagerly served us up a pile of fresh beetles next to a ball of rice as they waited in anticipation for the us to indulge in the treat. Kipling adventurously downed 10, and I counted 5 for myself. While they tasted like a cross between shrimp shells and pumpkin seeds, I couldn’t quite get past the initial squish of the pasty center to the point where I wanted for more.
“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11
So what makes it worth enduring 40 hours of one way travel; gagging pollution; a gazillion people; sleepless nights due to sunburn, mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders and grumbling stomachs; rationed electricity (5:30pm to midnight); suffocating heat that leads to dehydration; constant threat of impending theft; the lack of hot (let alone, clean) water; and enduring the series of inoculations before the trip, the bites, rashes and sores during the journey, followed by the swallowing the bitter deworming medicine upon return?
Other than coming home 5-10% thinner (I love a third world diet!), fresh mangoes, coconuts, chicken curry, the dramatic sites, being the hands and feet of Christ, the fabulous smells, and the pure adventure of the unknown, it’s the sense of accomplishment. It’s the obedience of doing a tiny part so that I can return Stateside humbled and extremely grateful (I tend to forget sometimes). It’s the challenge, purpose and worthwhile work. And mostly, it’s the children’s innocent faces and their unusual questions:”What is your favorite princess, Auntie Featha?”, “What does snow smell like?”, “In America, do you dream in rainbows, Auntie?”.
It’s the fawning attention of little children clamoring to hold your hand, pet your hair, learn new games, make chocolate chip cookies by twos in a borrowed toaster oven (it takes over an hour), talk about God, look deep into your eyes with sincere gratitude (a smile knows no language barriers). Or the thumb drive filled with 500 otherwise forgotten children who will now reach the sponsorship tables. And truly, you’ve never experienced such faith and gratitude until you’ve overheard the din of orphanage children fervently reciting their heartfelt prayers.
The children are delightful. Unequivocally joyful and absolutely endearing.
While some might think traveling in these conditions is pure hell (and at times, we can agree), and the magnitude of human suffering in our world is overwhelming, I hold fast to the wise words once shared: “Heather, you are not responsible for helping everyone, just the ones that cross your path. Remember that we are not asked to help all of them at once, just one at a time.” I think God not only created our family to handle such conditions, but we actually seek out this type of adventure as a way to spend our valuable time.
Eventually, Kipling and I poured ourselves back to base at Talus Rock Retreat craving cool shade and hot, running, clean water (oh, and a thick chocolate shake and a big slice of Babs‘ pizza!). I remain extremely grateful to God for the people and opportunities brought forth by stewarding a place like Talus Rock affording us the luxury of overseas travel and service.
Talus Rock Retreat continues to be both a quiet respite and a comfortable social scene with vibrant conversations between our guests. Over the past year, the generous donations from guests made this journey possible, and we, as a family, are thrilled to exercise our passion in this way. An enormous heartfelt “THANK YOU!” goes out to my husband Bruce, our kids, Rio and Selkirk, and especially Talus Rock Retreat Liaison, Stephanie Sandish, whose stellar grace and unwavering dedication kept the wheels churning and the fire burning.
Catch the 2012 Matsiko World Orphan performing an ethnically original rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on opening night featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Of course, if you miss this year’s performances, mark your calendars for 2013 Tour as the Matsiko World Orphan Choir kids are especially talented and cute. I should know…Kipling and I helped pick ’em!
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”