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Palanan Isabela via Tuguegarao – The Wait Is Over (Page 1)

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Last April 22, 2017, my friend and I took a 10-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao City up Northeast of the Philippines. From Tuguegarao Airport, we waited 5 hours for a 45-minute, 20-seater flight to Palanan Valley in Isabela Province. We were early and the plane was 4 hours late.

Palanan is not a popular travel destination, more so the village we went to. I was jobless with savings slowly draining away. What on earth was in Palanan that we were ready to get Php 8,000 (almost US$200) poorer and some backaches richer just to be there?

Continue reading “Palanan Isabela via Tuguegarao – The Wait Is Over (Page 1)”

Fighting the God who fights for us

My journal entry for Keep the Blood Warm book day 1 (again). Text in quotation marks are excerpts from the book.

Evening Verse: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Ephesians 1:7

MEDITATION: My “sin and brokenness blind me and cause me to pull away from a loving God.”

“You have been brought near by the blood of Christ. It is the blood that constitutes your nearness.”

“This is your confidence for experiencing and enjoying the nearness of God throughout your day.”

“Keep your eyes on the cross… you will abide in him.”

Entry:

BROKEN.

PULLING AWAY.

BROUGHT NEAR.

NEAR.

CONFIDENT.

Broken and pulling away. The story of my season. Can anyone else relate?

I want to be near but why do I pull away? I always say it’s because I’m broken. I apologize repeatedly for sinning and sometimes even simultaneously as I let a silent tide carry me away. Perfectly conscious of my will, perfectly in control externally, but internally in turmoil.

When the weather of my heart is peaceful, I go against the tide. But in an instant this weather can change. The next thing you’ll see is me going where the water could carry me away from You, my heart breaking in the process. I let my disobedience wound me, as if another wound has the power to heal me. Willful me. There is no debate that punishment is what I deserve.

This has baffled me over and over. That even when I feel strong enough to say “no,” I find myself saying “yes” to the enemy of my soul. I am not only broken but blind. Though the world views us as sensical and intelligent, we are silly and foolish and deceived. Until Jesus breaks our chains and heals our brokenness. Whereby light is restored to our eyes and the power to love and resist hopelessness is restored to our will.

It is true. My sin and brokenness blind me and cause me to pull away from a loving God! But what good is knowing this without the power to act on this knowledge?

But Jesus’ blood did not leave me stuck, bound, and dying.

It BROUGHT me NEAR. For the life of me, how powerful yet helpless I have been until I found assurance that I am wholly, unconditionally, and shamelessly loved. My heart would not have responded to anything else other than a powerful love that tore down my walls and vanquished shame.

He fights for me even when I fight Him.

From the raging tide, I was picked up and set upon a rock. It is not my work or energy or kung-fu skills that constitute my NOW NEARNESS to God. It is my Jesus’ blood.

Now if I could only keep my mind on that.

Not on my strength, power, or determination. Not even on my obedience or devotion. But on His. His perseverance to bring me near and keep me close–meant Him shedding His innocent blood. Oh what a Savior. Jesus, help me keep your blood warm.

You can also check my first journal entry on Keep the Blood Warm: I Was God’s Enemy.

I was God’s enemy

I found this awesome devotional called Keep the Blood Warm. I had been asking God for something like this, something that would draw me closer to Jesus, something that would help me understand more what He did for me like never before. The devotional encourages you to journal. I thought I’d share my journal, unedited (because I don’t have time) and raw. And maybe you’d be encouraged to start your own journey too–on how to keep the blood warm, to keep Jesus near, and nearer still.

First two parts were copied from the devo. Don’t worry, the author shared this too on his Facebook page so I’m sure he’s okay with this. At least for the first few pages of his book.

Morning Verse:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

Meditation:

“For the weight of this verse to hit your heart, you must remember the feeling of being far from God. Of being cut off from the promises, from the new covenant. Your sin and brokenness blinded you and caused you to pull away from a loving God. But now in Christ Jesus, you have been brought near by the blood of Christ. It is his blood that constitutes your nearness. Not your good behavior. Not your feelings. His blood. This is your confidence for experiencing and enjoying the nearness of God throughout your day. Keep your eyes on the cross and your heart warmed to his blood and you will abide in him.”

My Reflection:

What first came to my mind was that I’m a Gentile. Oh how far is Israel from where I live? How far was that place where God appeared and became man’s friend. How hopeless was my lineage, my race, my geography until Jesus extended the possibility of salvation to non-Jews also.

Then I thought of the Vatican, the seat of Catholic leadership. Isn’t it interesting that it’s in Rome and not in Israel?! Isn’t it interesting that the Jews’ enemy, the Romans, had become one of the first converts to Christ? Isn’t it interesting that the first if the Pauline Epistles was addressed to the Romans?

I had watched the series The Chosen and you clearly see there the Jews’ relationship with the Romans. They were their enemy, their captors, their unwelcome masters. They brought the unjust life they desperately want to break free from! But after Jesus, Paul was called to preach the Good News to the Gentiles also. I am a Gentile. Once far off, but now included in Christ’s mission. Embraced in His family. What a shift in destiny!

In a way, I am a Roman. I was an enemy. But am now a friend.

I was far off. Too far off. Excluded. Unnoticed. Unthought of. Irrelevant. Until Jesus came.

But that was not just it. I was without hope and unloved. At least not unconditionally. My parents love me but their love always fall short. Always. In fact, some of my mom’s ways marred me deeply. Her wounded ways created a dysfunction that I need to wrestle with a lot of times. It made me hate myself, deeply hate myself. It decapitated me from loving myself unconditionally the way God does. And I felt trapped. Trapped in a cycle of self rejection. Even though I had become a Christian, the wounds and wrong thought patterns have been woven so intricately in my system. I could not untangle myself from them. I could not remove them in their clingy persistence. Like they were tattooed in my soul. BUT THEY WEREN’T. The devil just makes it feel and think and sound like they are. Jesus set me free from them.

How horrible my life was when Jesus was far off! The BLOOD did not just draw me near, but it permeated by soul and broke the chords and chains and ropes and spell of a cursed past. It did. How horrible to live far from Jesus and to not know and experience the power of His blood.

Were you once far off from Jesus? Are you far off from Him now?


Note: Just like all of us, my mom was a broken person who ended up breaking others because of that. But God is healing her and she is helping mend other people now. Although not perfectly, she still makes mistakes, but don’t we all? 🙂

 

Raindance

Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

Sometimes, this is how God speaks.
His voice comes like a spray of rain.
It mists your face or a portion of your skin.
It unsettles you for a moment.
But then you let go.

Another shower comes and another spray of rain kisses you.
And another. Until you begin to pay attention.
Is there someone in the rain calling?

The rain stops.
You wait for it, now earnestly.
Until you fall asleep.

You wake up — the earth and plants are drenched.

You say the next one is yours to fathom.
You shout to the sky and ask the clouds to pour.
Silence.
More silence.
More and more silence.

There will only be silence until you’re ready.
And when you’re truly hungry, it returns.

The first drops are unsettling.
The next ones are cold on your skin.
Oh the discomfort of wearing clothes half dry and half wet!
Big drops keep hitting you on the head, face, shoulders, back, arms, everywhere. You’re offended.
Should you run a way and save your ego before it’s too late?
You stay.

Moments later, clothes dripping wet, heavy and clinging to your skin…
You realise there’s nothing left to do but let your guard go.
Soaked. And soaking still. You let the rain break you.
And bathe you.

As it does, invisible chains break off you
You didn’t realise they’re wrapped around your neck,
Your body, your hands, your feet.
And you begin to dance. A happy dance.
A gotcha dance. A you-didn’t-get-me-this-time dance.
A thank you dance. A wild, free, undignified dance. A there’s-no-tomorrow dance.
An I’ve-been-waiting-for-this-my-whole-life dance.
A [fill in this bracket with what you’ve been dreaming of] dance.
You thought the rain was heavy.
It was the chains that were.

Sometimes, this is how God speaks.
He bothers you.
He triggers you.
He lets you sit in desperation.
He pours water on you and you freak out.
You in prim and proper clothes and all.
Until you pay attention.
Is there someone calling you into the rain?

 

Believer, Don’t Wait, Start (Writing) Now

I want all who have a desire and/or burden to write blogs or make vlogs to start doing it now. I know I’m guilty of delaying my own blog from getting established. I mean, I do have a blog but I hardly update it. I have been trying to get back to writing for the longest time but I always have an excuse!

I’m not saying that my excuses are valid. I do want to kill all of them and get started. All I’m saying is that there are always hurdles and it’s not always that easy. I’m not saying either that it’s too hard or that it’s too challenging. But that there will always be things that get in the way if you will not PRIORITIZE it, or COMMIT to it. But once you’ve set your mind to it and committed to do it no matter what, then that’s the time you’ll start seeing breakthrough.

I know this because when I started working in as a full-time writer with a daily production quota, I started writing one article per day regularly. I was “forced” by my circumstances to do so! And it’s not horrible at all because I love writing. I just needed the external push, being pushed into that corner so that you don’t have any other choice but to do it! For some of us who need a bit help with discipline, or resolve, that’s what works for us. And it’s not bad at all to put ourselves into those situations where we are forced to do what we ought to be doing.

Now why do I want Christians, especially, to write? Simple. You have a message to speak. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a message that others NEED to hear. In fact, people are dying to hear your message. Better yet, there are people who will die (in eternity) without your message.

And oh, I’m not just talking about a message to those who do not yet know Jesus. I’m also talking about sharing your message to other believers. Each one of us has a message although not everyone is as skilled as the others to write it down. You don’t have to be an apostle, prophet, or some international leader to have a message. Your personal victories or even your struggles by which God’s grace constantly manifests is a message that could bring encouragement and freedom to others! That is why the Apostle Paul said that every part of the Body is important.

Now how can you get started? Simple. Open a word file or a WordPress account and write your first blog. What to write about? Don’t overthink it. Just write what’s in your heart. Or ask God what’s in His heart. Or write about the happiest thing that happened to you this week. Or anything that God did for you recently. That’s it. Write down and do it now.

Featured photo by Cliff Johnson on Unsplash

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. You can’t have one if writing is a full time job, if you’re getting paid per hour and you only have 1.5-hour breaks in a day. It’s not an employee benefit. You can’t take a leave from work because you’re having one. Well, maybe. But better think up a better excuse. Your leave application can’t look like this:

Leave Application

No. of day/s: 1

Inclusive dates: January 25, 2020

Reason: Writer’s block

So what do you do when all of a sudden a blank page stares at you like a gun? “Write something or I’ll shoot.” You try a letter on your keyboard. Tak. Then a few more. Tak, tak, tak, tak! You squeeze out words. It feels like extracting a blackhead from a stubborn crater on your face. Nothing comes out except blood.

I admire those who can close their eyes for a minute, or maybe an hour, and then come back refreshed and ready to take the blank page. Kill that blinking cursor. Fill this ebb with words. The page is the world under their feet and their brains are free. At least, free-er than mine. I envy those who have words to say even if their hearts are far away.

So what do I do? If you think that there’s a piece of advise about to unfold somewhere in the blocks of text below, there will be none. How I wrestle with it is irrelevant. It didn’t work. At least not for my line of work. And that is why I have decided to leave it as swiftly as I can. Although I cannot do so as swiftly as I wish.

I started writing blogs when I graduated from university. I didn’t write paragraphs. I wrote stanzas. I wrote 70-word entries. On Friendster Blog.

Then the texts got longer. Not because I wanted them to but because it was what everyone was doing. I never planned on writing for a living. But now, I couldn’t get out.

There were days when it felt right. And there are days like today when the loudest voice in my ear says, “Stop.” Then I stop dead in my tracks. I pull out the flashlight and look around to see who’s out there. No one. Just me and this huge slab of concrete in front of me that no one else sees.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Where I am At – The road out of burnout

I used to get excited at (or at least liked) the thought of baking or cooking something I would love to eat — oat bread, brownies, gluten free pancakes, pesto sauce, etc. This morning, I suddenly craved for pesto, thought of making some pasta and homemade sauce, but then started to feel anxious. How am I going to make it when I don’t have basil leaves? I have to go to the grocery then. Seriously, I don’t feel like going to the grocery. Suppose I was able to get some, I’d have to put them in the blender with some nuts and garlic after I figure out how much ingredients to use. Hmmm. I don’t really feel like figuring things out right now. I don’t really feel like messing it up if I make a mistake. And best of all, I don’t really feel like cleaning up after I’m done. I was on leave for an entire week, sleeping and lazy-ing it off and I still feel tired. In fact, I think I’m mildly depressed and burnt out. (Did I get the spelling right?) The things I used to love to do, I dread doing. I have thought of pouring out my thoughts into my blog for several months and it’s just now that I was finally able to get myself writing.

What happened?

Some three years ago I started out on a strict diet due to a medical diagnosis that took me and my family by surprise. I didn’t want to get a surgery and so I went for the naturopathic alternative. On my first few months, my doctor put me on something similar to a ketogenic diet, but at the same time pescatarian. And then I shifted to a sugar-free, mostly whole foods, vegan diet. And then just months ago, to a mostly pescatarian but sometimes vegan diet. Last year, I also started working full time. I would prepare my food during weekends or sometimes week nights. I’d go to the wet market and/or grocery, and sometimes went the distance to get more affordable produce. I would even bake gluten free stuff. I studied recipes and did lots of trials and errors. I wasted money on failed recipes and vegetables that rotted inside the fridge because I had no more time (or energy) to prepare them. Sometimes my mom or my dad would help. Most of the time it’s all just me.

Sometime last year, I also started visiting an herbalist around 2-4 times per month. We were allowed 15 leaves per year (sick and vacation leaves combined). I used up most of them for my herbalist appointments. Durning the past few months, I would go on leave out of sheer tiredness mentally and emotionally. I dreaded meal times. I would often find myself without anything to eat during lunch break. I would end up cheating, e.g. eating something that’s not good for me, or overspending, e.g. consuming my budget weeks in advance. This lifestyle was hard on me emotionally as I would struggle with guilt and fear and desperation most meal times. At first, when I was still able to prepare my salads, fruits, and homebaked desserts, I had less guilt. But I struggled with my schedule and had very little time for anything else, even rest or sleep. When I slacked, I struggled with guilt and frustration and fear. Every. Time. It drained me. “No packed meal” when the clock strikes “time to eat” or when my tummy starts to rumble would send me to a mild panic. At other times, the dilemma was whether to cook or sleep. There are days when I would be so sleepy from my supplements or insomnia (yeah started to get this one too) and hungry at the same time that I either sleep my hunger off, wait ’til I’ve cooked up something (after going to the grocery), or just grabbed whatever’s available at the resto downstairs (aka cheat again).

The Cheating Dilemma
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

But when you come to think of it, it’s not all that bad. I struggled with overspending but I never ran out of cash. The worst thing I had to deal with financially was the fact that my savings before I started working looked almost the same as my savings today. At least, I did not get into debt! I couldn’t say though that my medical condition is way better. It worsened a little bit three months into my new job but gradually improved afterwards and then sort of reached a plateau with my lab tests improving or worsening a bit month after month. Recently though, I could feel a prominent mass in my abdomen and it is very distracting whenever I’m on my belly or on my back. It feels heavy and is very disturbing. It’s my new source of mild stress.

For like 2 months now, I have been cheating a lot on food that are bad for me. I think it’s the burnout and stress and frustration just weakening my will to resist “comfort foods.” It’s a vicious cycle.

Two months ago, I came across an article which listed the symptoms for burnout. I am proud to say I passed the test by 100%. (lol). For the first time in months, I found vocabulary for what I was going through. But the cause of burnout was not just my diet but also my work. No, I wasn’t overworked. In fact, I get to leave the office on time every single day, unless I choose to do a little bit of overtime just to not disrupt my flow when in the middle of a task.

The cause was the increase in administrative tasks. They were writing tasks with an administrative bent. And they were not very creative. I swear, if some people find “difficult” work difficult, I find “easy” work difficult. Months ago, work started to feel like slow death. I was tweaking templates. It felt like tracing stencil over and over. And although stencil is fun, applying the principle to writing makes no fun for me. The terrible part for me was I’m not even sure if I am “making a difference” and using my strengths and skills. Something in me was screaming out, “I’m not wired for this kind of work.” I thought that for sure someone else would be very happy to be doing what I was doing. Why not just give this job to someone who will be happy to take over it?

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for my job and I do not believe that work always has to be fun. But there is a certain monotony and loss of faith in what you do that will kill your passion and cause you to lose sight of what you’re good at. These are things that need to be resolved, not brushed aside. I am not a fan of complaining, nor am I a proponent of “find the perfect job” philosophy. There is no such thing as a perfect job and workplace. There is a place though where you will grow because the conditions are a “perfect” as there is enough discomfort that will stretch you and a certain comfort because you’re doing what you’re wired for. Notwithstanding, I would encourage honesty. Dissatisfaction with work should not always lead to burnout. Lack of quality rest might. Moreover, dissatisfaction with work may be resolved with acceptance or coping (for things that may be causing discomfort but are really good for you) or initiative (to cause change that may be good for your department or the entire organization).

But when you combine the two — dissatisfaction and lack of rest — you know it’s not headed somewhere good.

The interesting thing was around this time, God also spoke to me to start asking Him what’s in my heart. And just a month (or more) after I started praying (asking) a certain request to God, He answered it with a new job! This does not solve my burnout problem though, and my diet problem. But God has taken me thus far and I am believing for full recovery from burnout before I start in my new job roughly 5 weeks from now.

Now going back to the pesto sauce. After writing all this, I suddenly feel like whipping up some pesto doesn’t sound too tiring anymore. Maybe it’s because you listened to my rant. (Thank you very much.)

Yesterday, I was at the mall preparing my employment requirements. For the first time in months, I walked around the mall window shopping and just chillin’ like I’ve never done in such a long time. Imagine, for the past 12 months, all I did was work day in and day out that a leisurely walk in a mall was out of the question. Every time I would buy something, I always buy in a hurry. Hayst. So now I’m starting to re-learn a new rhythm. I need to rest and slow down and do things that put no pressure on me whatsoever. I am learning to be intentional on this. And I am learning to prioritize it.

I have also vowed to schedule a regular vacation from work regardless of whether I feel tired or not. It’s my personal campaign against burnout. It’s a workaholic’s rehabilitation program. And hopefully, it will become my new habit.

I’m not yet sure if I should do the pesto sauce because it’s raining hard outside and I don’t have a car to go to the grocery. In any case, I think I’ll just cheat again on some regular pastry with lots of sugar in it!

P.S. I’ve been praying for a cook who will prepare my meals for me! We (my family) prayed for it for months and finally found one! Oh happy day! God thank you for your faithfulness!

Not in your push

It’s not in your push. You’re not strong enough to push that far. It’s not in your push. It’s in your position. And I want to position yourself inside of love this morning. And let the the confidence that you are loved by the One who created you straighten your back to stand in this day. – Steffany Gretzinger

 

The river less travelled

I would be exaggerating if say that the “road” to Palanan is difficult. The trip is lengthy, yes. The last leg had no roads, yes. But it is possible. Actually, I found crossing-the-river part most fun.

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He’s the son of the man running the boat. I kept taking photos of him to the point that he got conscious. I found him rather photogenic. I’ve always wanted a younger brother too…

Yet, it is still a road less travelled for both leisure seekers and church ministers. Here’s a summary of the journey:

  • 12 (or more, or less if the force is with you) -hour bus from Manila to Tuguegarao
  • 5-minute tricycle from bus stop to airport
  • 45-minute flight in a 15- or 20-seater from Tuguegarao Airport to Palanan Airport (with possible 2-hour flight delay depending on whether the plane from Palanan was able to get enough passengers to fly to Tuguegarao and vise-versa… Yes some flights are like jeepney rides, waiting for the seats to fill up)
  • 10-minute tricycle from the airport to the river
  • 25 to 40 minute motor boat from one side of the river to Dibungko, our destination. (If you’re going to Divilacan, a popular beach, it takes about 2 hours.)

Moreover, flights from Tuguegarao Airport to Palanan only happen 3x a week and they don’t jive with the Manila-Tuguegarao flights in case you want to take a plane to Tuguegarao.

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Yes. We paid P2,500 to risk our lives. No pun or boasting intended. The last time our host’s daughter took this flight (few years back), they almost didn’t make it.

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See that zigzag trail between the mountain ranges? That’s the river, Palanan River.

The flights are not cheap either. They cost P2,500 one way. And yes, they rarely leave on time. I spent roughly P8,000 for my trip back and forth last April 2017. By the way, these flights were also popular for having had crash landings.

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Sailing down the river. My favorite part.

 

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We docked here and climbed those steps to the village.

At the village, there aren’t millions of people, only a simple village. There’s no crusade or hotel or VIP rooms. When you go, you go not to be seen but to see. And to tell them that you see them. That they are not forgotten.

But for sure, there are some of us who love this kind of challenge. Like I said, it didn’t feel difficult at all when I first went there last year. The only struggle I had was the way back, with me needing to catch my Saturday morning class (for my graduate studies) back in Manila.

Why I’m Going Back

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The Walk Up. From the river, we climb these 100 something steps to get to the village. This used to be a hiking trail with no stairs way back when the first missionaries came here some two decades ago!

Well, first of, Duane, my former YWAM leader, a pioneer in the mission work in the said village, invited me again to come over. I was hesitant at first because of my health condition and my strict diet but the Lord touched my heart again and reminded me of how precious these people are to Him.

Let me tell you about a few of them whom I met there. Forgive me, I have been struggling with my ability to remember things because of my health condition. I may not remember some of the names correctly, but the faces, the faces for sure I will remember.

Ishmael

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I won’t tell which one but Ishmael is in this pic. 🙂

On one of my talks (It was about dreaming big in life), I asked for a few of them to share with the group what their dream is. One of them, a young man maybe around 17 years old, really wanted to share but we could all see that something was holding him back. He stood up and thought for a long time before he finally went up front.

After I handed him the mic, he said in Tagalog, “My dream is to be…(pause)… My dream is to be… (pause)… My dream is to be…(pause).” The teenagers laughed. The adults were stunned and wondered what was wrong. (Was he making fun of us or was he really struggling for the words?) I said, “Go on… what is your dream?”

He repeated the same lines over and over and over for what seemed like eternity. I am not exaggerating. I’ve heard people hesitate before, but not as much as this one. Just when I thought that he finally was going to say it, he would pause again and look down, or laugh, or hide his face in shame. It was such an awkward moment for him (and us) but he held on to the microphone.

He was ashamed to say his dream. After several tries and much encouragement, he finally says it — not a lot of words but just one.

“My dream is to become an architect. But it seems impossible.” And he said something to this effect, “I am ashamed to admit before people that someone like me should have a dream this big.”

We, the ones from outside Palanan were stunned. Perhaps, especially me, the first timer. I grew up a freakin’ dreamer. I dreamed of becoming an Olympian when I was in my teens. Then I dreamed of becoming a stage actress. Now I’m dreaming of becoming a rich, successful entrepreneur, and a pioneer in a certain brand of Christian publishing.

I don’t have much accomplishments. I didn’t make it to the Olympics, I didn’t even make it to Freestyle 6 in figure skating, my sport. I never got back to acting after one free elective in college. And I am having a hard time right now making a business plan. But I dream big even if the odds are against me. I still believe that I will reach my God-given dreams. Some of the ones I mentioned above were not really God-ordained, you know. Haha.

Seriously, I could not believe that this young man took more than 10 minutes to say that his dream is to become an architect. It broke my heart. But I don’t blame them. It was only a few years ago that they started to have their first college graduates. If I am not mistaken, just recently, their first college graduate who took up education became the very first teacher in the village who also came from the village. Whoever she is, she is a forerunner.

That’s Ishmael and his boldness in sharing his dream to the crowd inspired me. Actually, not just his boldness in sharing but his boldness in dreaming.

He is one of the reasons why I want to go back.

There are many more I want to tell you about. I’ll write about them in the coming days.

Perhaps, you are starting to feel like you want to go with me. I wouldn’t blame you. It really is worth the trip. They are worth the long (and expensive) trip. But in case you are not volunteering for this one, would you like to help me go back by sowing financially to my Mission Trip to Palanan, Isabela this April? Please do pray quickly about it and send me a message ASAP. I only have 3 weeks to go and I need to book some flights and notify our host about my plans. Thank you so much! Prayers are also welcome and needed!

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Jump shot on the last day of the youth camp. (Sorry I’m not really much of a photographer!)