Inspiring people in Cebu mission trip

Michael, Kenny, Stephen, Ansen, Brenda, Seh Chuan, Soo Kheen, Anwen

Ansen, Soo Kheen, Anwen, Michael

This was the first time I went on missions with the Soon family. Michael Soon had been a missions man for decades. He had migrated from Singapore to Perth and the missions passion, instead of waning, burst aflame in the land of the relaxed. He operates in a dependency on the Lord, and makes connections between needs and resources. Thus I ended up on this scouting trip to Cebu island in the Philippines. He and his family were in Cambodia for about a week, and spent a few days of Chinese New Year with relatives in Singapore and then it was off to Cebu. This was one long missions cum reunion trip for them. They traveled budget so that they could pour more resources into the ministries they were helping. They were seasoned missioners: traveling light, no complaints, adaptable, culturally sensitive, encouraging, not patronizing and intent on serving and helping the people.

Soo Kheen, Rose Pastre, Anwen: adaptableAnwen praying for a scholarMichael sharing life

On ferry back from Dumagete, Negros

It looked like his missions passion had rubbed onto his wife, Soo Kheen, son Ansen, and daughter Anwen. Ansen had spent a gap year with Youth With A Mission doing a DTS  in Perth. He had gone to Mexico for the outreach. It was a joy to see this family serving together in missions. Most often in church, family members would serve in different ministries and spheres, and that is okay because God gives different gifts, passions and grace to each one. Missions is one of those occasions when temporarily you can see the manifold grace of God at work through a family. Their strengths, training background, temperaments, spiritual gifts and passions come together like a lively and lovely dance.

Stephen, Seh Chuan, Michael Soon, Kenny

Stephen and I shared the room and it was good to have a partner with you on any trip. Jesus sent his disciples two by two into the field. We could share our reflections and process what we were experiencing. This mission trip was packed. Morning we left the small hotel and we returned about 10 most nights. An interesting first for both of us was taking the night ferry in the tourist section. Told a few distasteful stories of overcrowded sinking ferries to the group but I suspect they thought I was kidding. Anyway the cheaper fare was in the open air bunk beds on the deck, which seemed safer to me, while the tourist fare was below the deck in a smaller air-conditioned section.

I slept wellbunk beds in tourist sectiongetting ready to sleep

Both Stephen and I were impressed with the ministry of Grace Community Empowerment. Sharon and Manny Pastre are the leaders of the ministry. This couple complemented each other and are both vital to the success of the ministry and its outreach. Sharon was born in Singapore, raised in Hong Kong, but a US citizen, and a missionary in Philippines. She sold off her successful architectural practice. She used to design the interiors of hotels, and sometimes the facades of buildings. Now she designs programs to meet the needs of the poor and the proclamation of  the gospel. Manny was an Assemblies of God pastor and had experience working in a community aid agency. He was an ex-Marine and still sported a Marine haircut. “Keeps me cool”.

Seh Chuan & Brenda

New jeans for all

SC doing dental sealantSeh Chuan and Brenda sharingwalking over rubbish

Another lovely Singaporean couple were Seh Chuan and Brenda, who have been following Michael Soon in his mission trips. They retired long ago at around the age my father’s generation retired: 55. (You see in those days, unlike today, the Singapore system did not have scholars running it! Under them, the retirement age is currently 62.) This couple was sincere and generous, and they wholeheartedly threw themselves into all the mission work, especially the dental sealant project, with admirable zeal. They braved the dumpsite visit, the travels in jeepneys and ferry, shared their testimony with the marriage fellowship, and bought about 30 pairs of jeans for all the local workers and “scholars”.

tasty food with great company

Missions has a way of yielding interesting stories. Its always a privilege to connect with people, and be inspired by them. One of the simple joys of missions is to hear their stories of faith, love, failures and successes. Although our intent is to give and sow much, we inevitably receive much too!

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Dr Doug Leung and his ministry

Dr Doug Cheung

It was nice to have Dr Doug Leung around. He had sold a very successful dental practice in Boston and started Medical Dental Community Groups (MDCG) aimed at meeting felt needs of the poor. He had been around in Cebu to train a mission team prior to training our team. He trained us how to do dental sealants in a whole day! Then we had practice with some of the young guys in the center.

practising on center's young helpersdental equipment

The next day, we went to a public school and helped about 100 students. They came in groups of manageable size. First they received a talk on dental care and decay prevention. Then they went into a group where someone would share the good news using the “evangelicube” – a method of sharing the gospel using something that looked like Rubik’s cube.

dental care talksDr Doug and local Dr Marianne

picking up sterilized equipmentSay Chuan and Brenda

Then they came to us and had their teeth mapped and the lower molars without cavities sealed. We created a makeshift dental clinic: chairs, tables, pillows, headlights….but the sterilizing of equipment and safety precautions were tight. We each worked with someone who had experience and Dr Doug and Dr Marianne, a local dentist, walked around and coached us.

We were also dumbstruck by how decayed and devastated the teeth of these young kids were! I remembered in the 1960’s the school system in Singapore had this mobile dental clinic bus and I had my teeth regularly checked.

An Sen and An Wen the young adults in our team took to the ministry with enthusiasm and confidence. But we were not far behind in energy, but slower and tiring earlier.

We all felt a new respect for dentists and the backbreaking work they do. They deserve the fees we pay them.

Dr Doug coaching Stephen Tay

Michael SoonSoon Soo Kheen

Soon An WenSoon Ansen

makeshift dental stations

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Cebu mission: between death and decay

rubber boots: a mustmarine plywood preschool preschool children performing

The visit to the Tomoy dumpsite gave me some anxious moments. There was an ominous feeling of what laid ahead, but I resolved to face it as it came. After donning rubber boots, we walked across muddy fields to the outskirts of the Tomoy dumpsite. There the Grace Community Empowerment ministry had started a preschool for children to learn phonics and Jesus. These children lived with their families in shacks along the edges of the dumpsite. They presented a few worship songs for us in English.

Sharon Tan founder of GCE with Marisa

There we met a heroic girl, Marisa, who had deformed legs. She had to cross a canal on a styrofoam float, and walk with her butt and hands across dirt and mud, to get to school. The ministry is building a hut next door for her and her family so that she would not have to make those hazardous trips to school.

fishnet and styrofoam makeshift boat

We ourselves had to balance precariously on a makeshift styrofoam “boat” to get across to the dumpsite. The canal was dirty brown and we were shocked to see children taking a dip in the stream of bacteria.

a different childhood

scavenging from childhood

The suish of soft mud, the stench, the shock of seeing children scavenging among heaps of grabage grated at our conscience. We wanted to escape to a mall, but this was a mission trip! The discomfort churned in the stomach. Angry when you think of the super-rich politicians. Pity for the powerless and impoverished reduced to such humiliation. Only Christ can fix this, I thought, and we are his hands and feet.

Marisa in her home with two brothers

pastor Manny and Estherina with mother of Marisa

the little one who died the next day

Pastor Manny brought us to the home of Marisa. Instinctively I avoided looking into the eyes of poverty, and stayed a safe distance, as though poverty was infectious. Looking around was easier than trying to make a personal connection with them. He told us that Marisa’s brother was malnourished and the center helped nurture him with a special formula food. He grew bulk after some months and he was sent back home. We took pictures of him with his brother and mother. How were we to know he would be declared dead in the hospital the next day? There was nothing to indicate that his life hung in the balance that day. Between death and decay is a bottomless pit called despair, and I was there, and I had felt its merciless grip.

poverty against a backdrop of progress

When I returned home the first thing I wrote in my Facebook was: “Every Filipino politician should work and stay overnight with a poor family living in a dumpsite before taking the oath as President or governor or mayor or senator or congressman.”

And maybe so should pastors and missionaries.

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