by Jason and Jessica Wilde
Jesus said, “Eat what is set before you.” The food is prepared with care and love. Missionaries trust God and receive His gifts.” (From FMC Missionary Heart)
A couple of months before leaving for the Philippines, Family Missions Company sent us an e-mail with various forms and information about our upcoming trip. One of the pages was titled “Missionary Heart”. On it was a list of rules to be followed by missionaries, and included what I thought were some critical items like “No Grumbling!”, “Smile!” and “Respect their culture”. But the rule that we knew we had to work on a little bit with our kids was “Eat what is set before you”.
To be fair, our kids are some of the least picky kids I know. They have visited 5 Asian countries and have lived through some of the more unique local specialties such as durian, stuffed baby squid, and fried bugs. They have even started asking for dragonfruit and gochujang (Korean spicy sauce) when we go to our local Asian supermarket. But, being kids, they still have their moments. So, we practiced this rule at home with diligence. We explained to our kids that when we are the guests, our host goes to great lengths with a generous heart to prepare a banquet just for us, so enjoy your meal and be gracious.
It turns out that every meal on our trip was pretty much everything a kid could ask for. Typical Filipino delicacies include fried chicken, rice, eggs, various stewed pork, some fried fish, and lots of fruit. In addition, the sisters at Canossa spoiled us with unlimited Milo (malted hot chocolate) at every meal.
These daily feasts made it even more sad for us to see the food, or lack of it, that most of the locals lived on. Many of the local Filipinos just don't eat meat because of the cost, and having milk is a special treat that one family enjoyed only when they celebrated. We watched a mini-documentary on a flight that showed most farm workers living off of one single meal of a scoop of rice, a boiled egg, and a dried sardine, wrapped in a banana leaf to keep fresh, per day!
On one of the many drives through the countryside around our mission post in Malaybalay, we passed by a grain elevator on the edge of a rice field. Hung on a wall just outside the elevator entrance was a sign that simply said:
This reminded me of a reference in Laudato Si in which Pope Francis notes that about one third of all food is discarded, “as if it were stolen from the table of the poor” (Catechesis (5 June 2013): Insegnamenti 1/1 (2013), 280.) I couldn’t help but imagine the couple grains of rice, (or in the case of our kids, entire spoonfuls), that spill on my floor at home, or the rice that I’ve left on my plate at a restaurant after gorging on a main dish.
One day, our family was asked to join a home visit to a family near the retreat center. We walked down the road about a block, turned onto a smaller road which soon turned into a mud path because of the rainy season which had just started. We walked past some of the most gorgeous green farms with cattle and pigs. A little farther, and we found ourselves in the middle of a village of little bamboo houses.
The family we were visiting was a farmer, his wife, and their 6 children. We were invited to sit under a tin roof protecting a few chairs serving as their main living space. We presented a bag of rice, they smiled in thanksgiving, and through some translation, we learned that at one time, he worked on a nearby corn farm, but now is unable to work. Then, he shared with us his favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:9.
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
Imagine the contrast between our family, who had never starved for nutrition a day in our lives, now being fed God's word by an unemployed farmer whose heart was filled with His word telling us to give the best of what we have to Him. We were reminded that Jesus is the bread of life. His word is the nourishment for our souls. Our plan was to provide food for a family in need, but instead we were graced with a spirit that would keep us from going thirsty or hungry again, if we remember this farmer's gift of God's word.
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
Our morning schedule with Family Missions Company was usually pretty tight. Every morning, we woke to the crowing of roosters, dogs howling, and the singing wake up call of one of the full time missionaries as she marched the halls of Canossa.
But, that first morning was really tough. The kids were up late the night before helping count and package vitamins, and we didn’t quite have our morning missionary efficiency mastered yet. Through a bit of God's grace, we were downstairs ready to pray and eat breakfast with everyone at 6:15. Since we had read and committed to memory the FMC rules of a missionary heart, the kids each sat at a different table with the nursing students so they could make friends. We ate oatmeal, bananas, Milo and coffee. Then, we went to the chapel to sing praise to God, reflected on Matthew 25:31-46, and prayed as a community.
Our service on that first morning was at the local jail where we celebrated mass and provided medical care and prayers for the people living in the crowded prison. With a light drizzle falling on our faces, we packed into three little cars and headed to the Malaybalay City Jail. The drizzle progressed to a light rain as we waited outside the large concrete wall to be admitted in, 5 at a time for security screening. They inspected our bags and patted us down before escorting us in. Along the way, we walked past some gardens and an assortment of roosters and duck before entering through a barred door into a metal roofed gazebo in the center of the prison complex.
Homemade Christmas holiday decorations made from egg shells and various food wrappers hung from the rafters, each one with a different cell number posted on it. We were later told that they have a contest every Christmas where each cell competes for best decoration, and many prisoners take great pride in their creations. Wooden benches were lined along a center aisle for Mass. The leaders of our group asked for volunteers to sit in the front of the makeshift church and serve as the choir, so I volunteered myself and the kids. As the prisoners filed in from across the courtyard, everyone else dispersed themselves among the crowd for fellowship. We waited a few minutes for the local priest to drive up with an assistant, and then we began as soon as everything was set up. After Mass, the kids and I helped pass out pan (bread) to everyone.
The benches were then pushed against the walls, and the gazebo was transformed from a church into a medical clinic. There were five stations: vitals, diagnostic, pharmacy, prayer, and a barber. We were each assigned a station.
Jason socialized with the prisoners while they waited in line. We didn’t get to meet all of them during the clinic, but afterward we visited the cells and found a very crowded and indignant life behind bars. We were told that due to the recent political changes in the Philippines, most prisons were well over capacity, and this one held over 300 prisoners, men and women, in a space that was probably about the size of our small condo home. So, it was a welcome break from the stuffy life for them to come out into the rain and get a medical checkup.
Brecklyn, Grace and Alex rotated between the different stations. The nursing students taught them how to take the patient's vitals like blood pressure, temperature, and pulse ox. They even taught our kids how to check reflexes and eye dilation. At the pharmacy, the kids helped count out, bag, and label different medications.
Chi Yu had the most important job of all. He made the prisoners smile. He walked around very independently looking at the baby chicks, giving the prisoners high fives, and helping the guards with their keys. But the cutest moment was the friendship Chi Yu made with an inmate named Stuart. We noticed that Chi Yu seemed to be constantly eating cookies and crackers. About halfway through the clinic, we noticed that he would go up to the concession stand within the gazebo, tap on the glass, and point to the cookies. Stuart, who worked in the concession stand, would smile broadly and then give him a cookie. A few minutes later, Chi Yu would be back asking for another, and another, and so forth.
My job was to pray with the prisoners. We had a translator who would ask the prisoners for their prayer intention. Their prayers were filled with petitions to God for freedom, prayers for their families, and for their health. But, one prayer request brought tears to my eyes. An elderly gentleman asked us to pray that when he dies, he would go to heaven.
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.”
He told us his crime. This man had sinned! But just like the thief who was crucified with Jesus, this prisoner humbled himself not only to us but to God in his desire for God’s merciful love. He bowed his head low during our prayer and we prayed for his salvation. We were all moved to tears. Like this man, we too are sinners who seek God and desire our heavenly home.
God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:28-29)
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
We grabbed our two backpacks and stroller from the luggage carousel and looked around the baggage claim with excitement for someone who might be waiting for a half dozen Americans. No luck, but maybe we had to go farther. The airport at Cagayan de Oro isn’t exactly overwhelming - we literally walked in the back door from the tarmac, and it would appear that the front door, not more than 40 feet away, opened to the driveway. So, we gathered up the kids, put a pack on each of their backs, and headed outside. The doors opened to a few waiting families and two smiling faces holding a sign that said “Welcome” in both English and Vasayan. I took a leap of faith and headed toward the sign to find our first fellow local missionaries, Genevieve and Kring.
While we waited at the curb for the rest of our missionary group to arrive on the next flight, we introduced ourselves and enjoyed some bread and bananas from the back of their van while our the kids ran around on the grass. Genevieve, Kring, and Kring’s husband Ramon were full-time missionaries living in Malaybalay, a smaller city about four hours away by car through a mountain pass, a few mudslides, rice and corn farms, and according to Brecklyn, 278 “four-legged animals, not counting dogs”.
A few more introductions were in order after the rest of the missionaries arrived, then we piled luggage and jet-lagged souls into the three missionary vehicles.
“Wow, they moved that rock from the middle of the road”, Ramon interjected as we avoided the deepest mud puddles on one of the switchbacks. Between the amazing conversations with Kring and the twisty path through the mountains, we were there before we knew it.
We pulled into the Canossa retreat center and were welcomed by a sister with the most loving smile - a smile that just draws you in like a mother. The center is run by the Canossian sisters in Malaybalay, and it appeared to offer youth retreats with housing, worship and fellowship. We were given our family’s room assignments upstairs and instructions for taking showers (which included a bucket of water from the cold faucet and a scoop), dropped off our packs and then rested for a few minutes in our quaint rooms, each of which held 4 beds bunked next to a desk on either side, some sheets and pillows, a closet, and a crucifix with glow-in-the-dark Jesus. The hallways were buzzing with chatter until the time came for prayer and dinner downstairs in the common areas. Every meal was preceded by group prayer and song, which was a great way to bring us all together and surround ourselves with God’s word. The food was a welcome treat - a variety of local dishes of chicken, pork, and fish, bowls full of white rice, soup, fruit, and the sweetest white bread I’ve ever had. The kids had Milo (malted hot chocolate) with every meal. That evening, the sisters welcomed us and told us that this was our home during our stay.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:35)
The nuns were smitten with Chi Yu. One sister told me that they used to run a home for handicapped orphans in his country, but they were kicked out of the country by the government. Chi Yu figured out that if he knocked on their study, the nuns would come out and reward him with bananas or more Milo. He was just a little spoiled that week.
There was also a small prayer room upstairs. It was the fanciest room at Canossa with couches, a large crucifix and a rainbow of bright colorful light. With a bright smile on her face, the nun told us a story of Chi Yu walking in on their prayers and turning on and off the colorful lights. Their eyes were closed in prayer so they didn’t notice until Chi Yu started giggling. From then on, they called him their little electrical engineer.
Later that week, our venue for the medical clinic in Isla, a nearby village, fell through. The missionaries asked the sisters if they could hold the clinic in the parking lot at Canossa. With loving hearts, the nuns opened up their home to the poor. Later, a sister told one of the missionaries that it was a blessing for them to host the clinic. She recollected that the founder of the Canossian Order was know for bathing the poor, and said it brought them joy to see us washing the kid’s hair and treating them for lice.
The lice station was my job. At first, the Mom in me panicked. I thought...Lice!!! No!!! But the missionary heart listens for where God’s calls us to serve and serves with joy.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. (1 Peter 4:9)
Within moments, I began to look past my fear of lice and saw the beauty in this small act of service. The lice station ended up being a lot of fun. Grace searched the crowd for kids who hadn’t been to our station. The kids were shy and nervous at first, but before long they were laughing and giggling as we poured buckets of cold water over their heads. They left our station joyous, and their joy was contagious; it filled us with joy.
There was also an intake station with vitals, a diagnostic station, a pharmacy, and a prayer station which distributed goodie bags filled with vitamins, water, crackers, a rosary and a toothbrush. There was even a local barber cutting hair in the garden.
But, what struck me was the transformation in Grace’s heart. It started raining and she asked us for an umbrella. She gave herself the task of helping people get between the different stations without getting wet. She even went so far as to walk them all the way out of the gates of Canossa. Later that night during evening prayer, she reflected on the joy of helping others and prayed that everyone made it home dry.
Jason and Alex were gone for the first half of the morning on a roofing assignment for a home in Isla, but when they came back, Jason helped out with prayer over the families before they left Canossa. Then, it started raining and his assignment was scrapped due to lack of shelter. Thinking there was nowhere left to help, he sat down in the chapel to rest for a minute and in no time had three little girls fighting over horse rides around the chapel. Later, he said this time playing with the girls was one of his best experiences of the entire mission and a great lesson that we don’t have to be outgoing to be a good missionary of presence - you just have to be willing to see God in whomever comes to talk to you.
When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:11-14)
This is how hospitality works. You give of yourself, your personal treasures, you open your home, and that kindness manifests and spreads itself to others. They in turn spread their hospitality.
Instead of being homesick, can I be Canossa-sick? (Brecklyn)
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
The dim hospital room was packed full of 15 or 20 Filipino families, each huddled around a bed or crib holding their sick child. The windows were open and a single oscillating fan in the corner provided some airflow to keep the room bearable. Our small group of missionaries had introduced ourselves and were tasked with sharing a testimony - a personal story about when each of us saw God in our lives.
Each testimony was unique and shared a story of enlightenment, hopefully providing a little bit of God’s light to an otherwise scary and tiring time in the lives of these families. Brecklyn shared a story from when she gave her own stuffed animal to poor boy on the sidewalks of Mexico City and how she saw God in the little boy’s smile. Grace's story was about seeing God’s love and compassion in a volunteer who comforted her on our pilgrimage to Lourdes when she was afraid of the baths. But it was Alex's testimony that shocked everyone in the room, including his parents. Earlier in the morning, while the girls were planning their testimony, Alex shrugged us off when we tried to help him prepare. He told us that his inspiration came from his beloved Lego Bible at home and that he had his testimony ready.
It turned out that Alex’s testimony was reciting from chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew...by memory.
Throughout each testimony, Junar, one of the full time local missionaries, would translate into Vasayan, the local dialect. At this point, I could see the shock on his face as he stumbled to accurately recount what Alex just said.
By now, the room was still with suspense. A few cell phones were trained on Alex as he continued to preach.
Junar again did his part, but I could not honestly tell if anyone was listening to him. Everyone seemed to be in shock and amazement, but Alex continued.
I began to question how he was going to wrap this up. Were we just finishing the chapter, or were we in for the long haul - were we going to hear Jesus’ persecution, crucifixion, and resurrection as well?
At the end of his testimony, everyone cheered and clapped. Alex said that this was why he loved to serve God’s people.
by Jason and Jessica Wilde
Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. (Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2017)
After we landed in Manila, a driver from our apartment was there to greet us. Since it was Sunday afternoon, we asked our apartment landlords where to go to church nearby, and to our surprise, there was not a lack of suggestions, most of which have masses every hour on Sundays. Against their recommendations (to take a taxi to a larger church), we walked to the closest one. On our way home, we went to Chow King next door to our apartment. Each kid got their own take away bowl of noodles.
That night, the kids fought over who got in the shower first and who had to sleep on the couch.
The next morning, we woke up and walked to the light rail station. There are no consistent or reliable sidewalks here, but we have a family rule to never take taxis unless in a real bind, against the recommendations of our hosts, guides, and in general, people we seek advice from. So we often found ourselves in the road squeezing single file past crowded jeepneys, motortrikes and taxis.
A side effect of our family rule is that we are always able to see and meet people, up close and personal. Along our path, we walked past kids waking up inside their motor trike sidecar homes. We saw dozens of kids playing in the street by themselves while we hoped their parents were working at the nearby stands or were going to be back soon on their trike. Of course, none were in school - usually because their parents can't afford school meals, transportation, and supplies, even though public school is free here in the Philippines. And there were orphans too -- starved, close to naked and begging. In front of the breathtaking minor basilica, there were half a dozen naked kids bathing in the fountains. One mom and daughter were eating out of the trash can.
Later when we rode a motor trike, Grace told me that she couldn't help but think that she was "riding in their home." That night, the kids ate their dinner, shared the shower in peace, and hopped into bed without complaint.
We feel more inspired than ever to #loveourneighbor.
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.