Connie Hallof shares how travelling to the Philippines to visit Freedom Challenge projects gave her and her team mates more than they bargained for…
Poverty and Wealth. Giving and Receiving. Those were the “biggies” I was preparing myself for before embarking on the Freedom Challenge’s mission trip to Cebu, Philippines in July. It had been 30 years since my last visit to the Philippines and I was so excited to return. Having been there before I knew that the sights, smells, and sounds of another culture can overwhelm at first, no matter how much you prepare ahead of time. Freedom Challenge is all about, well, the challenge. Putting you in a place to lean in to God and let Him reveal Himself while putting yourself out there for others. So I arrived in Cebu City with an expectant heart. Not knowing exactly what to expect besides expecting the unexpected. God did not disappoint!
The Unexpected #1 - Inspiration
I had been tasked to give an “Inspirational” talk at the 10 year anniversary of the scholars program of Operation Mobilization Philippines (OM is the organization of which Freedom Challenge is a part). This is a ministry that Freedom Challenge has been involved with in the past. We were overwhelmed with story after story from the students. Their enthusiasm, smiles, and determination were contagious and left us feeling inspired by them. This was our first taste of what a tremendous work is being done in Cebu. Lives are being forever changed. My anxious thoughts on giving an inspirational talk were dispelled when I saw that these students were all providing that to each other in their daily courage and determination.
The Unexpected #2 - The hike to the mountain school
We were a team of seasoned Freedom Challenge hikers and set out to hike up to one of the schools operated in the mountains. The hike was the one thing that none of us thought would be a challenge - we were wrong! We found ourselves ill prepared for the rainy season trail and scrambling up rain soaked rocks. I think I speak for the entire team when I say we were humbled during that trek. Our gracious OM guides helped us over the waterfall and up the valley walls.
The Unexpected #3 - Student Assembly
We were anticipating meeting 40 students at the end of the hike and we were greeted by approximately 400! We were tired, hot, covered in mud and overwhelmed. Yet we were so blessed by the Hudlon School and their welcome assembly. Our time with the students and their mothers was rich. They never seemed to give it a second thought to look past our outward appearance (muddy and sweaty) and into our hearts.
The Unexpected #4 - Redirected Prayers
Next was a prayer walk through the city. Sweet precious time was spent with the OM team as we split up to cover the city in prayer. While my focus was on Cebu that day, I later found out that as an OM staffer was praying for my family during the walk, a miracle was taking place at home thousands of miles away.
The Unexpected #5 - Poverty Simulation
Thinking we would experience an evening of role play, we came away wrecked, having experienced for a brief moment, a couple of hours at most, what it was like to be so very vulnerable. I find it difficult to put it into words how that experience changed me. The panic and stress that people go through on a daily basis just trying to make ends meet in a manner that never occurs to most of us. We got to experience, ever so briefly, the trials and tribulations of a family trying to make enough money for basic needs to be met while running into obstacles that required heartbreaking decisions to be made. It emblazoned my heart anew to be a champion for those who have no voice.
The Unexpected #6 - Kinitarkin Island
Witnessing the beauty of God’s creation, sleeping with chickens, the wonderful lack of insects (yea) and then there was the AIDS awareness talk followed by a salvation message! It was the sweet time with students that was my favorite part of the entire trip. Seeing their hopes and dreams of the future, trusting God for provision, and the gracious generosity of the island families was tremendously moving.
I went to the Philippines thinking about poverty and left with an imprint on my heart of the tremendous wealth of relationship, character, and love of Jesus that I experienced there. I went with a desire to give of myself yet came away being on the receiving end of so much kindness, grace and love. I was inspired by the staff of OM Philippines and the students they minister to. I have come away challenged and strengthened in my resolve to continue to do what I can to combat social injustice and assist others on to a pathway of freedom.