Wednesday, January 29, 2014

John's Unexpected Trip

When the announcement was made that MTW Global Disaster Response was making a trip to the Philippines, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I went through the DRT 2 years before and had never been on an actual GDR trip…I was anxious to go.  On the other hand, my family was in the States on our HMA.  We were right in the finishing visits of our supporting churches, at the time with 3 to go and then an anxiously anticipated return to our home on Dec 31st.  Kath and I prayed about it and discussed it. All of my DRM gear, back pack, clothing, etc. was back home in Honduras.  We decided I did not need to leave the family in the middle of visiting our Texas supporting church families.
But then the message was posted. Construction would be the main focus; specifically masonry and welding. I graduated with a welding engineering technology degree and worked 10 years in the welding industry…I have passed the last 10 years managing concrete and masonry crews as a missionary to Mexico and Honduras. God has given me these skills and preparations that fit this need.  Kath and I took another look, albeit a quick one.  It seemed pretty obvious, God wanted me as part of this team.
So I set to do what I do at home in Honduras, trying to find and buy everything we needed on short notice. My workers do this to me all the time.  I found most everything with one of the most important and hardest things to find, a welding machine that was both 220v input and small enough to take in checked luggage. It came in the day before left. On Tuesday December 3rd in the Harlingen Airport, I kissed my family goodbye and started out on, with all the time changes, what ended up as a 4 day journey.  We arrived in Manila on Friday the 6th and then a hop to the Island of Cebu and a 4 hour drive across the island to Bogo City.
The drive across Cebu Island revealed some destruction here and there from the storm, nothing that I saw to be all that great.  I figured when we got to where we were going to be working, there would be more. We arrived at the church the afternoon of the 6th.  The roof to the front entrance was missing the tin and the structure was somewhat twisted.  More than half the roof of the church was gone because the wind had just ripped it off. An addition onto the back of the church, a small 2 story apartment for the pastor, was missing its roof, tin and structure. We found out that as the storm destroyed homes around the church, it became the refuge. One family was still sleeping under what remained of the existing church roof.
As I took it all in, I began to feel cheated (of course this trip was all about me right). I went through the DRT to go live in a tent for a week or more and work in impossible circumstances to help those affected by a disaster. The devastation in this area was bad, but not as bad as I had expected to see. We were sleeping in a local hotel in Bogo with beds, AC and running water. Bogo City was functioning well and there were no large groups of refugees displaced from the storm. Why was I here?
We were a mixed crew, construction and medical.  Bright and early on Saturday the 7th we started on the structure of the church entrance, leaving what was usable and fabricating what we needed to replace. We also spent a good portion of the day assessing the damage, the purchased materials on site and what we were lacking to do the job. We came up with a plan. We were there to accomplish a task and we had a limited time to perform it. Maximize…that was all I could think of. Get done all we could. Throw up a roof to protect the people from the elements. The medical crew would tend to medical needs as people showed up and help with construction in between.
On Sunday, we worshiped in the church with the members of which many had lost their homes. Some of the purchased material was to be used to rebuild their homes.  As the week went on, we were constantly modifying our attack plan. The whole process was frustrating for me. The material was below standard. As we rebuilt the entrance roof, we found the purchased tin was so thin that with the current spacing of the church c-purlins it would not support anyone on top as we attached it. We would have to add support in between the existing which was going to take time. We also split up the crew.  A few of us worked at the church and another crew went to help a family rebuild their home. It was a family that the pastor had been trying to get to come to church there.
As the week progressed, my construction experienced eyes and mind looked around and determined not a lot was going to get accomplished. I arrived with the expectation that we would get the roof for the church and attached apartment completed. Neither of these was going to happen. I missed my family and was feeling guilty about leaving them back stateside to finish visiting our church families without me. It was not turning out to be what I had expected.
We met each morning a 6 am for a devotional before breakfast. Midweek James gave a talk about perspective, ours vs. Gods. He holds the big picture, His ultimate divine, perfect, providential will. It is much bigger, unfathomably so, than ours. How many times have I read in Isaiah 55:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
I spent 4 years of my missionary life working with a mission named Isaiah 55, shouldn’t I know this? Obviously not well enough because He is still reminding me.
My thoughts and attitude began to change.  I began to try to look at the situation through Gods eyes, impossible I know. But it helped me not focus on me, my desire to accomplish things, and focus more on the fact that God had ordained this storm, the destruction, our trip, the purchase of the material, the list goes on. Mike, my team leader here in Honduras is constantly reminding me…God is going to accomplish today exactly what He wants to accomplish.
We ended the week with a house built for a family, many medical needs met, a new roof covering the front church entrance and a few pieces of new covering a small corner of the church. This was all that was included in my little picture.

On Thursday morning, David and I walked to a 7-Eleven around the corner from the hotel to get a cup of coffee. They didn’t have the coffee we wanted, but there were 3 small boys sleeping in front of the 7-Eleven next to some big generators. We pooled our cash and bought some breakfast sandwiches and juice and took it out to them. As we woke them up and handed them the food, 2 more boys showed up from the shadows nearby. I went back in to buy more.  The attendant looked at me and in her broken English said, “You have big hearts, you inspire us.” All I could say was thank you and that God sent us there to help. When I walked out, a crowd had stopped to watch us. The next morning Kathleen, James and I went back to find the boys to give them more food. They were not in the same place but after some searching, a crowd pointed them out to us.  There was quite a few more all huddled together sleeping in front of a covered store front, this time along with a young girl about the same age as my twin girls. We woke them up, gave them the food and told them God sent us to share with them, that he loved them and they were special to Him.
During our layover in Manila on our return trip to the States, several key members of our team met with some new contacts on how MTW could best provide future assistance. Then at 3 am on Saturday the 14th, it was off to the airport for the long flight back.
What was God’s big picture? I am sure I will never know it in its entirety.  I am sure He gave me little glimpses. I am also sure that it is perfect and to a degree of beyond infinity, much greater than my measly little picture that was colored outside the lines.

Thanks to all who were prompted by the Lord and answered the call to support this trip in some way…by prayer, for our team on the ground there, for my family that I left behind, and for those affected by the storm…by financial giving, to help support the trip and support our ministry here in Honduras…by encouraging words and actions, helping me get the supplies and equipment needed on the trip, helping with my family’s travels while I was absent. You were and are in some way a part of God’s bigger picture.

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