Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
I was so amused at the sight of the donkey and kids riding it (see left photo). I thought I was transported to the Biblical time when people used donkey as their mode of transportation. (To be honest, it was my first time to see a real donkey.)
On May I was blessed to see the other reality of Colombia. From the prosperous city life in Bogotá to this quiet rural community of the Zenú (indigenous group) in Córdoba, one hour flight and four hours bus ride from the capital city. CEPALC held a series of workshops on Prevention on Adolescent Pregnancy among the Zenús in primary and high schools and partner women organizations.
The roads going to the community are not yet developed: rough and muddy (because it was raining that time). Locals use motorcycle or the donkey as the modes of transportation. (While there I felt that I was also back in the Philippines. A developing country, the Philippines has so many areas very similar to this, although we use the carabaos and cows instead of donkeys. The houses are like those of the Ifugaos in the northern region.)
For several occasions I finally noticed that there were water gallons on the donkey. I asked one of the host organizers about it.
“Those are water gallons. They use them to fetch water for drinking, cooking, and all household needs. Until now, we don’t have water pipes available for the entire community, which is why they need to travel far to get water.”
The water is stagnant (see above photo). It accommodates the entire Zenú community and aside from being the source of basic water, it is also where people fish. Water is scarce in this area, which is very opposite from what we experience in the city (talk about Hunger Games!).
Political corruption is prevalent in Colombia. In this indigenous community, politicians are quite obvious to identify: they have big houses with complete utilities. The main livelihood of the Zenús is farming. But some of them tend hectares of land they don’t own. Literacy is low in this community. Most of the children study only until elementary or high school and the rest of their lives are spent in farms and raising their own families, marrying very young.
What is your dream?
During our five-day workshop series, I was tasked to talk about spiritual health. I asked the kids and the youth about their dreams in life. Most of them said they want to graduate from high school and get married. I asked them again about their dreams, but I got the same response. “Graduate from high school… Get married…”
Poverty has limited their desire to do more–or so they think. They think that money is equivalent to success. Although that’s how the world runs but that is not the only road to a better life. There are so much potentials in these young people that they haven’t discovered yet.
Identifying with God’s people
I still haven’t really figured it out why in this area they lack the encouragement to be more than what they are now. Perhaps it is the system that dishearten them to move forward. I couldn’t imagine that if this mentality continues, we won’t be achieving a better future because we are raising a generation with no hope. They may be poor financially but they are very rich in so many other aspects–and it has to start in their will power!
Having a similar experience, I shared my life story among the children, youth and women in Córdoba, being the first Asian volunteer from a developing country:
I grew up in a loving environment and a very hardworking family. Although our financial earnings would define us poor, I never remember any moment in our family’s life that we lack anything.
My parents grew up outside the city. My mother’s side are farmers, while my father’s are fisherfolks. If they followed what the society dictates, they would have been a farmer or a fisherman until now and had never gone to school after elementary or high school. But my grandparents had high hopes for their children. And my parents started to dream for their selves, to become who they want to be, and to succeed in their fields. That same spirit and desire was passed on to us three kids.
In grade school, I was neither the most intelligent nor the favorite student in class. No one, including my teachers, even believed that I could do big things. But that didn’t stop me. At 11 years old I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was in high school and was struggling to counter the social norm—money is equivalent to success. My relationship with Jesus gave me strength to be who I am today.
The world says, “Without money you are nothing.” But God says (Luke 1:37), “with Me nothing is impossible.”
I remember that my biggest dream before was to travel to the capital city. I heard many people wanting to go there and I also prayed to be at the best city in the country! In just a matter of year, while at the university, I was chosen to represent my region to the National Bible Quiz Bee held in Manila City (Philippines’ capital city). And in two years, I joined five other youths to South Korea as Youth Ambassadors, sent by the National Youth Commission, Office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. And not only that, from the five of us, I gave the case report of the Philippine delegation in front of the more than 100 youth delegates and ambassadors. On the same year, I was chosen as the first Asian to be at the Teen Advisory Board of an international youth devotional magazine. One blessing led to another. And before I knew it, I already traveled to 11 countries by God’s grace!
Looking back from a shy and insecure girl I was to a bold person I am now, I know I owe it to the God who is ever faithful in my life. For using the right people, whom I crossed path with, who encouraged me to believe in whatever I have, focus on it, and be excellent in everything that I do; and taught me to channel those graces and gifts to the people around.
We are not defined by the size and weight of our packets, not even the amount in our banks. We are defined by our beliefs and hope. The greatest resources we have are not found outside but within ourselves.
“We can still dream big,” one of the women from the workshop said after I shared my story.
Jesus has given each of His children the power of the Holy Spirit to testify of His kingdom.
The good news is that we are given power to live now in ways that are consistent with the values of God’s kingdom. We are called to prepare the way for God’s reign of gracious love, social justice, human reconciliation and peace in our world. (The UpperRoom Ministries, June 8, 2014)
My trip to Córdoba has taught me that sharing a part of my life story could be an instrument of peace, justice, and love—through IDENTIFYING WITH GOD’S PEOPLE. That if Jesus did not share His story to His disciples; His disciples did not share Jesus´ and their personal encounter with Him to others; through spoken and written words, we wouldn’t have been here, believing in the same God who transforms bad to good. (Here’s a video clip of me sharing my story.)
May, June, July, August
There had been so many things that happened for the last three months! Here are the highlights (and accomplishments) during this period:
Colombian National Presidential Election on May 25 failed to elect a person for the post due to the simple majority rule. Although the outcome was not as expected, CEPALC continued to promote responsible voting for a better Colombia, towards peace and justice, through its #soyColombia2014 campaign that I organized.
May also was a very memorable month for me where I get to see another side of Colombia’s facade. I was able to go to the Zenú community and be able to share my story, and hear theirs. Plus, I was able to practice my other passion–KARATEDO– and taught basic self-defense among young women and adults during our workshop series on Prevention on Adolescent Pregnancy among primary and high school students, and women communities.
CEPALC also held a quarterly workshop on the theme: Ending Discrimination on people with HIV/AIDS. I led the simulation activity, inviting the participants to be in the shoes of those who have HIV/AIDS and be more aware of what it is and how to help people with HIV/AIDS.
It was a bit hectic this month. After receiving a wonderful blessing about my participation to the Global Young People’s Convocation and Legislative Assembly (GYPCLA) of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church last April (before Holy Week), I had to do a lot of responsibilities and finish them before leaving to the Philippines. I was also blessed to get invited to take part in the Generation Transformation-Global Missions Fellows Class 2014 Training. Being invited to such big important activities of the church is an answered prayer I never thought I’d see coming. Coming to my home country was just a perk of this huge birthday gift from our Creator! 🙂
The #soyColombia2014 campaign continued until the second round of the Presidential Elections. I also participated in ecumenical gathering and prayer events related to the election. On June 15, incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos was reelected. The Christian community prayed that Santos would be able to continue the Peace Talks that he started during the first term. In the end it was between Santos and former President Uribe’s bet, Zuluaga. “Choose the lesser evil,” as people say here (very similar in the Philippines).
During this month, I also had to finish the script and the final preparation of the video on women empowerment, This Is My Body-Spanish. I had to conceptualize the video recording and coordinate all the women participants, women who are involved in the ongoing process on peace and justice of CEPALC.
Also I celebrated my first and last Independence Day (Philippines) in Colombia and met the rest of the 31 Filipinos in Bogotá. It was such a day full of laughs and singing and dancing, plus the Pinoy Henyo popular guessing game. It made me realize how much I actually miss my country and to be in company with co-Filipinos. It was also the start of a Filipino friendship that is so much different and their support has been a source of encouragement for me and my work here.
Here’s our video greeting, which was also appeared in an online news webcast:
Before leaving for the Philippines I finished my second video project, which is Este Es Mi Cuerpo (This Is My Body). The video aims at reaching women in Colombia to stand up for themselves, to know their rights, to know that nobody owns them and that they are free to do what they want, to be active citizens of the country, and to know who they are and their role in the society. The day before I flew to the GYPCLA event, I finished editing and finalized this video project. It was really a big relief to leave without anything to think about work. jejeje… Here’s the video:
FIFA WORLD CUP
Although I was occupied with the completion of the video project and also the preparation for GYPCLA and GMF training in the Philippines, I didn’t forget to also enjoy my time and flow with the FIFA World Cup fever, especially in Colombia! I even made a joke to my Colombian friends that the reason why Colombia has gone as far as the quarter finals (first time in 16 years) is that I am here–I am like the charm of the country! (bwajajajaja!!!) I also put on my team Colombia jersey and shouted along with the football fans! Viva Colombia! 🙂
GYPCLA and GMF Class 2014 Training
I remembered last year during my application that I would miss one of the biggest events of the young people in the church. Although I had wanted to be there and help out in the preparation, because the Philippines (my home country) will be hosting a major international activity for the first time; an event that happens only once in four years! I was a bit down when I learned that I couldn’t go because the number one rule of the Global Missions Fellow Young Adult Program is to prohibit a serving missionary to return or visit his/her home country within the international service. I was sad but I never stopped praying and hoping that somehow a miracle would happen.
During training in New York, USA, I had always asked our program leaders to allow me to go to the event (as a form of joke). “No,” was their reply. Months passed and I read on my friends’ wall in Facebook about their excitement to the event and even created an official countdown! I asked again. “Maybe,” was their reply. I never gave up and continued to pray for “the rain to come.” I was even hoping that the Board of Discipleship, organizer of the GYPCLA, would ask me to be a Spanish-English-Spanish translator (I am confident with my Spanish). But it turned out that they don’t need Spanish translators. So, March came and I felt like giving up. April came. I was already planning to spend a week at the Amazons and thought of buying a ticket when suddenly I received an e-mail from GBGM, inviting to be a part of GYPCLA and GMF training!
Somebody in the Philippines asked, “how did you manage to come here?” I replied, “I just never stopped praying!”
I am super overwhelmed with God’s answer! And it came from the people I least expect it. I was so blessed to see my brother, who is also a voting delegate to GYPCLA, and see familiar faces! I was able to help out in the promotion of the Generation Transformation Program at the same time share with the young people (delegates and staff) my missionary experience. It was such a blessing to be home and to see my parents even for a short time.
When I came to the event, the first thing that welcomed me was typhoon Glenda. (Jokingly) I thought that I was Jonah. I was supposed to stay in my placement site (country) and instead I came back to my home country (which is a violation). Our original venue was very much affected by the storm that we needed to transfer to another venue. “The more we get close to God, the more the enemy attacks,” was my reflection. But even though the enemy tried to distract our event, in the end we were victorious and GYPCLA ended with the delegates leaving with a very positive impact!
So far this year’s birthday was the longest and best ever! I got so many surprises! First was God’s gift of allowing me to visit my home country even for the event. Then when I got back from my short business-related trip home, I was welcomed with a week-long birthday surprises from friends and family here in Colombia, including a surprise party by the Filipino community!
Aside from the surprise party, the 140 children and 12 professors of the primary school where I am teaching also gave me a surprise birthday bash through singing and a small gathering to share a birthday cake and a chance to say thanks to all their support.
I am not even sure if I am ready to go back to the Philippines after receiving much love and care from the people in Colombia. From Tuesday, my birthday, until Sunday that same week I was just so overwhelmed with greetings and prayers from the people not only here in Colombia but also my family and communities back home and around the world! Now it’s time to pay it forward.
After a very heavy July, August was also a very hectic month. Coming back from the Philippines I thought I could relax and get back to my normal life in Colombia. But I was a bit exaggerated with the “rest” thing. This month, a pastor friend who is currently studying masters in Theology in the USA came over to visit and to experience a short-term mission exposure during summer break. I did miss doing administrative and organizing stuff so although my schedule limited me for personal time, I still enjoyed the work. So, I organized and planned his itinerary for the two weeks that he stayed here, including his exposures with the Methodist church and CEPALC.
Along his visit, the World Student Christian Federation was supposed to hold it’s General Assembly in Bogotá. However, due to some technicalities, the event was postponed to next year. Even though the assembly was rescheduled, five delegates still came to Colombia due to non-reimbursable tickets. Well, I am so blessed to get to know them. The Colombian coordinator is my friend and it so happened that she needed someone to help out with the translation, since the participants, who are from Finland, Hong kong, Australia, Canada, and Switzerland, are non-Spanish speakers. In the end, it was a privilege to get to hang out with them and share my missionary story–and most importantly promote Generation Transformation to them, encouraging them to pray about the program and apply!
So, I was basically hosting two teams at the same time–that is apart from my work! It just feels great to serve others! Praise God!
The series of hosting and accommodating old and new friends did not stop there! In fact, the week later a co-GMF who is currently serving in Hong Kong came to stop by and we spent a very short time for dinner and catch-up. Then the week after, a friend from the World Methodist Council came to visit. What a blessing to see old and new faces! They are truly an encouragement!
This month ended with a blast! Before our August workshop in CEPALC, I was able to finish my 3rd video project, “Yo Marco La Diferencia (I mark the difference),” which is the male version of This Is My Body. It shows men’s participation in achieving gender equality because we believe that change doesn’t only come from one party but for all humanity–that we are all affected in each of our action. Here’s the final video: