I won't be able to say much about the Phillipines due to the short duration of my stay and most of my energy was spent upon the conference, June 21-24, 2007. A couple things to mention are that the Phillipines is a lot like Thailand and the people are warm and friendly and I had lots of Adobos and Sinagangs. (But I'm a snob when it comes to food and have to say that very few cuisines can rival the taste of Thai food.) The followings are my short-term impressions of the experience, traveling mostly in hordes, I mean, groups--not my prefered way but it suited the occasion nonetheless.
After having seen much poverty in Cambodia, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, not much of the Phillipines really shocked me except the few occasions such as when I saw a woman washing her clothes on the side of the street with gutter water. A friend also reported seeing another woman, or possibly the same one, washing her hair in a pothole full of muddy rain water; on the other hand, we showered with unlimited amount of hot water in the Orchid Garden Suites nearby that cost about $50 per night. I don't see myself as rich by any means. Many of us flew on the cheapest airlines, Cebu Pacifics, and stayed up half the night because the temperature in the aircraft was colder than any of us were prepared for, coming from Bangkok and all, and there were no blankets for passengers and a bottle of water cost 50 baht, five times more than in Bangkok. Needless to say, I was pinching pennies and yet I was rich in comparison to the woman by the gutter. The experience reminds me of what Shawn Wooten said in his message to the wealthy Orange County residents over a year ago about serving the poor and why we need them. I believe Shawn had pioneered the work of HOPE in Russia and he said that in one day he could feel like a prince when working with orphans and a pauper while having lunch with a big-time CEO, convincing him to sponsor the orphange. Many say the poor need us. But I say we need them as well in order to learn things that may not come easily to many of us like gratitude and compassion.
(The next paragraph is dedicated to all the single Christian women in the world. After speaking to Carissa, my dear friend and sister in Christ from Melbourne, I decided to write this:)
I was able to hear many great preachings during the conference that inspired my faith, but none hit home more than the class on Single Women. There was a room full of us. The first speaker was a married woman who possibly had been married for a long time. Her message was good but it didn't move me. But when Gina stepped on the stage, she grapped our hearts. She is a beautiful Fillipina, 35, has been faithful for 15 years, and has never dated in or outside the kingdom. Her parents have tried to set her up, and now her nieces and nephews ask why she isn't married. Her students of ten years ago came back to visit her with their boyfriend and girlfriend and wondered what happened to their teacher? She still drives a broken-down, second-hand car and uses an outdated mobile phone that she plans on buying a new cover for it. (Mobile phones are bloody expensive here!) Out of the seven Christian men that she had liked, six of them are married with kids. What I love about Gina is that she was able to laugh and smile while telling us her life story. I didn't sense hopelessness or bitterness coming from her. She remains a beautiful, gentle, and captivating woman of God. At the end of the message, I went up to her to say thank you and that maybe God has kept her single so that she can inspire hundreds, if not a thousand, that were in the room that day. A tale of tragedy turned triumphant. I salute men and women of God who have endured all kinds of hardships despite persecution and still shine like stars in the universe. Nevertheless, I'll continue to pray that God'll raise up more mighty men of God and bless Gina and the rest of us with our hearts' desire someday, and while waiting, teach us to live life to the full for you please. In Jesus' name. Amen ;)
There are more to say on the ACJ, but I need to rest a bit after catching the flu on the way back from Manila and still recuperating. Gotta say this one last bit though, the Phillipinos' songs and dances can rival what I had expereinced in LA, and the teens here kick butt in their performances. Go teens!