On February 3, 2015, many members from Singles for Christ (SFC) Canada travelled to the Philippines for the World Great Adventure Tour (WGAT). One of those individuals was Marvin Diaz of SFC Vancouver, and he wrote the following journal to share his experience.
My ANCOP Immersion on February 3rd was an unforgettable one. It was my 3rd time to visit the Our Lady of Banneux Village and I’ll never forget the bumpy ride filled with potholes and super steep hills on the way there. To top it off, I had a sister to my right who was carsick and I could feel her intense desire to vomit her bag of Piattos onto my lap. The discomfort was quickly erased when the road started to look more and more familiar and a giant Virgin Mary statue finally emerged from the trees. At last, I knew I was home.
I say ‘home’ because in my Youth for Christ (YFC) WGAT 2013, Our Lady of Banneux was home. My adopted mother, her 2 sons, and her daughter took me into their home and I have not forgotten them since the day I left. In 2013 we spent our time planting jackfruit trees, rolling 50lbs of cement down a steep, unpaved hill and mixing cement under the unrelenting embrace of a 35-degree summer sun. But it was glorious. Not only was I back at the same village that changed my life, but also as I was being oriented, I made eye contact with my adopted mother (2013 host). She looked at me as if I were her long lost son. Despite both of our requests, God arranged for me to have a new host this year.
My host was Lola Josie, who lived with her husband and 2-year-old grandson named Kirk. As usual, God only had only the best in mind – complete with extravagant fireworks. Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought that I would get the pleasure to live in the same set of houses that I helped build in 2013 – and the people who live in them now! God is AMAZING! I’ll never forget walking to my host’s home and stopping to slowly graze the wall, which is now painted a vibrant red. It was only less than two years ago that this wall was just a mixture of rubble, cement mix, and water. Now it is a shelter of life – a stark reminder of how incredible and life-giving our God is. As I grazed the wall, I couldn’t help but sing a verse of ‘God In Me’ (‘these hands will declare all the greatness of God in me’). As I write this I am astounded and grateful that Christ used me for His good works and I actually got to not just see the fruits of his anointing, but I also got to touch, feel, and even LIVE in it! I knew this was God telling me that He loved me and that Lola Josie being my host was not by mistake.
Lola Josie a very sweet and motherly lady, but you could tell she had some strength to her. She and her husband applied for ANCOP after their home was destroyed by Hurricane Ondoy. It was a sad story as the home that she and her husband owned was flooded. Everything was flooded. The sad part is that it completely came out of nowhere, leaving them very little time to prepare. We don’t have hurricanes in Canada, so to me, a hurricane is just a strong rainstorm with some strong winds. I had no idea it could be so devastating. I was saddened when she told me she had very few family pictures left. She didn’t have time to store her family photo albums and they all got destroyed when the flood hit.
My impression of her 2-year-old grandson did not go so well, however. I’m usually very good with kids, so when I found out she had a 2-year-old boy with her, I got really excited. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel the same way. When I tried to say ‘hello’ he ran behind his grandma and yelled ‘ayaw ko’. Then, as I was talking to his grandma, he opened a drawer, pulled out a BUTCHER’S KNIFE, ran to me and yelled ‘TULI! PUTOL (‘circumcise, cut’)! I looked to Lola Josie in sheer terror and all she said was ‘hehe, ang cute’! She eventually took the knife away, but I knew I was I’m tough with this kid. God was really pulling me out of my comfort zone.
We did the same thing as in 2013. This time, instead of wheel barreling cement, we made a human conveyor belt down a now-paved hill. We also took turns mixing water with cement mix and rubble and plastering cement on the walls (learned the ‘wrist flick’). I wasn’t very good at plastering cement. To the sisters reading this: I’m sorry for flicking cement OVER the wall and onto your backs. We were given 280 pesos to buy our families breakfast, lunch, and dinner down at a nearby marketplace. It was actually really tough spreading 280 pesos to cover 3 meals. If you found a canned entree for 14 pesos, you knew you hit the jackpot!
The WGATers on our row decided to pool our money together to have a feast for our row of houses. We ordered the food and the hosts provided their own tables, cutlery, plates, glasses, etc. and we had a little party in the common area. The dinner went well! There was a real sense of community and it was full of smiles and laughter. You could see that the awkwardness and personal barriers were broken and God’s joy was filling our hearts. By God’s grace, we actually had just enough food to fill everyone up! Believe it or not, there were hardly any leftovers! I figured the best way to end the night was with a water bottle toothbrush, squatting on the toilet (occasionally standing when your legs hurt), and a tabo shower with cold water. I then put a jacket on the shield me from mosquitoes before finally resting on a super thin mattress (I could count how many rocks were jabbing at my back) with a little bit of cat hair. Did I mention I’m allergic to cats? I sneezed myself to sleep.
Praise God for the discomfort – because not only did the immense discomfort help me to appreciate everything back home, it taught me to deny myself. I was so dirty, sticky, sweaty, itchy, and all sorts of things. But it wasn’t until I realized that my love for the poor surpassed any desire that I had to be comfortable or even be presentable, that God really allowed me to experience the true beauty of BCOP. The discomfort broke me down to the bare essential of who I really am – a human being just like those who live in this ANCOP Village. He opened my heart to the essence of what it’s like to be human. We’re all “poor” in our own ways and need God and each other just the same. While those in the ANCOP Villages might be poor monetarily, they’re so rich in the things that actually matter: quality time with family, a close-knit community, faith – the very things we lack in Canada. Christ is so present in Our Lady of Banneaux. He’s present in the simplicity of life – a life that doesn’t waste time by chasing things that are temporary. He’s present in their families – families that aren’t too busy with work to spend time with one another. He’s in their close-knit community – where doors don’t need locks to be safe. Most of all He reigns gloriously over their village – imagine worshipping with your neighbors and having households with them! I came here from my comfortable first world country thinking I’d do a good thing by “serving” and “inspiring” the poor, but yet it was those whom I came to “serve”, in Our Lady of Banneaux, that gave me more inspiration and perspective than I could ever give them. I will never forget this experience. May God be praised!