Friday, 18 April 2014

So... the Philippines...

Hey everybody. Bear with me. This is long, but I think you'll appreciate the detail. Especially if you played some part in the process, by financial support or otherwise.

As many of you know by now I spent Christmas and New Years in the Philippines. Which means I experienced both before most of you did. So HA!

But seriously, God rerouted us and we've been greatly rewarded. A lot of our time has been spent singing Christmas carols and hanging out with children.

But before that we spent a week traveling and exploring Manila and Cebu city. We took trains, Jeepneys, trikes and taxis. We began to get accustomed to eating rice everyday (at just about every meal too). We stayed in a decent hotel for two nights and we stayed at the YWAM Cebu base for a few nights. And I changed some American money to Filipino money and I felt like a very rich man. We took an overnight ferry to Panay Island where we went to our first outreach destination.

Our first destination was in a town called Tibiao. We actually stayed at a hotel called the Homtel on the grounds of the University of Antique. We stayed there for the better part of 3 weeks in the hotel, which is apparently very nice for missionaries. Two of our team were particularly surprised. I was happy. Our stay was fantastic. That we were fed well is an understatement. We ate a lot. Our families would be contented by how well fed we were.

We met a pastor and his family as well as a family that was with us virtually everyday of our time there. They were all amazing people. They helped us with our meals and transportation and most of the other arrangements we needed to make.

The first week was mostly us being invited to a whole lot of school Christmas parties to do a program. We sang songs, did some rap, did some dramas and some teaching among other things. All the children enjoyed it and a lot of the schools invited us back for something else (usually another party or to stay for lunch). Needless to say, we were received well by the community. On the Thursday we had 4 presentations in about 7 hours. Earlier in the week we helped clear some rubble for the house of a local school teacher and his family so his house could be rebuilt. We invested about $600 USD (a whole lot of Filipino money) for the materials and labour to rebuild his house. When we left Tibiao construction was still ongoing but it looked like it was progressing really well. Clearing rubble became a theme during our stay.

Week 2 was Christmas week. We helped clear a road on Christmas Eve. We hired 52 locals and paid them 200 pesos each (about $5 USD) which was a real blessing to them. We also did an evening program for the people there working with the pastor and missionary family. We gave out some supplies that the church we were working with provided. On Wednesday we had a good brunch and exchanged secret Santa gifts. I got my first pair of flip-flops ever. We did a Christmas program in the evening for a lot of locals. On Thursday we went caroling through the local neighbourhood and asked the people we sang to what help they needed to rebuild. Most of it was clearing stuff out and help with supplies. On Friday we helped to clean a beach up and we did more Christmas program stuff for the locals. Overall I think we helped 40 families by providing them the money for some of the resources through the pastor and his church. These families are now receiving help faster than they were expecting.

On our third week there we did more caroling and investigating local needs with the intention to help provide supplies. We helped to rebuild a roof as well. Our New Years celebration brought 4 meals in 13ish hours. We were all stuffed before we went to bed on New Year's Eve and by noon on New Year's Day. We also did a New Year's program for a local school. There were a lot of children there. Special note to my camp friends, our special In the Hall of the Mountain King routine has invaded the Philippines. And it was well received. I hope you are all proud of me for that. We also provided lots of flip flops for the kids (maybe the adults too). Thursday was all about final parties. We hosted some local seniors in the early afternoon before we had our final farewell party in the evening where many of our local friends came. In the Hall of the Mountain King made its way there too. It was a truly blessed time. We all received gifts which really blessed us. I got 2 hats. I was happy. Friday morning was full of goodbyes and pictures and traveling to make our overnight ferry. We went to Cebu to start part 2 of our outreach working with the YWAM base there.

The first week of that we did a lot of ministry. Most of our ministry was done in the slums of Cebu where we provided children and mothers with chocolate porridge. We did more ministry presentations for them alongside the Cebu Sports DTS. We also spent time getting to know them a bit more in small groups. We also did some hospital ministry where we ended up paying for a young girl's overnight stay as well as food for her family for the night. She was extremely sick and her family could not afford to admit her to the hospital. The next day some of us went to see her and we were told that she was basically healed overnight. She looked significantly better. We also did ministry with a local jail. The inmates really enjoyed seeing us do our performance. We also brought bread to them.

The second week we went to Tacloban; one of the hardest hit cities (if not the hardest hit) from the typhoon. We mostly did more feeding ministry and handing out food to the locals. They were incredibly thankful and they willingly shared their stories of grief or blessing through the storm. It was incredibly humbling since there wasn't a lot we could do for them. We did some children's ministry alongside the feeding ministry on the Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. We didn't do much in terms of rebuilding but some members were able to clear a tree that was a problem for some of the locals. Ask Maxwell Myers for the whole story. I mostly took pictures and video. More on Tacloban later.

On the way back to Cebu, we were stranded for a few days in Ormoc City due to stormy conditions around our route and where we were. Many of the local ferries were cancelled. It was a time of waiting for us. We were grateful that a local church was able and willing to let us stay there for as long as we were stranded. Some of us went to another city to do more kids ministry one of the days we were there. The rest of the group remained in Ormoc and took care of some needs.
Our final days in Cebu were spent at the YWAM base during a YWAM leadership conference. Leaders from all over the Philippines came and had fellowship as well as discuss relevant YWAMmy-Philippines stuff. We did some final ministries in Cebu as we were in the home stretch of our trip.

On our final Friday we flew to Manila and stayed at one of the YWAM bases there. The next day, we did our final kids ministry presentation for a group of high school students. Everyone had a lot of fun. Later on we went out for dinner to celebrate our time in the Philippines. Before we ate though, we were able to catch a fireworks display. We all enjoyed that too. In my mind, our final night could not have been much better than it was.

That pretty much summarizes our trip. It was a lot of fun and a lot was accomplished and many relief efforts were put in motion. However I did leave out some personal experiences as well as things I learned. I hope to do that in my next note as I have provided enough information to read for now. Hopefully I will also add where I am going and just maybe how I'm getting there. I hope this is pleasing to read as you learn more about my experience in missions. Special thanks to Daniel Bryan for confirming some of the financial information that I presented here.

If you want to see the pictures I took, please go here and here.

Thank you all for whatever part you played in our journey. May our Father in Heaven see you blessed accordingly.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Small Steps and Giant Leaps

Hey everybody! I haven't written in a while. I've been occupied. But now I'll explain all you need to know. This is going to be about where I've been the last 2 years and where I believe that my life is going, what the next step in my life could be and why.

About a year and a half ago a friend of mine was going through discipleship training at a type of school called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). During that time he sent me a message and told me that God told him to point me in that direction. I listened because I was intrigued that I was pointed out. It seemed weird to me because I'm not used to it; being pointed out by God to do something. He told me I should try and do it for January 2012 but the truth was I had no desire to do it that quickly and it didn't seem to me that it was the right thing to do when I prayed about it. I had a lot of doubt that it would do any good at the time. However I did not dismiss the message. I just kept it in my mind, but shared it with the right people and moved on.

However not long after that I started to get depressed. I kind of felt like I was in a rut. It seemed to be a sort of selfish depression at first with being discontent in my current situation. After I thought about it more I found that there was a more pressing issue behind it.

I decided to do some self-searching. Having a lot of time on my own at work accommodated that fairly well. I must say though that having so much time to myself during work is not a good idea. Especially coming from a place (camp) before this one where I was barely alone ever. I was alone for sleep/naps and hygiene related stuff and that's pretty well it. But I loved it and I thrived in it. Which is weird because I'm typically not a fan of being around people a lot. Yet here I am thriving in a camp environment. It made me wonder if there is a type of environment where I could be with people and be on my own at times and we would make our own community. I wonder if that's the environment where I can thrive the most and I never thought I would survive in it before.

I am an introvert. I need time to myself. It helps me recharge my batteries. It gives me time to think. It gives me time to rest. I like being alone fairly often after a busy day. There's nothing wrong with that and I know it. But part of the reason is that I'm socially awkward all the time and it frustrates me a lot so it really does wear me out to be in highly social environments.

A problem has come up though. If I have too much time on my own (in any environment) my mind begins to wander into things that I have no business thinking about as a Christian. And I'm not just talking about girls. I'm talking about viewing all sorts of areas of life in an unhealthy manner and I start doing things that aren't healthy. Family, friends, girls, jobs, life all mixed up in a mind that isn't the most perceptive when it comes to the consequences and implications of these thoughts.

Now if I go to camp, yes I may still think those thoughts but they're minimized significantly. So are those actions. My thought life is significantly improved at camp where I don't have a lot of time to myself. And so is my community life. In fact my overall quality of life is better at camp. I don't spend much time depressed. I worship God more freely. I am also doing something that I'm passionate about.

I think I know why this is and why there's a huge issue in our current society. We've become too afraid or too stubborn to spend time with each other consistently. When we do, they tend to be close to meaningless and we project fake representations of ourselves and when we don't, we suffer a lack of communication and community in general. I have noticed that in myself and I want to strive to change that.

So I've thought a lot about it and I am choosing to do YWAM. Not because I want to be super-spiritual - no, there's more to it than that. It is my understanding that YWAM helps instill the fact that I have value (hopefully positive) and it will certainly help me in my relationship with God.

Here is my hope with YWAM. I hope that it will help me determine the direction my life should be going. I have been stumped by that question recently and it would be nice to have an answer. Another hope I have is to test living in community on another level and see how well I do. I want to push myself further than I've been pushed before- in more ways than one.

And the way this will happen is I will be spending the better part of 3 months in Pennsylvania. I'll be sitting in lectures learning about God. I will be doing chores and I aim to have my camera with me so I will be doing some video and photography and I may have something to show for my time during or after my stay. I will then spend the Christmas season and January on outreach. It will most likely be in the Ukraine. I'm not totally sure what we will be doing there but I have my theories so we will see what happens. Once I return, I may stay in Pennsylvania for a month depending on how I feel.

I do apologize if I caught anybody off guard about this. The reason I've been tight-lipped about what I'm actually doing is it took me a while to realize that it was something I could really do. That may not be a fair reason but I really believed it was a stupid idea and that I wouldn't be doing it. And now here I am, about to take the plunge into the biggest step of faith that I have ever taken.

The people who knew that I was really considering YWAM were friends whom I trusted to treat this gently but firm. What I mean is, we talked through it and I did not ever feel like I had to be defensive on the thought. That doesn't mean it wasn't questioned and contested, but that the conduct was constructive when it was contested and I really appreciated that. I hope that helps you with where I was while I was thinking about it.

Now I mentioned that there was an outreach phase - likely in the Ukraine. I am going to pay the down payment for it but I want to give you all a chance to get involved if you are being led to support me.If you are interested, send me a message and I can tell you how you can give support.

So I have determined that living in community with other people is the way to go for me. I don't know how it will work, but I'm convinced that it would be better than anything else I could have planned.

The point of all this is to test a theory that I have about myself and integrate everything I've thought about doing the last year and a half with real life to see how it works. I don't know how it will work or even if it will work. This is all based on a thought that I would live and thrive better living in community long-term. I may be provided with a way to continue in this type of community long after I'm done the training- which would ultimately make it a success.

I've also spent time thinking about what my life would be like had I continued on the path where I was going. It isn't pretty. On my own, I would open myself up to living a completely fake life because I can. I would keep to myself and I would be okay with it in time. I have searched the Bible for ways to justify this way that I want to live but the truth is simply that it's disobedience to God and myself. So that's why I realized that there needed to be change and it needed to be drastic.

Thank you for reading. I hope you consider supporting me in this endeavor as I learn more about God, myself and where I'm going.

May God give you peace wherever you are in life.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Looking Back Part 2: On Life at True North Records

Hey everybody, this is an article that I wrote for a small publication about a year ago and I thought I'd share it here. I hope you enjoy it.
God has given me a lot of experiences in my life in my nearly 24 years on this earth. From band trips to Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa to great youth conferences in Toronto and Niagara Falls. From awesome places like summer camp to a mission trip to Mexico. Oh yes, I've been inside the CBC building, CTV Agincourt, MTV Canada and CTS Burlington.
I have Community Living to thank for the fact that I am currently employed at a Canadian record label. That's my foot in the door for future opportunities. My internship at CTS did the same. I'm not exactly sure what my future holds, but I know that I have been given a unique opportunity to bless the community that I am a part of at work and outside of it.
True North Records is an ordinary workplace with some extraordinary experiences. I recently had my picture taken with Bruce Cockburn's latest JUNO award win. I don't think many people can say that they have held a JUNO award before nor can they say that they have attended the JUNO Awards. I've also had the privilege to meet some really neat artists like Murray McLauchlan and Gowan (in addition to Manafest who is not on the label). Not to mention that I’ve made some really neat connections in the music industry. Not that it makes me more special, because I'm not the only person to have multiple extraordinary experiences that help shape me as a person. But I didn't ask for this. I didn't see this possibility when I graduated college. The chance of this experience was given to me and I chose to take it. For that, I am grateful.
About a year and three months ago my case worker told me that she had been made aware of a job opportunity for me that involved music. True North Records had approached CLB saying they had a job opening and they hoped CLB could recommend a potential employee; CLB had thought that I was that potential employee. Now my first choice career was for a television/video related environment but at this point I was not about to complain. So we went to the interview (a rather casual one) and I got the job...before the interview started. I was happy. My mom was happy...when I told her. My case worker was very happy! I'm not sure even she thought Community Living would actually be of help to my situation in searching for a media related job. But it happened and it made lots of people happy. Getting this job meant a lot to me and those around me. It’s no secret that having a job provides a huge boost to one’s self-esteem.
The job that I got at True North Records was a position working in the warehouse shipping and receiving product (mostly CDs and DVDs) as well as keeping it organized. My first impression of the job was that it was a great entry level position because I knew that most media related companies start new people at basic positions so that the company can get used to the person and the person can gain their trust. I had no problem with that because I was prepared for it. What I wasn't prepared for was the fact that I turned out to be a lot better than most of the people who worked the position before - at least the shipping part anyway. This fact was really good because not only did my excellence and precision in handling consumer orders conform well to any good company's expectations but they also conformed to my Christian values. The people were also really good to work with and they have helped me out a lot.
At the end of my first week I got invited to go to a Bruce Cockburn concert... for free! Yep, that's right, the perks started one week in. It was a fun night and I learned a lot about Bruce Cockburn; specifically that he wrote one of my favourite Barenaked Ladies songs - “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” Over the last year, I have learned even more about the Canadian music industry: Where it's been, where it is, and where it's going.

Then there is my JUNO Awards experience. I went with our entire office as we were offered the chance to go at a discounted price. There was a lot of fun had and the nights were late. We went to the welcome ceremony, the Awards Gala (where most of the awards were handed out), and the actual Awards ceremony where the more popular awards were given out as well as major performances. I got to see Blue Rodeo, one of my family's favourite bands, perform live and receive special recognition for their achievements in Canadian music. That moment was a special for me and one of my favourite moments of the trip. I met a lot of neat people and I got to see Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, in person. That was just cool. My friends might have been a little jealous.
I think it's needless to say that the last year and a half has had real special moments for me in my life as I did not expect any of them. They just showed up and I took advantage of the opportunity. My life has since been changed for the better as I now also have a better idea of what I want in life and I have a clearer picture to model my life after, whether it happens at True North Records or elsewhere.
What can someone expect to take from this piece? I would hope that someone who reads this and is inspired by it learns to take any opportunity given to them wherever possible and squeeze out whatever experience that they can gain from it. I don't just mean the special experiences, but the mundane ones as well because that's where I received the clearer picture on how I want my life to be run according to God's purpose. Although I am not sure of what my long term future looks like, I know that if I let God lead me and guide me, I’m going to add to my life experiences and hopefully improve my quality of life as well as that of others.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Learning from Joseph

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
- Genesis 50:19-21 (NLT)
Joseph said this to his brothers. They plotted to kill him, sold him into slavery to end up thrown in jail for a crime that he was not guilty of. And when the time came, he forgave them. Can we do the same to those who have wronged us, intending to destroy us? It's not easy to do and it can feel like we're letting them off the hook completely.

And when God says that it is His responsibility to avenge those who do wrong to His children, we do not always trust Him to do that because we believe His concept of vengeance is very different from ours and He never acts on it when we might like Him to. However if we find the courage to let go and forgive (sometimes we need to ask God for it... multiple times) then the enemy (and consequently the person who wronged us) has no power over us, which can be very freeing if we let it free us.

The anger and shame doesn't have to rule over us. Somehow Joseph understood that. Somehow over the many years he spent in slavery and prison he found the strength to forgive those who wronged him and let God handle the situation. And he was rewarded for his faith.

It takes time. But over time we must learn to forgive. Anger poisons our minds and hardens our hearts. And we were never meant to live with anger eating away at our souls because it will kill us- literally.

I realize that people who have read this may have been hurt, recently or in years past. And that hurt covers a whole spectrum of things from broken promises to criminal acts. If you haven't already, (because some people are better at this than the rest of us) I urge you to at least look for the courage and the strength to forgive. And if justice needs to be done then seek it and let it be done. But if reconciliation can be found then there is a powerful healing that comes from God when we share the mercy that He's granted us once we've reconciled with Him.

I hope this finds all of you well. May you be at peace as we remember that Jesus has the last word. And that word could very well be resurrection. God bless you all.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. - Matthew 6:12