By Olivia Neithe – SJPC YMO
When asked to describe something amazing that I witnessed on my Immersion to the Philippines I came to find that no words truly give justice to the time I spent in this beautiful country because it was the most rewarding and life altering experience in the entirety of my 18 years. Have you ever felt your heart explode with a sense of joy so immeasurable it transcends the earthly or feel your heart fragment as you leave a country, a village, a family that has become permanently etched into your being? I have been blessed enough to experience both in the space of five days.
During my time in the Philippines I stayed with a young family in the village of Southville who instantly welcomed me with open hands and hearts into their home, a family that shared with me the purest form of love. Never before in my life have I witnessed, experienced or engaged in the joy, happiness, light and love that encapsulated these people’s entities. During this time of Lent we are called to acts of almsgiving and charity, which is something I tangibly experienced whilst staying with the community of Southville, though it was me they welcomed, despite being poor they welcomed the ‘stranger’. Hence this Lent I have been inspired and urge you to let your act of charity be that of welcoming the strangers and poor into your community. The people of Southville taught me the true meaning of community, of family, of selflessness, of being a Christian. They taught me to be thankful for my life, they taught me that it isn’t possessions that define you, or give you meaning and they taught me to love selflessly, generously, and to love because at our centre, at our core, is love. When we love we become equal beings connected by a force stronger than we’ll ever be able to comprehend, we become connected by God.
During my time spent in the Philippines I celebrated my 18th birthday, before embarking on this journey I held the date with little expectations and even disregard in comparison to having the opportunity to participate in this immersion. Though it became one of the most amazing, challenging and overwhelming times of the trip. On my last day spent in the village of Southville, I awoke to a street buzzing with excitement and smiles as my family and the surrounding neighbours began organising a street party to celebrate my birthday, one which I was not allowed to know any details of. Throughout the day more details of the night began to slowly emerge, as the hired karaoke machine arrived, the marquee was moved into the street, effectively shutting it down for traffic, and ‘happy birthday’ signs were printed and hung. The day was one overrun with laughter, singing and dancing as children and families stopped to belt out a favourite song or play a game. As the night drew closer a myriad of emotions were whirling around my head but nothing could ever have prepared me for what I was about to experience…
A crowd begin to slowly gather and spread outside our house, which I wasn’t allowed to leave until officially called upon, instead I was inside the house waiting with my family as they placed a ring of flowers on top of my head. When called out I entered a street filled with the people I had spent the past four days with: the people who I had shared meals with, played cards with, visited at school, challenged in basketball, sung with, danced with, taught new games to, run the streets with, slept on the same ground with, played endless amounts of hand games with, laughed with and shared our languages together, I realised I had entered a street that held family.
As the night ‘officially’ began I was directed to the centre of the marquee as the events of the night slowly begin to be revealed. To begin the night I was gifted with eighteen presents and personal messages from eighteen different members of the community, this was when the tears began and proceeded to continue for the next remaining two days, yes, I was the crier. It is of such high difficulty to communicate the emotions that were rushing through my heart as I listened to the messages of wisdom, love, blessing and humour that were bestowed upon me and as I accepted gifts that cost money these families didn’t have to give, yet gave. As the night continued I also received eighteen roses, each of which were given through a different dance that I and the other person had to do, despite any levels of embarrassment. It was a night that continued into the early hours of the morning, a night where spaghetti was especially cooked, multiple cakes were bought from the bakery, songs were sung in dedication, and joy overtook the heart. I remember looking around at all those faces that night and feeling my heart swell, these people gave me everything they had, everything, they were people who had never been able to celebrate their own 18th because they couldn’t afford it but had come together to create my celebration, a girl they had known for less than four days, a stranger they welcomed as family, a forever indebted soul.
Though I returned to Australia part of my heart will always remain with my Filipino family and the people of Southville for they truly changed and impacted the person I am becoming and growing to be. This immersion has enlightened me to the power of relationships and I hope that I can bring back some of the joy of the people I met to my ministry, the perspective I have gained, the love I have witnessed, the strength that my Filipino family encompass and the great trust they have in our heavenly Father. I hope that I may share through my ministry that life with our Lord is ‘magandang buhay’, a beautiful life. This lent, as we are called to pray, let love be our living prayer, so that by loving we become connected by God.