Alright, so I had a big angry rant all written up about how sick I am of my singleness, and the related obstacles it tends to bring with it.  See, I usually keep this issue on the back burner, but occasionally it rubs itself in my face; this has been one of those months.  First, I was left off the short list for a ministry job I’d been pursuing (reason given: I’m not married and can’t provide a “two for one”).  Next, I decided to test the waters with a female iron-in-the-fire I’ve had for awhile, only to get the “2nd-Wave Blowoff” (the one where they first say yes, then later think of “stuff they had to do.”). 

However, in the spirit of the holidays, I’ll take the high road and keep things light (plus, I don’t want to get gossipy, as I totally respect all the individuals mentioned above.  Just not their decision-making processes).  As such, I’d like to devote my next two posts to share stories of Christmases I’ve been privileged to spend in other countries, coming alongside the locals and partaking in their traditions.  I hope I’m able to relay how much fun it was to be a part of a very special time in their culture. and hope you can feel like you were a part of it, too…

Today’s Christmas story: Manila, Christmas 2000.

In fall of 2000, I had the chance to travel to Manila, Philippines to work with sponsor kids through Food for the Hungry Int..  My host/coworker, Roger, operated the Child Development Program center in Parañaque, working with the local Methodist church.  My role had me working through the CDP center and church to best serve the adolescents.  For most of the time, I didn’t have a host family per se, but stayed at the church and was taken care of by Roger & other local FHI volunteers. 

I’ll just cut to the chase on this one: there were numerous unhealthy situations going on around this center and these people, which really began to arise in mid-December, and it was definitely putting stress on me.  Along with the ongoing lack of housing.  Along with ongoing frustrations about my role there.  Along with my pregnant sister back home being hospitalized two months (?) premature of the due date with severe health complications.  Along with my grandma in BC having a massive stroke.  Oh, I think there was a girl thing in there, too, but you get the point. 

In short, not a merry holiday season.

Thankfully, I was living in a culture which has a long history of turmoil & oppression, and has found ways to have about as much fun as you can in the midst of dark days.  So it was that Ruben, a friend from the Methodist church, invited Roger and I to his extended family gathering in the provinces for Christmas.  We accepted his generous offer of hospitality (something the Filipino people have redefined), and packed up for the “Leonor Mangulabnan Family Reunion” in Nueva Ecija.

The weeks before Dec. 25 are filled with hustle-and-bustle at the local malls like you’ve never seen (those Filipinos love to shop, and have huge families!), with beautiful colored paper lanterns hanging all over town.  We hopped in the car with Ruben, his wife and two girls (all of whom, if dropped off in an American neighborhood, would fit right in.  Nothing “3rd-world” about them or their lifestyle), and headed north to the Mangulabnan family estate, stopping along the way for the requisite Christmas Eve fireworks (wait till I get to the next post!).

Upon arrival, we greeted the throngs of relatives that had converged for this occasion (cousins and grandkids stacked to the ceiling), got settled, then went visiting FHI staff, families, and partner churches in the surrounding areas (you know, mixing in just enough business).  At each stop, I would get the standard 2-3 auxillary questions (“You like Philippines?” “You like Philippines food?”), then the others would commence with a Tagalog conversation that left me in the dust.  But I didn’t mind; it was still a beautiful countryside filled with warm, beautiful people who tried their best to welcome me and make me feel at home.

(One visit brought us to the home of a Filipino wife and her American husband, who had met the woman while travelling on business, then decided to retire in the lush Filipino countryside.  He really lit up at our English conversation, which made me remember the time I’d talked Roger’s son’s ear off, in English, for about 2 hours, on the topic of NASA.  Homesickness is a funny thing…)

Awaking on Christmas Eve, I was informed of the day’s festivities to come: make some visits, take a nap, then the Noche Buena meal at 11pm-ish, to be followed by raucus family festivities, to begin around midnight. 

Upon completion of the enormous meal (which included another run-in with my arch-nemesis, dinuguan), we proceeded to the main parlor for karaoke.  Let me tell you, those Filipinos love them some karaoke; they’ve got two cable channels devoted to it!  We sang some Filipino standards, and some American Christmas songs; I confess, I got a little misty at “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” but was having way too much fun to be sad. 

After the karaoke came the kiddie games (see photos and descriptions).  These were, at best, bizarre, but totally fun; I don’t think an adult in the room was able to breath from their laughing so hard!  My memory’s a little fuzzy after that: I think there were some ceremonial gestures honoring the family patriarch (Leonor), we may have done the fireworks at that point (perhaps before), but at some point we got down to business: present time….

…Which, in a beautiful twist away from American uber-consumerism, only includes the children, and only includes small  gifts (simple toys, etc.).  It was not expected that anyone else would receive gifts, nor would they need to purchase them.  We had experienced a wonderful family gathering, filled with love and joy, and those memories will stay with those children far longer than some cheap little toy their parents bought out of obligation. 

Sometime around 3AM, we called it a night.  Christmas Day was peaceful; lots of visiting others (Ruben, Roger, and I explored a nearby abandoned Army base…very cool), people going to Mass  (not really for fun; much more obligatory in a Catholic-centric culture), and rest.  Beautiful rest.  Really, isn’t that why we do the whole thing?  To remind us that, in Christ, we actually get “real” rest? 

(I’ll post another story later this week — in the meantime, stay warm & stay calm!)