Monday, August 29, 2011

Catching a Unicorn

I have caught a unicorn.  For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, you didn't read my last blog (GASP!).  Allow me to summarize:

I wrote last time that I was having a difficult time finding a good reliable vehicle at a good price, just something that would allow us to get around a bit easier, especially getting the kids to and from school.  I likened my search for a good cheap vehicle to catching a unicorn - not the easiest thing in the world to do.

I wrote that post on Thursday evening of last week (although due to our semi-reliable internet, it was not posted until Friday morning, or Thursday evening for our friends back in North America).  On Friday I caught my unicorn.  Today I got it to my house.

Here is a picture:

I know, I know.  You are saying to yourself, "Doesn't look much like a unicorn to me."
Perhaps this will help:

I know it doesn't look like much on the outside.  But look at the interior:
I mean, who would not want to ride in luxury like that?  And the yellow dashboard - yeah, it's painted.  It even came with the Bow Wow steering wheel cover - no extra cost!  Plastic zip-ties to attach it to the steering wheel!

Now that I look at it, maybe this isn't a unicorn that I caught.  I think it may be more like an old tired donkey with an ice cream cone taped to its head.

Okay, all joking aside, let me explain what this is, because there is nothing like it in Canada.  This is a Suzuki van-type multicab. There are literally thousands of these vehicles of different styles on the streets of Davao.  In fact, it is usually vehicle like this that are used for the public transportation system (not this style though).  Multicabs come is several styles, including the van-type like ours, passenger types, and truck types (Google "Suzuki Multicabs" to see images of various styles).  These are all surplus vehicles which start their life in other Asian countries.  They are then disassembled and imported as parts into the Philippines, where they are reassembled into the complete vehicles.

Why something like this?  A couple of reasons.  First, they are very inexpensive (compared to other vehicles here). A brand new (?) imported reassembled surplus one like what we have is around 200,000 pesos, or about $4500 Canadian.  A used (pre-owned?) one can be found for quite a bit less, around 120,000 to 160,000 pesos ($2700-$3600).  About the cheapest vehicle you will find here that actually runs.

Second, because there are millions of them around, parts are readily available and very inexpensive, and repairs are cheap too.  These are not complicated vehicles and do not require cutting-edge mechanical techniques and training to fix them.

Third, they are extremely good on gas.  They use hardly any gas to drive around.  That is because they have a tiny little engine in them.  Typical in North America is a 2 liter engine in an economy type car.  These have a 600 cc engine, or 0.6 liter.  Any of those cars being advertised as having amazing fuel economy should watch out for these!  Of course the drawback is a definite lack of power.  I am used to stepping on the gas pedal and accelerating fairly quickly.  Yeah, not with this!  Thankfully, traffic doesn't seem to move very fast here anyways.

It was a pretty logical choice, considering our needs and our budget.

Now I know that this is already a long blog post, so I understand if you are starting to lose interest, maybe have begun daydreaming about sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, sipping a cold drink.  Well, I still have lots to say, so feel free to take a break from reading this.  Please come back though, because the rest of the story is pretty cool.

Oh, you're back?  Okay, I will continue.

The really cool thing about this van is not the van itself.  The thing that is really cool is how I have seen God's hand in us getting this van.  It's a bit of a long story so I will try to keep it fairly short.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I had been looking for a vehicle for a few weeks.  I was lots of different ones, some that I liked but could not afford, others that I could afford that were practically falling apart just from me looking at them.  It was very difficult to find something decent for a good price.

I was quite frustrated and was becoming angry with being forced to rely on public transportation and walking.  I spent several days going all over the place, looking at cars, test driving cars, each time walking away disappointed with what I saw.  This reached its peak on Thursday, where I spent several hours in the morning in taxis and jeepneys, going to several different places to look at cars.  By the afternoon I was done.  I was exhausted and mad and I just wanted to have a vehicle appear out of nowhere.  I prayed that God would bring about one of those divine appointments that you hear about but seldom actually experience.  I wanted Him to do the work instead of me (as if He hadn't been working the whole time!  I was pretty precocious to even suggest such a thing to God!).

Well, He answered.  As I was walking around, feeling sorry for myself, I received a text from a couple I had contacted previously about a car for sale.  I had been that morning to their used car dealership, but had not found what I was looking for.  I didn't actually meet the owners of the business, whom I had been texting with.  So I was a bit surprised to get this text from them.  I was even more surprised by the content.  They had heard form their sales person that we are here as missionaries and they were interested to know what church we were with.  I responded, telling them the organization we are with here, as well as our background with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  Turns out that they are attending a Filipino Alliance Church!

Over the course of several more text messages I explained what we were here for, as well as the kind of vehicle we were hoping to find.  I thought that was the end of it.

That evening I received another text from them, asking if we would like an automatic car.  I hadn't mentioned this to them at all.  I figured that an automatic would be nice, since Kerri does not drive a standard.  We just figured that she would have to learn here, since pretty much every vehicle here is a standard.

A couple hours later I received another text from them, telling me that they had a Suzuki van with an automatic transmission, and the price was right around where we wanted it to be (again, not a detail I had mentioned to them).  We agreed to meet the next morning (Friday) to see it.

Friday morning I got up and took the kids to school, then went and swam some lengths in the local pool.  I went home and did a few things, then received a text asking me to meet them just after lunch.  I made my way to where the van was, and took it for a drive.  As it turns out, this particular van is one of very few multicabs in the Philippines with an automatic transmission, quite possibly the only one in Davao City.  It also turns out that the guy selling the van owns an auto parts store, and has kept this van in quite good mechanical shape. There were just a few minor fixes that needed to be done, and he was willing to be flexible on the price.

In the end, I put down a deposit on it that day.

The amazing thing about the whole experience?  There is no possible way that I would have found this vehicle to buy if God had not been directing things.  It started with me finding an online posting for a car for sale, which led me to a used car lot across the city, which allowed me to meet a sales person, who then passed on the information about us being missionaries to the owners, who expressed interest in what we are doing, who knew someone who knew someone who had a van like we were hoping to get, who was wanting to sell that van.  In the end, the chain goes something like this:

Me (looking for van) - Jonald & Janelle (own the used car lot) - Alex (a friend of J & J) - William (a friend of Alex, selling the van) - another lady that I have forgotten the name of (the owner of the van)

There is no way that I could have made that happen.  I asked God for a divine appointment.  He delivered.

Another big thing that I learned was the importance of prayer support from all of you.  I searched and prayed and prayed and searched for several weeks before I finally asked for prayer from anyone else.  It was not until I wrote a blog about my search for a car that things came together.  While God had put things in motion prior to that, it was not until afterwards that everything fell into place.  Is there a connection there?  I think so.

I guess I need to rely more on God and also on those of you.  So to that end, I will try to post not only stories and pictures of life here, but also things we can use prayer for.

So that's kind of the end of the story, except that the process of going to pick up the van was kind of a mess.  I forgot that today was a holiday in the Philippines, and that the banks would be closed.  So when I went to get money out to pay the rest of the balance for the van, I couldn't get it all.  The money was there, sitting in an account, all I needed was to go in and get it, but there was no one there to give it to me!

So J & J and Alex ended up driving me around, searching for bank machines, out of which I was able to withdraw a bit more than half of what I needed (on several cards through several accounts), but I could not get any more due to daily withdrawal limits.  Frustrating!

They then went and talked to the owner of the van, explained the situation, and convinced her that I was not going to run off with the van and not pay the rest.  In the end I drove away with the van but the owner held on to the papers needed to register it in my name.  I pay the rest I get those papers.  Seems fair.

So we now have a van.  It runs.  It isn't much to look at, but it should get us around alright.  Please pray that it is reliable for us, and for our safety as we learn to drive Filipino style (a whole different set of traffic rules which I will explain another time.  I think I've already pushed the limits of your patience with this one!).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Update

Hello everyone,

I realized that I haven't updated in over a week, and I want to be diligent to post a bit more often.  A lot has happened in the couple weeks.

For the kids, they have started into their new school.  It was a bit tough at the start, especially for Daniel.  It can be hard to feel comfortable in a new situation, and it was even more so because they were starting into it a couple months late.  The school year runs a bit different here, the summer break being a couple months earlier and school starting back earlier as well. So for Julia and Daniel to start in August, they were coming in as the new kids after everyone else had settled in.  Thankfully, they have both settled in pretty good, made some friends, and have enjoyed it overall.

But then there was our cat, Mango.  We got Mango from a friend of a friend.  He was a kitten, born a stray, with a mother either unable or unwilling to care for him.  He was very young when we got him, probably too young to be away from his mother.  We took him to the vet to get him checked out.  He had some worms, so he was given deworming stuff, and the vet told us to feed him as much as he would eat in order to help him to put some weight on.  Over the next week we saw an improvement, but then he got sick.  Again, we took him to the vet, who decided to keep him overnight for observation.  He never came home.  He died on a Tuesday, the second day of school for the kids.

As you could imagine, they were absolutely crushed by the news.  So suddenly they were dealing with a new school and a pet that died.  A tough week to say the least.

Thankfully, God cares about the little things in life, and He again provided us with a kitten.  This time it is one who is a bit older and a lot healthier.  Kerri was at a team building exercise with the other volunteers at the clinic, and there happened to be this kitten there that the staff had been kind of looking after.  They were excited to find out that we were looking for a kitten, and they were thankful to know that it was going to a good home.  So we now have a new kitten.  This one, in keeping with the tropical fruit theme, is named Coconut.

As for Kerri, she has been quite busy with her work with the clinic.  She has started helping in the clinic and the birth room, learning Visayan (the local dialect), as well as going to multiple orientations and team building opportunities.  She is beginning to feel the pressure of being a missionary, a wife, and a mom.  There are a lot of demands on her time, and the biggest struggle right now is figuring out how to balance everything.  I know that she will get it figures out, even if it takes a while!

For me, the last couple weeks have been filled with lots of everyday things, with a few big tasks thrown in.  I have been adjusting to being the "primary" parent to the kids; packing lunches, getting them to school, picking them up, grocery shopping, paying bills, and lots of other little jobs.  In addition to this I have been trying to get our banking streamlined (working with two Canadian banks, a Filipino bank, and an online bank is not fun, especially when they all have different systems and different time zones!), and trying to find a vehicle.

I know that before we came we had told people that we did not plan to purchase a vehicle here, but after six weeks of walking (lots!), jeepneys and taxis, and bumming rides from our very hospitable and patient friends, we have come to the conclusion that if we are going to be here for 2+ years, that it sure would be nice to have our own transportation.  It has been a personal struggle, because we came over with this preconceived notion that as missionaries we should give up all the comforts that we have been accustomed to in Canada.  The thought of having our own vehicle was preposterous!  Missionaries should not be middle class in the society that they are going into!  Looking at it now, I realize how ridiculous this is.  Like it or not, in Filipino society we ARE the "rich" foreigners.  We will never be Filipinos, and not driving a car will not improve our chances of becoming Filipino.

Now, there is also the sense of guilt that comes along with it.  It may sound crazy, but there is a sense of obligation to you, our supporters, to use the finances which YOU have so graciously given to us for more noble things than buying a car.  There is a real sense of responsibility to use the money we have in the best way possible.  We don't want anyone to think that we were frivolous with YOUR generosity.

But, after some good discussion and some good advice from some friends, we have come to the realization that this self-imposed ascetic lifestyle is not necessarily beneficial.  While walking half an hour to take the kids to school, then walking back, then walking to pick them up, then walking back has been great exercise, doing it because there are few jeepneys that go that way, or because I am too cheap to pay for a taxi, are not really the best reasons to walk.  It has also been extremely frustrating to not have a car to be able to pick stuff up from the store.  Instead I have had to plan out my shopping trips so that I make sure to finish with the place where I will be purchasing the most stuff, so that I can get a taxi immediately.  I am slowly going insane because of it.

So, for the past week I have been scouring the internet, making trips to used car lots (often by walking! Again - too cheap to take a taxi!), and meeting up with people all over the city to test drive vehicles.  The issue I keep coming back to is that I am trying to be very responsible with the money we have, so I am trying to find the impossible - a newer model vehicle in great shape that runs very well with low km's and maybe a few power options (I still like conveniences) all at a price which fits quite easily into our budget.  I am discovering that getting a car like that is like catching a unicorn - if it even exists, good luck finding it!  I know that something has to give, either I need to set my standards lower and accept something that runs (barely), or I need to get past my sense of frugality and be willing to spend a bit more of what God has provided (through you!) to get something half decent.

This is what I am dealing with right now.

I could probably go on for another couple thousand words of what is going on over here for us, but I think I will end it there for now.  I promise to try my best to update regularly, because I have lots of other things to say.  For now, please pray for all of us, as we are settling in still.  And please pray that I can catch my unicorn.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Culture Shock

This week has been a tough one.  I think I have begun to move past the first stage of culture shock, where everything is new and interesting and fun and exciting, to the next stage where everything stinks.  I am trying to stay positive though.

Just to illustrate, let me tell you about the past weekend.  We went as a family to Paradise Beach Resort for the orientation for the clinic that Kerri will be volunteering at.  We were there Friday all day, stayed there Friday night, and then spent Saturday there as well.  They like to take the time to explain all about the clinic and all the logistics of what the volunteers will be doing and their schedule and stuff like that.  So they took all of the volunteers (and the families) out to this absolutely amazing beach resort where we were able to relax.  I wasn't required to go to most of the orientation sessions, so I could just hang out and swim and snorkel and spend time with my kids.  Sounds pretty good, hey?

It was very nice, but I found myself becoming more and more depressed as Friday progressed.  It wasn't for any particular reason that I can think of.  I just felt grumpy and sad and was missing my former life in Canada.  It was really ironic that here I was at a tropical beach resort, appropriately named Paradise, sitting in the sun, surrounded by palm trees waving in the breeze, drinking a cold Coke and eating some of the most delicious food ever, and I was becoming more and more depressed.  By Friday night I was ready to pack up and go to the airport and get on the first flight in the general direction of home.  I guess that's Culture Shock Stage 2.

Why am I telling you this?  For a couple of reasons.  First, because this is my blog so I can!  But seriously, it feels kind of cathartic to write this out, and lucky you get to hear all about it!  I probably need to write this to help process it all.  I find it does help quite a bit.  Second, we want to be real with you.  I don't want to ever come across like we have it all figured out and are always happy and everything is wonderful and our life is all warm and fuzzy.  Truth is, this is hard and sometimes it sucks.  Third, I feel that I owe you an honest account of our time here, so that you can live vicariously through us!  I know that most of you will not have the opportunity to be here experiencing what we are.  We are so grateful to all of you for your support and encouragement and therefore want to share the experiences however we can.

So what happened afterwards?  Well, I got a good night's sleep on Friday, woke up in a better mood, and had an absolutely great day on Saturday.

I feel like a moody teenager again...

And I figured out how to make homemade Slurpees, so now I'm happy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflections and Transitions

It's hard to believe that we've been in Davao for a month now.  Julia and I went on a date this afternoon and we were talking about our time here and how fast it's gone.  One month ago yesterday we arrived, completely jet lagged, overwhelmed and not sure at all what life here across the ocean was going to look like; and now here we are in our house, with the kids and I ready to start classes next week.  It has been an incredibly busy month filled with finding and setting up a house, learning some of the Philippine culture, learning to use the jeepneys and taxis, finding our way around our part of the city, experiencing grocery shopping, finding a church and finding a school for the kids.  While there have been definite challenges and frustrations, there have also been times of enjoyment and relaxation with being able to go to the beach a couple of times, go the crocodile park, and enjoy the swimming pool.

This journey has been broken up into many steps and transitions with the three major ones being getting our family ready to leave Canada and move to Davao, arriving here and settling in, and finally the beginning of my volunteer work at Mercy.  The first two have been accomplished and now the third one is beginning in just two days.  I have two days of orientation on Samal Island this Friday and Saturday, I begin shadowing at the clinic bright and early on Monday morning, and Vasayan lessons begin on Tuesday.  I'm hitting the ground running and I really pray that I'm ready for it.  This will be yet another change for our family and I pray that God will give us the grace and patience we need to adjust once again.

I am so thankful that for each step of the journey God has shown his faithfulness to us, and it is comforting to know that He will not abandon us now, He will continue to journey with us.  We have been praying for the necessary finances to come in for Julia and Daniel's schooling, and just a couple of days ago we received a donation that will cover the tuition for one of them for the entire year.  It is amazing to be able to look back and see God's hand in this from the very beginning and how He has provided for us and continues to do so.

Please pray for me as I begin my volunteer work with Mercy, specifically that I will be able to balance everything well.  Also pray for Julia and Daniel as they begin their classes on Monday, and for Steve as he is trying to figure out his role here and how God can use him best.


At Davao Crocodile Park

Our newest addition, Mango
Our house

Daniel enjoying the beach

Julia enjoying the beach

Loving the cool starfish

Friday, August 5, 2011

A special request

This is a difficult post for me to write, mainly because I thought our fundraising was completed.  However certain circumstances have arisen which have required us to once again come to you seeking financial and prayer support.

Please let me explain.

Even before we came here we had planned to look into the different school options for our kids, Julia and Daniel.  Because very little information about the school systems here was available to us beforehand, about all we knew before we arrived was that there are local Filipino schools, private Filipino schools, and private international schools, but we were in the dark as far as the quality of the education.  We left Canada with the plan to find out more about the schools when we arrived, and with the option to homeschool as a last resort if we didn't find anything suitable.

Upon arriving here we began to pray a lot that God would give us wisdom as to what would be the best schooling option for our kids.  We do not want their education to suffer or to be behind where they should be after our time here.  Like any parent, we want to see our kids have the best opportunity for a quality education.

The first type of school which we began to find out about was the Filipino public system.  We heard good and bad about the system; mainly that the academic side is quite good, but that the classes are quite large and that the kids are taught simply to memorize and regurgitate information.  While this has been, and continues to be quite effective for many kids, we did not feel that this environment was the best option for our kids and their learning styles.

We then looked into a popular international private school, which seemed at first to be a natural choice.  However after discussions with the kids and after looking into the costs associated with the school we decided to look elsewhere.  Again, it seems to be a great school, but not a great fit for us for several reasons.

Then another school, a Filipino private school, was brought to our attention.  We decided to check it out, and quickly came to realize that the style, size, and content were just what we were looking for.  We began to entertain the idea of this being the school for the kids.

In this process we also decided to give homeschooling a chance.  We began to go through some of the lessons which we had brought with us, and very quickly discovered a few issues.  It became quite clear very early on that this was not going to be something which would be very healthy for any of us, as the kids had issues with not only the material we had for them, but also the idea of us as teachers and the lack of social interaction with other kids.  Kerri and I also found it very difficult to not become frustrated with trying to teach our own kids.  Daniel made a comment to me that he would rather have me as his daddy than his teacher.  Homeschooling doesn't seem to be a good fit for our family.

All of this brings us to the point we are at today; we would love to send our kids to the private Filipino school we checked out.  While it is considerably less expensive than the international private school, there is a significant and unexpected cost involved.  Here is what it looks like (in Canadian $):

School Bond (one time fee per student, refundable upon leaving the school): $505.54
Down payment (for this year): $251.67 (Daniel), $267.35 (Julia)
Total tuition (for this year): $1427.21 (Daniel), $1516.45 (Julia)
The tuition can be paid in full up front, or monthly: $154.04/month (Daniel), $163.63/month (Julia)

So that is where I have to come to you seeking your help.  We need financial support in order to make this happen.  We would love to have one or more people who would like to specifically partner with Julia and Daniel in this way.  This could be a one-time donation, large or small, or an ongoing monthly donation for Julia and Daniel's schooling.  As always, this can be done through our blog website donation buttons, or can be mailed to our Calgary address, which can be found on our blog website as well.

And as always, please pray for us, both that we would have the finances to be able to do this, but also that God would use us here.  Thank you for your support!

Oh, you may also be wondering what I will be doing if the kids are in school during the day.  Well, having them in school would give me the opportunity to be able to pursue other areas of ministry.  I have a couple of things in mind, which I will elaborate on more at a later date.  And of course, there is still the everyday stuff which needs to be done, like grocery shopping, house maintenance, and all those typical things which tend to fill up one's day!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Things I miss

It has been a great couple of weeks here.  I feel like I am starting to settle in.

At the same time, there are moments (like this one) where it almost seems overwhelming and I can't help thinking of all the things I miss about Cochrane/Calgary.  Here is a partial list (in no particular order):

1. Friends/family.  Especially those who we would get together with and just hang out and talk and laugh with until really late, even if we had to get up early the next day.

2. Slurpees (I haven't found anywhere here that has such a thing, and there are times when I would give pretty much anything for a big cup of frozen sugary sludge.)

3. Owning a car (to get around and just because I loved driving)

4. Sushi - my homemade sushi. (I can get lots of fresh fish here, but some of the other ingredients seem to be harder to come by than I had imagined.)

5. Rock climbing (Haven't found a good place to climb yet, and all my gear is in a box somewhere between here and there)

6. The Nan Boothby Library in Cochrane.  We practically lived there.  Best library in the world, mainly because of the staff there.

7. Home Depot. One stop shopping is pretty much non-existent here.

8. My tools.  It drives me absolutely nuts to have a bunch of little jobs to do around the house and not be able to do them properly because I don't have all the tools I had back in Canada.  For a construction/handyman type it's like missing a limb to be without tools.

9. Furniture.  We still have not received our furniture.  It is being made, but apparently the bamboo was too wet, so delivery was delayed. I am looking forward to being able to sit on a couch and put my feet up and relax.

10. Silence.  Back in Cochrane, we used to be able to sit outside at night and it was so quiet.  All we could hear was the coyotes and crickets.  Now, it's noise pretty much all the time.  You walk down the street and every taxi and jeepney honk at you to get your attention.  The music is blaring constantly at the malls, often several songs of several genres at the same time (what's up with Christmas music in July? And does anyone here actually know about snow? I think if they did they wouldn't be so quick to sing about a winter wonderland!).  Karaoke at high volumes seems to the the official sport of the country, each person competing against those in the next neighborhood to see who is loudest.

11. Being able to communicate well.  Although most people speak English, it can still seem like a completely different language.  I had better learn Visayan quick!

12. Being able to blend in.  Can't really do that here.  I'm getting used to the stares though.

13. Peter's Drive-In and The Keg Steakhouse in Calgary, and Thanh Thy Vietnamese food in Cochrane.

There are probably lots more things that I will miss over the next few years, but those are the big ones right now.  Don't get me wrong; it has been great being here and I love it, but it's still different and it takes time to adjust.