Team 3 Philippines
April 23 - May 8
Report written by Zack Grelling
Can you say Matalatala?
Greetings from New Testament Baptist Church: Matalatala, Laguna, Philippines!
My favorite quote from this trip came from a Filipino man that volunteered his time to work on this project with us. In my opinion, his simple observation was the most defining moment of the trip as I look at how God is using Grace Church in His Great Commission. With broken English and a little help from an interpreter he basically said, “We see [white] people drive through our town taking pictures from their cars pretty frequently. But we’ve never seen a car [full of white people] actually stop, get out, and work. This was the first time I’ve seen this happen.” His simple observation answered a lot of questions I had been asking myself throughout this trip.
And now that I am looking back at our team experience together, I realize that writing this article has become my own little “debriefing” session as I process through the experience my team and I had overseas . . . narrowing down my thoughts to 3 main questions. But as I answer these 3 questions below I ask you to think back to the perspective our Filipino friend had when he saw us step out of the car for the first time.
Question #1 (Came to me on Day #1): How is it possible for people to live in this kind of HEAT? I asked myself that question as we left the comfort of our airplane and stepped out into 105°F / 95% humidity! Picture this: 9 American’s [who already stick out like soar thumbs] sweating all day long, every day on the work site. Now I know why my Filipino friend said that he had seen [white] people drive by in their cars. American’s would rather take pictures and experience culture through a dusty windshield of an air conditioned car rather than get out and experience the smells, tastes and sites outside. Although we never did adjust to the heat during our short 2 week stay, I can say that we didn’t let the heat get us down!
Question #2 (Came to me on Day #4):
Why are we [the Americans] working together over here in this corner and they [the Filipino’s] are working together over there in that corner? Back in the States I envisioned our trip as a massive United Nations team effort of Americans and Filipino’s descending onto a worksite to build this church together. I was wrong . . . at first. We had been in the country for 4 days and our experience was nothing like the United Nations I had thought it would be. Initially, it was very clear that there was an “us” and a “them.” At first, I thought it was just the language barrier and then I started thinking that maybe they didn’t want our help but then I got an explanation later that day from one of my teammates. He comes on these Grace Construction trips all the time. He simply said, “3 days Zack. It takes 3 days.” I had no clue what he meant until I saw it with my own eyes. You see, for some “mysterious” reason, it took exactly 3 days for our servant-like actions to prove that we were there to work WITH the Filipino men, showing them that they do not work FOR us. You could tell that there was this invisible wall we had to break down those first few days to show our brothers in Christ that they were not merely “hired-hands” . . . and that this truly was a ONE BODY / ONE CHURCH effort. And by day 3 you could look around the sanctuary and see each of us laughing and working in blended groups as each of us started bonding with the men we met there.
Question #3 (Came Somewhere Mid-Trip):
At what point did our team shift from formal greetings to pet-names? Initially, it was always, “Mr. Stan, Mr. Zack or Mr. Clyde.” But somewhere mid-trip we all got pet names. We started hearing “Kuya” Lenny, “Kuya’ David, “Kuya” Nathan, “LoLo” Clyde or “Sir” Richard . . . and it was awesome! We were family! Kuya [or brother] is a term of endearment for a family member or close relative. And LoLo [or Grandpa] was a title that Clyde (my 88 year old teammate) wore with honor. And somehow Richard was knighted by the Royal Family of street children in Matalatala and became Sir Richard. What I loved most about the pet-names was the comfortability that came with it. This comfortability was an accomplishment in itself. I felt like it was their way of saying you are important to us and we want to stay in touch. So much more came from this new level of comfortability: on our breaks the kids [who shied away from us at first] would literally hang all over us, constantly wanting to play games. The men we worked with started playing jokes/pranks on us. And the women stopped hiding back in the kitchen. We had all come out of our shells and it was a great feeling because this church was something BIG and we all were accomplishing it together. The experience became a shared accomplishment [American and Filipino].
When I look back at how God orchestrated everything in this trip I must say that His church and His body of believers around the world is alive and well. You may not be able to find this place on Google Earth [I know because I already tried] but this little “barangay” [or barrio] is full of people that I now hold close to my heart. The people of Grace Church are making a tangible difference in the Philippines and I hope to go back some day and see a thriving 50 year old church still standing, full of believing Christians, led by the children we met . . . because of the work my American and Filipino friends did in 2010!