Mission in the Year of the Holy Spirit

Twenty four years ago, we weren’t a big number. It wasn’t at a coliseum where He gave us our name, Ligaya. It was in the flourescent-lit parlor at the Assumption convent. The sound system was far from high tech and there were no white plastic stackable chairs. A few sat on wobbly rattan chairs. The rest sat on backless benches. Ligaya was new at this --- new at seeking His face, new at proclaiming Him, new at discovering the wonderful and baffling Holy Spirit, new at loving one another, and new at becoming a people. His parting lines were , "I want you to know that you will proclaim my name not only in Manila, not only in Pasay, not only in one or two cities, not only in the Philippines but all throughout Asia". Those present quietly received this. Some were awed. Some, stirred. Some, inspired. Some, incredulous. If they could have, they would have asked "You mean us?"

In the years that followed, we proclaimed Him in more places, but it wasn’t until 1985, 10 years later, that we sent our very first missionaries, outside of Manila, outside of Pasay. This was to Mindanao. We helped strengthen communities in Cagayan de Oro and Malaybalay, Bukidnon. Our first mission team consisted of Raul and Hedy Sarceda and children, Arben and Armi Visenio and children, Norma Plata, Fe Warque, Svahn Rivas, and Rey Rodriguez.

The Holy Spirit has continued to stir more hearts and pointed new places to proclaim Jesus and set up communities. There are many official church terms for what missionaries do, for their goals and approaches. For some mission fields, the task was to bring Christ to a people that had never heard of Him before. For some mission fields, the task was to give them pastoral care. For others, it was to help give some kind of structure. For others still, a combination of tasks and approaches.. But we get a sharper picture by looking at our recent mission endeavors.

In 1991, Jimmy and Malou Tan and children left for China. Beth Melchor joined them and later still, Janet Yap. There, the Tans quietly pitched their ‘tent’and lived as quietly and invisibly as yeast in dough. There, too,Beth would meet a Chinese couple in secret to tell them about Christ. The dough in China hasn’t quite risen, but that’s His idea. It will rise one day, when we least expect it.

Next to be hounded by the Holy Spirit were Charlie and Georgia Gamboa and their children . In Pakistan, the Holy Spirit nudged the bishop to send for Charlie and Georgia. They were given a place to stay and work to do so people would be drawn to the kind of life they lived. He had the Gamboas walking dark alleys at night to a prayer meeting, Prior to preaching, Charlie and Georgia had to get into the heart of this distinctly different culture. It’s a hostile place for mission, but there’s no telling the Holy Spirit where to move and where not to.

Moving around some more, the Holy Spirit ‘bugged’ the Sarcedas and soon, Raul and Hedy and their children set off for Thailand that same year. There, the Holy Spirit is moving about against an entirely different backdrop. The bishop who invited them also gave them a home and work to do in his diocese. You’ll wonder what the Holy Spirit wants to do with a bunch of nice and quiet people who just want to hear mass on Sundays. Nothing more. They feel no need for renewal, feel little need for a deepening of their faith. In Udon, the Holy Spirit uses the Sarcedas like salt. Salt in a place where people don’t know what bland means. It seems a strange thing for the Holy Spirit to do. To set up something here, where people don’t feel they need more of God. Our eyes don’t see a need. Apparently, God does. Around there is also where you’ll find Menchie Roxas, Norma Plata and NoyetMagno. They keep their ears to the ground, waiting to see what the Holy Spirit will have them do next.

Later still, LNP sent off Omy and Rosanne Romero and their children to Indonesia, where the Holy Spirit used this family for Filipinos living and working there as well as for the Indonesians of the land. It got increasingly exciting when riots started to break out as early as August 1996. The Holy Spirit seemed to be insisting on building strong, sturdy, stout-hearted christians where riots took place, where offices and churches and homes were being burned. Right there. And right then. The Holy Spirit had planned the oddest exit for the Romeros in May of 1998. The usual way to say goodbye is to start doing it about a month or two earlier. You have a few small going away parties, a few thank you dinners, and then lastly, one general despedida party. But the Holy Spirit didn’t want the usual style..Hear that story from them.

"For two years, we had been planning to have a vacation just by ourselves, but always got stuck with schedules. May was to be our last month. "The time to go is right before Ken arrives to give the community a retreat", Omy said. Our hearts were set on an adventure resort we had heard so much about. We had never been that side of Indonesia,, but since it was only going to cost 800 pesos for all four of us for three whole days with food and everything, we were going to find it. So, with a borrowed car for the weekend, we set off. We came, saw and conquered all the adventure the resort had to offer from flying, to mountain biking (excluding me), to each of us driving an all terrain vehicle through a dense enough forest (sorry, no cobras), to boating on a lake (sorry, no crocodiles) to hiking slopes, to swinging on vines, to swimming, to eating. What a break that was for all of us. Then Ken arrived, and Ken left. Just in time. The very next day the airport was closed. That was May 12.

From where we were, we could not hear explosions, but we could see thick smoke rising everywhere. We watched the marines holed up in the small baranggay center across our place, practicing and readying weapons. Not far off, there were tanks parked, poised to strike. It was nothing like what we had in the 1986 EDSA Revolution. where people could walk alongside the tanks and exchange banter with the soldiers and have their pictures taken. We could see stores and houses set on fire. We could hear the rioteers jeering outside our gate. Inside the house, we tried to keep everything calm. We washed, cooked and cleaned but tension hung heavy. Rinka picked up the guitar and started to sing tagalog songs from Bukas Palad, Becca followed Omy and me around the house ---- kitchen, garage laundry area, dining room,etc. She wasn’t sobbing but clung to a small bag packed with basics --- toothbrush, small towel, extra shirt, extra shorts etc.. and even slept with this bag strapped around her just in case we had to run somewhere.

The next evening, we received a phonecall from one of our members begging for help as rioteers had gained entry into the mall where they lived and had begun to set on fire all that they looted. They had tried escaping through the fire exit but the rioteers hurled stones. They were now hiding by the pool on the 6th floor. We made a few calls preparing to fetch them.. The embassy admonished us to stay put. A fire truck which had been sent to evacuate people in the area had just been set ablaze by rioteers. We couldn’t reach them after that and it seemed awfully unfair for us to be relatively safe where we were. It just seemed foul. For the first time in our life, we had this rotten feeling about being begged for help and not being able to do anything. At about 1:30 a.m., the kitchen door slammed. I peered down the banister and saw Percy and Olive with baby in her arms making it up the steps. They were pale and shaking. Pretty soon, the whole house was awake and we laughed, cried and hugged each other while the kids took turns rocking the baby. They managed to make it down to the car park, and drove on inspite of one punctured wheel and a smashed windshield and windows, till they reached the Caledas place where we stayed.

TV news said the airport had been reopened but that some cars had been set ablaze. The road to the airport is a 28 km stretch with no exits along the way. Just then, Leny Plaza called to say someone had had a vision of angels lining the streets to the airport as we made our way out. We hung on to that. There was just one more thing. To leave, we needed 4 million rupiah for airport tax but only had 1 million with us. No one had money to spare, as all banks were closed and ATMs had been burned. We told the Lord about that and simply waited on Him. The night of May 15, we sat around the small dinner table with a few community members who came to see us. One of them mentioned that she had been able to get 3 million rupiah from the bank where she worked and wanted to know if we would have any need of it. BINGGO! 3 million rupiah, plus the one million we had on hand, plus the angels that lining the stretch to the airport? This was it. We accepted the amount, and started to pack the things we were going to leave behind in boxes so as to make it easy to send them home to us at a later time. Told that a lot of people who forced their way to the airport had been waiting to fly out since two days ago, the Caledas packed bread and water for us to take. We finished packing everything by 1:00 a.m and left at 3:00 a.m to make our leaving coincide with their prayers at dusk. They would still be in the mosques while we were on the road. True enough, the long strtech to the airport had no enraged pribumis waiting to hurl bombs. Infact, there was no one to charge us at the three tollbooths! The angels just didn’t line the streets for us, they manned the toll booths as well! When we got there, the main doors to the airport lobby were manned by guards. While Omy looked for a safe place to park the car, someone came to say that we weren’t going to be allowed to get in unless our tickets were dated that day, May 16. We held tickets for the 30th still. When Omy got to us, I didn’t have time to tell him what I had just been told. He huddled us together and walked straight towards the glass door and walked through the guards with Rinka and Becca in tow. But I was stopped. In Bahasa, they gruffly demanded to see my passport, my tickets, other papers. I didn’t want to call out to Omy and the girls because I was relieved to see they were inside and safe, so I faked it. I pretended not to understand Bahasa and pretended to adjust the brakes of my wheelchair/scooter. A Japanese man with his kids queued behind me, was furious at this delay in the line, so he started to shove papers in the face of the guards and said in Bahasa "You want papers? Here are all my papers….Look at it and let us in quickly!". As they exchanged unpleasantries, it occurred to me that the guards thought I must be this man’s wife so I slowly ‘tiptoed’ my scooter into the lobby. I didn’t rush but I didn’t dare look back either to check if they found me out. I just drove towards the direction Omy took with the girls. I found time and composure to tell Omy what happened to me, minutes later, while we waited for the airline people to decide if they would allow us to fly that day. We were told we could, but that we were on waiting list number 5 and they had two hundred names per list. And even if Singapore Airlines had already sent more planes for evacuation, they could not assure us when we could fly out. That wasn’t so bad. I double checked for my bread and water supply and felt relieved we had not left it in the rush. It was Becca’s birthday, so we asked her to pray that we get on a flight soonest. No sooner had Becca finished, when our names were being called! "Romero, party of four." I thought ‘how can it be? We just got here.’ as I distractedly put our bags on the counter. When the last of our bags was being checked in, it became evident that a mistake had been made. Two upset gentlemen came to the counter to complain. Apparently, someone picked up the wrong list and therefore started reading out the wrong names. We believe with all our hearts that God arranged for this mistake exactly as it happened --- that someone in all that rush would pick up the wrong sheet and read the wrong names out --- just so the four of us could get on the next flight out. If the airline had called us back to explain the error to us, we would not have made a fuss. We would have simply walked back to our seats. But the airline corrected it by giving them the last few seats in the business class. As for us, we were told to proceed to the plane. What tension, but what joy! As we ambled to our seats, the pilot was apologizing for a slight delay since 4 passengers were still making their way to the plane. Like schoolkids, we raised our hands and said "That’s us."

We know how unpredictable the Holy Spirit can be. We know it first hand from   the different experiences of each of our missionaries.

In between all that, the Holy Spirit has had us sowing and nurturing what’s been sown in other places like India, Singapore and different parts of America. No one can say the Holy Spirit is moving geographically. No one can say He’s building communities in affluent lands this decade. Why India then? Neither can it be said that He’s moving in impoverished nations. Why Singapore then?

It can’t be said He’s building communities with the exact same structures used for the building of LNP many years back. Look at UdonThani, Pakistan and Indonesia. Neither can it be said He’s discarding the old molds because they’re not usable. Look how our old LNP teaching modules continue to form people and communities in North America and Canada. It can’t be said that the Holy Spirit is using certain missionary types only . Look at St Paul and Hudson Taylor. Then, take a close look at the missionaries of our community. Altogether different types. If St Paul or Hudson Taylor were the standard, our missionaries would be odd choices for the Holy Spirit.

We thought we had it all wired as far as mission was concerned, as far as community building was concerned. Today, years later, we are all wiser. We know He can’t be put in a box. He’s going to all kinds of places. He’s sending forth all types of people. Now we know He recognizes no boundaries .

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