Getting to Know Wipe Every Tear a bit better

A friend texted me from Les Schwab yesterday. She found this article (link below) in a magazine called “Christian Living”…a magazine I didn’t even know existed. Anyway – I found it online (YAY Internet!) and shared it with Facebook yesterday. If you haven’t yet, please take a moment and read it for a better understanding of who I’m working with.

I don’t think I’ve ever really hidden my beliefs on here and obviously Kenny and D.A. don’t either (The same could be said for everyone on staff.) That being said – I also understand not everyone out there identifies the same. I, in no way, think that being a follower of Christ is a prerequisite to have a passion and heart for justice work, nor is it a prerequisite to DO justice work. One thing I really enjoy about working with Wipe Every Tear is the focus on caring for the girls, right here, right now, as they are. There is no pressure for them to “convert”. There are no stipulations. The focus is simply to provide and care for them, to show them respect and honor and love.
And yes, I am still in need of major funding. I’ll be sending out more details later on fun ways to get involved. But if you just have an urge to give right here and now, my PayPal address is OR you can give at general giving and put “Rhoni Wilkins Dec trip in the comments”)

Returning home

My husband has commented before that I live in two time zones. Half of my heart is here. The other half is in the Philippines. (If you have not read that story, you can start HERE.)

I have the opportunity to return at the end of this year with Wipe Every Tear & continue to assist with the work of providing freedom and hope to the precious girls trapped in slavery. It’s an amazing and overwhelming mission and it’s one that many people work tirelessly at both here and there. In fact, a miraculous movement has started. Teams have visited from the U.S. and encouraged girls to take a leap of faith and move into a safe house. And then those very same girls, the ones who just WEEKS and MONTHS before felt hopeless, those girls are returning to the sites of their enslavement to provide hope to friends still trapped.

I can’t speak for those that have gone before and since my initial trip. But I believe the difference for these girls is relationship. My team was able to spend time demonstrating love and friendship like some of these girls had never experienced before. We were able to show them what it looks like to be truly valued as a sister and friend, not as an object. We were able to guide them towards Jesus, simply by being with them. But even with the amazing technology we have today, long distance relationships are HARD. Facebook does not replace a real hug. Skype does not replace sitting shoulder to shoulder. And that’s why I’m going back. To hug my sisters. To encourage them. To look them in the eyes and say “Mahal kita” (I love you) and listen to them GIGGLE at my atrocious accent. I am going to strengthen those relationships so they can establish and strengthen relationships that will change more lives.  And here’s the really cool part. This mission doesn’t just change these girls’ lives. It changes the lives of an entire family line. We are affecting the course of history for generations to come.

This trip we’re going to focus on outreach in the slums*. The poorest of the poor are the ones at risk. So we will focus there for a couple of reasons. One – it will be an educational trip for the Americans who have not experienced that environment and show them where many of these girls often come from. (I got to have this experience last year and it was AMAZING.) Secondly (but most importantly) – our Filipino sisters will be leading these outreaches. These are their people. It is their society and country that is affected. They will be able to use their freedom and strength to start making changes at the earliest points in this horrible poverty cycle. They will get to practice leading by leading us. And when we come back here, they will still be there. Changing lives.

I am so excited for this trip and the impact I know God is going to make through it. But I do need your help:

Prayer. I don’t put this first because it’s expected or to soften the request for money (because that’s next). My last trip brought into sharp relief that without prayer, everything else we do is…flimsy. You pray and crazy miraculous things happen. I’ve seen it. So – if you would like to be on my prayer team to receive specific requests and praises, let me know. Either comment here, Facebook me or email me (

Money. I’m trying to raise $3,500 $3,300 for trip expenses and plane tickets. There are a few options for this.

  1. Donations (of course!) Any amount is appreciated and I know God will use your sacrifice far beyond what we can imagine. There are a few options for donating:
  • Paypal** – funds can be sent with my email address:
  • You can donate directly at the Wipe Every Tear page. Choose “other” in the drop down menu and put “Rhoni Wilkins December trip”  in the comment section. This will be tax deductible for you. However, they will be charged a fee. (You can also mail a check made out to them with my name in the comment line.)
  • You can mail me a check directly (email me for my mailing address) or a check directly to Wipe Every Tear. If you mail a check directly to them, please put “Rhoni Wilkins December trip” in the notes line. This will also be tax deductible. (Though please keep in mind, I will need to purchase my plane ticket from my personal account so funds sent directly to Wipe Every Tear, while greatly appreciated, cannot be used towards that portion.)

2.  Hire me! Do you need pictures? A babysitter? Your lawn mowed? All money raised will go directly to fund this trip.

3. Tell your friends and family. Do you have a group that might be interested in hearing about my experience last year and plans for this year? Small group/Life group/Community group from church, dinner club, book club, Bunco group, beer drinking buddies…whatever…I would love to come talk to you. There are so many amazing stories to share that sometimes words on a screen cannot fully convey them.

Thank you for reading this far and for considering supporting this trip. I am happy to give you more details or answer questions either via email, comments or in person.

*I personally don’t like the word “slums”. There’s such a negative connotation for places where I have met the most remarkable people. However, Merriam-Webster website gives the definition of “an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition” or “a very untidy place”. The area(s) we will be visiting definitely fit the first definition. And they are very dirty and crowded and, well, untidy in general. But I have also seen some very tidy residences within those conditions.

**I’m not using GoFundMe or a similar site because of the fees involved. I know many people who have used them very effectively but I felt very strongly that it was not a responsible use of funds donated for this trip.


18 years ago

This was my life a little less than eighteen years ago.


I was 20. He was…weeks old.

This was my life four days ago.


Photo credit to my mother.

And yesterday, was his eighteenth birthday.

He was my “baby bear”* until about kindergarten when he informed me he was no longer a baby. I reluctantly graduated him to “Bear” until about third grade when he explained with a huff that his name was NOT “bear”. And then, ironically, he hit high school and all his friends started calling him “Papa Bear” with absolutely no input from me.

He has spent the past ten years, give or take a few, adopting and looking out for every younger child around him. And he has been attempting to take care of me since he could toddle to the front door and fling himself against it yelling “NO MAMA” because I walked into the living room in just shorts and a sports bra to retrieve my purse but he was concerned I might try to leave the house in an indecent state of dress.  The concern was cute until I tried to get my ears pierced with a second hole when he was about seven and a friend had to remove him the premises because he freaked out so badly.

I have received phone calls from teachers stating that he needs to be reprimanded but “He’s just so sweet I can’t do it…” Then there’s the time he told a teacher that if his eyes wandered during a test it was because he hit his head in P.E. and his eyes wouldn’t stay still…it certainly wouldn’t be because he was cheating. (She moved him into the hallway for the test if I remember correctly) And THEN there’s the time that he irritated a girl so much that she finally tackled him…into a cinder block wall. (And yet she still counted him among some of her best friends)

The character of Dominic Toretto (Fast and Furious franchise) repeats his mantra of “I don’t have friends, I have a family” so often in the movie series that it becomes a bit cheesy – but this kiddo has been living that for years. He is ferociously loyal and once you’re in his inner circle, he will adopt you and everyone you love. It can be a little overwhelming but somehow he always manages to win over….everyone. He has a multitude of “mom”s, all of which have contributed to his growth , and an impressive collection of “little sisters” that he fights with – and for. He has chosen to surround himself with guys that will hike the foothills with him, then spend hours playing video games…but they always hug their mamas before taking off.

He loves to make people smile and laugh and if someone leaves his presence without feeling loved, it’s not because he didn’t try. Young children adore him and he is always willing to give them his time and energy. He loves babies…and he loves the attention he gets from girls when he’s cuddling babies. He shaves his own head now (and let’s people rub it)…but “forgets” to shave his face. Sometimes he doesn’t see that line between funny and annoying until he’s well past it. Sometimes his family is as likely to swat him as they are to hug him. But he makes really good coffee.

There are plenty of stories I could tell many of which I need to write down for future generations but I won’t try to recount here and now. The point is, he’s eighteen. Four years ago, I sobbed as he entered high school because there were only four years left and he was nowhere ready for the world…and the world definitely wasn’t ready for him. Today I can say confidently that I think he’ll be okay. He’ll have some rough patches and he’ll learn some lessons the hard way. Most everyone does. But he’ll be fine in the end.

I’m still not sure the world is ready for him though.


* I let him preview/approve the pictures used in this post. He scanned part of the text as well and on the way to bed, kissed me on top of my head and said “I’m still your baby bear.” Dawww….


You should seriously consider this…

Remember how last year I went to the Philippines with Wipe Every Tear?

They’re taking another team back for the Second Annual Girls Getaway! There’s not much that motivates me to take the time to post in this space this semester…but this is worth the time to write. And read. And consider. Unless you’re male…this is a GIRLS getaway after all. Don’t get me wrong – men are definitely welcome on other trips. It’s amazing for them to demonstrate the love of Christ, to be the pure brothers and fathers that are needed. But for now, I’m talking to the women out there.

Last year, God put together an amazing team and then proceeded to blow our minds with what He was doing. We called ourselves “the Dream Team”. And we were. I love the women from my team and if one of them were to text and say “I need to talk to you but can only meet at 3am.”…guess where I’d be at 3am. We were exactly what was needed for that trip, for those girls. We originally prayed for 50 girls to go with us and I was SO VERY NERVOUS. I mean, what if no one showed up? What if only a handful came? We had been talking about how big our God is. How He could overcome and make this impossible idea possible. What if…He didn’t? And then I realized, He doesn’t need me to defend Him. If only one showed up for the trip, then one life was touched and it was a success. HE was in control. HE had a plan. Our plans didn’t matter, only our obedience.

God showed up and did amazing things. You can read all about it in my posts about the trip. But YOUR trip – the one you’re considering for this year – it will be nothing like ours. And it will be everything like ours. God will put together another Dream Team. It will be completely different than the group that went last year. But it will be a group of women carefully assembled specifically for what He wants to accomplish. When we left in 2014, there was one safe house of wonderful girls. Now there are three houses full of vibrant, diverse girls. You will have the opportunity to meet them – and girls not yet in the houses – and develop relationships that will look nothing like the relationships I have…and yet will be filled with just as much love. You will watch in amazement as God works miracles, miracles He has designed specifically for you & your team to experience. You will cry and wonder what the bleepity bleep you are doing halfway around the world in the infernal heat and humidity. You will stand in the quiet moment, awe struck. You will witness despair and pain…and hope and joy.

I don’t know the details. Only God does. But I can tell you with complete confidence that if you even have an inkling that you might want to go, you should absolutely pray about this. I made the decision not to go this year. It was not a decision made lightly and involved many tears. The trip coincides with my son’s high school graduation and family events. And my wonderful son encouraged me to go, stating that he would understand me missing his commencement. But no. We have fought for twelve years for that day. Blood, sweat and tears…and yet he was born into privilege. There has been very little doubt that he would finish school. He has the opportunity to do ANYTHING he wants. Many of the girls you will meet in the Philippines don’t know what that’s like. They can’t even comprehend it. You will have the opportunity to give them that hope, to change not only their lives but entire generations…an entire family line. Think about that for a moment. By touching one life, you can be the instrument God uses to revolutionize generations to come.

Consider this. Call me, text me, email me, chat me, comment here. Let’s get together. Ask your questions. Listen to my stories if you want (how long do you have….?) Let me pray for you to have clarity if this is the right decision. But don’t, do NOT shrug it off.

YMCA Fall Sprint Triathlon 10/18/2014

In the Spring and Fall, our local YMCA organization puts on a triathlon where you swim Friday in the nice indoor pool, then start your bike leg on Saturday morning when the clock hits your swim time (and run after that…naturally).

I signed up for the full sprint distance (750m swim/12.5 mi bike/5k run) in August, ready to start training and confident that I would be ready.

Then I promptly hyper-extended my knee and knocked myself out of running (or walking…or standing…)- at all – for the duration of the training period. Confident that bike training would translate to the run, I put in my time there and in the pool.

I projected half an hour for my swim. (I’ve never been fast). I arrived at the pool with time to spare but the woman in the lane before me was going long. I was supposed to start at 7:05pm. About 7:12, she finally finished. I expected to take half an hour and had people due to show up at my house at 8:00. My timer asked if I wanted to do a couple of warm-up laps but I said “Nope. Let’s get this thing started. I have to GO.”

And go I did. Final time was 21:01. I was just a LITTLE happy with that. Seems time in the pool paid off.

I got home with enough time to tell my kiddo my time, get a cheer and high-five….and the admonition of “You need to change; you smell like sweat & chlorine”. I changed, ran a brush through my damp, chlorine infused hair, threw on a headband and greeted my lovely guests. We sat around the table partaking in amazing conversations and laughter and chili and cupcakes.

I slept fitfully but surprisingly woke up with my alarm feeling well rested. I jumped out of bed…and immediately ran to the restroom for the first of multiple times that hour. My body was not happy with something and was determined to eliminate it by any means necessary. I will spare you the graphic details. But as the clock ticked closer to the time I had determined we needed to leave, I was feeling better. I figured there was nothing left in my system (foreshadowing anyone?) and I would be fine once I got going.

TheKid went with me to the race. We got there early and sat in the van to stay warm until it was time to cluster with everyone else outside of the bike racks. As my stomach started to churn and cramp again, I repeated multiple times “This was probably a mistake.” but then chalked it up to nerves and reassured TheKid that I’d “be fine”. He made it his life’s mission to make me laugh and be goofy with him but I didn’t have it in me. I stood huddled in a jacket with the other racers, vacillating between desperately wishing I was still in bed and looking forward to seeing how the bike work paid off.

I quickly realized the work was not going to pay off. At all. After the first slight incline I started checking gears and trying to figure out why the bike wasn’t moving like it should. A few minutes later I realized the bike was fine. I was not. (See above: nothing left in my system) A guy cruised passed me yelling encouragement. I glared at his rapidly disappearing back. A few minutes later a girl passed me, shooting me a concerned look. She wasn’t moving fast and I decided to keep her within chasing distance. She disappeared just as quickly and not long after, I found out there wasn’t food left in my system so my body was going to eliminate water too. Yay. No fuel. No hydration. It’s the stuff of legendary bonks.

The bike course was 12.5 miles, mostly a square but with two little out and back additions. By the time I got to the first one, I was barely staying hydrated, barely moving and could only focus on my front wheel and the white line. I told the race official “I’m not going to be able to run. And I am most definitely not doing the extra mileage. I’m going back to the start as quickly as possible.” He waved me through, I hiccuped through a few quiet sobs and continued trying to find a gear that didn’t feel like I was pedaling through quick sand.

I spent the rest of the (approximately) 10 miles desperately trying not to weave all over the place because the truck of volunteers picking up cones was following me, very obviously keeping an eye on me. And I was determined that I was going to roll back in under my own power, not in the bed of a truck. That (approximate) 10 miles felt like 100. And felt like I was climbing a steep grade the whole time. It was a miserable long morning. But when I (finally) rolled back into transition, gross, defeated & destroyed, long after everyone else was out on their run, TheKid was standing there waiting. And as soon as I came into view he started jumping up and down and cheering “THAT’S MY MAMA! GOOOOO MOM!” And somehow, that made it better.

I checked in with the race director to make sure she knew my status and that I did not actually complete the bike portion. And then we started the limp to the van. A friend was there watching and he came over to say “hi” and see how I felt. I know we talked. But all I really remember was trying to hand TheKid my bike then realizing I wasn’t sure I could walk entirely un-aided. But by the time TheKid pulled the van into the driveway, I was starting to second guess myself. I had been sitting for a bit, re-hydrating and only slightly nauseous. Then I tried to stand upright, the world tilted alarmingly and I found myself slumped against the side of the vehicle. Soooo yeah. Probably a good thing I stopped when I did.

Surprisingly, it’s only twelve hours since I first arrived at the race site and I feel quite human again. I showered and slept for a couple of hours. I met some friends at a pizza joint to celebrate birthdays and while I avoided pizza, the bread sticks were the BEST THING EVER. I’m able to drink water without my stomach complaining and cramping. And I have realized, as frustrating and painful as the day was, a lot of good came from it too:

1. I realized I do not regret the attempt. At all. I probably would not have been nearly as sick if I had not pushed myself. But if I didn’t start, I would have always second guessed myself.

2. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in training and goals. Those can become so much a part of my identity that I start to weave my own self-worth into them. Having my day destroyed by circumstances  (mostly) outside of my control made me re-evaluate. I could have had a total melt-down, beat myself up, hid in bed, etc. I was on the razor’s edge when I passed the point of no return at that first out and back. As soon I skipped that mileage, I solidified my DNF. And I did cry. I could have easily ridden the spiral down into the pits of disappointment, embarrassment and despair. That incriminating internal voice was ready to deliver be-ratings, to cover me in the labels of “failure” and “worthless” and “hopeless”.  Or. I could embrace the fact that this was my experience for the day. It was painful, and yes – embarrassing. But I could decide how it defines and impacts me. I could take the lessons given to me (don’t eat chili the night before a race?), accept that this was the race I had to give and move on. That’s not to say that I didn’t have to battle that nasty little voice. There were definitely moments I considered sitting down on the side of the road and calling TheKid to come get me. And when I had to get off and walk up a fairly small incline because I could not physically push the pedals in the easiest gear I had…well….I was NOT saying anything positive in that moment…either verbally or mentally.

There are times I can honestly say  I was physically doing everything I possibly could…and there are moments I look back and wonder…maybe…did I have a little extra speed in me? But in the end, my child cheered un-embarrassed, despite the situation. And this afternoon I sat surrounded by friends who, when hearing that I did not finish, simply said “I’m so sorry. How are you doing now?” They were not disappointed IN me. They were disappointed FOR me. They do not love me any less and the only way a race is going to impact our relationship is if I let training take priority over them.

My legs are absolutely destroyed. It’s oddly a reassurance that my body really was as thrashed as it felt at the time. I’m giving myself today and tomorrow to lick my wounds, bandage my pride and recover. Monday I’ll be back in the pool. Next week I’ll be back on two wheels. I have the winter to add in strength training & yoga and dial in nutrition. I’ll build a solid base and Spring Sprint, I’ll have my redemption on that course.

Philippines Trip – Navoatas June 7 & 8

(This is the “final” entry in a string of posts about the two week trip I took. You can start at the beginning HERE

(Note: This probably should have been a two parts. Settle in!)

Of all the places I wanted to visit, Navotas ranked near the top of the list. I had heard wonderful things about the church and pastoral team (William and Mercy) and very much wanted to meet them. But even at the very first team meeting I attended, Kenny told me that there wouldn’t be time on this trip to visit. That didn’t keep me from mentioning my desire to go at least once or twice more but he was insistent that with the Getaway, and the size of the team we were taking, it just wasn’t feasible. However, the night before we left Manila to go on the Getaway, he mentioned that William and Mercy were going with us. I was SO EXCITED. I would get to meet them and although I wanted to visit Navotas, meeting them would be good enough. I didn’t spend a LOT of time with them but we did go shopping one day and I had the opportunity to talk with them. They ended up inviting me (and any team members that wanted) to spend the night at their church after the Getaway. Kenny agreed and soon we had 8 people planning to visit.

We arrived Saturday morning, were promptly greeted with snacks & began to acquaint ourselves with the community (namely the kids). I quickly learned I know NOTHING about hospitality. This community (and Filipinos in general) live and breathe hospitality. If you are their guest, you are royalty. It was a humbling experience.

Part of the amazing team

Part of the amazing team

This is one of the poorest areas imaginable. And yet, throughout it, I found incredible beauty.

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Most of my favorite pictures and memories were from this part of the trip.  That’s not to say that the team as a whole or the rest of the trip was any…less. Not at all. It was just different. With just eight of us, we moved together as a cohesive group. There were no sub-groups that are necessary with a larger team to make it effective. We were together, we were close and we were able to truly observe not only our surroundings but each other. And as I look through my pictures, I realize that because of the smaller team I had an opportunity to watch these incredible women pour love out of their very pores.

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While were “touring” the area, I was very uncomfortable. I felt like we were tourists on a live-action National Geographic spread and it seemed insulting to the residents. William made a comment at one point – “They’re used to cameras when foreigners visit.” Ouch. Look – we’ve all seen the pictures of people “less fortunate” than us, living under bridges, playing with trash.  I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of people in their homes under the guise of “telling the story”. Again. The story has been told. Over and over and over. But the poverty still exists. And this overwhelming problem is directly linked to the sex trafficking we were there to fight against. Because if the precious girls you see in these pictures, if they can’t afford to go to school, if they can’t afford to be trained, what other options do they have? Scavenge? Watch their families’ starve? They aren’t “trafficked” in the dramatic kidnapping, held in a hole kind of way. Their chains are despair and hopelessness and the hunger & pain of their loved ones. They grasp at whatever job they can find, whatever hope. And often that is packaged as a “customer service officer” or “waitress” job. Until suddenly that job is no longer available but they can keep their job if….

Despair. Hopelessness. Hunger and pain of family. They keep that job and the trap gets deeper and stronger. And these smiling faces of small children become the desperate or dead eyes of the girls on Walking Street.

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A “house boat”

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A not uncommon residence*

The sheer enormity of the living conditions here is crushing. It makes my chest seize and breath catch in my throat. And yet – I look into their laughing eyes, I see their sincere smiles and the absolute joy they radiate. And I realize – they are only materially impoverished.

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Sometimes I look around my master bathroom suite and I find myself slammed with and dizzy from the recognition that my bathroom/closet area ALONE is larger than many of these residences. I have found myself, on more than one occasion, sitting on the side of my garden tub (THAT I HAVE NEVER USED), in tears, trying to catch my breath. Because what do you DO with that realization? How do you deal when that awareness, that is not always front and center of your life, suddenly becomes so all over again?

I learned a many lessons in Navotas, not the least of which was – I can not give these people my pity or regret. Compassion? Yes. Assistance so they can improve their community? Absolutely. Pity…never. Because these beauties demonstrate true joy, strength of spirit & amazing faith. They teach the difference between enough and excess. Between what is truly important and what is a luxury. And those are lessons I desperately need to learn and re-learn.

On Saturday we met a woman that lives under a tarp next to the bridge with her naked/under-dressed, sore covered children. On Sunday that woman walked into church, with her children in their Sunday best. And when they made the call for offering, she stood in line and deposited what she had. She didn’t give out of guilt or a sense of obligation. She gave out of love and joy and it was the singular most impactful moment of the entire two weeks for me. She has, quite literally, next to nothing. And in that, she was more generous than most people I know who make (on a weekly basis) what she would see as an unbelievable fortune.

Sunday afternoon we went to visit a community where the church holds Bible studies. We visited one of the host homes and as we walked in, my first thought was genuinely “This is really nice.” She had a “real” roof (not a tarp). It was built up against the exterior wall of an existing building. She had a platform built up with an actual mattress. There was electricity, a counter, plastic storage bins. It was organized and clean. By American standards, it was a hovel but here, it was NICE. And in that moment, I knew I had acclimated. I didn’t just “know”, I UNDERSTOOD the difference between enough and excess.

It’s a understanding that slips and fades here at home. Sometimes, sitting on the edge of my garden tub, it’s oh so strong. And sometimes, it’s conveniently tucked into the recesses of my heart and mind.

I love Manila – especially the girls in the Wipe Every Tear houses. And I love the girls still in Angeles City. A missionary that’s still there recently wrote how bar hopping has become her favorite hobby and I laughed because YES, I get that. I love them and that is where I have chosen to pour my resources and energy. But Navotas also holds a special place in my heart. I have friends who are pouring energy and resources into that area. And I love them for that and their hearts. These areas co-exist. One problem feeds another. We can’t battle sex-trafficking and ignore poverty. My beloved friends are taking a trip in January to Navotas to do a much needed medical outreach (among other things). Their video is HERE. Go watch it. Please.

This post did not go as planned – the chronological narrative of our stay. There are so many other stories I could tell about this place. I probably will in the future. But this is an amazing place. Kenny said multiple times that this is where we would find Jesus. I’m pretty sure it is where He would have hung out. I hope to have an opportunity to again one day.


Philippines Trip – the Girl’s Getaway (June 2 – 6)

This week is mostly a blur with a few vivid stand out memories. I utilized my journal and Facebook very little so I am not going to try and suss out exactly what day these events happened. The entire week was a process of overcoming cultural and language barriers to form close bonds with these girls. We went to love on them, to show them what true love looks like but I don’t think one American girl left without being majorly impacted. I know for me it was a lesson in freedom, in relationships unfettered by the need to maintain an image or expectations. It was not uncommon for someone to walk up, wrap their arms around you and just hold on. Or just lean against you while sitting in the surf. And I loved that. LOVED that. No one stood by themselves long. We did not go without the reassurance of human touch, without the tactile reminder that we were noticed, acknowledged, loved. It’s no secret that I’m a touch oriented person so I welcomed these habits.

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Some of my standout memories:

  • Every night when it was time to go to bed, everyone made the rounds, hugging as many people as possible and saying “good night”, “magándang gabi” (yes I did just look that up because I couldn’t remember how to spell it), or “sweet dreams”. There was no hurry to get to our rooms with our select few roommates. Everyone lingered to end the day with as many people as possible.
  • A group of us went snorkeling one morning. Riding on the boat across the incredibly clear blue China sea, watching the island jungle landscape rise and fall, the white beaches stretch towards us…. There was a breeze, the girls were laughing around me. And I was suddenly engulfed by the realization that THIS was the trip I was chosen for. I had wanted to go for a couple of years but THIS one…this trip full of unspeakable joy and exquisite beauty…this is what I had the honor of participating in. The sudden breath-taking awareness of where I was, what I was doing, almost brought me tears. And later as I floated serenely in the waves, listening to the lovelies around me splash and chatter…and then break into song, singing Hillsong’s “Ocean”…then I let a few of those tears loose.
  • One afternoon I slipped into my room to escape the heat for a bit. I was tired and sticky and FED UP with being covered in sand all the time. I messaged my husband and told him I just wanted to lay on my mat and chill out. His response was encouraging but firm and he basically told me that was not the purpose of the trip. So I put my phone away and wandered down to the water to find several girls playing in the shallows. None were strong swimmers and I spent the next hour or so helping them float & swim until one of them said “Ate* Rhoni! Watch over us while we float so we don’t go too far!” That moment of ultimate trust was a highlight of the week and made the sand and sticky completely worth the discomfort.
  • Another afternoon I sat down at a table next to one of the Filipino girls. She looked over and in a tired voice “Nose bleed Ate.” (Nose bleed is a term used to indicate being overwhelmed by trying to speak/understand English) I just nodded and said “I just want to sit with you. We don’t have to talk.” She sighed, leaned against me and closed her eyes.
  • We celebrated the birthday of the above mentioned girl our last night there. It was so much fun for everyone to shower her with birthday joy.

I could list quite a few more. And I know everyone on the team could do the same. This week was unbelievable. The end result was multiple girls going to pick up their things and return to the safe houses when we returned to Manila/Angeles City on Friday with many more arriving throughout the next couple of weeks. We began relationships during this week and thanks to social media we have the opportunity to continue those…something I am incredibly grateful for.


(*Ate – pronounced “ah-tay” is a term similar to older sister)