8 Summary Observations About The Philippines
After completing my internship in the Philippines I have learned many things and experienced a lot. It was a life changing experience that I will never forget. I loved my experience in the Philippines and know that I want to go back to do full time missionary work someday. God revealed many things to me on this trip. In this paper I will describe some of the ways my lifestyle has changed, my most difficult adjustments during my trip; I will assess myself and my attitude during my internship; I will describe any special communication problems I had and how I dealt with them; and I will give new insights that I gained into the character and work of God and the way I view the church.
I came to the Philippines with research about the country already done, so I had an idea of the way people lived there and how they survive. But nothing can really teach one better than having it shown to them first hand. I was amazed at how people lived in the Philippines and the fascinating things they do to survive. The Philippines is full of poverty everywhere you look. People live in the worst housing conditions imaginable and children have to work hard at very young ages to make money. I saw many street children with no shoes on running up to cars on heavy trafficked roads trying to sell something. The kids were filthy and were wearing random clothing, sometimes boys had to wear a girls t-shirt because that is all they had. Many Filipinos grow up on the streets and in the slum neighborhoods, and squatter areas. It is a tough life yet most Filipinos show themselves outwardly to be happy people.
I learned that meaningful friendships and close relationships are what matter in life. Life is a struggle and it is painful, but friendships are the medicine that help ease the suffering. Filipinos can enjoy life even though it is so hard for them. The majority do suffer, and do feel pain, but they do not allow the pain to rule over their lives and they continue on experiencing the joys of life. This is especially true of the Christians there. I heard many of them praying and thanking God for the small amount of things that they had. One pastor told me he was very thankful he had a home for his family and food to eat. He was thanking God for a stuffy, small shack of a house, with many cockroaches and a mouse that would pop in from time to time. The food he ate was fish heads and rice with bean sprouts mixed in ketchup. He made coffee by putting in a sprinkle of instant coffee mix and huge spoonfuls of coconut sugar and creamer. Yet he was happy and enjoyed life!
I think part of the way my lifestyle has changed is to really be thankful for what I have. I have so much more than any Filipino and I need to thank God for blessing me with my life in America. When I grew up, I felt extreme depression in my life and I realized it was because I did not have joy in life and no true friendships to help me. I will now cherish the real friendships that I have today and put a larger effort into caring for my friends and being there for them. I really like how Filipinos are close to one another and love each other. Friendships in the United States many times are superficial and about power and status. Many times people will hang out in a group and never really care for one another or have any deep emotional attachments. The Filipinos are different, and they are emotionally attached and know each other more intimately. I want to have more friendships this same way.
Some of my difficult adjustments when staying in the Philippines were dealing with my American status there. I have never gotten so much attention in my entire life before going to that country. Everyone who saw me would say any random American slang term or phrase they could remember like, “Yeah man! What’s up man!” and “Gimme five!” The girls got excited when they saw me and many of them would yell for me and come onto me. At first they were shy and acted afraid that I saw them, but then they would giggle and tell me, “You’re so handsome!” Even the many male homosexuals would call me out and ask me for my name and number (that was one of the most difficult issues which made me the most uncomfortable). Lots of the older Filipinos would call me “Joe” and say, “Americano! Hey!” I was offered beers (of course I did not take any since I was on Biola contract), coffee, food, and other things as people wanted to talk with me. I got treated like a celebrity.
I felt like the reason I was so attractive to them was because of American media making my culture popular to them. This also worked hand in hand with the Filipinos colonial mentality. It pains me to know that I am put on a pedestal just because of my ethnicity; but I used it for God’s glory as it made it easier to share the Gospel with people. I believe Christians should use the sinful attitudes of others and take advantage of such weaknesses in order to witness Christ and show the real way to live while showing disdain for such ignorance. I would often talk about how great Filipinos are, and how amazing the country is, and how beautiful their brown skin was. I remember one time I told a small girl that she was beautiful because she was so dark. All of the other girls were making fun of her and saying she was black and that it was not beautiful. In this way I made her feel better about herself while impacting the others girls thoughts about skin color. I think that is what Jesus Christ would have done.
My assessment of myself is that I was a learner, and a servant. I came with a great Intercultural Studies (ICS) education that prepared me to be open minded and learn from the culture instead of being the “ugly American” who knew everything. I served many people by helping them out with food, paying a water bill for a pastor, and looking out for the well being of the friends I made. It is not arrogant to claim such things either because it is by God’s initiative that I even have a heart to love others. Any good I did was because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and not my own corrupt flesh. I was a team player and tried my best to be easy to work with; even if the other team members were not so nice to me or caring. I believe that I was personally prepared for all aspects of my mission trip including dealing with uncaring team members. I prayed a lot for years before going on this trip about the Philippines which spiritually prepared me and I had ICS professors pray over me as well. I was emotionally prepared to go and had many people give me emotional support such as my family and friends. I was glad to leave and did not feel the need to be missing anyone. I was academically prepared because I had my entire ICS education to back me up and this was my last remaining course to obtain my degree. All of these preparations made my work in the Philippines easy and fun. I thank God for preparing me in such ways.
I did not have a lot of special communication problems while in the Philippines. The only one that is obvious is the fact that I cannot speak Tagalog much. I know a few phrases and it was enough to help me get what I needed. Most Filipinos, fortunately, speak English (even if it is broken). Most people were understandable with only a few who I could not decipher.
One experience of a communication problem I had was at Mega Mall in Metro Manila. I was on my own and ordering Filipino food at the food court and the Filipinas who were serving me were really impressed with me because I was an American, and they would giggle a lot. They also had thick accents so it was hard to understand what they meant and I had to have them repeat things. I looked stupid because I did not understand their English and I was afraid I was offending them. It turned out I was not. Apparently, in the Philippines using a tray is important at the mall food court for them because most people insisted on me having one when I ordered food. This time their pronunciation was off and I saw them pointing downward toward what seemed like a fried fish. I heard them in my mind saying “Free, free, free!” So I said, “What? Free?” and pointed at it and the girls said “Yes.” So then I said, “Uhh ok…” and I grabbed the fish and put it on my plate. Then they said, “You want that too? Okay!” and were going to charge me for it. I said that I did not want it and then they pointed below and I finally heard them say “tray.” Then I felt really bad and told them I did not want the fish and they were okay with it and took it back even though I touched it. I grabbed a tray and all was well. The other customers beside me were having an entertaining time watching me fumble around. They were staring at me while smiling and snickering the entire time so I was really embarassed.
There was also a small amount of non-verbal communication I had problems with. I knew all about it, but it was different experiencing it every second by people. In the Philippines most Filipinos raise their eye brows to agree with a person, say yes, or to show interest. In the United States this is either a sexual come on, or a challenge to fight. During the first few days I got confused, but I quickly realized what was going on because of my prior knowledge and adjusted myself properly. I even started to raise my eye brows sometimes, but still felt awkward.
This trip helped me gained a lot of insights on the character of God. Everything the Bible describes God as is true, and God is a truly loving God who protects the saints. God gives strength to many of His suffering children and they can persevere. Many of the Filipino Christians live hard lives and suffer, but they are full of the Holy Spirit and keep going forward. God is a God who works beyond national borders as well as cultural and ethnographic lines. God is working in the Philippines in different ways than He is in the U.S. I believe that there is a ripe harvest in the Philippines and many are going to accept Christ. There will be more quality Christians with sound doctrine. Many Filipinos are being trained in proper hermeneutics and taking other Bible courses from missionary theologians. The country is living in so much sin and is full of corruption and this keeps many people from living the truth out in their lives and there is a lack of proper biblical instruction. God is also a God of justice and wants to end the large amount of corruption in the Philippines. People there have much religion, but lack true faith in God’s grace. God is moving hearts to see the folly of man-made religious ordinances and works, and showing the glory and power in God’s grace to save them completely and freely. In this way I have seen more of the nature of God’s work in the world.
I believe that the church is a world-wide, multi-ethnic body of believers in all areas of social standing. There is no partiality with Christ and I see strong Christians living in poverty in the Philippines who are probably better Christians, more knowledgeable in the Bible, and more loving than some Christians in the United States, including pastors. This is not pointing the finger at white americans either, but many multi-ethnic people in the United States as well.
I also learned more about what it means to be a community of Christians. The church is not a building, as my pastor has been preaching in the Philippines during our trip, it is a community and people need to be involved in each others lives. There needs to be discipleship. God also does not care if you are rich or poor, and many of the poor pastors should not be judged for not speaking English as well as the rich or having what high class Filipinos call “sophisticated” culture.
My ICS Internship to the Philippines was the best time of my life and God continued to show me things about life, the world, Church, faith, culture, and myself. God is amazing and I love the culture of the Philippines. I now understand the way my lifestyle has changed, difficulties in adjustment I can work on, knowing myself by assessing myself, special communication skills I have learned and more I can learn, and how God works: His nature, and how He has built His church. This has been an amazing time and I think more people should experience the Philippines for themselves. Mabuhay Las Pilipinas!