Karen A. Gerero
CFC SFL District of Cubao
My prayer for the year 2014 is very simple: I asked the Lord for the grace of serenity. Mundane it may seem, I can honestly say that it is one of the most appreciated blessing considering that our family has been through a lot of trials in the past. The worst of it all occurred sometime in October 2012 when Mama got sick and suffered a mild stroke.
While we are truly thankful that she survived, I cannot deny the fact that her sickness caused the seemingly endless “drain” of our family’s resources. For us, 2013 was the year of suffering. Personal dreams were put to a sudden halt, almost all of our properties were liquidated, and individual savings were all used up to meet her medical needs. To top it all, our relationship as a family was tested almost every day. There were times that hope unfortunately faltered thus causing hearts to be broken beyond belief. Truly, ours was a classic story of “when it rains, it pours”.
Yet, the Lord is steadfast. He was with us in every step of the way. At the end of 2013, we were able to slowly recuperate from our financial woes. Mama gradually regained her strength and is now able to attend Sunday masses and weekly household meetings.
With these recent developments, my heart started to long for a much needed vacation – away from the worries of work and daily struggles as a young employee in Manila. After a year of working almost everyday to support the family’s needs, I imagined myself frolicking in beaches and having long walks with my closest friends or perhaps allotting a whole day to sports and intimate bonding but none of the stressful cerebral discussions. Although the nature of my work requires constant bodily presence in the office, I was insistent on my prayer for a good break.
When I was invited to join mission trips abroad, I did not seriously consider the same. I know for a fact that it is very difficult to secure a three-day vacation leave hence a week-long absence (for a mission trip) is truly frowned upon in our office. Little did I know that the Lord has already set the ball rolling for me.
Sometime in February 2014, the Lord has offered me the opportunity to enhance myself, career-wise. Since it entails a long leave of absence from work, I proposed a reasonable contingency plan to my boss that is both beneficial to the firm and to me. He approved my plan and even allowed me to undergo a month-long discernment for me to know if I am really ready, physically and emotionally, to avail of such opportunity.
While I was busy planning where to spend my break, the invite to go on a foreign mission presented itself for the second time. Full Time Workers and Mission Volunteers often say that the Lord will make things possible, all He needed is a heart that is ready for mission. Thinking that this is the right time for me to finally have that vacation, I gave my YES to Him.
Thereafter, things happened really fast. I have no money – my boss gave me a considerable amount of money (in the form of bonus) for no reason. Plane tickets were expensive – a local airline hosted a promo on discounted fares. I have no credit card – a friend offered to me her card thus ensuring the purchases necessary for the trip on the spot yet giving me more time to save up and settle the bill after a month. In few hours time, I am all set to Vietnam and Cambodia.
I was so excited! It was my very first out of the country trip and I truly feel that the Lord has finally granted my prayer to have a meaningful vacation.
Yet, my excitement slowly died down the moment we were told that no one would fetch us from Tan Son Nhat Airport in Vietnam. Considering further that the Indochina Mission Team was in Cambodia at that time, my mission buddy and I had to cross borders on our own. Worse, the bus bound for Cambodia was scheduled to leave Vietnam five hours after our arrival. Therefore, we had no other choice but to stay at the airport otherwise we would be wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City during the wee hours of the morning of April 5.
Imagine our discomfort! From beating our respective work deadline on a Friday and braving the heavy Manila traffic in a mad dash to the airport during rush hour to a frantic late night flight to Vietnam, all we needed is a warm bed to rest our tired bodies. On the contrary, we found ourselves in the waiting area of an airport of a foreign country which ground temperature is palpably hotter than Manila. We took turns in sleeping in steel chairs because the surrounding circumstances compelled us to be extremely cautious. In all honesty, I thought language barrier was my major concern in this mission trip. I was wrong – it was the weather.
I know I am doing God’s work but it was very hot. I know that our hosts are very kind but it was very hot. I know that our community members were so happy to see us but then again, it was super hot. As a matter of fact, I develop a big rash in my neck due to excessive sweating. It was so painful and was further aggravated by the heat. For a while, I considered that I should have opted to stay home rather than go through such difficult ordeal.
I told the Lord: “this is not what I signed for”. Yes, I wanted to go on a mission trip but it wouldn’t hurt to mix “business with pleasure” right? Deep inside, I was crying and feeling disappointed. And it is only Day 1 of our trip.
I had a feeling that the Lord did not hear my prayer for “rest and recreation”. For me, it is as if He has failed to recognize that I have been suffering for so long and I do not deserve to be in a very uncomfortable situation. But what can I do? In order to divert my attention, I forced myself to focus on the talks given by my fellow missionaries during the scheduled Vineyard Retreat for SFLs in Cambodia.
That is the time when the Lord spoke to me personally. I realized that it was part of His divine plan for me to be born to a set of imperfect parents who truly values the essence of family. I have learned that my struggles and failures are His ways of “pruning” me so that I may become a better person. As His servant, I am requested to heed the call so that I will be able to bear “fruits” which are not only life giving and but are truly acceptable to the Vine Grower himself.
Despite the fact that I have already attended a Vineyard Retreat in our district, I am amazed by the reality that it was in Cambodia that I was able to recognize the importance of resting my faith unto His wisdom and plans. The extreme discomfort I had experienced was His way of getting my attention so that my eyes will be fixed in Him alone. The thought that my Father has been patiently waiting for me to cast my burdens upon Him caused me to shed uncontrollable tears, both of joy and of relief.
My spiritual reformation continued in Vietnam. I am so blessed to have met individuals who, despite the language barrier, were able to express their unwavering passion in serving the Lord and the community. Our Vietnamese brethren taught me the essence of humility through their culture of painstakingly removing one’s shoes or slippers before entering a particular house as a sign of respect to the owner thereof. This is a clear manifestation that even the most educated person must kneel before the One who considers us as His own.
With this, I can finally conclude that, indeed, my prayer for a simple vacation was “denied”.
Instead of frolicking in beaches, He allowed me to experience an amazing river cruise in Cambodia with my extended “family” while exchanging meaningful stories and longings for home.
Instead of long walks with friends, the Lord gave me the opportunity to explore the majestic Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap (and the other temples therein) with my fellow missionaries who I now consider as my long-lost “siblings”.
Instead of hotel accommodation, He blessed me with generous host families in Cambodia and Vietnam. Some of them personally asked to meet me while others are unabashedly proud of me. Most of all, these persons (without regard to their own needs and work responsibilities) always greeted me with sumptuous Filipino meals and made beds no matter what time of the day is – just like what Papa and Mama do every time I come home.
Instead of a day devoted to sports, He allowed me to experience playing with the young children of our community (who are still reciting my name until this very day) for me to appreciate the importance of being “child-like” when it comes to our faith.
Instead of usual adventures, I was able to experience the exhilarating thrill of riding a motorcycle in Vietnam alongside several others who are always in a rush to reach their destination.
Instead of meeting new friends, the Lord gave me a new set of “international” Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, and even nephews and nieces who all accepted me as family. Our relationship is strongly anchored on the universal love of the Lord coupled with broken English and hilarious hand gestures for communication. Most of them were teary eyed when we were about to go home and some are still expressing their concern on my well being even if I am already here in Manila.
As I have said, I only prayed for the grace of serenity (with a simple vacation on the side) to start my 2014. Yet the Lord has flooded me with so much love that He did not only healed my wounded heart but has also prepared me to become a better and efficient worker in His vineyard. I left the country feeling empty but I came back overflowing with immeasurable blessings, both tangible and intangible.
I am happy to be home. I now am ready to stand as witness of the Lord’s unwavering faithfulness and generosity. But I know that in God’s time, I will be back because I left a portion of my heart in the warm and beautiful countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
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