As they say in the Philippines, happy “Ber” months! (Septem-BER, Octo-BER, Novem-BER, Decem-BER) All of the “Ber” months are officially Christmastime in the Philippines, so…Merry Christmas!
A strange “Ber-months” it is bound to be, as this strange year begins to come to its end. In the midst of all the strangeness, I am reminded of the many ways that God has shown His providential hand in my life and the lives of those around me.
The Philippines has been on lockdown, from the end of March up until now. People are only supposed to leave to buy essential goods. Those over 60 or under 21 are not allowed out. Many, many families have been out of work for over 6 months. A good number of these families found it hard to put food on the table during normal times; the quarantine has quickly wrung them dry of what little they had. Many of these hardworking people sought little ways to provide for their families, starting little makeshift fruit stands in the streets, offering to help with odd jobs, etc.
I think of some of our good friends, Niz and Jimmy, who normally run a small stand of fruit and vegetables on our street. Niz and Jimmy give us food every single day when we pass by: a few bananas, some spinach, whatever they have. This is incredibly generous, as they are not well-off. Being over 60, they have not been able to work during the pandemic. One day, about a month into the quarantine, we saw Niz in the street (she was “breaking out” for something). We were happy to see each other! As we were expressing our joy, Niz’s normal generosity surpassed itself by leaps and bounds, as she pulled out several cans of meat and vegetables and gave them to us. This poor woman hadn’t worked in over a month, and she was giving us food! We tried to politely refuse it, but she insisted: “This is a blessing from the Lord! Are you going to deny a blessing?” Well, how could we deny it after that! Wow. God was not only providing us with food for our bodies. He was providing us with food for our souls: This example of absolute humble generosity, an act of purely selfless love. God provides for us not only physically, but spiritually as well.
One of the hardest things for me during the quarantine was not being able to go to Mass and daily prayer in the church. As a missionary, we go to Mass every day and spend one hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament in silent prayer. This is the center of our entire life, the source of all that we do. Being deprived of this was a great sacrifice! One day, on my way back from the grocery store, I decided to “break” the rules a little bit and walk past the closed church. I approached the church and noticed that bars were blocking the entrance. Through the bars, I could see the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is kept: the first time I had been in the true presence of Jesus in months! I think someone was chopping loads of onions nearby, because my eyes began to water. After kneeling down and praying for a bit, lost in a longing desire to be back inside the church, I got up and snapped a picture of this ironic sight that I never imagined I would see: a church barred shut. As I prepared to take the picture, the lens focused first on the bars, the church behind it being obscured. But a few moments later, the lens refocused and found the tabernacle, blurring the bars in the foreground.
I felt God ask me in this moment: Are you focused on the bars, or on Me? During this pandemic, are you focused on the bad, or on Me? Are you focused on earth, or on heaven? – Boom. Not what I was expecting when taking a simple picture! But a very good reflection for all of us. What are we focused on in these times? On the “bars” that have been put up? Or on all the good that God is bringing about every day, in our lives and in the world? “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 1:3). Again, God providing me with much needed perspective.
One of the most tangible ways that the Lord has provided for our ministry is in providing new missionaries! We’ve been praying earnestly for this since last year, and the Lord responded in the most unexpected of times. Because of Covid, we began to worry that finding missionaries would be next to impossible. But just as our deadline for new missionaries began to approach, God sent us two beautiful and talented young ladies as missionaries! We were overjoyed. But still, we had been praying specifically for a male Filipino missionary who was a musician and good with video editing. And then, a man came forward who fit this exact description, and who was on fire to serve the Lord on mission! Our team of five have been working hard to form ourselves and prepare for the unexpectedness of this year. We have no idea how things are going to look for our mission, but we do know that God is going to use us to reach many Filipino youth! God always provides.
How is God providing for you? Physically? Relationally? Emotionally? Spiritually? It may come wrapped up in a very normal-looking package. But let’s not forget to “Set our minds on the things above” so that we can see His hand providing for everything we need. We may not know what these “Ber” months hold in store for us, but there is one thing that is sure, and that can fill us with hope: God always provides.
This article was written by Eric Crowley. Eric has been a missionary for Pure Heart Philippines since 2017.