Holiday Season in the Tropics

Several members of the Colvin family have been missing the traditional North American trappings of the holiday season — cold weather, sweaters, fireplaces, hot chocolate have all been mentioned. November in Davao is a lot like every other month of the year — perhaps a little bit cooler than May, but still hot (average high of 90°F year-round), palm trees, banana trees, and flowering bougainvillea everywhere. What is lacking in snow is more than made up for in holiday spirit, as you will find Christmas decorations up and Christmas music playing in public places from September on. The traditional Filipino paról (representing the star of Bethlehem) is seen everywhere, both the old-fashioned bamboo-and-paper lanterns and the more modern electric ones:


Electric paról for sale by the side of the road.

Chanukah came very early this year, even before American Thanksgiving. We brought Chanukah candles and a menorah with us to Davao, but somehow all our dreidels got lost in the move.


Hosanna lights the first Chanukah candle. (Isaiah has been convinced that shirts are optional since our first week in the Philippines)

Ever inventive, Isaiah (almost 8) managed to create a functional, spinning dreidel out of lego!


Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of… lego!

Instead of the hebrew letters, nun, gimel, hay, and shin, he used four lego-man heads: a smiling face, a “neutral” face, a frowning face, and a skull.


Lego dreidel really spins!

We made latkes and applesauce, a rare treat since potatoes and apples are both expensive here. Actually, the cheapest potatoes are little marble-sized ones that would probably cost five times as much as the big baking potatoes in the states, but they aren’t so great for peeling and grating!


Ezekiel approves of the latkes.

The missionaries associated with the birth center (over 60 of us!) all celebrated American Thanksgiving together with a big potluck. I volunteered to bring cranberry sauce — which I had seen several times in cans at our usual grocery store. I knew there would be a hefty “imported food” markup, but I neglected to plan ahead and consider that every expat in town would be buying traditional fixings the week before Thanksgiving and ended up hunting for several hours through multiple grocery stores until I finally found some, in glass jars packaged in the UK!


Cranberry sauce imported from the UK for American Thanksgiving in the Philippines!

We’ve held off on decorating for Christmas so far despite the local feeling that the “the Christmas season includes every month that ends in -ber” but tomorrow we’ll be lighting both Chanukah and advent candles with the kids and putting up decorations. Hosanna is very enamored of the paróls and asks me buy one every time we pass one of the (many) roadside stands; we may need to adopt them as part of our family’s tradition even when we’re no longer in Davao.

Even as we are celebrating and feasting we are very aware that just a few hundred miles north of us, millions of people have been displaced by super-typhoon Yolanda, losing family members, homes and livelihoods. Several of our friends have been or are currently involved in relief efforts in the affected areas. One writes, “everywhere looks like a bomb went off but great sense of positivity down here. People are really doing their best with the tiny bit they have.” The resiliency and optimism of the Filipino spirit is truly incredible. Please continue to pray for those affected by the typhoon and those working on relief and rebuilding, and give as you are able.

Random Photos from October and November


Pastor Vic and Matt with their Greek New Testaments. Two Biblical language nerds.


Naomi saw this comical gecko-themed bag at Faith Academy.


Naomi having fun at the Faith Academy Carnival. She’s a bit unclear on the concept of limbo, I think.


Hosanna kissing a prince at the same carnival.


Hosanna with a baby from night shift at the clinic.

The First Year of Greek

Tomorrow morning, I will go to Copy Center in Victoria Plaza mall to drop off a PDF of James Turney Allen’s The First Year of Greek. This is the Greek book I have used for 8 years now with high school students. Starting in December, I will be using it with two pastors, three elders, and a pastor’s son. Copy Center will reproduce any book without asking questions about copyright. But my conscience is clean, because Allen’s book is from 1917 and in the public domain now. It’s also a very good book!


We foolishly sent out our monthly newsletter the night before Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda here) made landfall in the Philippines. At 5:00 AM on Friday, the weather radar showed this:


We are the red pin.

Yet outside, the leaves on the trees were still. The rest of the day, all that happened was a 6 mph breeze, a light drizzle, and some pleasantly cool temperatures. We felt rather guilty enjoying them while the rest of the country north of us was being hammered by the typhoon. So, for all those who have asked — and we have been flooded with anxious requests from loving friends and supporters — we are all safe and sound. We thank God, and we thank you for your prayers.

We have spoken with many of our friends, and do not know of anyone who has lost loved ones to the storm. Our pastor here, Pr. Vic, reported that his brother’s house was destroyed, and his mother in Manila lost the roof off her kitchen, but that none of his relatives were injured. I would be surprised, however, if that is true of all our Filipino friends with family in other cities.

The loss and devastation facing the affected areas is very great. We would encourage our readers who would like to contribute to relief and recovery efforts to donate to MEANS, an evangelical relief and development charity run by Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.

We are once again humbled and awed by the spirit of the Filipino people, who bear adversity with cheerfulness and diligence. Please pray for the victims, their families, and the recovery efforts.

Prenatal clinic


Praying with the pregnant patients.

Around 7 am, the pregnant women start to line up outside the birth center. Less than 60 is a “slow day” for prenatals; if we have more appointments than usual because there was a holiday the previous week there may be over 100. Monday is intake day for new patients, we do health histories and dozens and dozens of tetanus toxoid injections. Thursday is for our outreach clinics and BCG (tuberculosis) vaccination for newborns.  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday we do prenatal check ups for the hundreds of women who will give birth here each month. The women’s names are recorded in the logbook in the order they arrived and their charts are pulled from the huge filing cabinet.

Our support staff and midwives gather for staff devotions and prayer at 7:45. Then we all move to the prenatal room and sing a few praise songs (usually in Cebuano, sometimes English) and pray with the pregnant patients. One of the midwives then gives a health teaching for the patients – topics include labor and delivery, nutrition, family planning, fetal development, and breastfeeding. After that, the prenatal check-ups begin.

Each mother is weighed, and her blood pressure and pulse are checked. We measure bellies, palpate for the position of the baby, and listen to fetal heart tones. We ask about warning signs and screen for risk factors, read lab results, teach and answer questions. And we pray with each patient individually before she goes home.


Listening to baby’s heartbeat.