Prayer request – immigration paperwork

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Being a missionary requires filling out lots of forms and always having a large supply of 2×2 headshots…

UPDATE: Thank you for praying! Everything has worked out. (May 7)

One of the less pleasant realities of living overseas is dealing with the bureaucracy and paperwork for immigration. Before we moved to the Philippines, in preparation for applying for our missionary visas, we needed to have all of our birth certificates and our marriage certificate “authenticated,” first by the local civil authority where each document was issued and then by the Philippine consulate with jurisdiction over the area where each document was issued. For our family that meant spending several months gathering paperwork from two states, two Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and four different Philippine consulates. Then when we arrived in the Philippines, a few more months were spent gathering and notarizing the additional paperwork (in triplicate) needed to apply for our “9g” missionary visas and then waiting for the visas to be approved. While waiting, we needed to pay a fairly hefty fee to renew our visitor visas every two months. Everything went smoothly, if not as quickly as we might have hoped, and our 9g visas were approved last May 3 and stamped in our passports in June.

Then things began to go wrong, though we remained in blissful ignorance of the fact for many months. Our application for alien certifiate of registration ID cards (or ACR I-cards) was sent from the Davao immigration office to the central office in Manila. We were told the cards would probably take about two months to be processed and arrive back in Davao. We waited… and waited… but each time we checked with the Davao immigration office, we were told the cards were still in process in Manila and that this delay was not unusual.

Then in December, Matt went back to Ohio for his ordination and Father Manto’s consecration as a Bishop. Leaving the country would have been a fairly straightforward matter if he had been in possession of an I-card at the time, but because his I-card had not yet been issued, when Matt returned to the Philippines after his short trip back to the US his 9g missionary visa was “downgraded” back to a 9a visitor visa.

It would take far too long (and would make extremely boring reading) to detail all that we have gone through in trying to correct this problem. To make a long story short, it involved many hours of stress and headaches, many many visits to the Bureau of Immigration by us here in Davao and the agent we hired to represent us in Manila, and up until this week it appeared that we had become stuck in a continuous loop from which there was no escape. Our I-card applications, sent from Davao to Manila, had mysteriously disappeared and never been entered into the computer system or processed. An I-card was required in order for Matt’s passport to be ammended from 9a visitor status back to 9g missionary status. Meanwhile, our one-year visas were going to expire on May 3. We had our applications for renewal (photo above) all ready to submit in March before I left for Leyte, but immigration would not accept them because the principal applicant (Matt) had had his visa downgraded…

Many of you have prayed faithfully for a solution to our paperwork woes over the last many months, for which we are very thankful. On Monday (yesterday), we had given up hope and resigned ourselves to the idea that we would have to start over from the beginning again… Then — wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! — our agent in Manila texted incredible news. Our I-cards had been issued. Matt’s passport was being stamped with the correct stamp, and would be sent to us in Davao by courier that very afternoon.

This was amazing and unexpected news. But we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Our visas expire on May 3 — Saturday — and Thursday and Friday are holidays during which the Bureau of Immigration will be closed. The courier package with Matt’s passport in it just arrived this afternoon (Tuesday), and we plan to take all our renewal paperwork in tomorrow (Wednesday). Please pray that our renewal goes smoothly, with no lost documents, and that we’re granted the 2-year visas that we’re requesting. Also, Matt needs to travel again in June to go to the Reformed Episcopal Church’s General Council which is held once every three years. There is no chance that our new visas, much less our new I-cards, will be issued before he leaves, so he is applying for a “grace period waiver” to allow him to leave the country without an I-card. The waiver application must be submitted after our visa renewal application is received by the Bureau of Immigration but before our I-cards expire, so everything really needs to go smoothly tomorrow — the last day that the immigration office will be open before our visas expire. Please pray that the “grace period waiver” is granted in a timely fashion and that we have no further problems because of his travel! Thank you so much for your faithful prayer support.

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Sora’s month in Leyte – Part 2 – Rebuilding Local Capacity

(See Part 1 here.)

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Midwife Maricel with her youngest daughter.

Of all the Filipina midwives I worked with in Dulag, Maricel was one of the hardest to get to know. I saw quickly that she was extremely hardworking and responsible as well as being one of the most knowledgeable and experienced midwives on our team, but she was shy and a little mistrustful of foreigners. After several weeks of working together, she opened up and I learned more about her family and her experiences during the disaster. Like the other residents of coastal Leyte, which is no stranger to typhoons, Maricel was taken by surprise by the force of Yolanda. (Back in November, Philippine president Aquino told reporters “nobody imagined the magnitude that this super typhoon brought on us” and this was certainly true of everyone I spoke to.) Maricel, her husband and her daughters were in Dulag when Yolanda made landfall but her teenaged son, who attends school an hour away in Tacloban, was not with them. Communications were cut off after the storm and the roads were impassable. It would be more than a week before the separated members of the family knew that all had survived. Maricel and her family were among the fortunate: there were no fatalities in the immediate family and they lived far enough inland that they did not lose everything they owned. Even so, picking up the pieces and putting their lives back together was a daunting and difficult task.

The “birth camp” where I volunteered was funded and directed by outside (foreign) donors. In the immediate aftermath of supertyphoon Yolanda, numerous NGOs came to provide temporary health care services in the affected areas, and these services were desperately needed. The local clinics and hospitals had been damaged or destroyed, medical supplies and equipment were washed away, and the local doctors, nurses, and midwives were themselves typhoon survivors who had lost homes, possessions, and family members. However, foreign assistance for necessary health care is a temporary, immediate-post-disaster-relief strategy that becomes much less appropriate in the recovery and rebuilding phase. Restoring locally directed health care services is necessary for a community to return to normal.

During my time in Leyte, I saw firsthand some of the detrimental unintended consequences of having foreigners providing (free) health care. Prior to typhoon Yolanda, every barangay (village or district) had a Rural Health Unit providing midwifery care for low-risk births as well as other health care (each RHU also had an ambulance for transport to a higher level facility (hospital) when needed). In most barangays, there were also several privately owned “lying-in clinics” (birth centers) accredited by PhilHealth, the national health care plan. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Philippine government adopted an “all-avail PhilHealth” policy for citizens affected by typhoon Yolanda. This meant that everyone in the disaster area was eligible to receive PhilHealth coverage for needed services, regardless of whether they had previously paid the premiums normally required for coverage. Prenatal care, birth, and postpartum and newborn care at any PhilHealth accredited facility (either a hospital or lying-in clinic) was among the covered services.

Because our organization gave out “freebies” to patients both at prenatal checkups and when they gave birth (food and vitamin supplements, baby clothes and blankets, tarps), patients came to us to get prenatal care and give birth in our tent-clinic even when they had to pass multiple functioning birth centers on the way to our facility. In fact, on more than one occasion pregnant women arrived who had traveled up to two hours or even more, sometimes from areas that were not even affected by the typhoon. Midwives who had run privately-owned PhilHealth accredited birth centers in the area prior to Yolanda were losing patients and income because their patients were coming to us. In some cases, the patients were not aware of the PhilHealth “all-avail” policy and believed they would have to pay for care at the local clinics; in other cases, they just didn’t want to miss out on the “freebies” that we were giving away.

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Maricel’s clinic building after the typhoon. The clinic is on the first floor; the second story was where her family lived. They are now living in the kitchen area behind the clinic. In addition to the wall and roof damage, their water-pressure tank was destroyed when a neighbor’s wall collapsed.

Maricel, owned her own birth center in another barangay of Dulag about 20 minutes away. Maricel’s clinic was still open for business despite the building having sustained significant damage from Yolanda. She came to work for the birth camp in San Jose school because “all her patients were coming here” and without patients she had no income to pay for the operating costs of her own birth center (professional fees, business license, etc.)

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Maricel’s youngest daughter “out back” at the laundry/kitchen area behind her clinic.

After discussing the issue with the project manager for the birth camp, we encouraged Maricel to talk to patients from her barangay who came for prenatal care at the birth camp, making sure that they knew her clinic was open and that care there was free under the “all-avail PhilHealth” policy, and encouraging  them to transfer their care to her much closer birth center. Before Yolanda, Maricel’s clinic had usually had 8-10 births every month. She had had only four deliveries total during the first three months of 2014, but after she started “recruiting” patients from the birth camp, there were four births at her birth center in the first two weeks of April (before I returned to Davao… hopefully there have been more by now!) She is hoping to continue to increase her patient load to the point that she can stop working at the birth camp and focus on her own clinic.

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Maricel with a new mother at her clinic.

When I visited Maricel’s clinic I was impressed at how clean, organized and inviting it was despite the typhoon damage. She had obviously worked very hard to keep her clinic open and functional after losing the top half of her building (which served as her family’s living quarters.) However, every time it rained water would leak from the roofless second story into the clinic in numerous places, requiring buckets in the hallway and causing significant ceiling damage.

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Water damage and mold on the ceiling of the delivery room in Maricel’s clinic.

The estimated cost to repair the roof and damaged second-story walls and replace the water-pressure tank is a little over $2000 USD. Maricel has struggled to keep her clinic open since typhoon Yolanda and coming up with the funds for the repairs is completely beyond her family’s means. Aside from the ongoing damage to the clinic ceiling every time it rains and the loss of the family’s living space, the obvious damage to the outside of the building has been a deterrent to potential patients who were not aware the clinic was still open. (Maricel’s husband has since erected a large sign making clear that the clinic is open for business and also advising residents that they can get free care at the clinic due to the “all-avail PhilHealth” policy.)

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With Maricel outside her clinic building.

Contributing to the repair of Maricel’s clinic will both directly help a family return to an independent livelihood after typhoon Yolanda and also ensure ongoing maternal-child health services in a low-resource area of rural Leyte. To give online, click this link and select “Special Project.”  100% of donations received will go toward either Maricel’s clinic repair or to the second clinic repair project (Cumpio clinic in Tanuan, Leyte) which I will post about shortly. I intend to post “after pictures” of the clinic when repairs have been completed.

Sora’s month in Leyte – Part 1 – Introduction

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Local children playing on the beach in San Jose, Dulag.

It’s been difficult to know how to begin to write about the month I spent volunteering at a makeshift birth center in the town of Dulag on the island of Leyte, ground zero for last November’s super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). This first post will be a sort of introduction / overview and I’ll write later, in more detail and with more pictures, about specific events and people.

I’ve now heard many first-person accounts from survivors and relief workers who were there in the early weeks after the disaster. I’ve seen many photos and videos of the immediate aftermath. But it is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around the sheer scale of the devastation. By the time I arrived in Tacloban airport on March 15, more than four months after Yolanda, recovery and rebuilding was well underway. Evidence of the typhoon’s damage was everywhere, events were referred to as “before Yolanda” or “after Yolanda” and many people were still living in donated tents or under tarps with the donor organization’s name emblazoned in large letters. But the area had clearly settled into a “new normal.” New construction here and there denoted those who could afford to rebuild. A brisk new trade in the manufacture and sale of concrete blocks and the recycling of bent and damaged metal roofing was evident. Roadside stands offered an ever-increasing variety of produce, heaps of sprouted coconuts waiting to be planted to replace the thousands of lost trees could be seen by the roadsides, and some of the gardens that had been replanted “after Yolanda” were ready for harvest.

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Many plants grow incredibly quickly in the tropics, but the coconut trees will take many years to replace.

The town of Dulag is about an hour’s drive south of Tacloban, down the eastern coast of Leyte island. It was in the “eye of the storm” and while the incredible winds of the strongest typhoon to make landfall in recorded history did a lot of damage, Dulag did not experience the same devastating storm surge that caused thousands of fatalities in Palo, Tanuan, and Tacloban itself. The big wave (higher than the coconut trees, according to witnesses) went north up the coast rather than directly inland.

The clinic where I was volunteering was set up in early December. Tents were erected inside the large assembly room of a local elementary school because the building had lost its roof and a solar suitcase was used for lighting. By the time I arrived, we had electricity and the roof had been repaired, but we were still using tents because they were convenient room dividers and allowed a semblance of privacy. The volunteers slept in tents at one end of the long hall. There was a tent for medical supplies, a tent with two beds in it that served as the “delivery room”, and an L-shaped three-room tent with cots in it for mothers and babies to stay postpartum. If we had more patients than room in the tents, we set up extra cots for them wherever we could.

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School canteen, battered by Yolanda and no longer in use.

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Another damaged school building, looking out from the clinic toward the highway. The ocean is barely visible between the buildings and broken coconut palms.

In addition to volunteers from the US, New Zealand, and Europe, we had a great team of Filipino staff: six lovely midwives, a nurse who ran a sort of “urgent-care clinic” six mornings a week out of a Unicef tent set up outside next to the school playground, administration and support staff who took very good care of us. Most of these (except for the project manager) were local residents. The school building is right off the Pan-Philippine highway (more of a quiet country road at that point) and the beach is just across the road.

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The Filipina midwives pose in our prenatal area (behind them is the tent for postpartum patients.)

School in the Philippines runs from June through March; April and May are the summer vacation months. So when I arrived San Jose Central school was still in session. The school administration was incredibly gracious about having a full-scale birth center on the premises and the children were charming, friendly, and extremely interested in us, peeking at us through the windows and doors from early in the morning until late in the evening. Despite the extreme damage to the school building and the surrounding community, there had been no fatalities in the student population during the typhoon (largely because the barangay of San Jose had been spared the deadly storm surge) and the students ended their year on time, having only missed a few days of school because of Yolanda.

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In the doorway are Soichi and Tricia, two of our little friends whom we saw almost every day.

During some of my free-time while in Dulag, I reread When Helping Hurts (kindle edition on my phone) and sadly I saw more than one real life violation of the principles of “helping without hurting.” Immediate disaster relief work is stressful, intense, and difficult. Navigating the transition from relief to rebuilding is complex, challenging, and fraught with opportunities for unintended consequences. I learned a lot during my time in Leyte. While preparing for my trip, I solicited donations to help with buying supplies for the birth center where I would be working, and was able to use these to fill a suitcase, out of which much (especially baby hats and blankets) was distributed to the families of some of the 87 babies born while I was there. I quickly became convinced that, helpful as it was to the families we were caring for to have a place to come for a safe, gentle birth, it was more important for the community as a whole to work on restoring the health care infrastructure that had existed before the typhoon … and that our very presence as foreigners, giving away “freebies”, in many ways created a disincentive for that to happen. I realized that in order to make the greatest positive impact during my time in Leyte, my focus needed to be on supporting and assisting the local midwives I was working with in any way I could.

To be continued…

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday. The kids are in bed, and I have a quiet hour or two before I need to pick Sora up from a 10-hour swing shift. She worked a little “overtime”, starting an hour and a half early to allow a Filipina midwife who was supervising the previous shift to leave early and attend Good Friday services.

In the morning I went to church to gave my talk on atonement in Luke at UCRC. The streets were impressively deserted by traffic; it almost seemed like North America at non-rush hour times. After my talk, I enjoyed a men’s group study on growth in godliness and the pitfalls of legalism and antinomianism, taught by Pastor Vic. Then I came home and took the girls to the clinic with their mother. They are quite an amusing sight in their kid-sized scrubs and backpacks, marching into the clinic like they know what they’re doing. (Don’t be fooled by their confidence: sure, they’ve been there before, and they know the drill, but they are not midwives, scrubs notwithstanding.)

Update on Bible Teaching

Sorry for the slow month of blogging; Sora has been gone since mid-March in Dulag, Leyte. I have seen her photos as they come in on my iOS Photostream, but I have assured her that I will leave them for her to blog. She returns tomorrow, so maybe she’ll put up something exciting and midwifery-related then.

I’ve been keeping busy too: Faith Academy is entering the last month of the school year, and I am pressing to finish Dante’s Inferno with the juniors and seniors in my Epic literature class. The 10th grade New Testament class will finish Romans this week – conveniently, because I have been teaching it to my adults at UCRC’s Bible study as well. My work isn’t as photogenic as Sora’s. If you’ve seen one shot of me lecturing in front of a whiteboard, you’ve seen them all. Here’s my lectern in the Faith Academy NT class: tiny center-column reference edition NKJV, and slightly bigger Biblia Graeca (LXX + NA28 in one binding) perched together on one lectern.

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The Biblia Graeca is a delight to use for teaching and study: the marginal apparatus of loci citati vel allegati is the best in the business, far more comprehensive and enlightening than most cross-references in most English translations, and with the added benefit of having the LXX from which the quotations and echoes are derived right there in the same binding. This was the Bible I received from the hand of Bishop Daniel Morse at my ordination last December.

It has been a great semester for rethinking Romans and Pauline theology: after 5 months, I’m nearing the end of N.T. Wright’s magnum opus Paul and the Faithfulness of God. My thinking was also helped by Andrew Perriman’s The Future of the People of God. I am very thankful for ebooks: Logos Library also picked me as a reviewer for their Anglican Silver package, so now I have access to a lot of books that would be difficult to find here in Davao City.

The Romans class at UCRC has been very well attended, with new folks joining from week to week, including two more since this photo was taken:

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Comments from the participants have been very appreciative: they are finding that a covenantal, narratival, and historical perspective on Paul helps them make sense of other passages of Scripture and see the big picture better. In my view, this is one of the most needed things here in the Philippines, and people who love Jesus are hungry for it.

I’ve also received word that my application to teach at Koinonia Theological Seminary (a Methodist-affiliated evangelical seminary here in Davao City) has now been put before the board of that institution for consideration.

My Greek class and Latin class are on break for Holy Week, but will resume next week.