Immigration and the Mall

Today we had an appointment at Immigration at 9:00 AM. This was to be the day we finally got our I-9 visas. We brought all the kids down to the Immigration office, about a quarter mile away from our house. The NBA finals were on a TV in the waiting room. We got to see the whole thing. Unfortunately, not even Ezekiel was interested in the game (he likes to play basketball, but not to watch it). So the kids were bored:


After about an hour and a half, we were invited back and made small talk with an official who asked us what mission we were with, and identified each of our kids. He signed some papers.

And more papers. And more papers. Visas for a family of 6 means a lot of papers for everyone at Immigration:


An hour later, it was time for fingerprinting, a messy process:


At this point, we needed to go to Victoria Plaza Mall to make a bunch of photocopies of various forms and print new Visa photos of each of us. We got the photos at a tiny shop:


Hosanna decided to hide behind her mother while Sora was being photographed:


Then, after a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, we parted ways: Sora went to get the forms copied, while I took the kids to the toy section of Victoria department store. I told the kids they could each get something, provided it was less than 100 pesos. Our kids are so stereotypical. Ezekiel and Isaiah looked at toy weapons, Lego, and remote control helicopters. Hosanna and Naomi looked at dolls:


There were some pretty amusing toys at Victoria. The kids and I had recently watched Toy Story 3, so we were amused to find Lotso among the stuffed animals. There was also a very cool plush Yoda in bodhisattva pose. Isaiah, however, was more interested in the squirrel on the same shelf, probably because of his memories of Jack-Jack, pet squirrel of our friend Erin.


There are certain benefits to being in a country that doesn’t enforce trademarks very well. One is that you can buy faux Nike basketball shoes for cheap. Another is that you can get Batman, Superman, the Incredible Hulk, and the Avengers all in the same package, without shelling out for separate DC and Marvel merchandise:


In the end, Ezekiel got some batteries for a remote control car he already owned. Isaiah and Naomi got small bags of marbles, and Hosanna opted for a silver tiara bedecked with blue jewels. It will probably break by next Monday.

Sora still wasn’t quite finished, so the younger three kids got one ride on the carousel while Ezekiel stood outside the railing and mocked in the way only a superior elder brother can.


Rejoining Sora, we returned to Immigration — no small feat crossing busy four-lane JP Laurel with four kids, dodging jeepneys as though in a game of Frogger. Once across the street, we discovered that Immigration’s photo system was down for the day, so they wouldn’t be able to produce our I-cards today. So we’ll have to come back to get those. They will allow us to get drivers’ licenses and open a Filipino bank account, thus avoiding a bunch of fees every time we get money at an ATM (hitherto the only way to do it).

Upshot: we are now legal for the next year, and don’t need to file for renewal until February.

Thanks for your prayers!

Driving in Davao City

This past Sunday as we left church, our friend Pastor Vic came out of the building to see us off.

“Matthew! Are you driving?”

I did not deny, but confessed, “Yes, I am.”

With a wide and mischievous smile, he replied, “I will pray for you!”

“Thank you,” I answered, “I will need it.”

The drive to church was the first trip we had made in the car we had taken possession of the previous afternoon. That same Sunday in the evening, I parked the car to play tennis with some friends, and got back in to find it would not start. I had left the headlights on and played a few too many sets (OK, it was 7 sets). I needed a jump start, and another one the next day. I joked that God had answered Pastor Vic’s prayers on our behalf, since doubtless if I had been able to drive home when I wanted to, I would have ended up in an accident. (Since then, all has been smooth sailing. Please pray along with Pastor Vic that it would continue to be so.)

My first two trips in the car, I did not use the horn. I remarked to Sora that this was proof that I did not yet know how to drive properly in the Philippines. Since then, I have begun to tootle regularly whenever I want to let someone know that I am coming along into a space that they appear to be thinking about occupying. In the USA, one uses a horn to indicate outrage or to warn of an impending crash. Fits of road rage and offended looks follow. In Davao, it is simply a polite way to say, “Here I am, and I want to make sure you’ve noticed me, so we can both be safe,” and no one thinks anything of it.

Despite all this trepidation about driving, Sora turned to me yesterday while we were in the car together and remarked, “Driving here is actually not bad at all, because everything is moving slowly. You never go faster than 20 or 30 mph.” That is indeed the thing that keeps us safe: there is time to anticipate and react; time to judge the approach and intention of other vehicles.

I am mostly commuting back and forth to Faith Academy Mindanao, which involves two fairly busy intersections without stoplights. As one of our fellow missionaries explained it, “Traffic that is already going through the intersection has a virtual “green light”: the light remains green for them as long as their train of cars is going through; but when their cars stop, the light turns green for someone else.” In other words, “It just flows.”


The car is driving quite sweetly. It’s a 2001 Toyota Revo, rear wheel drive. It has a good suspension and plenty of ground clearance, which is important for handling potholes, rocks, and “sleeping policemen.” Our carport has a very steep entrance, and requires a very sharp left turn at the end of the drive. In order to make egress easier, we have taken to turning right into the opposite carport, then backing into our own driveway. We’re getting better at it, but a couple of times, we have had to start over a take a running start to overcome the steep grade and resulting wheelspin.

Traffic Davao

Once on the streets, our Revo becomes part of the flow of Davao traffic. It is a very colorful and diverse vehicle population. I have read complaints about Jeepneys, which are antiquated, slow, and emit untold pollution. Yet they are certainly picturesque and humorous. One particularly well-decorated one had the biggest Mercedes emblem its owner could find mounted on its front grille; Scuderia Ferrari shields on the flanks behind the front fenders; and a Porsche badge on the back. (I’m pretty sure that if I gave the operator a Lamborghini badge, he would find a place for it as well.) Here are some others. Not my photos, but they give a pretty good idea of Jeepney style. As you can see, “subdued” and “reserved” are not really in it:



Some are painted deep purple like the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. Others are pepto-bismol pink (a frequent color for buildings here also).


Alongside the Jeepneys are even slower vehicles: tricycabs. These are motorcycles with large frames and sidecars welded on to transport passengers — sometimes 6 or more! With so much weight taxing a little two-stroke bike engine, these vehicles crawl, and they are accordingly near the bottom of the totem pole on the road, staying to the side and getting out of the way when larger vehicles “tootle them with vigor.” At P7-15 per trip, depending on how far you’re going, tricycabs are much cheaper than taxis (P40 just to sit down in one, plus P3.5 per 500 meters of distance traveled) –but usually more expensive than Jeepneys (a few P per ride). Meanwhile, real motorcycles (without extra frames or sidecars) zip around and through traffic faster than anything else.

All this is just part of the culture. It’s not better than American traffic, nor worse. Just different. We’ve been told that after about 6 months, the differences will start to tell on us, and we will go into culture fatigue and be catatonic for a few days. I’m hoping it won’t be that bad. Nothing else has been so far!

This is the way we wash our clothes…

A family of six makes a fairly significant amount of laundry, so one of our top priorities on moving into our rental house was getting our newly purchased washing machine functioning.

In Ohio, I had a spiffy expensive extra-large-capacity front-loading washer, along with a matching dryer. Just about everywhere I lived before that, I had the typical American top-loading automatic washing machine and, of course, a dryer. In the Philippines, most clothes are washed by hand: according to a government demographic survey, only about 45% of urban Filipino homes have a washing machine (for rural households, the number is less than 18%.)

The American-style automatic washing machines are very expensive here, so I went for a more economical non-automatic washer. It cost a little over $200 USD and it looks like this (or it did before I took the protective plastic wrap off the lids!). The larger tub on the left side agitates, and the smaller tub on the right side spins:


Fresh from the store!

The washing machine lives outside, on the large covered patio right off my kitchen. It attaches with a hose (not included with the washer, but purchased separately) to one side of the large outdoor sink:


Just add water!

There’s no hot or cold wash option, because there’s no water heater. There’s no setting on any of those dials for small, medium, or large load because the water level is not automatic. You turn on the tap at the sink and the left side of the machine starts to fill, and you turn the tap off again when the tub is as full as you want it to be. If you go do something else and forget about it, the water will just keep coming. After you’ve turned on the water, you add your soap and when the soap is nicely mixed, you can throw in some clothes:


Bubble, bubble…

Then you turn the lefthand dial to start the washer agitating and can go do something else for 15 minutes or so.

When you come back, you turn the middle dial from “wash” to “drain” and the water drains out. Normally the drain hose is put directly into a floor drain to avoid standing water which would be a breeding ground for mosquitos (trust me, we don’t want any more of them around than we have already!) There is no floor drain on my patio so it goes into the drainage ditch (fortunately, the drainage ditch really does drain and standing water has not been a problem):


Down the drainage ditch…

After the water has drained you move your clothes from the “wash” side of the laundry tub to the “spin” side, put on the lid, and turn the right and dial to start the washer spinning out the last of the soapy water. However, the left side of the washer holds a lot more clothes than the right side, so even when you pack the clothes in tight you sometimes have to spin the clothes in two or three batches.


It goes round and round and round and round and…

Wash, rinse, repeat: next you flip the middle dial back from “drain” to “wash” and move all the laundry back to the left to rinse out the soap:

If you see suds after you’ve agitated your rinse load, you might have used too much soap. And you might need to drain, spin, and rinse again.

Finally, you move all your clean and soap-free clothes to the spin basket one last time. Then you hang them out in the sunshine:


Hosanna handing clothespins to our wonderful Filipina “laundry fairy” in our backyard.

Back in the states, I used to joke about a “laundry fairy.” Well, I may not have an automatic washing machine any more but I finally have my very own laundry fairy! I appreciate her much more than I ever did my fancy front-loading machine at home. I can only imagine how incredibly stressful keeping everyone in clean clothes would be without her help.

Alas, it’s been raining for three days and we’re now got quite a bit of waiting laundry. We do have a few clotheslines for hanging things that are “under cover” but they don’t hold as much and the clothes dry much more slowly without the bright sun to help them. Hopefully the sun will come out tomorrow!

Adieu, Canada!

Having already bade farewell to the USA on the 14th of December, our family is now sitting near gate 71 in Vancouver International Airport, a little less than 2 hours from boarding our flight to the Philippines.

We owe big thanks to Sora’s parents, who put us up at their house for 16 days, and had their empty-nester tranquility subjected to the craziness of four kids and two adults. They cooked many delicious meals, and kept us entertained with cards and visits from the cousins. Thank you, Mickey and Robin!


We took a ferry from Victoria to Vancouver, and during the crossing, we managed to play a few more hands of bridge with Sora’s sister Tama, who appears to be strongly addicted to cards.

On arriving at YVR, we had Tama take an obligatory photo of us with all our luggage.


The luggage carts were free. So is the WiFi (otherwise I would not be blogging right now!). I remarked to Sora that I am very impressed with this airport. It is easily the nicest I’ve ever been in.

We checked twelve bags, including my tennis bag containing three racquets, a badminton set, and a ping pong paddle (yes, I love racquet sports), and Sora’s guitar case.

After checking bags, we stopped by an airport store to buy three neck pillows for the kids:


They posed with some polar bears:


And now they’re watching Studio Ghibli movies and eating tiny gouda cheeses and granola bars while we wait for our flight to start boarding:


Pray for a safe flight! I’ll blog again when and if I find another internet connection on the their end of our flight.

Farewell and the Trip West

We departed from Cincinnati last Sunday, after saying farewell to many dear friends at Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church. My farewell sermon is posted here. Fr. Wayne and Sandy McNamara came down from Dayton. We were also delighted to see some our senders from outside our church: Tim and Monique O’Neil and Wendy Jacques and her daughter Jenna. The Jacques family was the very first to pledge monthly support for our mission, so they occupy a special place among our supporters. Here are a few shots of the gathered crowd of friends:



Words of encouragement were spoken, toasts were proposed, and we were very blessed.

Then we started driving. And driving. And driving.

Our goal was Las Vegas, where my wacky brother and his beautiful fiancée Trudie were scheduled to be wed in the Luxor Hotel on Wednesday evening. That is 2,000 miles in 3.5 days. Our kids saw the last snow they are likely to experience for three years – in Texas, of all places!


We stopped in Amarillo, TX for the night. We make it our policy always to choose hotels that offer breakfast as part of the package, and we had a good experience with the Staybridge Inn and Suites in Amarillo. They had some very nice waffle-makers:


We started driving again, and had gone one exit on the highway when we realized that Isaiah had left one of his hearing aids on a table in the hotel lobby. We turned back and reclaimed it. After that, we made such good time that we were able to stop and see the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which you can read about in an earlier post. Our kids are fantastic travelers after five months of trips to the East coast to visit churches.

(Click on the panorama picture for a larger version.)


The next day, we pulled into Las Vegas. My brother and his bride exchanged their “I do’s” and enjoyed the company of several friends who came all the way from Maryland. We’re pleased to report that Isaiah was kept safely away from the gaming tables, and we escaped Vegas without visiting either the topless revue or the exhibit of plasticized human cadavers. The kids were impressed by the Egypt theme:


From there, it was a mad dash to Victoria, BC – a trip that took 1,400 miles as we attempted to avoid the Rockies. We ended up making the trip in only two days, and actually made it to the Tsawwassen ferry by 4:15 on Friday, just as the sun was setting:


Hosanna, hearing us discuss the ferry boat before we boarded, inquired, “Are the fairies making the boat go?”

Now we are safely arrived and comfortably lodged at Sora’s parents’ house. We had planned to visit three churches to share our mission to the Philippines, but God, in what we have come to know as His usual way, has made it five – four Anglican and one Presbyterian.

Please pray that we’ll be able to sell our van, and that we will continue to have God’s mercy attending us as we travel. Pray that our vision for missionary work will be a blessing to the congregations we visit.

Also, please continue to pray for the people of Mindanao who have a long recovery ahead of them after the recent typhoon and the devastation it brought. Both of the mission works we’ll be involved with are working on bringing the love of God to the affected areas, with hands and skill to heal and help.

Whirlwind Tour of Philadelphia RECs, Two Sermons

We’ve been in Philadelphia since November 11th, visiting several Reformed Episcopal parishes, the seminary, and Christ Academy. As always with the REC, we have been welcomed with open arms and warm hearts.


Our first stop was St. Paul’s in Oreland, where we were treated to lunch after the service by the Rev. John and Vicki Medvick. (Picture above shows Rev. John Medvick, Matt & Sora, and Rev. Dcn. Russ Buchanan.) I preached in the Morning Prayer service, and you can download that sermon, on the “Taxes to Caesar” question, here. Many thanks to Pastor Medvick and his family for making our visit a very pleasant one. Thanks also to his son Alex for taking some great photos of our kids! Here’s my favorite: Naomi running around the house in the beautiful autumn light.


On Monday, we took a one-day trip down to Washington, DC, for Sora to attend a conference on breech birth. Three of the other Cincinnati area midwives were there, as were many celebrities of the midwifery world. I took the kids to the national zoo. While there, I got this video of Naomi reciting William Blake’s Tyger, Tyger while an actual tiger prowls behind her:

On our return to Philly, we took a day off and went to the UPenn Museum of Archaeology, which had some really wonderful artifacts.


(Photo of me with a replica of the code of Hammurabi, a document which I have shown in pictures and discussed with a decade of Antiquity students.)

With Sunday’s sermon still in mind, we had Isaiah obey Jesus’ command to “Show me a denarius” – the right one, from the reign of Tiberius.


On Wednesday morning, we visited Christ Academy, which is run by Grace REC in Collingdale, and is a boys’ school serving mostly the sons of Liberian immigrants. The questions we got from these kids after our presentation were outstanding. They cut to the heart of missionary work, asking us how we planned to maintain our kids’ identity as Americans despite moving to the Philippines (answer: we know we can’t, at least not fully, and anyway, it’s important that they be citizens of Christ’s kingdom.)


The rector of Grace Church, Collingdale, is Fr. Mike Fitzpatrick, who is an inspiration. It is a very great joy to hear him tell stories of his urban ministry and the immigrant families from Africa who make up so much of his congregation. This is a church that is truly ministering to the hurts of God’s children, rather than trying to pretend that they are all perfect. We’ll be with them on Sunday evening next week.

Wednesday evening, we were blessed to attend a joint evening prayer service of the Church of the Atonement and Church of the Messiah, two congregations pastured by the Rev. Walter Hawkins and the Rev. Chiron Thompson, respectively. We had met them at the NEMA Council, and it was a pleasure to see them again. Deacon Holloway was also present, along with his wife and new baby.


Thursday morning saw me preaching again, this time at the REC Seminary in Blue Bell. Since it was a Holy Communion service, the propers were the same as on Sunday at St. Paul’s, but I have a policy of not preaching the same sermon twice (a policy created after trying to give a sermon a second time to a different congregation, and failing because it wasn’t new to me). So I preached on the reading from the epistle, Philippians 3. You can listen to that sermon here.

Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Riches and Bishop Hicks for welcoming us and making us feel at home in the seminary. We also got to meet Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches, who let me sit in on a bit of his last class of the semester on the 39 Articles.


Tomorrow we have a day off, and hope to catch up a bit on the lost homeschooling. On Sunday, I’ll preach a third time, at St. Mark’s in Rydal (the Rev. Jason Patterson, rector). I’ll try to record and post that one, too.

Shipping Our Stuff

One of the initial motives for becoming missionaries was a realization that we had slipped into some bad habits, accumulating possession that were encumbering us. We’re now in the process of purging them. We’ve sent the really nice books (leather-bound Tolkien, etc.) to live at our friend Erin’s house, and we’re storing our king sized bed and 12 of my model cars with Matt’s parents. (Sora rather wishes Matt would get rid of all the model cars.)

But as pleasant as it is to get rid of things we don’t need, we we found we couldn’t go to the Philippines without books. They are central to Matt’s ministry, helpful for Sora’s ministry, and an integral part of who we are as a family. Even paring the library down to only the ones we really want to have with us in Davao, we were looking at this:


(The stacks continue on the floor outside the borders of that photo.)

Many Filipino expatriates (“balikbayan”) and emigrants send gifts home to their families via surface freight, a custom known as pasalubong. They thus have a network of cargo shippers who will ship very large boxes and charge by volume, not by weight.

We distributed our books into the bottom halves of four balikbayan boxes, and filled the rest of them up with board games, stuffed animals, bedclothes, and towels. The result was four very heavy boxes, sealed up and with their contents catalogued (see below).

It took both Sora and Matt working together to load these titanic boxes into our minivan, but we did it. That means that everything else in our house is either to be carried in our luggage, or else sold or given away. Unfortunately, the boxes probably won’t arrive in Davao until mid-February. They go by train to California, then by sea to the Philippines. Our carrier is Star Kargo, operating out of the Pinoy Clasik Asian Mart on Cin-Day Road. The boxes cost $85 apiece to ship. It feels very good to have them sent off now.


You can tell a lot about a family by their books and their board games. If you want to know what we packed, you can see the list after the break: Continue reading