By Cheryl Hempy
Life is short, I want to live it well. One life. One story to tell…And You’re the One I’m living for. –Jon Foreman
I want to tell you about one story from this summer. After a college friend retired and went to work with a Philippine ministry, Kids International, we reconnected with Tom and Maddy Hardeman. Tom is a fellow Westmont alum and Brad’s former teaching colleague. After we read about Paul and Margie Varberg’s work in Tacloban, we felt the need to explore life outside of Santa Barbara and see what was happening in the Philippines. Since our three oldest children were not able to join us and our youngest son is a teenager (need I say more?), we invited two of his friends to join us on a vacation with a purpose. Liam Morando and Zach Hislop were up for an adventure, so Brad and I, our son Matt, Liam, and Zach flew 14 hours to Manila to expose ourselves to missions and find out what was going on in Southeast Asia.
Our trip included a variety of missions exposure activities. We saw poverty in Manila like none of us had ever seen. Using the Stop Hunger Now food our church prepares every December, we drove with Kids International to tent cities or shanty towns with big tubs of the mixture. Children would see the van coming, run down the muddy, trash-filled alleyways with a random plastic cup, patiently stand in line to receive a scoop of the rice/soy mixture, and smile from ear to ear so happy to receive what was quite possibly their only meal of the day. After filling their stomachs, they often led Matt, Liam, and Zach to the closest twisted metal rim nailed to a beaten, wooden post to play basketball. Basketball reigns supreme in the Philippines.
After a week in Manila, we flew to Tacloban to see what the Varbergs are doing there. If you remember, SBCC sent Special Offering for the Poor funds to rebuild houses after the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda destroyed most of Tacloban and killed 10,000 people. When Brad and I walked up to one of these houses that had been rebuilt, a woman hurriedly came out and thanked us profusely, three years later, for SBCC’s help in giving her and her large, extended family a cement floor, four walls and a tin roof. This was so much more than most had, and thanks to Paul Varberg’s ingenuity, these were some of the first houses to be rebuilt so that families could have shelter off the streets. As we toured Bethel International School in Tacloban, we found boxes in the library that had Betty Sullins’ name with SBCC as a return address on them. The librarian was overjoyed with the books SBCC had donated and continues to send, which replenish the library and flll shelves after the roof blew off in the typhoon.
Paul Varberg connected each of our teenage boys to a student leader in Tacloban Bible Church’s youth group. The pairs went onto the college campuses (11th and 12th grade in the US is college in the Philippines), to invite students to an evangelistic youth meeting that Friday night. Sneaking into the back of the building, Brad and I watched 200 Asian college students and three baseball cap-clad Caucasian teenagers singing, dancing, and praising the same God. The song of Asian believers, Filled with God’s holy fire. It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation, a love song born of a grateful choir. Never again will I sing that song without Philippine images in my mind. Our American teenage consensus was that Christians in the Philippines make a clear stand. You either are a Christian or you are not, and it is very clear. Poverty and persecution cause people to make a committed decision, and there is no blending into the culture, as Christian teenagers in Santa Barbara can sometimes do.
Lest you forget that my title is, “Vacation with a Purpose,” we did include the vacation aspect. Remember, we traveled with three teenage boys. The last few days included a horseback ride inside a volcano, canoeing under a pounding waterfall, island-hopping on a banca boat, snorkeling in 88-degree water, and jet skiing. Why have I never heard that the Philippines are so beautiful?
So my encouragement to SBCC is that whether you are single or a family, plan a vacation with a purpose. Look at our list of missionaries and ministries we support and go visit them. I would bet most of them would be thrilled that you take interest in their life’s work. In our experience, the Varbergs and Hardemans were happy to tell us and show us what they do and where SBCC’s money has gone. Let’s remember, life is short, so let’s live it well and vacation well.