They say learning is a journey that takes time, and that is usually true for me. But there are also special moments, such as the recent two weeks, wherein God just allowed me to journey in faith and learn far more than what I have in the past months and years.
My Operation Samaria (OS 2017) experience started way before May 22nd, and it was truly a big step of faith for me. I first heard about it thru Dr. Pete Obregon, one of my scholarship benefactors in medical school, and when he opened the opportunity for me to join, I thought it would be a meaningful way to give back and make good use of my skills as a nurse, and as a medical student. My only issue then was if it would coincide with our term break, and when that was covered, I immediately said yes. With the expenses also covered, I did what any millennial normally does when in need of information about anything – I searched the web for resources about OS 2017 and the community we were going to serve. That it was not only a medical mission but a true mission trip as well made me want to participate more as I have also been praying and looking for more ways to participate in the Great Commission, especially to unreached people groups (UPGs).
When I attended the first orientation, I learned that everyone who will be joining had joined similar previous endeavors and that because of the complexity of ministering to a Muslim community, the participants were gathered by invitation and the registration was not opened to all. It occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there, that they were probably worried about how I would fare and contribute, but as I prayed and reflected on how I got there, I knew it was the Lord’s hand at work. It was very much like how I got into medical school, without any plans and not knowing which step to take next; but it was also how I got to experience how the Lord guides, directs, and rewards His children as they trust and obey Him.
The location of Balabac Island in Palawan however, was a cause of concern to my family. The recent news about rebel group attacks were alarming for them, and that they did not have any way to reach me while I was in the area was not very helpful. It will also be the first time that they will not be aware of my whereabouts for such a long time. I worried not for myself, because I was so sure that the Lord made the way for me and that He would also protect me and the team, but I was concerned about how they felt and I did not want to go against their will. Thankfully, as we all prayed, the Lord calmed their fears and off I went with their blessing. I also submitted their names as my prayer partners so that instead of worrying, they could be with me spiritually in prayer.
For my part, I tried to prepare as best as I could not only spiritually but in all aspects, attending all the orientations, organizing the things I needed personally and for the work I was assigned to do, and getting as much information as possible for my first airplane ride. I was determined not to be a liability in any way, but on our first night in Indalawan, I immediately realized that I had nowhere to sleep on except for my malong. It was also the day I learned what a hammock was (please don’t judge me..haha). The Lord knew me so well. He knew it was not in my personality to speak up and ask for help especially on our first day; but suddenly there was Ate Ira asking me where I would be sleeping, and when I answered that I had my malong even without indicating that I needed help with anything, she immediately lent me their sleeping bag. It was my first lesson on gracious acceptance of help and favor, to remind me that I was part of a team – a helpful and caring team, and it made me all the more determined to offer whatever help I could. I learned a lot from each one of them as we went through big and small moments of fun, victories, difficulties, and disappointments, and they’re certainly one of the highlights of my OS 2017 experience.
But the Lord had many other lessons in store for me. I was on a mission to offer whatever I could for Him, and He was on a counter-mission to remind me that I could never outgive him. As we went to work, day by day we experienced more of God’s love, His grace, guidance and provision, as well as His power especially with the prayers of the people who went with us spiritually. He provided resources, led us to people who assisted us graciously, and went before us, enabling us to focus on giving our best for His glory. The physical strength for the daily walks, especially with our bags, could only be from the Lord. And as we sought Him in every step we took, He came through for us, calming our fears about how we should approach introducing the Gospel to the Molbog people, and just follow His leading.
I was assigned to take vital signs with Nikka during the medical missions, and I thank the Lord that I was also able to practice my communication skills and some history taking skills, both with the children and adults. For the teachings, I was assigned with Nhickel who was a true teacher. I, on the other hand, was doubtful that I had enough creativity and energy in me to be appealing to the kids. But the Lord rebuked me for my unfounded worries by surprising me with the children’s open acceptance, respect, and gratefulness for everything we offered. Their response to our stories and teachings pointing them to Tuhan (God) and Isa Al Masih (Jesus Christ) was a sweet reminder of childlike faith. The students gave us hope, and they were also a testament to the fruit of Kuya Jun and Ate Lai’s missionary work in Indalawan.
Meeting Kuya Jun and Ate Lai’s family and learning about their experiences including their struggles, made me learn beyond the pastor’s sermon in the podium, the great importance of praying, supporting, and ministering to missionaries, by visiting them and assisting them, or by simply checking on them. I thank the Lord for workers such as them, who labor in making Him known where many people refuse to go. I am also grateful to the Lord that He has allowed me to participate in missions by giving and praying, but I also knew that I could do more especially in the area of caring for them.
Of all the times spent in the area however, the quiet mornings with the Lord as most precious to me. Without the distraction of internet and other modes of entertainment, I had much time to focus on listening to God, and it was in those mornings that He spoke to me and taught me. As I gave and offered what I have also received from the Lord, He filled my heart into overflow that I could only cry in awe of the beauty of what He has been, and is continually doing in my life. It was both a humbling and rewarding experience, even now I have difficulty finding the right words for a fitting concrete description. In many of those mornings I could only find myself in tears, just listening to the Lord, with a wider and deeper realization of what I possess in Christ. Seeing and serving the Molbog tribe led me to a journey to knowing more about the heart of God, and the more I knew, the more I grasped how wide, how long, how deep, and how amazing is His love for me. I could only respond in thanksgiving for how He has been blessing me, allowing me to know Him deeply and personally. And with it came the compassion for the people who did not have the opportunity to know Him as I do. And as I praised Him, He also put my life’s direction into perspective. I have always known that He made a way for me to study medicine to give Him glory, and I know in my heart that it is not just to heal those who are physically sick. I know the Lord has big plans for me and while I still do not know much as of the moment, I know that in one way or another, reaching UPGs is part of it.
All in all, I believe I’ve become a better person and servant of the Lord. Dr. Obregon told me that joining Operation Samaria would be a life changing experience for me, and now I know he wasn’t exaggerating. I hope to participate in future medical mission trips, and I’m now more inspired to keep doing my best in my studies after a catching a glimpse of the big picture where this blessing of becoming a future doctor fits. All glory, honor, praise, and thanksgiving be to our God alone!
by Katrina A. Paglicawan, RN, Medical Student
photos by Zeyn Afuang// www.zeynafuang.com