How it began

4People often ask me how I ended up in the Philippines and why I have stayed for 17 years so far. Well, the answer is simple. This is where the Lord led me to come too and this is where He keeps me!

I came to the Philippines in 1998, exactly a year after I came back to the Lord. I had backslidden for a number of years in my late teens when I went off to college but I thank God for my faithful parents who fasted and prayed me back to the Lord. I vividly remember the night of July 21st 1997 in Hillsbourgh Elim Bible Week, when I heard the preacher speak directly to me and I knew that my night had come and I had to get right with God. The funny thing was that I remember standing at the altar weeping (I wept for 3 days actually) and I asked the Lord to use me. I pleaded with Him really to use me but I distinctly remember asking for Him not to use me with children. I didn’t have the patience for them. Well hasn’t God got a sense of humour? I have been working with kids ever since!

For my first trip here I booked the flights for 6 months! You can imagine my mother’s shock and horror! She thought I’d be coming for about 6 weeks. As I am an only child this was already a sacrifice for my parents. Little did they realize that I would end up planning to spend a lifetime here in these Islands. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my home church Moira Pentecostal church in Northern Ireland. They immediately got behind me and have supported me faithfully ever since.

In my first week I already knew that this was a long term call. I loved it. I loved the place, the people, the work I was doing in the prisons and children’s homes. I just felt at home. The Lord really does lead us by His peace and even when times got tough I still had that underlying peace that passes all understanding. I worked for almost three years for Philippine Outreach Center, a mission ran by the wonderful Christine Perillo who had so much passion for her work that it was contagious. She was the very reason I came in fact. I had listened to her stories while she was home on furlough and I fell in love with the mission and the place before I even got here. I asked the Lord to give me stories just like that. I also remember listening to Bob and Alma McAllister as a child in church and being captivated by their experiences in the Congo jungle and how many times God had spared their lives and had spared other lives through them. It was all about stepping out in faith and committing your whole life to His plans and purposes. Walking where He leads became something I longed to do. I knew that if I was walking my own route it would be disastrous. His way was definitely the way for me.

After three years of growing, maturing, making mistakes and learning to get things right by listening more carefully to Gods voice, He finally planted the vision for Helping Hands Healing Hearts Ministries into my heart. It hadn’t always been there. I was more than content to stay in the comfort zone of the mission that He’d placed me in. It’s easier when someone else has the final say. It’s easier when they have to believe God for the huge monthly budget. It’s easier when the full time staffs are already in place and the mission’s running well. Who in their right mind would want to give that up to take on the risk of setting up something new, from scratch, and with no experience in that field? A crazy person or a person who had heard from God and knew that He was in it and very much in control.

Thankfully I heard it from God. I knew I hadn’t always dreamed of someday being the head honcho and I knew that if He was guiding me to start this then He would bring it to fruition.

The vision was simple. I was to go to the local hospitals and be salt and light. I was to help in practical ways and show the love of Jesus to each and every family that he brought my way. I was to keep children alive as much as possible, and in the process of offering the practical help and assistance I was to share the love of God and to tell them their need of salvation.

15Hospitals are so different to what I was used to at home in Northern Ireland. We are so blessed to have a National Health Service that covers all our costs. But here the families have to pay for absolutely everything. Many times I had gone with kids from the mission I was working for to the local hospital and I was ‘blessed’ to have had money in my pocket. But every time I watched others declining the doctors help because although they heard the advice that was given, and they knew what they needed to do to save their child, they simply didn’t have the money in their pockets to do it. At that time, most dads earned about 150 to 200 pesos a day (about $4) but the IV fluids, or the drip as we call it in Ireland, cost about 100 pesos and then they still had to buy the needle and sticky tape to attach it to the child’s hand, and the much needed pain reliever, fever reducers and antibiotics. By the time they had bought the materials for the drip they had already exhausted one day’s wage. Of course they still had all their healthy children at home waiting to be fed and needing fares to school the next morning and so it was already difficult financially and this was just the emergency room expenses. Plus the child hadn’t even been confined yet. Many parents actually choose not to confine their children because of the financial restraints and I watched kids go home, severely dehydrated and knowing they’d be dead within hours or days when a few dollars or pounds would have saved their lives. Bill Wilson is quoted as saying “the need is the call”. When you see children dying unnecessarily believe me, the call is clear and you know exactly what you need to do.

The initial set up was difficult. It’s hard to leave what you know and love and it’s hard to know who to approach for help and advice to set up something new. But God really did lead and guide and thankfully the people He led me to were all more than helpful and really excited about the vision of a work that would help save the lives of dying children and bring their families into the Kingdom. From the director of the Hospital here in Olongapo, to the local Mayor, to the local pastors and church leaders, plus the Irish pastors, individuals and churches, everyone was on board and happy to be involved and to put their seal of approval on it. God had granted me favour.

imageI went home to Northern Ireland in 2001 to fundraise for a year. Then I came back to the Philippines in 2002 to begin the set up. When I went home at first many people encouraged me to find a nice wee place to rent and begin with. But in my heart I knew that God was going to give me enough to BUY a mission house and vehicle and enough to be able to hire some staff to help me begin the work. Many began to think I was a dreamer and that in my immaturity I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get started. But honestly, I just had faith that God would make a way. I knew He had put it into my heart and I knew that He would do it. “When He calls He clothes” someone once told me. How true!

I came back in 2002 and was able to purchase a compound made up of a bungalow and a small duplex at the back. It was a total of 7 rooms and 4 bathrooms, so plenty of space to begin with. Enough rooms for families to come and stay in when they were discharged from the hospital and before they went home to face their own hardships again. It would be a place to be discipled, a place to rest and get strong. Also, it would be a place for us to live and for any volunteers who came to assist in the work.

I started off very simply. I used to go to James L. Gordon Memorial Hospital everyday and see who was around and who needed help. The Doctors were a little suspicious at first. They maybe thought I was just another foreigner who was coming to tell them what to do and how to do it better. Of course, I had no notion of what to do on the medical side of things so suspicions quickly disappeared and they began to enjoy helping me to understand what was happening to the kids and how best we could help. They prescribed, I bought and I prayed! It was simple. The team effort worked well and soon they began to ask for my help for their patients. I was so privileged to be able to go into any place in the hospital and just pray with patients and be able to minister effectively to them, again, God’s favour.

So from humble beginnings in 2002, we now have 50 full time staff and lots of foreign volunteers. God just kept adding to our numbers and He kept providing through folks at home enough support and budget to cover the expenses. It was, and still is miraculous. I am constantly amazed how He can touch hearts on the other side of the world to give, and when that money reaches us here it’s exactly what we needed and prayed for.

God also touched the heart of Dr. Mendoza to give us two offices within the hospital to work out of. We have an evangelism team, a medical/practical assistance team, an arts and crafts and administration team, all hospital based. The work is always plentiful and the fruit for their labour is astounding. Everyday someone hears about Jesus and comes to know His touch in their lives. We have so many testimonies of salvation, and both emotional & physical healings. We have seen so many lives touched and now coming regularly to church and growing in their faith. Helping people practically really does let them see that as Christians we are not all just talk and no action. Like Christ did, we care about their physical needs too, although by the time we have finished they know that the physical is not the be all and end all. We are balanced in our approach. I learned years ago that you can’t preach to dead people so it’s much more effective to save the life first and then the soul. There is a time for everything, as the Word says. We help, we pray, then we share.

thumb3After noticing that many of the kids we helped save kept coming back to the hospital soon after being discharged, I realized that there was a problem. The care they would receive when they’d go home was limited, and as the children were still weak and their immune system compromised, they really needed all the help they could get at that crucial time. They needed the extra nutritional build up and they had to finish the prescribed home medications. Unfortunately, by that stage the parents had usually pawned everything they owned, lost their jobs because of the long stays in hospital and they had nothing left with which to buy the home medicines and proper food and vitamins. They also didn’t actually know in many cases how to care for their weak or sick child. The Lord planted the idea for a Children’s Recovery Unit in my heart. I had already been taking in children and their parents for years at Foster Street but I knew that it was not enough, and the trouble was I ended up wanting to keep many of them. I already had one foster daughter by then, named Meann. She had come to me with stage 3 Tuberculosis and was 3rd degree malnourished as well. But God had touched her and she was able to make a full recovery. I wanted others to have the care she had and the chance to also be healed. So, I went home again in 2004 to raise enough to buy a big building that would be the Children’s Recovery Unit (CRU). Once again God provided and we were able to buy a place at a bargain price and renovate it to suit our needs. The CRU Olongapo opened in 2004 and has been a blessing to hundreds of children ever since. We usually run with about 20-25 children as inpatients at any one time. We have Nurses, Midwives, Caregivers, A Social Worker, volunteer Doctors and a Center Head to run the place. It is such a mission field because not only do we care for these children and watch them come back to full health but we also get to minister weekly to the parents. By the time the kids go home they and their parents are well discipled and know all about Jesus and their Heavenly Father. Of course, we also have terminal patients who have gone home to be with the Lord also. I tell you, that never gets any easier to handle, but God really is our strength and comforts all concerned. We have had the privilege of conducting many funerals, and in the process, we have led many to Christ. In the times when we hurt most, Christ really does draw closest.

We have many mothers of former patients who now work for us, two of whom lost their children. (One to cerebral palsy and complications and others to cancer) We led them and their families to the Lord and have watched them recover and prosper and go on to minister to other suffering families in CRU. We also have another two parents whose children survived and they too now work for HHM. He comforts us so that we may comfort with the same comfort that we have been given. Isn’t that encouraging…

In 2007 we also opened another Children’s Recovery Unit in Baguio city and in 2012 we expanded again! This time, we adopted a whole Orphanage! CRU Baguio and Children’s Home Baguio are side by side in Camp 7, baguio City. CRU houses around 15 patients at any given time and Children’s Home currently has 25 children ages 0-18.

Helping Hands is the practical side of what we do and Healing Hearts is the spiritual side. It takes both to reach people when they are ill and feeling hopeless. What a joy to serve the Lord. There’s no feeling in the world like being salt and light to someone in the worst moments of their life. It’s a privilege to serve in this ministry and I thank God for you who give and make it possible to do what we do. Of course, without you, our job would be much more difficult and challenging.