Wednesday, December 27, 2006

'Merry Christmas' is a verb in the Philippines. When a guard or a kid on the street says 'Merry Christmas,' it means good cheer, but more cheer if you give me some money.

At night, carollers come around and sing. But 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' means we've sung enough now, you can come out now and give us money. Christmas day, for many people, is a long day of taking their children around to everyone they might get something from, asking for a 'Merry Christmas.'

Dennis, to make our response a little more intentional and generous, has headed up--for years now--a 'Merry Christmas' at their home. Every Christmas morning, with growing numbers every year, hundreds of families line up at their front door. He coordinates with the other missionaries in the area to give each child a toy and each family a package of food.
This year, more than 500 families received a package of rice and sardines, and at least as many children got a balloon and a toy.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Natalie means ‘born on Christmas,’ and she nearly was.

Jeff and Jamie are friends of ours and students at the seminary where Jeri teaches (and one of the schools open to me teaching there). They are actually finished their studies, but opted to stay on to have their first-born at home with Deborah as their midwife.

There had been some complications and the birth was running late, but they called at midnight the night before last, well in labor. There were some scary moments, but Natalie was born at 4:18 am, a beautiful and healthy little girl.

Homebirths are a special privilege for Deborah, and I also got to be involved by hauling water up the stairs so they could birth in a small indoor pool. I was thinking at two o’clock in the morning, ‘There’s absolutely no place in the world I’d rather be right now than hauling water up these steps to assist in the birth of a friend's baby.’

Deborah will certainly enjoy her holidays much better knowing that Natalie is already with us and everything is fine.
In the third week of Advent we light the shepherd's candle to remind us to share the good news. Deborah collects Christmas stories, and every night in December she reads a different one to the boys at bedtime.

In the fourth week of Advent we light the angel's candle to celebrate the miracle that God still sends messages to earth and that we can actually receive them. This is my favorite theme as a student of hermeneutics (the theory of interpretation). In Greek literature the angels are replaced by the gods, Hermes and Iris. Their gift is to be able to speak both to gods and to people, and so to communicate between them.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's becoming more and more popular for people to give a present to someone in need, rather than spending money on a loved one who doesn't really need anything. So imagine sharing your holidays with an orphan. Every Christmas and Easter we place our children at the little children's home in temporary foster families. This gives our workers a much-needed break to be with their families, and gives our children that special attention that only a family can give.

These pictures are of Marianne, who's family has just picked her up (see the below), from last Easter. She is with Aubrey's good friend, Aiden, and Aiden's grandmother. Yesterday and today all of our children have been picked up by their respective foster families and are now basking in the glow of a mom and dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. (And I'm sure they're also imposing themselves on some normal routines.)
Today was our staff Christmas party. This is a highlight of the year for us. I guarantee you that you've never seen so many sober adults having so much fun. There's game after game and singing and dancing. It's a major celebration of God's goodness to us throughout the year.

This year was, however, tainted with sadness, which Deborah addressed eloquently in her address. 'This is my favorite time of year. I love focusing on the birth of Jesus. But it's also a time to remember why Jesus came to the earth. He was born because of our suffering. This year we have lost one of our coworkers; Floribel's family has just lost everything they have in the floods in Albay and her father has just passed away; and Grace has just lost her grandmother. Jesus being born in Bethlehem means that he is always with us, when we're happy and when we're sad.'

All of our children in the baby home are with foster families for the holidays, so tonight begins a two-week break for our workers. Thank you to everyone who helped to load them up with gifts for the season. As they aren't working, it becomes all the more important to bless them with practical things that will make their Christmas joyous. We still hope to raise enough to give each worker a sack of rice when they come back to work in January and before they get their first salary of the new year ($25 x 26).
This is my parents' Christmas letter.

Dear Family & Friends,

With Christmas rapidly approaching we find ourselves once again looking for a small block of time when we can reflect on the past year and hopefully produce some type of meaningful greeting that will help us stay connected with so many people that we appreciate.

This has been a year of weddings in our family - Carl married Regina Kaiser in September 2005; Charity married Noah Therrien in April 2006; and Faith married Jae Reichel in September 2006.

Donna & Alan lived with us for close to a year while they developed a new acreage close to Melfort, where they now live. Having them with us was a pleasure and we already miss them and all the hugs that we received on a daily basis. Their oldest daughter, Jordane, is still with us a lot as she baby sits, works at Dairy Queen, and the Vet Clinic plus goes to school a couple blocks from here. This is an ideal location for her as she can walk from here to most of her commitments except the Vet Clinic. Tim, Zack & Kael enjoy the freedom of their new location full time - lots of space - the cats and dogs and bunnies - all part of a big happy family!

Darren & Deborah, Aubrey & Auden are back in the Philippines, serving in their mission. They were with us recently for Faith's wedding and Thanksgiving. We invite you to get re-acquainted with them & their ministry by looking around in this blog. Bring up the entries from the months of September and October and you can view a lot of our family pictures taken around the time of Jae & Faith's wedding.

Charity & Noah now live in Saskatoon. Noah left an excellent welding position in Abottsford in order to move to a location better suited to accommodate Charities' medical needs at least for now. In the process Noah has become an amazing lover & care-giver for Charity. Charity was in the hospital recently and the nurses want to "clone" Noah, as they were just amazed at the support he provides for Charity. As parents, our appreciation for Noah and the way God himself provides for our family continues to grow.

Carl married Regina - a young lady from Germany that dreamed her whole life of one-day becoming a missionary to North American Natives & ended up coming to a reserve near Melfort of all things! They are happily married and are involved together in continuing that ministry to native people in this area. They also have a blog where you can learn about what they are doing and view some pictures of them: (The black horse came with Regina all the way from Germany!)

Jae & Faith live in Calgary. Both are in school - Jae has his fingers into a variety of business & things - sees potential for himself as a Professor of Philosophy one day amongst other things! Faith is working in Shoppers Drug Mart as a Pharmacy Technician plus is enrolled in nursing school. She should have her RN degree in about 1 & 1/2 years and then would still like to specialize in mid-wifery if she has the opportunity.

Kevin goes to school in Regina. He travels & tree-plants in the summer to pay for his schooling. He loves the arts & music - a little uncertain where his life is headed, as finding direction within his interests is a little more difficult, but he seems to be doing well in school and we are proud of his accomplishments.

Lois & I both work - Lois - 3 days a week - myself - all the time and about to get busier! We are blessed in our church fellowship where we help facilitate in the training school, plus support a new building project as our ministry expands in this community.


May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us.May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among people everywhere (Psalm 67:1-2).

Don & Lois Gustafson

Friday, December 15, 2006

In the second week of Advent we light the Bethlehem (or prep-aration) candle to get ourselves ready for Christmas. Aubrey's paradigm for preparedness comes from watching his mom do prenatals on pregnant women. But this year we also talked about the preparations we made to take cookies and other snacks up to the Gunderson's house as a Sta. Lucia tradition.

John the Baptist was a prophet who ministered before Jesus' time. His message was, 'Repent because the messiah is coming.' People streamed out into the dessert to be baptised by him as a symbol of the forgiveness they saught. As is often the case for me, the forgiveness I need to seek is for words and actions of unkindness (especially toward Deborah) in the arange-ments of everyday matters.

Here's a great image of peace and reconcilliation.
Today Marianne becomes Hannah Marianne. We picked up Vadim last night and on Tuesday we picked Fhina up at the airport. They are here to adopt Marianne. Vadim immigrated from Russia to the United States with his family when he was a teenager, and Fhina is from here in the Philippines. They live in California. These are pictures of their first meeting with Marianne.

Fhina is a graduate of the Asian Theological Seminary, one of the schools that has invited me to come teach. She works in children's education and together they do regular medical mission trips here to the Philippines.

Today when we were going to lunch Fhina said, 'Starting this week everything in our life changes. We've been just us for how many years? Nine years.' It's always such a thrill for us to be with families when they undergo such radical change.
A few days ago our good friend and Deborah’s teacher/mentor in midwifery, Vicki Penwell, was on a ferry that sunk between the islands of Luzon and Mindoro. The boat was designed for 80 people and there were 104 on board. The seas were high from the last typhoon, and their craft was literally smashed apart by the waves.

This is the day after the typhoon, and even though the coast guard was allowing crossings, the seas were still very rough. This became apparent when we began hitting pretty big waves within minutes of leaving shore, and the boatload of people began screaming with each rise and fall of the boat over the rough seas. Then people around me began to throw up…waves were washing up into the boat and drenching people.

Thankfully, everyone on the boat was rescued and Vicky says she’s okay. ‘Just a few cuts and bruises.’ I’m going to excerpt at length from Vicki’s letter describing the incident. If you are interested in learning more about what she and her family are doing here please look at their web site:

About 45 minutes into the trip I heard a very loud sharp crack, like wood splintering. Five minutes later there was another loud crack like a gunshot, and the boat engine cut out. What had happened was the outrigger had snapped and the second crack was the sound of the fractured bamboo pole puncturing through the hull of the boat.
Everyone stood up and began to panic, grabbing life vests from the racks above. I was in the front; all the racks with life vests were in the middle and back section. All around me were people standing up screaming to be passed a life vest, or pushing and shoving to get to where they could get one.

Vicki is an extraordinary midwife and trainer of missionary midwives. It is her passion to train midwives to respond to what the World Health Organization recognizes as the most critical need in health care with Christian compassion. She decided, heroically, not to fight for a lifejacket and to be the last person off the sinking boat.

Within 10 minutes the inside of the boat was full of water and sinking fast. It was absolute chaos. I decided to wait to get a life vest after all the other passengers had theirs, or until someone handed me one. It didn't happen; the boat was overloaded and there turned out to be enough life vests for every passenger except the three crew members, and me.

I had time to take my phone out and try to call Scott [her husband], the connection was bad and he could not hear me, so I sent off a quick text message; it said, "sinking, I love you". I knew it would freak him out, but I didn't know what else to do! If I died I wanted him to know my last thoughts were ones of love toward him.

I was the last one off the boat and had to swim out through the opening in the side. Once outside everyone was clinging to the outriggers, I thought the boat would sink all the way, but because the outriggers were bamboo, it only sunk to the roof, and we could still hold on while we waited to be rescued.

At this point the real danger became the heavy swells that beat down upon us and smashed us over and over again into the submerged boat. I am pretty bruised up from that. And waves would wash over me and swamp me with diesel water and I would sputter back up, all the while trying to keep my grip.

We treaded water for over an hour before boats got there to rescue us. As people were pushing to get in position to get rescued, I heard the first honorable thing, when a man yelled at the men to stop trying to get in, and he said "babaes!", which means women first!

[After she was rescued] A group of young adult Filipinos realized I was alone and came over and were very kind to me, asking if I was okay and was I traveling alone (something Filipinos never do is travel anywhere alone!) I had my eyes closed trying hard not to throw up, and one of the young men sat by me and held my hand! It was really so sweet, I felt like I was without my sons there with me at that time, so God sent someone to be kind and take care of me like a son would. When I began to shiver he brought me a sheet and even got me water to drink.

My new friends shared a candy bar with me. I was loving the fact that after 15 years of me giving out food and clothing to poor Filipinos, now I was the one in need and Filipinos were giving me food and clothing!

Scott and Ian and Rose [her son and daughter-in-law] and the rest of my dear friends here did not known if I was dead or alive for 7 hours! We are all back together today, appreciating each other more than ever, and thankful for life itself. I did however lose my waist pack full of money…the waves ripped it off my waist as I fought to stay afloat in the rough seas. I was carrying money for team expenses to Manila, and lost over $3,000 of Mercy In Action's money. Now that I have survived I feel pretty bad about losing all that money.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Every year at HELP Inter-national we have two big Christmas parties to celebrate all that’s happened in the year and to honor our staff. Today was the first and it was for all our staff and their families. All the children get presents and a picture with Santa.

Brian gets his face painted.

This is Helen, the home supervisor of our birthing home, and her daughter, Michelle.

Many, many people contributed to help us buy presents and put on food for everyone. People helped us fundraise, buy presents, bake cookies, arrange volunteers, plan the games, and one very committed person dressed up as Santa Claus in the heat. Thank you to all who participated; we had so many gifts that we had to help Santa give them out.

Pin The Star On The Christmas Tree.

Ready? Get Set. Go!

Coke Bottle And Straw Relay Races.

Barely time for food. Lornie, one of our midwives, and her daughter, Johanna, serving up the food.

There are about 100 very tired, very happy little children falling asleep right now.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In the first week of Advent we light the prophecy candle. It reminds us that we have an anticipation of salvation even before God breaks onto the scene. Or, better, that God has always been with us, directing our steps to the moment when his saving presence breaks in.

Each evening this week we have been reading a passage of scripture that anticipates Jesus’ birth. For example,

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

This is a favorite time of the year for us. It’s the first year that Aubrey is old enough to light the candle, though Auden’s pretty sure he should be old enough by now too.

Then, we’ve been working on getting our house decorated for Christmas. Last night we were decorating the tree; the great trick will be having any decorations intact after this season. I was telling Auden something he’s hear a lot, ‘Auden, look with your eyes, not with your fingers.’

And if there was ever any doubt that that syntax is too difficult for a one-year-old, he would shut his eyes tight and reach out to grab the decoration he wanted.

The Lord’s beginning to create in us a spirit of expectation for what is coming.
Cindy Degala is a young nursing student we have been helping out. Her mother, Susan, has worked at the baby home since 1992. They are our neighbors and when Cindy was in high school she helped take care of Aubrey. Her younger siblings—April, Joseph and Joshua—are constantly at our house, playing.

We do a lot help our workers, especially ones with large families, to become financially stable. Mainly we try to help them overcome a poverty mentality that tells them there’s no point in planning for the future or making decisions that will improve their situation. When things have gone badly for so long you come to accept it as normal.

One of our programs that I am most proud of is what we call Savings Loans. Deborah and I contract with employees who need loans that they will save a much as they borrow, turning their situation of need into a situation of control.

But sometimes the needs are just overwhelming, especially when you have a large family of school-aged children. The Degala’s are almost always in financial need and Susan is almost always in debt. She’s been saving recently, though, and was able to put Cindy into a nursing school with her own money. I was really proud of her, because it represented a major accomplishment.

But, of course, extra costs have come up now and they’re beginning to feel again like it’s all useless. I couldn’t figure out how to help them handle the new needs with their own funds, so yesterday we just bought a nursing kit that Cindy needs by today. We really can’t afford it, but we couldn’t say no either; education represents the only way out of the cycle of poverty.

If you would consider assisting Cindy in her nursing studies, write to us ( for information on how you can make a contribution. We were able to get the kit we bought yesterday for two-thirds of its retail value through our birthing home connections. It was P2,050 (40USD/45CAN), but she will need P1,000 (20/25) each month for tuition and there will be other costs that will come up. Susan is planning to pay for them out of her salary, but it will be a very heavy burden for the whole family.