Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's not a religion - Our days with the Sister.

Last month, Feb. 3rd to be exact, was the Lunar Chinese New Year. (Shout-out to all you Rabbits!) Brad and I decided to leave behind the land of dancing dragons, dumplings and firecrackers, to accompany our dear friends Travis and Marissa to the Philippines. Marissa’s parents are both originally from the Philippines, but immigrated to the United States after college. They met once in the U.S. Neither has been able to go back to visit their dearly loved and missed families, and none of their three children have been able to meet the majority of their huge extended family, until this past week. Marissa, my friend who is pure gold in heart and mind and spirit, was the first in her immediate family to make the pilgrimage back home to their motherland. Brad and I were beyond lucky to be part of this trip.

At the very least I can tell you that 1) not a minute was wasted, and 2) I did not go hungry. I will start by introducing Marissa’s Tita Inday, her mom’s sister. Marissa’s mom’s immediate family (parents and siblings) all moved to the U.S. some time ago, but Tita Inday became the lone ranger of her family and stayed behind in the Philippines in order to serve the poorest and neediest there.

Tita Inday is soft spoken but strong, quiet but courageous, humble yet extremely talented. She is steadfast in her pursuit of a life pleasing to the Lord, but she does not judge those whose lifestyle choices are different from hers. She is a servant to the needs of Manila, yet she is a leader of the people. She is revered and she is loved.

“People here won’t mess with you since you’re with the Sister. I mean it. They would think twice about doing anything to you if you were with a priest, but you’re three times as safe being with a sister.” That was told to me by a friend of Marissa’s cousin.

We absolutely did feel safe, but the impact of traveling with Tita Inday didn’t stop there. Taxi drivers felt compelled to tell her (and thus us) their life stories to which she graciously listened and asked questions. (I took advantage of these situations and asked questions as well.) University students greeted us with “Hellos” in English because they also greeted her as they walked by. Tour guides gave us reduced rates because we were just humble traveling missionaries as Tita described to them. (“That’s what you are you know, teaching English in China, you’re missionaries.”)

Tita is in her early 60s. She has been a nun for 40 years. She felt her calling when she was in nursing school, but followed the advice of her mother to first finish her degree before entering the convent. Thinking back upon that time she said, “I was just so in love with the Lord, so in love with Jesus.” She has enjoyed serving the poor, sick, and working with troubled children. She has performed a variety of jobs and held a variety of roles (including Mother Superior), but at the current time she is assigned to teach and carry out managerial duties at a school about 3 hours from Manila. The school has about 5000 students, grades kindergarten through college. (In the Philippines the school structure is K-6 grades, then four years of high school. There is no middle school. Also, a ‘university’ is superior to a college.) There are over 200 employees at this school. She works in the religious studies department. She loves her job.

I asked about her funniest story. She laughed and flashed her amazing beautiful, big smile as she thought back on the silly story. She was running to catch a bus, but saw she could not make it. She knew the bus would be turning the corner so she ran across to the side street instead. There was a police officer on the side of the road. She asked him if he could stop the bus to let her get on. He of course obliged her request (the Philippines are 90% Catholic and NOBODY messes with a nun!). As the bus turned the corner the police officer flagged him to stop. The driver obeyed, opened the door towards the officer, and Sister Rosalyn stepped up the stairs. Sister giggled as she recalled that the passengers made fun of the driver, all saying “Ooooooh…” because it was obvious he was nervous about being stopped by a cop. Sister said she made sure to never put herself in that kind of situation again!

About a decade or so ago, Tita (aunt) was afflicted with breast cancer. I asked her about the history of the disease in her family. She said there was not a history, that she was the only one. She explained at that time in Manila her responsibilities were great in number and stress. She was becoming tired and worn out and pleaded with God for rest. Sheknew that just a week or even a month would not be long enough. She was completely worn out and running on empty. One night she had a dream that she had cancer in her left breast. She went in to see the doctor and although he thought she was healthy he also determined that there was a small possibility of cancer in her right breast. She told him he was wrong, that her dream had told her she had cancer in the left. He respectfully responded, “Okay Sister, we will check.” She was given a mammogram and it turned out that she in fact had cancer in her left breast. She flew to Marissa’s house in the States for better treatment than she could find in the Philippines and allowed her sister’s family to take care of her. She went through all the things women go through as they fight cancer. Her fight was victorious; she was healed, and then sent back to work in Manila.

Brad asked her how she has seen the role of religion change in the past 40 years. Her facial expression made it obvious that a lot has changed over the years. She mentioned that modern-day media (especially American movies and TV) has destroyed the family. She said that it is harder to teach religion now because people are actually more pious than they used to be. “But,” she added, “People are also more hungry for the Lord. There is a big difference between religion and spirituality.” I told her the pastor at our church in Charlotte, NC, has been saying the same thing: It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. She agreed.


I wrote this journal entry on February 7, the night we returned from the Philippines. How coincidental that on that following Sunday our Charlotte Pastor, David Chadwick, spoke on this exact topic. You can check it out if you wish by viewing the past series here: RELIGION VS. RELATIONSHIP Feb. 12, 2011

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