Walking around the suburbs of Manila this morning, the sounds the community offers seem more articulate and pronounced than before.
I want to take it in, I think to myself.
I want to take in the last day of the World Race.
I pay attention to the rooster beckoning the morning to come. A call that carries into the community, through windows, reminding me of the arrival of this new day.
I listen to the weighty thuds coming from the small niche street shops as owners pile produce to sell on their aging wooden counters.
From the children running throughout the broken streets that lead to whatever rooms and shanties they call home, to the swaying trees and branches that wave me goodbye, there is activity all around me.
This is life, and it’s all happening at once.
I head back to our sleeping quarters at KIM (Kids’ International Ministries), and I examine my gear one last time before I carry my pack down to be loaded on to the airport shuttle.
The markings, tears, and patches all hold reminders of a year filled with beauty, pain, and everything else in between.
Ziplock bags—once new, glistening, and clear—are now opaque and covered with various strips of duct tape keeping them together. Once filled with black shirts and other neutral colors, these bags now hold garments with various vibrant hues purchased from around the world.
Brand new jeans that kept me as presentable as possible during this trip now have holes and patches reminding me of past adventures. Ripped, stitched, patched, and ripped again, they bear the markings of hours spent caving in the Philippines, trekking through the bush to minister and evangelize in Africa and Nepal, and sanding through homes in eastern Europe.
The cardigan became more than a light knit sweater and served as a fleece and jacket liner keeping me warm as I traveled through China handing out tracks, praying over Tibetan grounds, and filming the countryside.
There are reminders enclosed in the mobile home that was my pack.
New scars tell the stories of this trip. The two parallel three-inch strips on my left forearm from crossing into farmland enclosed by a barbed wire fence for a team photo. The scrapes on my right leg from roof jumping to our contact’s home during “man night”. The cuts, scrapes, and other healed over wounds from our month spent pouring concrete in Haiti. There are permanent physical reminders of what took place.
Life has happened. There are stories that I can share, there are pains to speak of, and there are testimonies of what God has done in, around, and through me.
The trees, buildings, and remaining scenery absorb the change in light as the city of Manila is coated with the warm colors dawn offers. As they bleed into the horizon, I soak up a new and humbling understanding.
It’s a new day. The golden hour is at hand. The vibrant light that shines to my side flickers as each person, structure, and vehicle passes rapidly from left to right. Each may only last for a second in my view, but they continue, regardless of my witness of them.
I think of the faces, the smiles, the awkward looks, and the wonderful expressions that I have come across on this trip and teach myself that these people are only new to me. Not to this world, and not to our Savior.
These people I have met are not merely captured in photographs for my memoirs or encompassed by a role played a role in the story that is my becoming.
They have possessions that speak of their own past.
They have scars, heirlooms, and reminders.
They have stories.
They are breathing. They are people that have chosen to live, despite their circumstances.
They are working, serving, praying, hoping, dreaming, dreading, and waiting.
They are more than anything I can ever say.
They are more precious than I can ever fathom that word to be.
They are more than what I can and will ever think of them.
I recognize that I am not at the center of the story I am a part of.
I’m on my way to Manila’s international airport to begin our final series of flights back to the United States. The World Race is ending, and though there parts of me that are in shambles, filled with questions about where we will all find ourselves in the future. I’m comforted by that fact that this, that life isn’t ending. That this whole story is unfolding and continuing.
Though this last travel day has me delving into caverns of thoughts filled with memories our God has allowed me to experience, there are still more chapters about to be written, and we all have part to play.
The conversations had on staircases, balconies, buses, porches, fields, backyards, apartments, schools, and prisons are not over but continuing despite my change in role.
They will be carried on by those in the community, the ministry hosts we supported, and my God that lead me to them.
The comfort, hugs, and goodbyes all now mean so much more to me than they did months before. Not because this could be the last time I see them. Because they tell of what is to come. The greetings and embraces foreshadow what is unfolding.
The children held, families prayed over, siblings comforted have not been abandoned but reminded of a Love that is alive and well.
It took 11 months for me to realize that life is not just for me anymore. He’s writing the next chapter. It’s His blank page to fill. He’s writing for us all.
It’s for you. It’s for them. It’s for her. It’s for him. It’s for our mothers, fathers. This hope, this message that I have spent 11 months reinterpreting, reapplying, and understanding is blossoming and developing.
Yes, this mission trip is ending, but the overall mission is ongoing. It’s one that all of us have been able to be a part of all along. This story is not over or even beginning. It’s continuing. There is more to come. There are more plots, twists, changes, arcs, introductions, passions, pains, and pleasures.
There are more stories to tell, more organizations to support, and more people with whom to share the resurrecting and hope-soaked story of the Gospel.
There are more transitions about to take place. More suns to break through horizons, and more days to embrace the warmth offered.
I hold my hand to my chest and feel the rythym that my father began 28 years ago.
Though I can’t see it, I still feel the freedom that beats from a restored heart.
It will be echoed, shared, and given.
It will continue well after this journey finishes.