“Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Nelson Mandela
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan aka Yolanda, the deadliest typhoon in history, left villages devastated, children orphaned, spouses widowed, and communities grappling with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their lives. This storm completely blindsided these who were unprepared, burrowing a deep feeling of despair and heartache that seemed at the time to be unyielding and relentless.
In many ways, my life in 2013 mirrored the same emotional tragedy of those who survived Typhoon Haiyan. The New Year in 2013 started out with great hopes as my husband, Tom Alessi, and I etched out our short and long term future. We dreamed of volunteering as a family one day to serve those less fortunate.
In June, I was completely blindsided, left in deep despair and feeling lost in the abyss of grief and heartache. My life as I knew it came to a screeching halt when we suddenly lost my seemingly healthy husband of 15 years to an undetected sudden cardiac death. Needless to say, the remainder of that year felt like a horrible movie as I was cast in the unwanted role of a distraught, grieving young widow swallowed up in emotional chaos, with two fearful little girls left confused and dazed by life’s raw reality. A seemingly strong and rooted faith of 25 years that somehow left me wounded and nearly broken seemed to be called into question.
Now, two and half years later, the rebuilding is steady and ongoing in my life and in the lives of the Filipino communities. The typhoon of “loss” seems to be a distant memory to us who have lived through it. The fears have subsided and have since been replaced by the determination to move forward and to find laughter in the smallest joys of life.
The rebuilding of the Filipino communities could not be done on its own but needed the help of compassionate strangers. I knew I could not climb the slippery slope of grief alone. I needed help to tear down the isolating walls that I built around me and to welcome the compassionate and loving arms of those waiting to console us. These very arms represent the arms of our Lord who is full of compassion and mercy.
For us, 2015 has been a year of service. Whenever I felt the wave of grief come crashing through, I remembered Jesus as He fed the 5000 shortly after hearing his cousin John was beheaded (Matt 14:10-21). I would seek out ways to serve, give of my time and money to the family of believers and the mission. The quote I started out with from Nelson Mandela has a deeper meaning to me, as we decided to spend Christmas break serving with the HYC Philippines team.
This was a different kind of Christmas for us as we made our way through the rural communities lined with tin roofed shacks, the compassion we felt for these people hit a chord deep within us. The hope we have in Christ was being poured out on to them through our acts of service. The joy we felt from our love for God which was being expressed through the warmth of our hugs to the children in the poorest communities, to the lonely old man who lost his wife seven years ago and chose the bottle as his only friend, to the family who lost everything in the typhoon who can now enjoy the home we built for them and to the mentally challenged little boy who found his way into my arms and heart, Juwaven aka “Bibi”. My soul continued to be fed when God unexpectedly met my deep need as a mom as I gained insight and sound advice on how to raise future young disciples from two devoted families from San Diego, an elder’s wife from Australia, a father of a teen from Singapore and an Aussie single brother who leads the preteen ministry in his country.
For the past year, I have grappled with the fear of how to raise two preteen girls as an only parent in a world that was determined to swallow them up. These fears were relieved because my girls were surrounded by rising teen and young campus leaders from across the globe who have a contagious zeal for God, an unabashed love for one another, and a deep sense of commitment to live out Jesus’s mission of not only seeking and saving the lost but of responding to the cries of those in need. My girls have living and breathing examples of who they can aspire to be. When my 10 year old says I want to be just like Patty Burrage when I grow up, I know my desire to see them become disciples is within reach, and I would spend every penny I have a thousand times over to give them this opportunity because it gives them a fighting chance to be unified in the Lord with me and their dad some day.
The team at Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital recently celebrated its 5 year anniversary. SKMH opened in April 2012 with the mission to meet the needs of poor children and women of Southern Cambodia. It is managed by HOPE worldwide . Since its opening, nearly 50,000 patients have been touched by the team. On May 26, the hospital honored 31 employees who have served since the hospital’s opening day. Through the dedication of its staff and supporters, SKMH has seen tremendous growth. Since its opening, the hospital has accomplished the following:
· More than 140,000 patient consultations with nearly 50,000 new patients
· 71% of visits have been for women and children
· Nearly 800 children have been born at the hospital since the opening of the Maternity building in November 2014
· 7 Cambodian doctors have graduated from three year hospital training program.
· Currently employs over 180 people
· The Neo Natal Intensive care unit opened November 2015. To date the NICU has served 49 children
· Centralized Medical Gas System for NICU and campus opened in November 2016.
· Surgical department opened in 2015
· Surgical team has performed over 360 surgeries in 2016, not including C-Sections. 86 surgeries have been for children
· Blood bank opened in August 2016
· A Learning Center for children of hospital staff opened on June 12
Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital has been blessed with international support from medical and administrative partners as well as volunteers from around the world to serve and teach. The local Cambodian staff continues to grow and serves as the primary patient care providers.
The team is grateful for all the support that has been given this past five years; however, there remains more to do. Future development includes the addition of a CT scan, upgraded X-ray diagnostic equipment, continued development of staff training programming and pursuit of international accreditations. Please consider how you can make a difference at the Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital. Go to https://www.hopeww.org/donate . Use the drop down box and select Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital. If you wish to learn more about the Sonja Kill Memorial Hospital, please visit www.skmh.org .
Dr. Rin Receiving the Empathy Amplified AwardClick here to watch .
Jenny Harkabus spent Christmas serving in the Philippines. She wrote this, and also made a short video:
I did not imagine that I would be spending Christmas in the Philippines for my first HOPE Youth Corps experience. This opportunity has deeply changed my perspective on the importance of service in my daily walk.
We are created in God's image, therefore we are meant to help and serve others. I know this to be true because I have never felt so used by God and fulfilled, than the times spent serving and pouring out my love in the Philippines.
James 1:27 says, " Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Some translations refer to this as true religion. The bible also stresses the importance of giving to the poor (1 John 3:17, Matt 9:21, Proverbs 14:31). God considers caring for the poor and orphans as true religion, yet this can be an area of faith that is overlooked.
I was privileged to spend time with girls who have experienced trauma and abuse at the HOPE worldwide center in Laguna. Many of these girls have been separated from their families, becoming orphans, as a result of the abuse they have experienced. I also received the opportunity to play with children within the community as we rebuilt their homes and provided them with medical care. I witnessed the children’s precious value for human relationships, as they clung to me emotionally and physically. They showed me instant love and respect, which I find to be rare in today’s society. Our focus should be about investing in others just as the children in the Philippines invested in me.