Sunday, February 21, 2010

In over my head.

I'm sitting in the Manila airport, listening to Dashboard Confessional, awaiting my return flight to Davao. I've just wrapped up a last minute trip to the province of Pampanga, where some very interesting stuff is going on. I was so pleased to be able to join Mum and Dad and a small JOC team who are working in a couple different cities here in Luzon. My parents will be visiting us in Davao soon, but this visit was a very nice bonus.

As Dad has been traveling around the world this year (he is in his seventh country in as many weeks), he has spoken to church and political leaders about the biosand water filter. It seems that I have become the Impact Nations "clean water guy", a resource to project leaders and apostolic leaders from around the world.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have received a number of Skype calls from Dad so he could introduce me to the men he is working with. We have made the most of some very limited bandwidth in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. I've had the privilege of encouraging men like Langton, who is working with his team in Zimbabwe and have already installed over one thousand biosand filters, making a significant dent in a very serious cholera outbreak. I'm working with men such as Robert Mponye in Uganda and Simpson Rebbavarapu in India as we explore ways to train their teams to bring safe drinking water to communities all over their respective countries.

Some of these discussions have included potential partnerships with governments at both the provincial and national level. One such possibility came to my attention five days ago. As the JOC team was working in Pampanga, Dad had an opportunity to meet with and pray for Governor Panlilio. During their initial meeting, Dad spoke of the biosand filter and the governor expressed significant interest. As had become our protocol, Dad called me to arrange a Skype meeting with the governor and his staff. I suggested that I hop on a plane, since I live in the same country and a face to face meeting would likely lead to bigger things.

Two days later I was on a plane headed to Manila and then a bus to San Fernando. It was great to see Dad again. I hopped off the bus and caught a ride to a local church where he was teaching a bunch of pastors. It was felt good to listen to him doing his thing as I sat at the back and did a bit of work on my computer.

He wrapped up his session and we headed to the provincial capitol. We got a few minutes with the governor who seemed genuinely pleased that we had come. We proceeded to a boardroom where I spoke to about eight of his senior staff about the filter technology. It was neat having Dad in attendance so he could see me do my thing.

As always, I was peppered with technical questions as people struggled to understand the power and simplicity of this thing we call the biosand filter. After the presentation, the provincial administrator invited us to her office where we agreed in principal to move ahead with a plan to bring clean water to the province of Pampanga.

I have already written a rough draft of a Memorandum of Agreement that I will bring to my lawyer tomorrow to turn it into a legal document. The proposed plan is to start a new filter manufacturing center in Pampanga as a private enterprise, with the government purchasing filters for distribution in the coastal communities.

The ramifications of this deal could be huge. It brings us to a whole new level of influence. It will very likely lead to other provincial contracts (I have leads in both Sultan Kudarat and Agusan del Sur). It will certainly strengthen our business, giving us profits that can be reinvested in other projects around the Philippines and perhaps the world.

It seems that the Lord has suddenly accelerated things and brought me to a whole new level. A couple months ago I was focused only on Mindanao, but today I am contemplating ways to make our Zimbabwe project profitable, drafting job descriptions for project leaders in Uganda, India, and northern Philippines, and beginning to get a vision for an integrated global clean water strategy.

I'm excited about the possibilities, but I'd be lying if I told you that this stuff doesn't scare the crap out of me. I'm in way over my head. I'm just a mediocre musician. A university drop-out. Now I meet with governors and draft province-wide strategies? How did this happen? Do I really want it to happen? This stuff is hard work, and I don't know how to do a lot of it. I feel like a fraud.


This morning Dad preached a message that speaks directly to this issue. I'm a child of the King of kings and He has called me—you too, by the way—to the family business. He sees what is not yet, and calls it as though it were (Romans 4:17). While I may see my current limitations, God knows my destiny and has set it like a horizon before me. He has put a purpose and a passion in my heart that will serve as the vehicle to get me there. I'm just along for the ride.


Friday, February 19, 2010


Greetings! Bethany here...writing from sunny and cold Gresham, Oregon!
These past two weeks have been such a blur...a "brrr blur". When Promise and I touched down in Portland, exhausted and smelly (Promise barfed on the plane), my precious dad was there to greet us with coats and smiles. :) It was such a blessing to see him...Promise recognized him, but was just a bit unsure about life.

The next few days proved to be very trying and tiring. I got the flu. A bad bad flu. Promise wasn't sleeping and spent each night calling out for her daddy. We cried a lot and between barfs and diarrhea, we coped. My mom came back from California the Sunday after we arrived and Promise greeted her as if she had been missing her for years....screams and screeches of delight and excitement bursted from her and of course, my mom was equally excited. Grandma Con is her friend. :)

Mom and dad helped me through the woes of the flu and manned The Bird for me as I tried to study for my NARM exam. My brother even volunteered to watch her here and there! However, studying was just not happening....I was just feeling too icky, tired, jetlag and overwhelmed with life. I was feeling as though my urinary tract infection and fever were returning, too...making me nervous.

Then my dear friends, Heidi and Kate came from Vancouver to pray over me and to encourage me. They made the 6 hour drive just to bring me vitamins and build me up! I was so blessed! We had an amazing whirlwind time of prayer for our futures, for the NARM exam, for see....about 3 months after Promise was born, I noticed a little physical abnormality but was not sure if it was something serious or something that could just be dealt with later in life. After having my suspicions confirmed with the advice and expertise of nurse practitioners, Heidi and Kate, I felt like it was time to go to pediatric specialist. However, I have no insurance and no way to receive care for neither Promise or myself.

Then enters a very special doctor......I had met Dr. Sayson in high school....the father of a saxophone rival of mine, he and his wife came to all the competitions and concerts. I had no idea at the time that our paths would cross in such a divine way.....
Dr. Sayson runs a free clinic for patients without health insurance in the Gresham area. The Good News clinic serves people of all races and walks of life and last Tuesday, they served me. I was floored.
My mom, Promise and I entered the clinic to find the whole volunteer staff doing devotions together. We were greeted so warmly and were told that there was one opening that morning for me!

After devotions, the nurse checked me in and I had to pee in a cup for the urine analysis. Dr. Sayson came in and after discovering our strange past connection, he asked me what I was up to now....I shared about the Philippines and the journey we've been on....he got so excited sharing that he is Filipino and has a vision to start a charity medical/midwifery clinic in the Philippines, too! We were able to encourage each other and he asked me to come and speak at his Bible Study that Thursday night. I was so grateful as my urine analysis came out completely clear of infection! He referred me for an ultrasound to make sure some of my other concerns were alleviated and also checked out Promise, agreeing that a referral to a pediatric doctor would be necessary.....I left there feeling at peace, but recognizing that there was quite a lot of work ahead of me.....

Wednesday came and I headed to my long-awaited NARM midwifery certification examination. I drove to the testing site in tears....grateful the day had finally come. Completion. The first half of the exam was a challenge and despite my many trips to the washroom, I managed to finish the first session 2 hours early! I headed out early to find some lunch.

While lunching, Dr. Sayson called sharing that he had booked me a FREE appointment with a pediatrician for Promise for that very afternoon. I was so thankful, but mildly concerned as my exam was to last until 5 pm. The pediatrician said I could come as late as 6 pm....I wasn't sure that we would make it in time. However, 1 pm I was allowed to reenter the testing site and take the second part of the 8-hour exam. I prayed that the Lord would quicken my mind so that I could get Promise for her appointment....I finished in 1 hour and 40 minutes. The 8-hour exam was finished in 3 hours and 40 minutes. God either answered my prayer or I REALLY had no idea what the right answers were! Ha ha ha! (I find out the results in 3 weeks).

I raced to mom and dad's place to pick up my mom and Promise. We booted to the pediatrician making it there at 4:30 pm. :) She saw Promise and shared that the problem was not as serious as originally suspected and that a simple regimen of medication should solve the problem! I was so blessed. The fun part was that this lovely pediatrician knew my brother and had attended his church! What cool connections!

The next day, I went to purchase Promise's prescription...$150.99. OUCH! I felt the Lord gently remind me that He was going to take care of all the I put it on my visa and prayed that God would provide in all the places I lacked.

That evening I had an opportunity to speak and share the adventure Tim, Promise, and I have been on these last 3 years....the group I shared it with were so encouraging and upon leaving, I was given a "blessing" that I later opened up in the car on the way home....can you guess what it was?? Right...$150 cash. God cracks me up! I was so humbled. I also received a check in the exact amount that I had arrived in Portland with that I had spent on necessities such as groceries, underwear, and items I couldn't purchase in the Philippines....THE EXACT AMOUNT! God floored me again.

This morning, my brother asked me share a message on stepping out from fear and stepping into faith to a bunch of high school students! Well, with the kind of week I had, I had lots to share!

After speaking, mom and I headed to the ultrasound clinic to check out on my pregnancy. Though I have no insurance, my mom gave me the precious gift of seeing the little one inside...we marveled together at the sight of this squirmy monkey in my belly and the ultrasonographer, though not at liberty to comment medically on the state of things, shared with us that the little monkey is A BOY!!! We're having a baby boy! Meanwhile, we had a wonderful conversation with the ultrasonographer and found out that he has a deep desire to serve the poor overseas! What a coincidence! Mom and I shared about Dr. Sayson and about Impact Nations...he was excited to discover that so many opportunities were waiting for him! We'll see where it all goes! I am hoping to find out the results of my ultrasound by next Tuesday.

So two weeks of Divine appointments come to a close and I am FRIED....but my soul is refreshed and my spirit is invigorated knowing that my Saviour has prepared my path and has spoken clearly the steps I am to take all the while making some incredible connections! I have been floored by His mercy.

We are missing Tim terribly and know that he is very busy at home making some amazing connections with the water project. We are eager to see him next Thursday.
All this to say...THANK YOU FOR PRAYING FOR US! YOUR PRAYERS HAVE MADE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT! God is on the move and we are so thankful to be leaning against Him as He continues to move us on.
Please pray for this coming journey on Wednesday as Promise and I (somewhat reluctantly) leave my parents and her cousins to board a plane for a very long trip home. Thank you all again.
Be blessed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just One of Those Days...

Exactly seven days ago, I was feeling like an all-star. An absolute champ. One week later I feel like a miserable failure. Oh I feel like a loser! It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Today’s event should have been better than last week’s. After all, last week was just the dress rehearsal.

I guess I’d better explain myself. As I mentioned in these pages earlier this week, Toti and I spent February 6th in a town called Koronadal, where we launched a new biosand water filter project (you can read my brief account here). The goal was simple: train up a team of filter salesmen, arming them with the necessary knowledge to go and promote the technology in their respective communities. We were also there to train up an installation team that could fill the orders generated by the sales team.

My job description is ambiguous, but my number one responsibility is to go out into all the world (or, more specifically, all of Mindanao) and get people excited about the biosand water filter. My wife will tell you that the biosand filter occupies much of my thought life. It is my passion to make others passionate about safe water. So, last week I was in my element. I was doing my thing and loving it. By the end of last Saturday, we had 25 people who were very excited about water filtration and were armed with the knowledge to go make an impact in their community.

Honestly, I was in the zone last week. I was networking like crazy, getting laughs with my lame jokes, and encouraging as many people as would listen to me. Our turn out was much bigger than anticipated and everything was way more organized than I was expecting.

This week, my expectations were high. Perhaps our recent success had me anticipating big things. We certainly worked much harder at planing this event. Regardless, this was just one of those days. Some stuff was completely out of our control. A flat tire put us behind schedule, and a well-meaning but stunningly ignorant stranger gave us some very bad directions that got us so lost that our expected arrival time was missed by nearly 2 hours.

Getting lost, however, isn’t what has me feeling like a failure. No, it is the mistakes that I am still making after years of learning the same lesson over and over again. An example. Why do I continue to believe people when they say that I do not need a translator? I learned this lesson the first time I preached in this country two and a half years ago, and I’m still learning it. I’m pretty sure this makes me a moron.

This morning, I did my usual lecture, a one hour lesson on the biosand filter, explaining its origin, the specifics of the technology, and its recommended implementation in the community. No translator needed. Ya right. My attempts to interact with my audience/pupils went unreciprocated. But that’s cool, because blank stares are fun too. When I opened it up for questions at the end, the room remained silent which told me we were suffering from a serious disconnect. Two questions were eventually lobbed my way after which I turned the mic over to the local staff to address the payment structures and all those financial details.

And then it happened. As soon as a Filipino had the conch (wow, a Lord of the Flies reference, really?), the questions started to fly. I should have been pleased to see that people were finally beginning to engage, but instead I was mildly ticked. Their questions seemed stupid to me because they had all been answered in my lecture. In English. Sigh. So I let Toti answer most of the questions and did my best not to sulk or scowl (a great challenge for me, as you may well know).

Things got worse after lunch. Despite the clear agenda that I had laid out via email, we had a strange change of plans that had the entire group (about 40 people) loaded up into vans to go to a nearby school for a demonstration. Apparently there was already a filter installed at the school (who installed it?) and we were going to promote the technology to the parents of the school children.

There were no parents nor were there school children. There was, however, a filter. Oh, the emotions I felt as I rounded the corner and first laid eyes on that filter. Rage? Yeah, probably. Embarrassment? I was mortified. Amusement? This was no laughing matter. Despair? I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

Toti is a much better man than I. While I was struggling to keep my emotions in check, he was calmly and quickly formulating a plan to turn this into a teachable moment. I should first explain that every filter must be installed by a certified technician. We certify technicians, and in fact that is what we are doing here today. I don’t know where this filter had come from, but there wasn’t a certified technician within a hundred miles of this thing when it landed at this school. To complicate matters, the owner was standing there with a toothless grin, proudly proclaiming that he had installed it himself. Toti deftly and delicately explained to the group, in their own language, that this was a valiant effort but was not providing the best results.

I didn’t take any pictures of the beast because I wanted no evidence of the atrocity. I can tell you that it had a strange mixture of river sand and very large rocks inside and was being fed a constant stream of water from a hose, origin unknown. There was also a hose attached to the spout of the filter, which led into a massive cauldron which was catching the water. I know this description makes little sense to most of our readers, but I am certain that Aunt Sylv is rolling her eyes right now. Needless to say, this particular “filter” was an abomination and was doing very little for the health of its users.

Why do I take this stuff so personally? Why did this site rock me to the core, and literally bring me, a 30 year old man in full control of his faculties, to the brink of an all-out temper tantrum? Well, the three hours of sleep I had last night was certainly a contributing factor, but there is much more to it.

This is what I do. I’ve dedicated more hours than I am aware of to the proliferation of clean water in Mindanao. I have carefully crafted a business plan and organizational structure that is centered around quality control. So when I see a filter that has “slipped through the cracks” I count it as a personal failure. Sure, I realize that with over 3000 units out in the wild, there are going to be some rebellious filters. But when I actually lay eyes on one, the only thought that enters my mind is that I’ve wasted my time.

Further inquiries revealed that the filter had been acquired and “installed” (I use that term very loosely) nearly two years ago, when we were still building filters in Joe’s backyard. At that time, we were very new to this business and didn’t have a clue what we were doing. Yes, we have since put policies in place that I believe greatly reduce the chances of such incidents. And yet, today’s encounter will keep me from sleeping tonight. I will go back to the drawing board and re-examine all of our policies to see how we can do better.

I’ve been writing this inside while Toti is outside doing the installation training. It looks like they have just finished, so I guess I need to get up, paste on a smile, and find a way to gracefully exit this town. The good news is that today over 30 pastors have learned of the importance of clean water and the need for the biosand water filter. It sounds like Toti just successfully trained 7 more installation technicians. These are good things, but it sure seemed like an awkward way of accomplishing them.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Six Days and Counting

It has been less than a week since Bethany and Promise disappeared through the security checkpoint at the Manila International Airport. Last night somebody asked me when the ladies were scheduled to return to Davao and I jokingly replied, "Sometime in 2013." I must confess that some of the days have gone by excruciatingly slowly. It took a few days before I realized that my signature "I'm home" whistle from the bottom of the stairs would not be returned. It sure is quiet around here.

Other days have blown by. Saturday was one such day. I left the house at 4:30 and met Toti at the shop where he was waiting with the fully loaded truck. We drove for nearly five hours to the city of Koronadal in South Cotabato, where we were launching a big filter project. I've already written about it, so if you'd like a bit more detail about the day, you can click here.

After returning from Manila, last week was spent preparing for Saturday's event. Well, that was the plan. I was working away at my computer at 12:30 Friday afternoon when I received a text message from one of my "ambassadors"—I have an ever increasing network of people around Mindanao who are so excited about the biosand water filter that they are regularly promoting the technology in everyday conversation. Shari Bailey wanted to know if I could meet her friend Grace for a quick meeting at the Waterfront Hotel.

Now on the one hand, I was swamped with work, needing to organize my thoughts and my teaching materials for the following day. Conversely, Grace Pingoy is a highly connected woman in Sultan Kudarat, a province in which we have yet to make any significant inroads. In fact, I have been trying to connect with Grace for a few months, but the Maguindanao massacre delayed our meeting (she was personal friends with several of the victims). I wasn't about to miss this opportunity and was quick to leave my work for an hour and a half.

An hour and a half. Yeah right. We sat down in one of the hotel's many restaurants and I started doing my thing. What is my thing? Perhaps that is worth talking about one day. For the sake of brevity, let's just say that I blather on about clean water coming out of concrete boxes. Grace works with a congressman and is personal friends with the Governor of Sultan Kudarat, so we had plenty to talk about.

Partway through our conversation, Grace explained to us (Shari and her friend Peter were also in the meeting) that she was at the hotel attending a conference, a gathering of politically influential women from all over Mindanao. She excitedly pointed out that one of their sessions had been centered around climate change and its effect on safe water sources. Southern Mindanao is currently suffering from a drought that is expected to last up to seven months, meaning that many fresh water sources will dry up, leaving people to gather water from unsafe sources.

Long story short, Grace managed to secure me an invite to present to the conference at the end of their afternoon session. While I was painfully aware that every minute I sat in that hotel would be one less minute of sleep that night, the opportunity was too good to pass up. While waiting for my turn to present, Grace and Shari did the bulk of the schmoozing for me (I felt weird standing around with a bunch of women, so I was happy to take a bit of a back seat), passing out brochures and stressing the need for clean water.

I had arrived at the hotel at 1pm, thinking I could certainly afford one hour away from my desk. I finally left the venue at 7pm. It meant a stupidly late night of prep for Saturday's event, and I think I only managed about 3 hours of sleep. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of the spontaneous women's conference appearance. It's funny how the Lord can strategically stick you in the right place at the right time.

For those who are worried that I will waste away without Bethany, I can assure you I have been well taken care of in her absence. In fact, I have eaten only one dinner at home since she left. Our friends just keep inviting me to their houses!

Please be praying for Bethany and Promise. Truth be told, it has been a pretty rough week for them. Bethany has a really bad case of the flu, and Promise hasn't been sleeping. Apparently the poor Bird spends most of her nights lying awake, crying out "baby, daddy, go". Cute, but sad.

That's all I have to say about that. Thanks for your prayers. No photos today. No time to take photographs this week. Actually, I'll share one from Manila that I put up on my Photo Friday album last week.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

All Alone

Well this sucks. I'm home. Alone. I just returned from a little 36 hour jaunt to Manila, where I got to spend a day with Bethany and Promise before seeing them off at the airport this morning. They will be gone for over three weeks. I think this is the first time Bethany and I have been apart for a significant portion of time since we got married seven and a half years ago. When we were dating, we had lots of long distance seasons because she's from that big empire to the south of my communist home. But this is different.

I love my wife. She is my friend, and my daily encouragement. She makes me a better person by reminding me of the bigger picture. I don't like life without her nearly as much. She makes me happy and helps me to pull my head out of work mode long enough to be silly from time to time.

She took my kid with her. That was very difficult too. Promise is still so young, and it seems that she's changing every day. Imagine what I will miss in three weeks. Especially considering she will be spending it with her cousins, meaning communication and motor skills will likely develop at an even faster rate. Sigh.

Thank God for Skype. The Bird hasn't shown a consistent appreciation of the whole video conferencing concept, but perhaps she will be more attentive if her own Father is on the screen. If not, Bethany is welcome to put a picture of Dora the Explorer on the screen next to the Skype box, just so that it at least appears that Promise is interested.

We had a really nice time in Manila yesterday. Isn't nice a terrible word? We took Promise to the mall for some western food. Manila is all about the food. Food that can't be had here in Davao. Yesterday it was ribs at T.G.I.Fridays for lunch. Bethany was already in her pajamas by dinner, so I went out on the LRT in search of western food round two. The take-out pasta survived a long trip in my backpack on the very crowded train.

It was hard saying goodbye to my ladies this morning. I know that they will have a great time, but I would certainly rather they were here. Bethany is gonna do great on her exam. She's been studying hard, and she really knows her stuff. Thanks to all of you for praying. I am now awaiting word from her to find out how the flights went. They should be arriving at PDX sometime in the next 20 minutes. Perhaps I'll hear from her around 12:30am here.

My original plan was to go on a photo hunt after having dropped them off at the airport. I must confess that after I said goodbye, I was in no mood to create anything and just wanted to sulk. I asked the taxi driver to take me to the nearest Starbucks (again, I see Manila as one big food and beverage opportunity) but he seemed rather confused by the request. Thankfully, his randomly selected route—that was quickly taking us to an area that won't see a Starbucks for another hundred years—was enough to bring me some inspiration. The early morning sun was hitting a crowded river bank and that was all I needed. I think he was relieved when I asked him to drop me there, though his expression said "Buddy, I don't think there's a Starbucks in this neighborhood."

Anyways, I wandered until the light started to suck, and had a nice time making images. Unfortunately, my second attempt at finding a Starbucks very much resembled the first. This time however, the driver didn't even attempt to communicate that he had no idea where the nearest Startbucks was. I was too busy dwelling on my wife's absence to notice. When I finally snapped out of it, my driver, who was clearly too bashful to stop and ask for some navigational assistance, had rung up a whopping 190 peso bill and brought me to some remote corner of the city with which I was quite unfamiliar. I'm still not certain what prompted him to drop me at that particular location, as there was not a Starbucks in site. I suppose he had finally just given up.

Some of you may have already guessed what happened next. The meter had become so high, that I didn't have enough small bills to give the man. When I gave him a P500 note, he just looked disgusted and sniped, "No change!" I had kept my cool thus far (I wasn't being gracious or patient, as that's not my style, but rather inattentive). When I handed him that five hundred, I knew what he was going to say, and yet couldn't help but blurt back that I could have paid exact change if he hadn't driven me to Detroit and back! The hyperbole was lost on him, so I sent him out to look for change. When he hadn't returned after ten minutes, I decided my time was worth 300 pesos and abandoned his vehicle. To my knowledge, he may still be wandering the streets of Manila looking for change.

Oi! Rabbit trail. What was I talking about? Oh, my day. Actually, never mind. Not much to say. I never found a Starbucks, but the Seattle's Best was an acceptable home base for a few hours of working through my email. The rest of the day was spent going back and forth on the Metro, which is more crowded than you can imagine. (If you've just imagined a crowded train, you are wrong. It's more crowded than that. Nope, it's more crowded than that too.) One must be violent to enter and exit the train. Thankfully, I've got lots of weight to throw around.

I managed to catch a matinee showing of Avatar in 3D (one more thing that can't be found in Davao), before heading back onto the train towards the airport. I'm glad to be home, though it sure seems quiet here. I'm feeling sleepy, but feel silly for saying so. Bethany just flew across the Pacific with a toddler on her lap without my assistance. I hope she coped okay. Thanks for all your prayers. I'll keep you posted on my bachelorhood. Below are some photos from the trip, but most can be found at Facebook.