A journey of faith: The day I met my best Guide in Jerusalem

By Echo Chow

From a very unlikely messenger, Echo received her first gift from above.

I received my first Holy Bible when I was traveling alone in Jerusalem.

One afternoon in a restaurant, a middle-aged man came and asked about my nationality. After leaving for a while, he then returned and passed to me a Chinese Bible.

“Thanks for the gift,” I said politely with no intention to read it for the rest of my life. “Not from me but a gift from above,” he pointed at the sky and disappeared in the crowd.

What an odd reply to a non-Christian like me at that time! Only after nine years that I realized the true meaning of the word “gift”.

When I got back in China, the design of a book called “Desert in the Streams” caught my eyes in a bookshop. I opened it and could not stop reading. I wondered why I can see religious books in China. I was so curious and phoned my Christian friend in Hong Kong, just to make sure that it was not heresy.

Later, another friend gave me a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life”.  Again, I finished it with keen interest. One day, an idea emerged that what I had been reading was “second hand” information on Christianity.  Why not try to experience the original version?

Among the Bibles she received.

Yes, in between those years, I received six Bibles in different versions from different people.

The year 2008 was the turning point. On Christmas Eve, I shared my sleeping problems with my friend since childhood.  Among the many strange dreams I had, the one about the struggle between “good” and “evil” scared me most.  “Go home and read the Bible. Only Jesus Christ can save you,” she concluded.

That night before bedtime, I was reading Romans 7:22-25 “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These verses shocked me completely! It seems that the author from a thousand years ago understands me better than myself. I could not figure out why, but I felt a very deep fear in me. I could do nothing but pray for the first time accepting Jesus as my Savior.

The journey has its ups and downs, but Echo knows in her heart she found her best Guide.

There is no fear in love

Suddenly, the fear is gone. I felt like a baby sleeping in a cradle with someone comforting me. My hands were getting warm, and my heart was at ease. “It’s just an illusion.” I thought with disbelief. It was an instrumental prayer. I used Jesus Christ and denied him after that.

Two weeks later, I visited a museum in Singapore. Inside the museum was a church. Touring around alone, I felt a drop of cold water dripping on my left hand. I saw nothing on my hand but above my head was a huge painting of Jesus and his disciples. At the bottom of the painting was a sentence like “This wine is my blood”.  And I was just standing beneath the cup the disciple was holding.

Water … wine… blood…

I asked myself whether it was just an illusion again. But it would do me no harm to confess and follow Jesus. Why not have a try? The church people were happy to meet me. Yet I needed to answer them a few questions before attending classes.

“What is sin?” they asked. “Motivation,” an English word suddenly flashed into my mind. “It’s not just action and motivation matters, right?” I replied.

“Why do you trust the Bible?” They asked again. “Consistency,” another English word appeared in my mind, again. “I guess the book was written by many people living years apart, right? And the message is consistent even though some of these writers might not know each other,” I said.

Even a car she once saw on the road one day when she was upset reminded her that she should be thankful God too time to shepherd her.

With limited knowledge about the Bible, I could not understand why what came to my mind was English but not my mother tongue which is Chinese.  At that time, I could not even distinguish the Old and New Testament and misunderstood that the Bible had a “printing mistake”, for it repeated the story of Jesus Christ for four times!

That is not important, though. What matters most is that I have started a journey of love, faith and hope. There are always ups and downs in life, but I know with Jesus in the boat I can smile amidst the storm as we go sailing home.

Power is perfected in weakness

My journey seems to be pre-destined long time ago yet heading to somewhere to my surprise though I have never been a well-planned person.

It is natural that most people would like to use their strength to perform and achieve. The more confident we are, the more we will succeed. In my entire study and career life so far, I see the Lord has been protecting me from my weaknesses and strengthening me in areas I was never even aware of.

At university, my major was Communications but I scored highest in Philosophy and Religion. My news sense was not sharp but I was elected the chief editor of the school newspaper simply because I could communicate better with the Taiwanese professor who supervised us on this project.  When I was still puzzling what to do after graduation, I was offered a job in a renowned international news magazine as a staff writer per recommendation by the professor.

That was how I jumped into the media field, in spite of the fact that I had very little understanding of international affairs.

The job came with immense pressure. I found myself totally inadequate to write in-depth analysis on topics like regional conflicts or economic crisis. I drank six cups of coffee a day to keep myself awoke, and slept only three hours a night.

The journey of faith continues …

We can make our plans, but …

Such hard times continued six months until I resigned because I wanted to gain more front-line experience as a local news journalist. Out of my expectations, though, the newspaper I just joined shifted its editorial policy to intentionally nurture journalists with global perspectives. I became one of the potentials, perhaps due to my previous background.

A golden opportunity arrived when I was 26. I was offered a post stationed in the US for two years as a correspondent. That was my dream for a long time! But my mom opposed so strongly that I gave it up. Several months later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she died two years later.

Lesson learnt – when the world values personal achievements and prestige, the Lord tells us that staying with our loved ones is more valuable than anything else.  And He loves me so much that even though I didn’t know Him at that time.

Frankly speaking, I was very nervous during those days. My English and common sense were far from satisfactory, but the job required me to deal with many unfamiliar technical topics from missile tests to human cloning, as well as natural disasters and international development conferences.  All these not only widened my perspectives significantly, but paved the way for my future career in the NGO sector.

Now I am working in an international non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in China, a place beyond my plan. I am not sure why and how long I will be here. But I know I am in God’s hands, for “we can make our plans , but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Echo’s journey with God pursuing her is such an inspiring message that He is around watching and keeping us – an amazing message we can ponder on Easter celebration.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

My father has cancer: How do I deal with a news like this?

By Maryann “Mai” Zamora

Mai recalls how her father felt guilty that she had to work in a fastfood shop to buy things she needed in school.

“Mai, your father has stage 3-colon cancer.”

I remembered how it went through my ears. Then I turned cold and endlessly sobbed in our couch. I was shattered.

It was my mother Mama Bebei who broke the news to me just after I got home from work in Cebu City.

It felt like spinning in a dark tunnel. Why him? I cannot fathom why it needed to be him. For a few months after my father Lando’s diagnosis, I hated the things that I used to love and the things that kept me sane.

I hated watching the sunset, the feeling of being surprised, all the traveling and the idea of uncertainty. I hated sunset because I was afraid that he will die when the sun rises; I hated surprises because I do not want to be caught off guard that he will go the next day; I hated traveling and uncertainty because I was afraid to lose him while I am away for work.

I thought I would feel guilty not seeing and taking care of him on his last days. I grieved in advance and lived in fear. I cannot lose the person who has been the reason why I do well in everything I do. There was a time that I gave in to these fears. I felt it was hopeless to fight the battle.

But my father’s words through the years gave me the courage to fight and survive. I cannot lose the battle without giving it a good fight. I can clearly recall when I told him I might not be able to go to college because he lost his job. He simply told me, “You will go to school.” No ifs and buts. I did.

That was five years ago this month – March 2012. I was then 25. Yes, my father went and rose through the 5-year relative survival rate for colon cancer patients. He survived! My family dealt with the pain gracefully. We survived the drama that cancer can inflict in a family. My father said earlier this week, “Mai, let us celebrate this victory when you get home”.

You must be wondering how we – as a family – survived?

Behind Mai’s smile is a superwoman’s spirit of flying through the storm to save her family from harm and pain.

You will never know how tough you are until the situation hits you. Having a loved one diagnosed with a serious illness does not compare to someone knocking and asking if he can come in. It is a long-winding road until you get to the point when the only choice is to face the situation. Your strength is weighed on the scale.

Two days after the diagnosis and before his operation, my father wanted to see. He requested from the doctor and nurse to wait for me before he gets inside the operating room. I ran fast to see him. I knew he wanted to have the assurance that I got his back; our family’s back. I acted tough to show him all is ok with us. I told him, “You need this, Pa. Or else you will suffer more and it would be more difficult for you and for us.”

That was my most heartbreaking sent off so far. I sobbed with his red rubber slippers in my hand. We all waited outside until the major operation was finished. The procedure remove portions of his large intestine and small intestine.

Be open to take it as an opportunity to know God on a personal level. It was on this moment when in everything I do and decide, I talked to God to make sure we are doing them right. I was very young back then. I am unsure. I needed God’s wisdom as guidance. I thought I cannot afford to fail because my father’s life is at stake.  It was the first time that I offered to pray for someone. As he was about to be wheeled inside the operating room, I approached the doctor and asked if we could pray for my father.

I held his hands and prayed. I cried, making the doctor’s hands wet with my tears. The doctor tapped my shoulder and said, “Pray and trust God. Everything will be all right, Mai. I will do my best.”

Her father surviving through cancer was a team effort. It was a bayanihan spirit at work from Mai’s family, relatives, friends and neighbors.

Saving for retirement early on. The experience taught me the value of saving and investing. When it happened, I have no savings. By the time we needed to pay the hospital bills, I have to find means and exhausted all the resources I have. I kept it a secret from my family that I was running out of money.

I remembered writing an email requesting our office if I can borrow from my salary. I cried shamelessly at the internet shop while doing it. It was humbling. The financial and emotional challenge did not stop there. Two weeks after my father’s operation, he complained of pain and asked if he can be brought back to the hospital. The insurance has been exhausted and will not cover his further treatment. It was difficult to say no but I have no means to pay the bills.

In the end, it is all about family. Do not be afraid to ask for help, I did. Having someone with cancer is not just a family thing. It needs the support of the entire community and the people around you.  I am blessed with the best support system possible. My aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors who never left us during those moments.

Whenever I am down to my last resource, my Aunt Chona, the sister of my father, would call me and just listen how my days went. My uncles and aunties were also around anytime we need them. My younger sister Sha, a Biology student, patiently explained to me the treatment processes.

Five years after the surgery, surviving cancer is her father’s best gift to the family.

The bayanihan spirit is very much alive in Filipino communities. Bayanihan is the Filipino trait of coming together to help a cause. While my parents were in the hospital, my neighbors would clean our house, bring food for my brother and for my parents at the hospital. They reminded people in our village not to talk to my father about having cancer. It was only after three months when my father learned he has colon cancer.

When I got back to work, I would ask my friends for help – such as my friend Crislyn Felisilda-Dacut paying the hospital bills for me. I do not want to burden my family to know how much it had cost us. I wanted to condition their mind that I am in charge and they need not worry.

Learn from the process, no matter how painful. It initially felt it was unfair for my father and all of us to suffer. In those darkest moments, my workmates would send me messages or put a note on my table, reminding me of Bible verse in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know I have plans for you; plans to prosper and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and future.” True enough, after five years, He kept His promise.

I learned the hard way that major breakthroughs come from major heartaches. Looking back, I now understand why it needed to be him. Why my father? Why him? I realized God hits us in our weakest points to become the person He wanted us to be.

I am not used to showing my emotions. I was stonehearted and always wanted to be a superwoman. With what happened, I am kinder and learned to empathize. The journey gave me a big heart for others because I know how it feels to be broken and left empty-handed.

Mai continues to give back joining outreach initiatives of small organizations in Mindanao.

Mai is currently an aid worker sharing powerful stories from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Philippines for eight years now. She has been deployed in major emergencies in the country and finds time to travel and learn from different cultures.

Traveling solo in Bali: I realized happiness is made, not found

She admits it was daunting. But it also taught her a lesson on reaching out to others. She also proved many would be happy to help.

By Shintya Kurniawan

It was unplanned. It was fun and life changing. These are the four simple lines to sum-up my experience.

It started when a book-review competition rewarded me free plane tickets to Bali on 2013.

I can choose the dates, the sponsor reserved and paid for my tickets. I am grateful and excited. However, I have never bought tickets to travel alone. It was a first time for me.

When I go for trips, at least one friend joins me in the journey. Except having the free tickets, I have no particular reason to be in Bali. I have visited the island of gods multiple times. What would I do there alone?

Then, I remembered there was this annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to tick off from my bucket list. So I requested to fly on the dates to attend the event on October 2013. The event, however, fell on weekdays. Everyone was working and nobody wants to go with me.

I guess not too many people would take a leave from work for a literature event. My excitement turned into a dilemma – should I cancel or reschedule the trip until we have a national holiday? Should I still go?

Thankfully, my traveling buddy, Mardea, decided to join me. But she could only do it on the last three days due to work. That, at least, relieved me. I have three days to enjoy my own company until she arrives. It should not be too hard.

Shintya’s first trip alone changed the way she looked at the world and people. It also opened doors for more adventures.

I decided to test my survival skills, packed my bags and just took on the challenge. I booked a motorbike and a hostel near the airport in Denpasar – Bali’s capital city. When I arrived, it was already dark and my GPS could not locate or direct me to the right hostel.

That night, I ended up sleeping at a different hostel – the nearest one I could find. The next morning, I decided to go to Ubud with the rented motorbike. I never drove a motorbike in Bali before. I vaguely remembered the road to get to Ubud from Denpasar. Normally I go by car with Mardea’s sister.

With the help of GPS, numerous wrong turns, countless stops and directions from friendly Balinese people, I arrived in Ubud in one piece. Finally! I did a daring 24 km drive by motorbike in an unknown route. Bucket list checked! The first day of the festival was a bit intimidating. I did not know anyone. Over time I learned how to start conversations and made new friends with interesting strangers.

My Bali experience opened my eyes to the world. After that, I have had the chance to travel alone to various places. During these times, I am bolder. These experiences shaped me to be more independent, raise self-awareness in many things in the world, as well as restore faith in humanity.

My prejudices on people got dramatically reduced as my sense of awareness towards new environments sharpened. I have met numerous angels (without wings) who helped me find direction, share travel tips (sometimes unsolicited) and clinch memorable experiences.

While in Frankfurt, Germany, a Spanish guy helped me buy the right ticket to Karlsruhe and even walked me to the right seat in the right coach at five in the morning. When I asked why he did it to me, he simply said that I looked confused and that I reminded him of himself when he first tried buying a train ticket in Germany. He got help from a stranger and he was happy to pay it forward. There is too much goodness in many people around us.

She met Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, at Ubud Writers event.

When I was in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, the hostel owner asked me to help her interpret for expat guests who missed their train. She then insisted to drive me to my next destination at a neighboring city called Malang. She even insisted to pay for my lunch. In Nagarkot, Nepal, two tourists from Italy shared laughter and lessons with me about surviving scams while traveling.

These adventures blur all the labels and boxes that divide us. Although I still enjoy traveling with friends and family, I realized that it is healthy to take time embarking on a journey on your own. Traveling solo encouraged me to be comfortable with myself as company – making peace with myself.

I will most likely not bother to talk to other people no matter how interesting they are if I am with friends. Alone in trains taught me how to live without internet connection and try to communicate even in different language. It makes you creative and resourceful! It also trained my senses to be more alert of what is happening around me.

A female solo-traveler still raises eyebrows in Asia. The risks will certainly make our parents worry – but once you go home safe, it also strengthens trust for your next journey. In the end, traveling alone helped me to be brave and to say yes with many adventures ahead. Indeed, happiness is made not found. Most of it along the road.

Solo traveling can make a conservative Indonesian family concerned. But it also builds trust when you go back safe after a trip.

Shintya is a media and communications practitioner from Indonesia. She used to work as journalist and NGO worker. Currently, she is based in Poland to pursue her second Master’s Degree in Humanitarian Action. Photography, folding origami and collecting batik are some of her interests.

Stop counting years, let the adventures begin!

The Canopy Walk in Swaziland’s pristine forests was one of the most exciting glides I have done. Doing it with adventurous friends doubled the fun. What is your most daring experience ever?

This March, istoryya.com is excited to share the lives of over 36 women from all over the world. Telling us their life, love and lessons, these women will show us how beautiful life is, and how we can go for the adventures we want – that impossible does not exist.

Limits exist when we impose it on ourselves. You’ve read that so many times. But you must have decided it can happen only to others. Are you crazy? Why not?

My life is a fascinating journey of storytelling. Whether I did it in a silver-chromed chair in a sleek office in Singapore, in a colorful rug under a scorching warm Indian sun, in a freezing tent in a camp in Iraq or a decaying wood in a thatched-roofed African hut, the stories never failed to enchant me.

I was once upon a time, a skinny-weeny girl who wondered how her life could be the same with those who can have dolls that blink and lovely dresses with frills.

Apart from the fact that my life is no fairytale, all I wanted was to afford a truckload of books and write non-stop. These are my definition of luxury those days.

Fast forward, I can now buy books more that I can read them. Do not get too impressed, my favorite hangout was a nearby second hand bookshop.

Honestly, I did not even consider traveling would come with it –too expensive for me even in a dream. It came as a bonus! My succeeding jobs just swept me off to places responding to global emergencies. And yes, my job does a lot of writing, 90 percent of it.

The best part is, I get to listen to stories of people – all colors, all walks of life, all the drama and suspense. Wherever we come from and no matter how boring we think our lives are (we always assume that) – we have a unique life, a story to tell. It can never be the same with anyone.

Nevertheless, there is always that common ground that binds us together. Trust me.

My story as a woman who got married at 18 and have three children before my 30th can be as common as your next-door mom’s life. But mine did not stop there. I took it a bit further – and I did it!

I got to blogging (as most of the bloggers I guess) to inspire more women never to give up on their dreams even when balancing them with motherhood and bills. All because I have proven it is doable.

Ask the person seated next to you. She has a story to share, I bet. Imagine how rich our lives will be if we are able to stop, ask and listen? Have you even listened to your grandma, mother, your sister, your aunt?

I hope this new phase of istoryya.com will give you the courage to pursue the life of adventure you want. Tell us if you have done it. Tell us if you are at it.

One thing for sure, if you can think of it, you can do it. Stop counting years, start logging adventures!

This weekend, our first guest blogger is Alina Shresta from Kathmandu, Nepal.

Alina is a communications manager in an humanitarian organization and a happily married mom of two boys.

Growing up watching Bollywood films, Alina always dreamed of marrying the man she will fall in love with. What if fate intervenes in the form of her parents and saves her the trouble of finding her knight in shining armor?

For all their good intentions, Alina tried to duck and dive from an arranged marriage. Did her parents succeed? What will you do if you are Alina and tradition gets in the way of your plans?

Please join me in welcoming Alina in istoryya.com and her funny but insightful story “Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?” about settling down in Nepal and finding the man of your dreams in a way you least expected.

Then tell us if your courage and your zest to life are as bold as Alina’s!

 

Hold it! Istoryya.com is also coming with a fantastic bonus.

Ready for Taiwan!

Madison the explorer, your tiny adventurer, will soon join us in the Traveling Mom & Toddler page with her mom Diane sharing their travel exploits in Japan, Hong Kong and soon – in Taiwan.

Maddie, as we all fondly call her, will give us tips how to be one-year old and start traveling. Watch them and their fun trips!

 

 

 

Antique Jeepney Diaries: Pandan takes the world!

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

It was still dark when we took the 5:30 morning trip to Pandan municipality so we can go back in time for the last transport. It was still dark and rain threatens. We knew from the start that it was a long trip – but we only realized it was that loooong when we reached our destination. Four hours instead of three.

Traveling from San Jose de Buenavista, the capital town, to Pandan has eight towns in between: Bellison, Patnungon, Bugasong, Laua-an, Barbaza, Tibiao, Culasi and Sebaste. Apart from Bellison and Sebaste, all of these have been familiar to me from the stories our father told us. This got me breathless recounting. I felt sad he was no longer with us to join the trip – but who knows he might be watching over us.

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Extra treats when in Phnom Penh

“From its ancient temples to its elegant capital and all the rich village life in between, Cambodia is a small country with a big soul.” – Lonely Planet

1 Ride in a spruced-up tuktuk. Many of them are visitor-friendly and drivers will even cover the seat with cloth you’d feel someone special. For at least a dollar or two you experience the royalty treatment in the Kingdom of Wonder! I wonder, though, if royals in this part of the world have taken a tuktuk ride even once. Oh, well, the simple things you miss when you are part of the family.

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