small leaps

many may know that i was born in manila, philippines and adopted at an early age. when i share this, many questions spew from this bit of information. a common one is “have you visited since?” and i have to say “not yet.” this question though continues to awaken a desire placed in my heart for five years. it’s the desire to return someday, specifically in a serving context, perhaps like a mission trip. sometimes, i find organizations stationed in the philippines and i feel my heart ache in the good way. but i know working for an international nonprofit with no experience overseas is not ideal. so my research had brought me to graduate programs instead. pursuing a master’s degree has been on my mind even before transferring to illinois state mainly because the field of social work usually requires one. as i continued my education though, pursuing a master’s degree in social work didn’t seem to fit where i wanted to go even though i wasn’t entirely certain where.

since moving to los angeles, i have been able to refine what my passion is exactly. living and working and serving in the inner city are heavy contributors to the discovery. by far and wide though, the stories of people that have collided into mine continually confirm my purpose. i like working with people. i like encouraging them to grow towards their potential. i like being a part of restoring a community. however, i didn’t know all of this when i arrived in los angeles. i needed to leave and take a step out of my comfort zone for it to be revealed.

i know life is to be lived like a story. stories contain chapters, a variety of characters and settings. i know life is about constant change and growth.

the day before my 26th birthday, i volunteered at an event called the hollywood winter shelter with my community group at reality LA. we provided food and conversation with folks experiencing homelessness. there i met the young woman who coordinated the dinner. she spoke of living in an intentional living community and mentioned that one of her roommates just left for the philippines. my ears perked up and i asked her to continue. her roommate is participating in a master’s program at azusa pacific university and part of it was to serve overseas in different urban cities. of course, i was instantly intrigued.

within the following week, i received more information about the transformational urban leadership program at apu. as i spoke with andrew, the program coordinator, i realized that a philosophy i’ve had simmering in my mind for a while was the backbone of the program. i strongly believe true transformation of a community occurs within, not from the outside. i see too many people with savior complexes creating visions for communities without assessing strengths and resources that already exist. i believe that when those who are called to serve the urban poor experience life like the urban poor, hearts are renewed (not just of the people in the community, but of those serving as well). this takes time. Jesus spent His last three years of life living like the poor while teaching and serving them. in order to change a community, one needs to learn from the people and love them well. the program is founded on this idea. after the conversation with andrew, he connected me with candice, an alumna who graduated in august.

we met for coffee. it only took minutes to notice the similarities between us. we both are filipinas who grew up in the american culture with little knowledge about our own. we also think and perceive the world in a similar matter. what i enjoyed most about the time getting to know her and the program better is that she did not sugarcoat the difficulties and struggles of her experience. i appreciated it. by the end of our meeting, i knew nothing much was holding me back from applying.

a couple of weeks later, i was invited to attend an event hosted by the program. sometimes when the Lord confirms His command for me, it comes quietly or magnificently. this time, it was magnificent. after the discussion, i met three people. one attends reality LA (the same church i do) and led a volunteer group with center for student missions several years back (the non profit that brought me to los angeles in the first place). the second lives in an intentional community in hollywood. when she told me the name, it struck a familiar chord within my mind. as i racked my brain, i remembered why. the first time i heard it was i volunteered at the hollywood winter shelter. her roommate was the coordinator for the dinner. the connection i had with the third person blew my mind. within distant chatter, i overheard the words pico-union. i inquired more about why it was mentioned. “i work at a school in the neighborhood; on the corner of 14th and union.” i added. “i need to your principal,” she surprised me by saying. it turned out that knows a couple of students there (one in particular with whom i have a strong connection). she also knows a thoroughly involved couple in the neighborhood planting a nearby church. we talked more in depth over dinner.

by the deadline, my references, transcripts, and essays were received. the following week, i scheduled a screening interview with the program director. the purpose was so the viv could explain further what i can expect and for me to ask any clarifying questions. as he reviewed my essays, he commented on how my writing reflect filipino thinking. his expertise on the filipino culture stems from living and serving with the urban poor in manila for ten years. i spoke of my journey of discovering the program and the not so coincidental connections already established. at the end of our conversation, he offered me a position in the program. he noted how he saw this as a fitting season to take the opportunity. immediately, i asked if i could defer the acceptance. i wanted to be faithful with the job i currently have and work just one more year. he said that is a possibility, however 90% of the people who defer don’t actually participate in the program. i had a decision to make.

sometimes selfishness can disguise itself underneath good intentions. for example, my desire to defer my acceptance was with good intention. consistency is important to me and staying another year with most of the same students is how i wanted to practice it. in my selfishness, i wanted to stay in los angeles. i’ve developed a sense of community and purpose here and to leave that terrified me. but the more i thought about it, the more i understood that i wanted to defer the hardships and trials i know i will experience. i knew the Lord called me to live and serve in the philippines for a season and i knew that this is the way to obey that command.

so i’m here to announce that i accepted the offer into azusa pacific university’s masters of art in transformational urban leadership program. this begins in september and lasts for two years. during the first semester, the entire cohort takes classes at the LA campus (which is blocks away from my koreatown apartment). then come january of 2016, we head off to the field whether that is continuing in los angeles or abroad. i am going into the program with the intention of serving in manila, philippines. my time will be focused on learning the culture and living among the people i’m serving. the first seven months i will be taking language classes in addition to the course load for grad school. then, i will intern at a variety of non profits organizations focusing around education, community and economic development, advocacy, and healthcare. i return august 2017.

as i begin this new and unexpected season, i know support is essential. i have been overwhelmed with joy from the positive and encouraging responses of loved ones. it has been evident that i cannot do this alone. i am delighted to share this journey with you.