Sunday, May 29, 2011

Contact Info

If you would like to contact me while I'm here in the Philippines, here is my address:

Kristen Downs

Sea Breeze Subdivision

Brgy. Tayamaan,

Mamburao, Occ. Mindoro,

5106 Philippines

My cell # is +63 947 282 0210. You can text from gmail for free and it costs me a peso to reply. Because I don't have cell service in the village (I have to go to the beach), I won't be able to text much but if you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear from you :)

I will probably not have internet access for a couple of months... so snail mail letters would be best.

I'd love to get a note or letter from you!!! :)

Hello from the Philippines!!! :)

I first want to apologize for taking so long to post an update… I have been extremely busy ever since I arrived here 19 days ago. I have completed two weeks of orientation/training and will be leaving for my village in a few hours!!! :) I am very excited to be getting to my final destination! I will not have internet for the next few months…so unfortunately I won’t be able to post any updates until then. However, if you have Facebook, I will be able to text in status updates so that will be one way to keep up with what I am doing. It may not be every day though, since I won’t actually have cell service in my village…I have to go down to the beach to get it. I will do my best to keep you all informed though :) And of course, snail mail always works…that’s probably the most reliable way to get in contact with me. I will post my address in the next post…I’d love to hear from you!!

Sigh…so much has happened since I’ve been here!!! I think that’s why it feels like I’ve been here way longer than I actually have been. There is so much I wish I could say, but time and space do not permit. However, I will do my best to give you a brief overview of my experience here thus far. I have also posted pictures on Facebook.

I love it here in the Philippines! I am so happy… Yes, I miss home and I have had a day where I was very homesick, but I have a peace that comes from knowing that this is where God wants me to be. Even since I have been here, He has again confirmed that He has called me to be here this year—even down to the village to where I was assigned, I see His leading. It’s very exciting to know that I am in the center of His will! Through this whole experience, I think He is teaching me more than anything to trust in Him… and I will have many, many opportunities to do that this coming year! Continue to pray for me…I know I will have challenges ahead, but I also know that He has amazing things in store for me and I can’t wait to find out what they are!! :)

I arrived in Manila on May 12th around 10am local time. After nearly 30 hours of travel and basically no sleep during that time, I was totally exhausted!! The mission director, Mrs. Webb or Tita as we call her here, picked me up at the airport and took me to the hotel where we stayed overnight. After leaving LAX, I completely lost track of time and losing a day along the way didn’t help that :P I wanted to sleep so badly when I arrived in Manila, but Tita wisely kept me awake so that I could adjust to the new time. So instead of sleeping, I went shopping and ran several other errands with Tita in Manila.

I wish I could describe to you the craziness of the traffic in Manila. Honestly, I don’t think I could…it’s something you have to experience for yourself! There’s nothing like driving through a very busy city and having other vehicles pass just inches from you. There’s no such thing as traffic rules or lanes…the only traffic rule I really noticed being observed was stop lights. Other than that, they switch lanes whenever they please—no warning. They just expect the other drivers to pay attention I guess. It was crazy. Yet, they seem to not have many accidents so I guess it’s working for them. I would be scared to death to try driving there though :P

On Friday the 13th, we boarded a ferry bound for the island of Mindoro. It took about 2½ hours to arrive at the port. The ferry trip was absolutely beautiful! We arrived at the mission house later that afternoon after a 45 minute drive to Mamburao. A few hours after I arrived, a group of us went to see the new highschool property and construction site near the village of Sulong Ipil. The new highschool will sit on top of a mountain and the view is amazing…mountains to one side, and the ocean to the other. It will be very exciting when it is finished!! For now, the highschool meets in the mission house in Mamburao.

I went to the local SDA Church my first Sabbath in the Philippines. The people were very nice, but shy. I don’t think they had foreigners join them very often lol. It was very weird to not be able to understand more than a few words of the entire service. They said a few things in English, but the large majority of it was in Tagalog. I have continued to attend this church since I’ve been here—3 times now. Each time, I have been able to understand a tiny bit more of the service. It’s amazing how God can still bless you through a church service even when you can’t understand the language :)

In the time I have been here so far, my Tagalog vocabulary is up to about 50 words plus a beautiful song in Tagalog. I have also pretty much learned the pronunciation, so I can read/sing most everything even though I don’t understand everything I say yet. I spend a lot of time just listening to them talk, and slowly I am making out the difference between just a bunch of sounds and individual words. I by no means can understand everything they are saying, but I am starting to understand short, simple phrases. I am very encouraged by my language progress and have no doubt I will be able to learn Tagalog while I’m here. So I’m very excited :)

On the Monday after I arrived, we started our training/orientation session. It lasted for 2 weeks. There are about 25 or so on our team and we are divided between 4 villages, a prison ministry, and the highschool. Most are Filipino, and I am the only American. There is one girl from South Africa here as well. During the past 2 weeks, my missionary team has become like my family. I love them!!

I have experienced many new things since I’ve been here…I’ll try to name a few of the highlights and my favorites. Mango. I absolutely LOVE mango!! I have eaten so many mangoes in the past few weeks that I wouldn’t even want to try and count :P I have also enjoyed trying several new varieties of banana…they all taste different, but delicious!! I have also tried several new varieties of fruits, including kalimansi, ceriguela, and soursop. Since I have been here, I have tried a new food almost every day I think. :) A few new greens have been kamote tops and chia. I have learned to love green cabbage salad. We eat lots of rice—every day. Even though it’s been a lot of new food, it has all been very good! So far the only thing I haven’t acquired a taste for is fresh papaya.

I have also come to enjoy cold showers. :) There is no such thing as hot water here. In took some getting used to at first, but now I actually look forward to cold showers twice a day. The temperature since I have been here has been quite warm—80s and 90s and humid. But honestly, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be! Rainy season started about a week after I arrived here so it rains A LOT.

I have gotten to experience several different methods of local transportation—riding in the back of a truck that has way to many people crammed in it, a tricycle, flat boat, and today I’ll be riding in a small boat that’s commonly used here. I much prefer the forms of transportation here…there’s nothing better than wind blowing in your face. :)

The other new thing I’ve experienced here is my first EARTHQUAKE!!! That was the weirdest thing ever. It happened at 12:40am when I was asleep, but the violent shaking woke me up. At first, I didn’t know what was happening especially since the shaking had somehow gotten into my dream. Then I thought it was the girl in the bunk above me moving around. Within a couple seconds though, I realized what it really was and my heart skipped a beat and started racing. I guess I can’t say I wasn’t alittle bit scared. :P There is nothing more unnerving than having everything shaking around you but having absolutely no control of it. In the morning I found out that it was a 5.7 on the scale and the epicenter was right here in Mamburao!! Thankfully, it only lasted about 5-10 seconds so it didn’t do any damage as far as I know. So I can now say I’ve experienced an earthquake. :)

I have finally bonded with the missionary kids here. They were extremely shy at first, but they have finally come out of their shells and they love me. I have little shadows all the time and I am constantly getting surprised by one of them :) I love the kids here…they are so cute!

This morning I head out to my village—Binuangin. I will be teaching 2nd grade and classes start on June 6th, so we will have about a week to get settled in. I am very excited to get there!! :) I will be sharing my house with one of my co-teachers, Isabel. She is Filipino,a little bit older than me, and super sweet. We have become fast friends and I know we are going to have a blast together!! The girl from South Africa, Angie, will also be working with us. I have an amazing team and I’m looking forward to a great year!

Well, there is more I could say and I am quite sure I have forgotten something important, but I need to be ready to board the boat in an hour and I must finish packing up my stuff!! So I hope that you enjoy reading this update and that it gives you alittle glimpse into my life. I miss everyone back home, but I have also made many new friends here. Continue to keep me in your prayers…I really appreciate them!

In the next post, I will put my contact info so that you can contact me if you would like. I would LOVE to hear from you!!!

Love and prayers,

~ Kristen

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How YOU can help!!

How YOU can be a part of my mission experience:
1. By praying for me!
2. By your Financial Support

Please send your tax-deductible donations to:
Laymen’s Ministries
414 Zapada Rd.
St. Maries, ID 83861
(Be sure to put “Kristen Downs SM Project” in the memo”)

You can also send donations to me directly at this address:
Kristen Downs
Thatcher Hall, Room 3105
PO Box 529
Collegedale, TN 37315

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Watch my blog for pictures and updates. :)

If you would like to receive email updates, please email me ( and I will make sure you are on the list!

Thank you SO MUCH for your prayers and financial support!!! :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Countdown Begins...

I'm fast-forwarding in time now from the previous post to February 1, 2011. It's been about 4 weeks since I contacted Laymen's Ministries, the ministry that I had applied to be a student missionary with. I have had a few short conversations and emails with the ministry during this time--enough to know that they are checking on my references and such--but no definite answer. God is teaching me patience. I'm beginning to wonder how much longer I will have to wait before I know whether or not I will be a Student Missionary next year.

And then, the phone call...

It was Tuesday afternoon and I had just finished my job at the SDA Elementary school where I work. As I started to pull out of the school parking lot to return to Southern, my phone rang. My heart skipped a was Laymen's Ministries.

"We've looked over your references," said the voice on the other end of the line, "and they all look really good! We are giving you the 'green light'. We're excited to have you working with us!" I'll have to admit, I don't remember much about the rest of that conversation. I don't remember much about the Microbiology lecture I sat through immediately following that phone call. My mind was in a whirl. A thousand thoughts, questions, and whatever else were all jumbled in my brain. The words I'm going...I'm really going, were really the only thing that actually made sense in my poor brain.

I don't know what it is, but there is something completely different about planning to go as a student missionary, and actually knowing you are going as a student missionary. I struggled to wrap my brain around that thought. Even now, I know it still hasn't totally sunk in that I'm going. All throughout that day and that days that followed, I went from being super excited about going one minute, to being scared to death about it the next. I don't think I've ever prayed so much in my life as I did in those first few days after that phone call.

Despite all this chaos of trying to grasp the idea that I was really going, I had such an inner peace about it. Even though my mind was telling me that I was absolutely crazy, in my heart I knew I was doing the right thing. I know it was that peace that kept me sane during those first few days while I was still processing the whole idea.

As I said before, I was praying alot those next few days. The prayer of my heart was, "Lord, I know that You have called me. You've opened so many doors and answered so many prayers already. I don't doubt that. But please give me just one more confirmation of Your will, so that I will have no reason to doubt." Little did I know what God had in store for me in the next few days. He is truly amazing!

So it was Tuesday afternoon when I received the confirmation that I was indeed going to the Philippines. Thursday morning I met with the professor at Southern that I have mentioned previously to give him the update.

For the next part of this story to make sense, I need to give you a little bit of background. This professor had been asked to go to Weimar College and teach and was initially supposed to move to Weimar over Christmas break and start teaching there in January. Well, some things fell through and it worked out that he would stay at Southern one more semester before transferring to Weimar. My friends and I were all very thankful that we had him at Southern for one more semester, because we were all going to miss his influence at Southern very much! So this was my understanding when I went and talked to him that day.

Back to the story now... We had a great conversation and he was very excited to see how God was working things out. When I went to talk to him, I was actually having one of those times where I was feeling really scared. God used him to encourage me because he told me that he strongly believed I was following God's will for my life and that He had seen God working on my heart. We prayed together, and I was about to leave when he said, "I have some news for you that you might like to know." I sat back down and he proceeded to tell me that he would be staying at Southern indefinitely!!! Not only that, he found out that he was staying at Southern on Wednesday--exactly a day after I found out I was going to the Philippines! I was speechless for a few moments and then tears started running down my face-tears of thankfulness and praise to God. Ever since I had gotten the phone call that I was going to the Philippines, I had been praying really hard that God would work out a particular situation. I had no idea that this would be how He would choose to answer it, but I couldn't have asked for a better answer! Now to some of you this may not seem like a big answer to prayer...but for me it was huge!! God really does know just the answer we need...even if we don't know it ourselves and don't ask for it! I left his office overflowing with thankfulness and praise to God, and knowing that He had given me a confirmation of His leading!

That Friday night the Lord decided to give me another confirmation--actually two of them! I normally attend a Bible study group on Friday evenings at a friend's home. We have been reading through the Testimonies and then discussing it after a paragraph or two. The topic for that evening? Mission work. Everything we read was about what being a true missionary meant and was full of challenges for me. Afterwards, I asked the guy in charge if that just happened to be the next chapter in the book. "No, it wasn't actually," he told me. "I was just reading it earlier this week and really felt impressed that we should study it tonight." I asked if he remembered what day that was. He said it was Wednesday morning--the day after I got the phone call. I was again amazed at how God works!!

One more confirmation awaited me at vespers that evening. God definitely chose the perfect week to give me my answer about whether or not He wanted me to go as a student missionary. The theme for Friday night's vespers was Student Missions. During the preliminaries, they had us break up in groups of 2 or 3 and pray for different regions of the world. I "happened" to be in the section to pray for Asia, which is where I'll be going. At the end of the message, they asked for those who were already planning to go out next year to go forward. So I went. Standing up there, and realizing I was with my SM group was a really weird feeling, but it was exciting at the same time!

Another thing that happened in that week was that I found out about 5 or 6 of my friends who would be in my nursing class when I return from the Philippines. I love how God cares about the little things. He knew how much it would mean to me to know people in my class, and He answered that prayer too!!

Having so many things happen in one week was almost overwhelming... It seemed like God was dissolving all of my excuses for not going all at once. My heart overflowed with praise to God and I was sooooo excited to find out what God had in store for me!!! It was definitely an amazing week/weekend and one that really strengthened my faith in God and in the power of prayer.

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So here I am... It's March 4th. My tentative departure date is about 70 days away. I am not without apprehension. There are still times that I am scared and wonder what in the world I think I am doing. But I am learning to trust God more and more every day. He has continued to work through different circumstances that have given me no doubt that He is leading. I am very excited to discover why God is calling me to go this year. I know He has a purpose and that He is going to use me in powerful ways if I am willing! He continues to amaze me every single day.

Yes, I am going to miss my family immensely. Yes, I am going to miss my friends here in the States. Yes, I am going to miss graduating with the rest of my nursing class. Yes, I am going to miss many other things. Yes, I will face trials and many challenges. Yet I know that the experience I will have over the next year will be one that I won't want to trade for anything in the world!!

I am a willing servant...ready to be used by God in whatever capacity He chooses to use me. I will try to continue posting updates of how God is working. I solicit your prayers as I continue on this journey that God has set me on! Thank you so much for your prayers and support! :)

Wait, me? A Missionary?!

"Have you thought about going as a Student Missionary next year?" A huge smile spread across the girl's face as she pointed to her booth and began sharing enthusiastically about how God had used her and her medical skills in Chad last year.

"Me?! Oh, well no," I stammered. "I want to go sometime, but this year is just not a good year for me. I'm in the middle of my nursing program and I have all this other stuff going......" And so I rationalized away the whole idea of doing student missions. Or so I thought.

This brief conversation happened during Student Missions Emphasis week at Southern Adventist University last November. I was walking through the Student Center one afternoon and this was where all the booths for the different mission projects were set up. Honestly, I don't even remember now why I was in the Student Center that day. All I know is that this conversation was the first of a series of events that has led to me making one of the biggest decisions I have ever made.

Those of you who know me well know that I had no intentions whatsoever of doing student missions this year. In fact, it was the last thing on my mind. I had my plans laid out. After this semester, I knew I had only one more year of nursing school until I would graduate with my Associate's degree. Then, I had plans to complete my Bachelor's the following year. Oh, I had considered taking a year out for student missions either in between getting my Associate's and Bachelor's, or maybe even after I graduated with my Bachelor's; but it was never more than a nice idea that might or might not actually happen.

All during SM Emphasis week, if the idea of going next year did cross my mind, it was only for a moment. Because after all, I wasn't going anywhere next year--that wasn't in my plans. I even went with one of my friends to the SM office to help her start the process, and the SM Coordinator asked me if I had considered going. I told her that it wouldn't be this year for sure. SM Emphasis week came to a close and I thought that was the last I'd think about student missions for awhile. Was I ever wrong!

In the days and weeks following SM week, I could think of nothing else. When I woke up, my first thought was about student missions. When I ate breakfast, I thought about children who might not get breakfast. When I went to class, I thought of kids who didn't have a teacher. When I went to worship, I thought of people who had never heard the name of Jesus. Day after day the words kept ringing in my ears--student missions, student missions, student missions. I started complaining to my roommate, "I don't know why I can't think of something else! I can't go next year! This is ridiculous." She would patiently listen, and then encourage me to pray about it. "No way," I thought, "God knows I can't go next year. I have things to do here!"

Finally, after nearly 3 weeks of struggling with God, I couldn't take it anymore. It had gotten to the point of where I couldn't even study. Every time I tried to focus and study, my mind would go to student missions. So I decided to at least go to the Student Missions office and tell them I was interested and then just see what happened. I really didn't think I would actually go, but I had to get this thought out of my mind before my grades started suffering.

Before going to the SM office, I called my parents and told them about my dilemma. I totally expected them to agree with me that this whole idea was crazy and tell I shouldn't go and that I should forget about it. To my surprise, they encouraged me to explore the idea a little bit. Although I didn't realize it right away, this was one of the first indications that this was God's will for me.

The moment I stepped into the SM office and told the SM Coordinator that I was interested in being a student missionary, this feeling of peace just swept over me. It was the weirdest thing and it puzzled me, because I was still sure I wasn't supposed to go. But I took the paperwork she told me to start working on and returned to my room. My mind was clear and I would have been able to study, but I couldn't--I had to spend some time thinking, and I started praying and asking God what all this meant.

Later that afternoon, I texted a few of my close friends and asked them if they thought I was totally crazy. As I talked to each of them that evening, they all had one common answer--"No, you're not crazy. You should go!" I thanked them for their advice and told them that I would continue to pray about it, but that I really didn't see how it would work.

I was also able to talk to one of the professors at Southern who I respect as a godly mentor. As I shared with him my experience over the past few weeks and about going to the SM office, what I was talking about doing began to sink in. "What am I doing?" I managed to say in between the tears. "Why would God be calling me to go now? I've never left the country before. How can I leave everything I know? My nursing class will graduate without me! I won't know anyone in my class when I get back......" He listened patiently as I poured out all my reasons why not to go. When I had finished, he asked, "Do you feel like you are doing the right thing?"

I thought for a moment, then answered, "Yes.... that's the strange part. I do feel like I am doing the right thing. I just don't understand and it doesn't make sense!"

"Well, then keep praying about it. If it is God's will for you to go, He'll work it out and He will make it clear to you," he counseled me. "Just pray about it for the next couple of weeks. Don't make any rash decisions. If you still feel like its the right thing a few weeks from now, then you'll know that God is calling you. Just be willing to follow His will, whatever that might be. It does seem to me that God is calling you to go, based on what you have told me. But don't take my word for it. Spend the next few weeks praying that God will reveal His will to you." Then he prayed for me and asked God to make things clear. I left my conversation with him feeling better and knowing that I could trust God with my future.

The last couple weeks of school passed quickly and I soon found myself at home for Christmas Break. I had spent many hours praying in the past couple weeks and the call to go as a student missionary had only gotten stronger. I was beginning to accept the fact that maybe this was God's will for me, even though I didn't understand it. Over break I was able to discuss things further with my parents. We started doing some research on different projects and seeing what all was available. After a couple days of searching, it seemed like none of the available projects would work. All of them seemed to get me back to the States two weeks before school started, and I knew that I couldn't do that. I needed at least a month to catch up on all the nursing stuff I might forget while I'm gone. Finally, it seemed that I had exhausted my options. "Well," I thought, "maybe I'm not supposed to go after all. Maybe God was just testing my willingness to go."

Just about that time, the name of a ministry I had forgotten about flashed into my mind. "Ok. I'll check this last one. If this project doesn't work, then I'll know I'm not supposed to go," I told myself. I pulled up the ministry's website and began scrolling through their pages to see if they had any calls. Then I saw one. Not only was there a call with this ministry, the call fitexactly into the "criteria" I had set, and actually exceeded it! Instead of being back a month before school started, I would be back for the entire summer beforehand! I would be able to study up on nursing, and take a summer class or two to get used to school again!

And as if that wasn't enough of an answer... the project I was looking at was the very project that I saw a DVD on eight or so years ago that made me first become interested in missions. So in going here, I would kind of be fulfilling a childhood dream! I showed my parents, and then emailed the ministry to see what I needed to do.

Over a week passed, and I still had not heard anything from the ministry. I began to get impatient. "Lord," I prayed, "why haven't they contacted me? I need to know what I'm doing.... If you want me to go, please have them call by tomorrow evening." I also decided to spend the day in prayer and fasting to make it easier for me to hear God's voice. So I did. The hours went by uneventfully. I began to get impatient again. I started praying and asking God to give me patience, and to also show me His will.

Within five minutes of that prayer, I received a phone call from the ministry. Did they need me? YES! And so I began the process of applying and all that goes with that. I knew God was leading, but I still had doubts about whether or not I was doing the right thing. I moved forward, however, a began the process...both with Southern, and with the ministry.

To try to make this long story a little shorter, I'm going to cut out many details that happened in the proceeding weeks. But the Lord used many different people in my life to encourage me and used them to show me that I was doing the right thing. Prayers were answered and my doubts about God's will began to disappear.

Within a few weeks, I completed all the paperwork and everything else I needed to do. Then came probably the hardest couple weeks up to that point of my experience--waiting to hear from the ministry and know if I was accepted or not. I had asked God that if I was not following His leading, that He would close the doors with this ministry.

And so the waiting began.......