Student midwife Bekkie Howe witnesses the strength of faith in the Philippines
I recently embarked on an adventure to the Philippines as part of an elective placement, for my Midwifery Degree, which I am currently studying at Keele University: I am now in my third and final year of training. I chose the Philippines as I had never been to Asia before and wanted to experience a way of life and way in which midwifery is practiced, completely different to that of the Western culture. In both respects to these initial hopes I was certainly not disappointed.
As well as being a student midwife, another identity I have is that I am a Christian. I like to think of this not as my religion, but rather my relationship with Jesus. These two identities combined naturally made this experience not just a placement in another country: it meant that the living God’s spirit was at work within me: strengthening, challenging, persevering, hoping and encouraging. Throughout my time there I faced circumstances where in all honesty I would have happily jumped back on a plane to the UK due to being placed in situations which were filled with sadness, hopelessness and fear, completely foreign to me.
Experiences like this struck me to the core, not only happening while working at the hospital, but each time I stepped outside of my westernized, clean, safe house where I was staying along with other students. The contrast to the rest of the city was immense. I had an overwhelming sense of guilt each time I walked through the town wearing, ‘Oh this old top’, which onlookers would have deemed to be the height of fashion. Or every time I was travelling on a public Jeepney, casually browsing my iPhone and then realizing it was probably worth more in value than what my fellow passengers may earn in a month’s wages.
After being placed in a foreign country and faced with foreign situations, it prompted me to question (as the writer of Psalm 137 did), ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’ How do you manage to praise God when you are immersed in an unknown situation which provokes such negative emotions? My answer to this question is: if something is foreign (unknown, a change from our idea of normality) what we should turn to is something which, despite this, does not change but rather stays constant, consistent and rooted firmly: Jesus (Colossians 2.6–7). With this in mind, each situation I faced, although new and daunting and even at times where I was in awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness, I was able to be rooted in him with a thankful heart.
During my third and final week in the Philippines, I stayed in a rural community on an island named Guimaras, with an indigenous tribe, ‘The Ati’. This was a community setting in which to care for pregnant women and their families and, in terms of residence, to live the life of a Filipino. I will make no illusions, the family we stayed with were poor and had very little in comparison to my 20-year-old self. Yet as the week progressed, I began to realize that they in fact had so much more; what they lack in possession, money and social status, they more than made up in laughter, community and love. They apologized throughout the week that they had little to offer us, but the truth is they taught me more than I could have ever learnt from a university degree.
I am not one for clichés but I wholeheartedly agree with whoever said, ‘the best things in life are free.’ No amount of money could have bought the laughter, conversations and way of living life that we shared in for a week. Going beyond us and looking to Jesus, the astounding truth is that the best and most beautiful thing that could have happened to our human race was not free. Our freedom, salvation and chance of relationship with God came with a price. Yet we did not pay. Instead we are called by God to live in relationship with him and allow him to use us as his hands and feet. That is the call, which is the cost.
The Philippines being a predominantly Catholic country, I soon realized how strong and important their faith was. One experience, which I will never forget, reflected the strength of this faith. A woman came into the hospital labouring with the possibility of the baby being breech which would mean she would need a caesarean section, costing an extortionate amount of money; money she did not have. As the doctors scanned her she gripped her wooden rosary tight, her fingers crossed, crying in complete despair. The scan however confirmed that the baby was not breech and she could therefore have a normal delivery. Although the world may have told her she had very little, she in fact had everything, because of her faith in Jesus Christ. ND