The Difference a Year Makes

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Life in the Philippines, Our work
Tags: , , , , ,

We’ve only been gone a year, but my friend says I look older. At age 34, that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me. I’ve always had a baby face: on my 15th birthday my friends suggested I ask for the 12-and-under price at the county fair; in my passport photo (age 27), I look like a college freshman. But it seems that this year has left its mark.

So what have I seen that’s made me age? Life how most of the world lives it: orphaned siblings sleeping in subway stations. Squatter families living in cement-block shacks the size of an American suburbanite’s walk-in closet. Street women selling themselves for a few dollars or less. Sights that would change anyone with eyes to see. But my eyes have widened joyfully as well: gawking at Avatar-inspiring marine life, eating heartstoppingly-good native mangoes, high-fiving women (who’d never before exercised) as they finished their first race.

But next month, I’m returning our old fantasy life, the Bay Area. Land of data plan complaints, hybrid hypermiling, and wine even in gas stations. Beloved Bay Area folks fret about real estate values or finding organic baby food at Whole Paycheck; Filipinos we have come to love worry about buying food for six on four dollars a day, or having to return to prostitution to pay their dying baby’s medical bills. Our old friends may see the change in my face, but can they feel it in their hearts? Will they even try? After a year of being a foreigner, an outsider, and a target, I fear being an alien in my native land.

When my wife and I quit our jobs last summer and moved to Manila for a year of volunteer work, I naïvely assumed it’d be similar to family trips as a kid: live overseas, see some old stuff, then pick up where I left off. But as a young but astute friend observed, the Philippines has “ruined me for the better.” So now my face tells a more serious story; my eyes focus on things besides literature, nature, and wine. Question is, will others want to see through them?

  1. robindavis says:

    Thanks for this posting; does Fullbright (or other organizations you know) provide any help or counsel on re-entry issues for Americans like yourselves? dad

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks as always for reading Pop; it means a lot to have those closest to us understand our lives over here! That’s a great point about asking Fulbright about reverse culture shock; in all the busyness we hadn’t thought of that yet. But we have talked extensively with other missionary types so I think we’re getting somewhat prepared.

  2. kennysacht says:


    WOW! This is such a good thing that God is doing in you. Your life is being “wrecked” and you have been given a little bit of God’s heart for the things that break His. I sit here with emotion as I read your blog this morning, and I don’t have many words – but lots of feelings inside me.

    “Lord, do what you want with Nate and Laura… might they make a REAL difference in this world…”

    Kenny in Boise

  3. Bryan says:

    we look forward to hearing all about it when you come home.

  4. Jennifer Rolander says:

    The answer is YES!

  5. What a beautiful expression of the dichotomy of two different worlds that now have a unified resting place in the one heart of a man and woman.

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