Tiny tots living a world away are now wearing beautiful little outfits made by the ladies of Salem United Methodist Church. The 14 Salem UMC members who recently said goodbye to those little ones and their families have come back home with beautiful memories of their first mission trip to the poor Philippine city of Maria Aurora.
Salem UMC Assistant Pastor Carol Standard, who led the mission last month, said every person on the trip said they wanted to go back to Maria Aurora again and minister to the people she describes as "poor, but full of joy."
"They are kind and loving and humble and patient," she said. "They met us with open arms and showed us more love than we had been shown in a long time. It was quite an experience."
Standard said missionaries often plan what they will do to change the lives of the people they meet, but the missionaries don't always expect that their own lives will be transformed. She called the trip a "great experience."
"They have a whole new outlook on life and that is to help others," said Standard of the Salem UMC missionaries.
This was the fifth trip Standard has taken to the city, which is on the Luzon Island part of the Philippines. She learned about the area from her brother and sister-in-law, Emory and Barbara Cromer, whose former church in Savannah had sponsored a mission church in Maria Aurora. The church has now grown from a home Bible study to a larger space which accommodates an increasing number of worshipers.
On one of her previous trips, Standard said a woman had made clothes for the mission team to give the children in Maria Aurora. When Salem UMC began planning this trip, the assistant pastor put an announcement in the church bulletin requesting that those interested make clothes for preschoolers for her to take on the trip.
"One of our ladies made 50 or 60 outfits," Standard said. "Another made a dozen and another lady made about that many, too. One lady told me she had never had such joy in making clothes. I said that's because God is in it.
"They are cute little dresses for girls and clothes for boys with little rick-rack and trim. They are precious little things.
Standard said the people they served make only $1 or $2 a day, and that they accepted the clothes with appreciation.
"When we gave it to (the people in Maria Aurora), they immediately put them on their children. They wore them instantly. They were thrilled," said Standard.
The Salem UMC mission team also distributed such items as toothbrushes, toothpaste and pencils. They also visited the schools in the region. The team held Vacation Bible Schools in area churches and sometimes in the middle of the street, Standard said. Team members also made concrete floors and put siding on some of the homes in the community.
The team from Salem UMC ranged in age from high school students to senior adults.
"It was intergenerational," she said. "It was very exciting. We put the boys to the heavy lifting. One set had carpentry and masonry experience. Everybody had a job. We had teachers who went with us and did VBS. We had a medic go with us in case something happened. It never did. We had a music person go with us and we sang in one of the services."
There is a mixture of religions in Maria Aurora, Standard said, with a lot of Catholic churches there, as well as some Protestant churches, including a Methodist church.
"Some of it is other forms of worship that we would not consider, Protestant -- spiritist, for example," she said. "I'm sure there are some Muslims there, but it's not a Muslim type of society, whereas, in other parts of the Philippines there is a lot of confrontation as we've seen in the news. There's unrest between Muslim groups and other groups, but not where we were."
Standard said this was the first time some of the Salem UMC members had ever been out of the U.S. or even on a mission trip.
"One of the young men had never flown before," she said. "You can imagine what that was like. It was a leap of faith. This was a 24-hour plane ride."
After they arrived in the Philippines, the group took a seven-hour bus ride to reach town.
"But it's worth it when you get there," she said.
"They love us and appreciate us. We have resources and can help them. If you had a dirt floor and somebody came and gave you a concrete floor, wouldn't you think that's just the most wonderful thing? We're the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. It could be anywhere. It just happened to be Maria Aurora."
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact features editor Karen J. Rohr at email@example.com.