I got an email today from a friend in the Middle East.  What he sent was really priceless.

He sent me 4 pictures taken yesterday when he and his wife and their daughter, visited my sister who is working there in the United Arab Emirates.

I must have stared at those pictures for the longest time.  I thank God for their ministry and how they took the the time to visit my sister.  What a priceless blessing.

I was deeply encouraged.

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I was up at 4am. And by 5:30 am, I was already driving through SLEX.

Arrived in San Mateo before 6:30 am. It was going to be a long day (August 4th) because my sister Joy was flying to Abu Dhabi.

By 8:15 we were driving through Marikina and along C5 we made a right to pick up my older sister Ethel. Joseph was his typical 15-year old self. Sleepy and would not participate in any meaningful conversation, the last few ones before his mom would take off.

We arrived at the general airport area by 9:30 am and we had a lot of time to kill. Jollibee was a good option so we had our real breakfast. By 10:25, we drove the short distance to the NAIA1 Departure terminal. I dropped them off while I made a long turn toward the parking.

Over at the OFW pre-departure area, I was really thankful that we could at least be comfortably seated while waiting for the 4PM flight. The liaison officer of the agency arrived shortly and instructions were given.

The OFW pre-departure area was a microcosm of the whole OFW phenomenon. Banking booths, seamen counters and other OFW booklets, paraphernalia, POEA and OWWA counters, free coffee, cafeteria counter for the last goto, sandwich, canned drinks and other food items. A big TV tried to entertain the families as they struggle with the reality of a loved one leaving for an overseas work in minutes.

I would look at my sister and my nephew many times. I still could not believe that she was finally leaving. Mixed with anxiety and the fear of the unknown, I find myself praying again and again for her safety and protection. Looking at Joseph, I would ask God how He would allow a single Mom to be separated from her only child, and for a 15 year old boy to suddenly become physically orphaned.

We were like most OFW families there. Trying to engage in some funny and yet memorable talks. Figuring out the OFW Sim card, getting the last minute instructions and curiously looking at the other OFW families.

There were so many younger people in their 20s who were leaving. There were those who had been to an overseas work for quite awhile, and then there are those who wore on their faces, the quiet anticipation of someone going out for the first time.

It broke my heart to see fathers carrying their small children, trying to have that final family picture as they fumble with the settings of their digital cameras. Of women trying to get some privacy as they talk for awhile on their cellphones, saying their goodbyes to their families who were maybe still at the parking lot. Husbands doing the last minute hand carried luggage check before their wives leave. Of little children crying when a parent finally gets up and head for the DEPARTURE entrance.

I was taking all these in. These scenarios are played out on a daily basis in our international airports.

We were just like them. We took pictures using our phones and bluetoothed them. I took pictures of Joseph napping comfortably on the steel chairs, unperturbed by the goings on. I would hesitantly look at the wall clock because it would factually show us that time is ticking fast and our long goodbyes would have to end soon.

At 2:30 PM, I got the courage to tell my sister that maybe it was best for them to head to the Departure entrance. I was getting emotionally drained already and besides, we wanted her (her first flight ever) to have more time adjusting to the environment and get settled before her flight. Her OFW companion also followed and said goodbye to his wife and 2 small daughters. I hugged and kissed my sister Joy. Hours earlier, God comforted me in my grief. The Lord GOd can and will take care of her while she works in the Middle East. And as I looked at all the people going through the Departure entrance (MGA BAGONG BAYANI – our new heroes / rightly so, because their remittances of P12.7B and counting this year, has given our country an annual hope, and sadly, a false sense of security that our economy remains strong. One newspaper editorial even went so far as to declare that because of the OFW remittances, our government fooled itself into thinking that it was doing a good job securing the economy of the country.)

I did not see her go through the departure entrance because I started to head down the stairs to the parking lot. My brisk steps betrayed what I was really feeling at that time. I was sad with a mixture of guilt and anger all strewn in between…

The three of us were quiet as we drove to Market! Market! My sister offered to treat us for a meal. Then we headed for the groceries for Joseph to get his provisions for the week. I could not imagine being by myself at 15. He lives with the grandparents – but he would still be basically very alone.

I wrote his excuse letter from missing school that day, gave some more instructions and tested the Skype on his computer – then I left for Laguna.

It seemed as if I had been driving the whole day. I was tired. I was emotionally depleted. Wifey was already asleep when I entered the house. She was still asleep when I left 18 hours earlier.

Sent an sms to my sister’s OFW SIM and said a prayer for her. Thankfully, I drifted off to sleep.

It was going to be a long day tomorrow ( August 5th) because 14 Americans will be visiting us and I will be picking them up at the airport.

At 1:22am – I got an sms response “Here now in Abu Dhabi. My Nokia 8250 (for the OFW sim) is working.”

I was about to unlock the car doors for my wife and friend when my phone received an sms. “My flight schedule is on August 4th..” We were about to have a relaxing dinner (my wife and I with our good friend Tess) in Antonio’s Grill in Tagaytay, and somehow, the SMS surreptitiously invaded my private thoughts for the evening.

I remember weeks ago blogging about how I felt when my sister first informed me about her signing the contract to work overseas.

https://compassionateconsiderations.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/i-signed-the-contract/

It used to be an idea. It used to be an anticipated distant fact. But now, we are just counting the nights and for me, I am counting the sleepless nights as I ponder and pray for my sister and nephew.

On August 4th, my sister will be joining the more than 3,000 people who will leave for their overseas work. On August 4th, her son, my nephew Joseph, will be joining the millions of young people who have been physically “orphaned” because the parents need to work overseas to provide for the family.

My sister is going to Abu Dhabi, UAE. I googled the country for the first time – and because the website could not really tell how life is like over there for a non-national worker like her, there was nothing left to do but to agonize in prayer.

Becoming an OFW ( Overseas Filipino worker) would be for the most part, and for millions of my Filipino brothers and sisters would for the most part, be considered a great blessing. Money is expected to come in and with a much higher rate, it would be more than enough to provide for the college education and many needs for the family left behind ( GREED isn’t factored in the previous sentence.)

Under ideal circumstances, I would have also been delighted to see my sister go. But frankly, I wish there was another way for a single mom like her, to provide for her only child, Joseph.

I worry for them both. I worry for my 16-year old nephew who will suddenly be thrown into the world of harsher realities. Of being alone, coping alone in an environment where there is not much love that surrounds him at this critical stage in his life. I worry about other influences giving him time and affirmation. I think about those nights when he would be alone in his room trying his best to muffle his sobs. I think about the un-prepared breakfasts and the un-eaten dinners. Joseph would really need to grow up fast. At the age of 16, Joseph would be contending against something which I did not have to even face when I was his age – being physically “orphaned.”

What any young people need would be the Matthew 3:16 experience. To know that they belong somewhere, that they are loved, and that they are a source of significant pride. But I guess for millions of people in this country, those needs would need to give way to the fulfillment of the more basic survival needs: money for food, clothing and shelter.

I feel really sad about this exchange. Someone said “Money cannot buy happiness, but it certainly can buy some degree of freedom…”

But come to think of it, ” some degree of freedom is considered happiness” for millions of people around the world. Some degree of freedom, of not having to go to the Middle East, of not having to leave a son by himself, for me right now, for the most part, is happiness.

And then I started thinking of my sister Joy and how brave she has been. I have not known a braver soul after my mother’s heart. They are both alike in many ways – and it is quite sad to see their fragmented relationship, is still unable to move beyond the catalyst that shattered it in many ways. I cannot imagine what she is thinking and feeling right now as she takes care of the last minute details of her departure.

What thoughts come to her mind when she goes to bed. Does she count the nights and days with excitement or does she try to hide her tears and fears?

2:51AM Prayer for my sister Joy and only nephew, Joseph

Lord God, have mercy. I present my sister Joy to You. I know that you love her more than we ever could. Lord God, she is leaving for the Middle East to work so that she would be able to send Joseph to school and even afford him a college education starting next year. Being an OFW is already a common phenomenon here in the country Lord. But that may be so, but not in our family.

I cannot imagine that time would come when she would need to go Lord and brave it out there in a very foreign land. Lord forgive me when I get really anxious – but thousands of stories about abuse and threats to personal safety, would really make one count the cost. But many times Lord, we do not even have the luxury to count the cost because we are already bleeding from many sides.

Lord, protect my sister from harm. Protect her from evil-doers. Protect her from evil. Surround her with your peace and comfort on that particular day when she leaves the country. This is her first overseas trip – and I could only imagine a host of concern as I recall my first overseas trip. But the difference was, I was going not because of a financial need, whereas my sister is going to the Middle East for that.

Lord God, please honor her desire to provide for her son. This was not how you have designed families to be – and someday, all of these things will be reconciled back to you. Lord, there have been so many like my sister, who is braving the world out there for the sake of their children.

Remember them Lord.

Hear their cry.

See their afflictions.

And I pray for Joseph. I pray that you will comfort him as well. I pray that he will totally find you in the alone-ness he feels at the situation. Lord, my sister requested that I spend more time with Joseph so that he will not need to find an outlet for his frustrations and sadness. Lord, use me now to minister to my nephew, and where necessary, to become a loving source of paternal love. He has never known the love of a physical father and my heart is grieving that he will also be paying a personal, high non-financial cost for a brighter future. Protect him from the world. Protect him from the evil influence of this world. Give him the passion to seek YOU most of all. He is an “orphan” in the coming weeks and months and perhaps, years. Use us all Lord to surround him with your love.

When I look at him, I still remember vividly, the first time I saw him when I arrived from the US in 1994. I was too excited that I immediately kissed him and carried him. But it was too much for a 2-year old handsome nephew, and he cried and looked for his mom. I remember how he would drink his milk in regular intervals and I would ask him “are you drinking your beer?” and he would smile and nod at me. I remember the time inside the bus from Mindoro when he would look at me to check if I was sleeping or not, because he felt like throwing up, yet did not want his uncle to see. Or that night as we were being rocked by the huge waves crossing the Mindoro Straits and he was really afraid, and he turned to his mom sitting next to me and asked “Mommy, I am afraid, is it okay for me to cry?” I heard him asked that question and I immediately hugged him and said “sure, it is okay to cry…”

Lord, maybe he will do a lot of crying when his mom leaves. They may not be physical tears because many times, young people do their cries tear-lessly. Lord I pray that You will be His source of strength and comfort. Thank you for being the Father him and to us all.

Lord God, I surrender them to you. I love them both very much and I wish I could afford both of them a sense or degree of freedom. It breaks my heart that they will need to be separated because many times they feel, they only have each other. Let them know Lord, that they are included and loved and that You are fond of them as well.

Thank you Lord. I know you care for them. This may not be your design but you allowed it to happen. You are the sovereign God and Your hands are not limited by our circumstances. Thank you for taking care of them. I also ask for your provision of time, money and energy to become an influential mentor, friend and uncle to my nephew.

In your hands I surrender this prayer through the precious name of your Son, Jesus.

Amen.