These life stories were awe-inspiring, each one changed or altered by the hand of God; tales that were filled with tragedy and deep sadness became stories of hope and inspiration.
Naturally I couldn't wait to complete these interviews on my next visit to Manila in April. I was so eager to capture more of God's greatness through these emotive accounts and glorious faces.
However as many of us have experienced, sometimes God has 'other' plans for us; plans that not only challenge our expectations, capabilities and faith, but plans that also enrich us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
These are 'God's plans' and more often than not we reject these plans because they make us feel overwhelmed or incapable. We also reject them because we did not plot them ourselves. Instead we prefer 'Our plans'.
The problem with my perspective when I flew to Manila in April this year was that I had no room (or desire) to employ God's plans. Rather I had my own objectives to fulfill. I had my own purpose which was to interview people for a book and that was no small task. There was no way I could, or would, take on another person's plans in addition to my own, especially not God's plans which are notoriously gigantic and all-consuming.
However again I failed to see that 'God's plans' always, without exception, superseded 'Our plans'. Sometimes we would come to this realisation early, and quickly adapt our viewpoint or direction towards Gods.
Whilst on other occasions it would take us quite some time to see that God's plans are without question perfect, and we could not continue with our own because, let's face it, they would only ever be second best and truly deficit compared to his. God's plans are not only perfect in design but they have the capacity to truly change our lives. That is if we let them.
Was I surprised!
So when I arrived in Manila this April, God had 'other' plans for me. Instead of focusing on the book, as I had intended, God shelved that project completely. He didn't tell me that it was unimportant or invaluable or even why he decided to shelve it. Rather God led me to a more pressing need, and now, with a little hind sight, I thank him greatly for that divergence.
Although the path that God revealed to me was a difficult one to navigate, actually it still is, this path has actually changed my life, and the life of many young adults in the Philippines.
Through revealing the lack of resources and support available to teenagers / young adults who desperately want to study at university in the Philippines, God spurned within me a passion for tertiary education and justice. Despite my own frustrations with assignments, alarming deadlines, and my many complaints regarding university life, God revealed to me how fortunate I was to be able to study, not just one, but multiple degrees.
He revealed to me that not all environments or circumstances are righteous and fair. God did not see justice for these aspiring students in Manila. Rather he saw discrimination, and hardship and deprivation. He heard their cries. And he had a plan in motion. I just thank God for also revealing this injustice to me. I thank him for creating a stirring within me. And mostly I thank him for allowing me to be just a small part in God's giant plan.
Consequently, through God's amazing plan, 26 young Filipino students are now being sponsored by a number of Australians from South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. And this project has no intention of stopping. It is a plan that is God inspired and shaped, and we will continue to follow that path for as long as God intends us too.
So although I haven't returned to the book project as yet, I am so very thankful that God redirected me to another project and path for his purpose.
God's plans are wonderful, exciting and challenging. And they are also life changing. Sure they can also be scary and always seem to be impeccably ill-timed. But sometime we need them to be scary or impossible, because it is then that we truly learn to rely and trust in God's wisdom and strength.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Deakin University.
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