Waiting. It has at times been my worst enemy and the tempter of soul. 14 years, 10 years, 5 years, 33 years, months, weeks, days. I’ve gone through so many seasons of waiting with the Lord that I’d think I should be a pro by now. But here I am still waiting and still learning to trust.
My name is Marah Pense. I’m a 33 year old single missionary serving in the Philippines. I have my Masters degree in Christian Counseling and have been a Licensed Professional Counselor for 6 years now. This coming January 2021 I will celebrate 5 years in the Philippines. The vision, however, has been planted in my heart for about 18 years. When I was 15 years old God called me to the Philippines as a missionary. The word “Philippines” was stuck in my mind. I had to look it up, not even realizing it was a place. I knew it was from the Lord and claimed it as my future.
After graduating with my bachelors in International Community Development, I went to the Philippines for the first time for two months. When I landed, after 30 hours of travel, I breathed in the warm, thick air, looked at the beautiful palm trees, and felt a joy I never had felt before. I was stepping off the plane into the desire of my heart, God’s promise for me. The most impactful moment of my trip happened my last week in the country. As I was leaving the Saturday kids’ ministry, I told a little girl that she was beautiful. She was so shocked and kept telling those around her what I had said. Then, I sat with a young girl about 8 years of age and asked her if she had Jesus in her heart. She said she tried to be good and do what was right so that someday she might enter the kingdom of God. My heart broke for both girls. They didn’t know they were loved for who they were. From that moment, God gave me a clearer purpose, to help young people see and know they are loved and valued by God regardless of their actions or circumstances.
I went back to school and got my Masters degree in counseling, which God showed me was a gift he’d already placed within me that needed refining and enhancing through education and experience. My anticipation to return to the Philippines permanently was so great and my patience running thin. Two more years of school, followed by another two years under supervision as a counselor serving marginalized families, and I was still not yet on my way to the Philippines. There was one more year before I was able to move to the country of my dreams, and it was the hardest year yet. I enrolled in a missions training program through my church that led me with a very diverse (and difficult) team of people to Haiti for a month and a half and Greece for four months. I had to constantly fight feelings of frustration and lack of understanding why God made me go there and not to the Philippines. It was an ongoing battle against my own fleshly desires and keeping the faith that God would follow through on His promise.
I had to leave Greece a week early to go home to my dying mother. The 16 hour layover in Germany was the worst. I sat in the cold metal chairs alone, unable to think or feel, waiting for the unknown. God gave me a week with my mom before she was released from this life and the pain of leukemia she’d experienced for 3 years. My heart ached, but I couldn’t fully grieve. When all the family members left, I was there with my dad helping him adapt to a new reality. After a month of helping my dad, I returned to my home base and started to prepare for my move to the Philippines. Two months later, I received a call from my dad saying his sister, my aunt, suddenly passed away and he was driving across the country to pick me up to go help him manage her estate. The shock and uninvited interruption added to my repressed grief. I didn’t understand why so much loss was hitting us at once and why my plans were being delayed. Yet, I trusted. I trusted in the midst of the pain and unknowing, knowing that the same God who thirteen years prior called a teenage girl to be a missionary in the Philippines would keep His promise.
Living as a missionary in the Philippines has brought many joys and challenges. I spent the first two years adjusting to the culture while serving other ministries as counselor, kids ministry director, English teacher, and as Ate (older sister) to many young ladies in the church. I loved sharing my heart and helping meet needs, but quickly learned that I couldn’t help everyone. I soon burnt out while trying to meet others’ needs and being available for others’ ministries. All the while, I was asking God what His specific calling was for me in the Philippines and when it would come to be. It was hard always being the friend but never having one, working so hard to see other ministries reach their goals but not having the support to reach mine, wondering if I would have enough funding coming in each month to pay rent.
I finally came to a point where I was so exhausted emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I couldn’t live on only $500 of support each month and needed to go back to the US to make more connections. My heart sunk. My new home, the Philippines, had become the source of my stress and I couldn’t even keep myself afloat. I went back the US because I had to, and I didn’t like that idea. More waiting and no one understood. I had to act the part of the missionary, ministering to churches and teaching them about missions. I was torn between wanting to enjoy the luxuries and comforts I missed from the US and missing my home, the Philippines. My time quickly filled with meeting the needs of others. The same struggles I went to the US with followed me. I didn’t receive the respite I was in need of.
In the last month of my three month trip to the US, I took a step of faith and chose to trust the Lord to meet my needs. A friend sent me an email about a women’s retreat happening in another island in the Philippines a month from then. I knew I didn’t have all of the funding I needed but trusted that God would provide for the retreat and what I needed to head back to the Philippines in time. God did provide and I was led by peace. The Thrive retreat was exactly what I needed. A group of ladies from the US came to us overseas workers with the comforts from “home” and the encouragement we needed to keep on serving the Lord in the countries He’s called us to. For four days they graciously met all of our five love languages through a special missionary speaker delivering words of encouragement, delicious buffet style meals, beautiful 5 star rooms, gifts upon gifts, opportunities to connect and grow in relationship with other missionaries, worship and prayer, and special breakout session to meet with professionals for counseling, health consulting, pedicures, massages, physical therapy, and prayer. They gave us the gift of being ministered to and loved on, a rarity for those usually serving others in ministry.
By the end of the week, my heart was full of God’s love for me and I was ready to return to my home and wait on His next step for me. More than just a time away to refresh, God gifted me with new friends, a renewed sense of appreciation for who He created me to be, and a reminder of why I chose to follow Him to the Philippines and serve Him by loving others.
Just a few short months later, standing on the balcony of my studio apartment, I looked behind the building, saw a large house, and started to dream. God gave me the idea of having a home for young ladies to have a family and hope for a better future. He birthed in me his next step and plan for my life, “Bahay ng Pag-ibig” (House of Love). It would be a home for the orphaned, a family for the lonely. God made the vision clear. Even in my time of waiting, He gave me renewed hope.
More waiting came. After five months, I was headed back to the US to share the vision God had given me for Bahay ng Pag-ibig and make sure I had enough support to move forward. This season had a purpose, and even though it was also challenging to wait for unexpected amount of time, God gave me the strength to keep going. This waiting season was nine months long, but the blessings the Lord gave me in new friends and supporters, valuable time and cherished memories with my dad, and precious opportunities to share my story was so worth the wait.
That new year of 2019 back in the Philippines was a fresh start, filled with many promises and steps of faith that I am seeing the fruition of today. God gave me these passages:
“Sing, O childless woman, you who have never given birth! Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem, you who have never been in labor. For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband,” says the Lord. “Enlarge your house; build an addition. Spread out your home, and spare no expense! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will occupy other nations and resettle the ruined cities. “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:1-5
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations. Foreigners will be your servants. They will feed your flocks and plow your fields and tend your vineyards. You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God. You will feed on the treasures of the nations and boast in their riches. Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. “For I, the Lord, love justice. I hate robbery and wrong doing. I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be recognized and honored among the nations. Everyone will realize that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” Isaiah 61:1-9
In my waiting, God gave me His promises to anchor my faith on. I was still living in a studio apartment and working for other ministries, but He promised me a house, an enlarged territory. I believed. March 26, 2019, God made good on His promise and gave me a house at least 4 times larger than my previous place with a big yard and car port for the same monthly rent I’d been paying. My dreams of a home for the girls he’d bring me has become a reality, complete with mango trees, areas for gardens, so many rooms, and tons of space for celebrating life and doing ministry. September 13, 2019, after pacing and praying under that car port for almost 6 months, God gave me a car, something I thought I could continue to live without.
By the end of 2019, I was still waiting for Bahay ng Pag-ibig to become a reality. After researching all the ins and out of social services’ requirements to start my own non-profit and open a home for young ladies, I was overwhelmed by the amount of time, effort, and expenses it would take. But God! Again, the Lord came through by giving me a simple idea, “What about foster care?” He planted a clearer vision and strong desire to bring four teen girls into my home and love them as my own. I will teach them, speak life into them, give them a desire and hope for the future, and preparing them for a life beyond their wildest imaginings. Girls 14 and older who, coming out of orphanages or other institutional homes, are unadaptable by 16 and aging out by 17, need homes and families. The Lord brought the connections together through relationships and, in the right time and place, I started my journey to become a foster mom. Sent my application in January 2020 and received my foster license in July.
Today I am still waiting. My girls are out there waiting to come home. God knows them by name and I know them by faith. Even through the waiting, God has been faithful by fueling my faith. Every step of the way I’ve had a nudge in the right direction. I’ve been surrounded and encouraged at just the right times. By God’s grace, I’ve kept moving forward toward the goal, especially when I’ve wanted to give up. Today I look at their purple room with white trimmed windows and cabinets that I’ve been working on for the past year, and I thank God that they will be here soon.
I don’t know the exact date my girls will arrive. I don’t know their names or stories. I don’t know how truly challenging it will be as a first time mom to teen girls who’ve lived through only God knows what. I do know that God is faithful and His promises are true. I know that He’s been preparing me my whole life for this. I know He will provide and carry us through. I know they are worth the wait.
Check out the link below to hear more from Marah’s heart and to get ongoing updates about the story God is writing in and through her life in the Philippines!