The Sunday before I left, the Sisters, volunteers and learners planned a surprise “despedida” or going-away party for me. I’m not sure how long they were planning and preparing for but there were a few days where something out of the ordinary would happen that would make me very suspicious. For example, at 2:00pm one day everyone went to the boys dorm after the afternoon assembly. I saw them walk over so I asked Judith what she thought they were doing. She said, “oh they’re probably going to the garden”. But it was 2:00pm so that made absolutely no sense. We both went downstairs and she speeded over saying “I’m gonna go see what’s going on!”. I saw Reyn Jart so I asked him what was going on and he said “….secret!” I asked again and he replied with, “Ate Halle pupunta sa taas!” which means “Ate halle, go upstairs”. He had the right intentions, but his secret keeping skills weren’t the greatest! There were other give-aways that made it super obvious, but I kept my mouth shut and let them do their thing. I’ve never had a surprise party before so I just let myself enjoy it.
On that day, they let the cat out of the bag and told me they were throwing my despedida that night. I was instructed to either leave or stay in my room all day while they prepared. I decided to stay in my room and finish making their exam reviews. I also had a surprise of my own that I made for them, so I was busy finishing that up. So for the whole day I was upstairs listening to them practising and occasionally walking by the different groups. Although I knew what to expect, nothing could have prepared me for the waves of emotion that came over me.
Right from the start I was (not surprisingly) crying. I told myself before dinner that this was going to be a night with only smiles… no tears. But who was I kidding. Fr. Flor and two other seminarians joined us for a wonderful dinner. I even had a special place card at my seat. After dinner, everyone presented something for me. Before each performance, Sr. Ailyn and a learner would say a nice speech that really pulled at my heart. Each grade sang a song, the YS 11s, volunteers and past pupils performed a dance, the Sisters sang a beautiful Italian song and more. Sr. Soc even participated in a Filipino folk dance, it was amazing! I feel so undeserving, but so appreciative of their effort and thoughtfulness. I am humbled by their words, their songs and their dances. Ate the end of their final performance as a group (Sr. Ailyn even danced!), they yelled, “fly Ate Hallebangbang!”. I didn’t know that’s what they said, but when Judith told me, I couldn’t help but cry. This was such a beautiful evening that I will never forget.
I made them a video as my surprise. I compiled pictures of everyone and put them to three songs. Footprints in the Sand by Leona Lewis, Never Alone by Lady Antebellum and The Words I Would Say by the Sidewalk Prophets. I chose these songs because they convey the exact messages that I wanted each person to hear. I’ve always loved making videos – if you know me, you know I make videos for everything. But this video was really special for me. Finding the right pictures to add had me scrolling through months worth of photos and reminiscing on each memory and each moment that was vivid in my mind. I collected pictures from my own album and from Judith’s.
I am so proud to call each person I’ve met my friend. They have all impacted my life significantly and gave me a new purpose. It’s not just the learners, the Sisters and the volunteers, but the whole community. Their families, our neighbours, past pupils, the parishioners… they’ve all played a part in my happiness at MHCS. I am blessed to have gotten to know each person. This has been an experience of a lifetime. One that will have a special place in my heart forever. It helped me to understand how God is calling me to serve. This is the first of many missionary experiences in my life and I am honoured that my first time as a missionary was at Mary, Help of Christians School (Palawan).
Join me in praying for those I’ve met and loved. That their happiness and joy may grow and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit every single day. May their hearts be held by the Hands that were nailed to the Cross, so that they can feel how truly loved they are. And let us pray that they never forget the bond that we created and the love we shared in Jesus’ name.