Remove Me from this Body

April 8 2008 / ShareHim in Philippines Central A, Mar. 14 - Mar. 29 '08 #281
by Susan Vance

Personal Testimony of Susan Vance.

This story begins six months before we left. My husband, Jim, and I were at the home of Arlo and Juanita Funk having lunch with Duane and Kathy McKey. As Kathy and I were talking, I was sharing the events of my life leading up to how I came to become a Seventh-day Adventist. She asked me to repeat my story to her husband, Duane, and the next thing I remember, they both were saying how we should go to the Philippines. “What do you mean?” I asked. I knew what they meant. ShareHim had been discussed at camp meeting that last June. I heard the stories of how they went and preached this evangelistic series. Someone got up and told of their experience and how if they could do it anyone could do it! My first response was, “NO! I can’t do that.” Kathy simply smiled. Did she know then she had me? I’ll ask her someday.

My husband thought about it and said he might like to go, but not me. I wasn’t going to travel halfway around the world to a country I’d never been to before and preach. I’d never preached before. What were they thinking? No, not me! No, someone else will have to do it. Several days went by, and we prayed. Jim and I discussed this over many times. One of my concerns was financial. We would both have to leave our jobs for three weeks and pay bills as usual when we returned home. We needed to pay for our flight, and then, of course, we needed to pay for the hotel, food, and any other expenses that came along. “No, oh no,” I thought. “We can’t do it! What about our animals. It would cost a fortune to have someone pet sit for three weeks. Oh no, we can’t do it!” Jim said that if the Heavenly Father has called us to go then HE will supply all our needs.

Looking out the window of the plane to Bacolod below was very unlike Manila. It was a welcome sight indeed! Looking out at the lush green surroundings looked more tropical to me than Hawaii. The memories of Manila faded away with the beauty of Bacolod. The airport was small and although the people looked the same there was a huge difference in attitude. Smiles everywhere! I felt at ease as we first searched for our luggage and then made our way out to the entrance of the airport. I heard a small voice behind me ask if I was Susan Vance. “Yes” I replied, and with that such a commotion began. I looked across the street towards the sounds of the greeters. On the curb stood four or five men holding a banner that read “ShareHim” along with the names of all the speakers. Several women greeted us as we approached our welcoming committee and placed around our necks traditional necklaces made of small shells and a medallion that had different pictures of Bacolod. If that was all it was to be, that moment was worth the trip. Right there I knew this was where God had wanted me to be. We all shook hands and there were introductions, but who would remember the events of the next few minutes. For me, I was in a moment that would last a lifetime and the details are but a blur.

The air was fresh and clean—so unlike Manila! I was so relieved to be in the country. What I didn’t realize was that we really weren’t in Bacolod yet. We had perhaps 35 miles to go. Nevertheless, this was not a huge city with 12 million people scrambling about and living on the streets. We passed through small communities, and there were street vendors along each side of the road. Our driver, George, whom later we all came to rely on so much slowed down as we passed by the vendors. There were small children and skinny dogs running everywhere. Once again we were in the country, and I knew we had to be very close by now. “This is it,” I thought, as I looked across the open fields and saw the water buffalos and men and women working in the fields. This must be Bacolod! “Wait, George you’re going too fast. Let me off right here in all this beauty! George…..” We approach a huge billboard, “Welcome to Bacolod, the City of Smiles”
Arriving in the city of Bacolod was a temporary disappointment. How selfish you say? Well, I was still in myself and although I was on a mission, it was still a vacation, right? If you are going to spend all that money and travel halfway around the world, then why couldn’t you combine the best of both? I wanted to visit a lush, tropical, beautiful island and serve God, too. Okay, it takes me a while to catch on.

We were back in the city and although it did not have either the look or feel of Manila, it was nevertheless, congested. The air was no longer fresh and clean as it was at the airport. There was an odor that I was later to identify as lemongrass, and it was everywhere, even in the food. The lush green had been replaced by dirty cement and skinny dogs. Vendors replaced any curbside landscape and no one seemed to care that there was trash everywhere—piles of it!

Driving up to the Sugarland Hotel was exciting. It was old, but well kept. Stepping out of the van, I noticed the air was again thick and humid, unlike the air at the airport where the ocean breeze was cool. The air was still and it surrounded you feeling heavy as you breathe it in.

Once in our beautiful room with its rich, wooden floors and unique wooden doorknobs, I felt as if I could have been anywhere, but I was in Bacolod, and the reality was beginning to set in. Out our window was the constant honking of the cars below. “Why did they have to honk so much?” I wondered. Later, I discovered that whoever honks first somehow has the right of way—a system that would never work in this country.

The time had come to visit the hospital and have our dinner. The small room off of the cafeteria was air conditioned, and we were all thankful for that. The food was good and it was obvious that careful planning had been done on our behalf to prepare meals to our liking. It was decided that we would have breakfast and an afternoon meal at the hospital every day.

Pastor Michael Porter had said that after breakfast the next morning, we should plan to meet with our church Pastors and group leaders and go to our prospective sites. We needed to get acquainted and make sure that our equipment was working properly. At the mere mention of this, I became sick to my stomach, and knew I needed a restroom immediately. I arose from my seat and found one of the cooks to show me to the restroom. Funny, looking back at that scene now makes me laugh. It took several attempts to have her understand what I wanted, but finally she said, “Oh, you need a comfort room?” “Yes, please,” I replied. She began to apologize, explaining the comfort room was for employees and that it wasn’t up to standards for a guest. I told her that was not a problem just as long as it had paper. I was joking. If there is one thing you must learn while visiting countries such as the Philippines, one might be to always carry paper.

So, now reality was getting closer and I was frightened. We took a tour of the hospital, and as I looked out across the street, I saw a beautiful church and draped out in front was a huge banner that read, “ShareHim, Welcome, International Evangelist, Susan Vance,” along with times and dates, if I remember correctly. All I saw to be perfectly honest was my name. My heart was pounding as I posed for a picture under the banner. I thought for a moment to run, but run where? It was too late. It was much too late to change my mind. I truly was frightened and feeling so inadequate!

“Why did God call me to come here?” I thought, as I lay on my bed that evening. I looked to my wonderful husband who knows me so well. I needed to say nothing. It must have been written on my face. He was calm as he held me, and as we prayed, I asked for courage.

A quick glance at my watch told me that after the opening song it would be time for me to walk on to the platform and reach out for the pulpit to steady myself. Pastor Sonny Mercurio’s prayer was calming and the music was beautiful. I felt a nudge behind me as I made my way up to the pulpit. Why did I have to look at them? I could have just closed my eyes and pretended to be at home where I had practiced over and over the sermon I would be giving that night. Five or six hundred pairs of eyes were staring back at me. I froze. I panicked, but I did not faint! My heart was pounding. I felt that if I were to open my mouth too widely my heart would have simply made its way out and flopped onto the floor. It was at that time that I called upon my Heavenly Father. Exactly what I prayed I do not remember, but I do know this, I asked that I be removed from this body. Not just that He send the Holy Spirit to speak through me, but that He would remove me from this body and use it according to His will. Take my personality, Suzy Vance out of this body before I faint and it’s too late. I heard my voice saying “Good Evening and Happy Sabbath” and I remember very little of the rest of that evening.

It simply got better from there. The next morning and every evening thereafter got better. I continued to pray for courage, boldness, and to continue to remove me as He saw fit. I was there to serve my Lord and only that.

Annabelle was a special young woman with three children. She was a widow and was the sole provider for her family. She works seven days a week doing manicures and pedicures in a small nail salon that pays her very little. The older children cared for the younger and she feared for their safety, but what is she to do? Such a common story, but there she was, tired and most likely hungry, but sitting there night after night with her sleeping children next to her. I saw her hand rise up one night during an appeal and the next evening I came to where she was sitting and talked with her awhile. She said that she wanted to be baptized, but that she was afraid—afraid to make a commitment to obey the Ten Commandments, she said. She was afraid to honor the Sabbath Day. She confessed that she wanted to go to Heaven and her children did, too. I know she was speaking of working on the Sabbath, and this is a difficult situation for many people there. We talked and I assured her that if she was ready to make the commitment to be baptized, I would be right there with her as she had asked that I be. Then, she asked when I would be returning to the Philippines, since that might be a better time for her to get baptized. I took her in my arms and gently explained that it may not be until the second coming that we would meet again, and so with tears in her eyes she agreed to consider it. I explained her situation to Pastor Mercurio, and he immediately went to her and later told me that she wanted Bible study. She was baptized March 29, 2008 along with three hundred and nineteen other precious souls. To say that any of us on the ShareHim/Quiet Hour team was prepared for that moment would be not true. To be witness to such an event is beyond my ability to articulate, and I would assume none of my team members could easily describe that moment either. Praise God we have the pictures.

Mary was raised in an Adventist home, but left the church at some point. She attended church services occasionally and remained a member of the English speaking church where I was speaking. She had just returned from another island where she had a home and was to stay in Bacolod only a few days to attend to some business. From her home she said she could hear my voice. She walked over to the church and sat in the back. I never noticed her through the crowd. Night after night, she continued to come and then one evening after the meeting, she asked for an introduction. I went to her and extended my hand, but embraced her with open arms in a hug that lasted a little longer than expected. She whispered that she wished to be re-baptized, but before she could do that she wanted to speak with me in private. I agreed to meet with her before the meeting the next evening, and she was very happy to come to the church an hour early. My very dear friend, Mrs. Punay Bermeo, and I found a quiet place to pray with Mary that night before she went home. Many tears were shed that night as the three of us prayed. The next evening Mary came late, and I wanted to spend some time in prayer before the meeting began. My attention was not 100% I must admit, but she soon was able to capture all of my attention as she began to describe a dream that she had had when she was eleven years of age. In the dream, a woman appeared dressed in white. There were two men of whom when she awoke she identified as Abraham and the other Isaac. She did not know the identity of the woman, but this woman told her that she would appear to her in person some day and lead her to an important decision. She told me that I was the woman from her dream. My reaction to her was that, I was not! Later, as I conveyed this story to other team members, they all seemed to agree that it was her dream and who was I to say I was not the woman in her dream. Mary was baptized on March 29, 2008.

Throughout Bacolod, it is not uncommon to see armed guards in shopping areas and certain buildings. I can‘t say whether the other churches had guards or not, but my church did. He had a sawed off shotgun strapped to his chest and bullets on his belt. Very impressive! Now, this church has an elaborate sound system and you could hear what was going on in the church very easily while being outside. The walls of the church were actually many sliding glass doors which would allow air to come in. There was no air conditioning in the building. I was told, (and this must remain our secret) that this guard left his post each night and came up to the stairs where he could hear the words being spoken a little better and has now started Bible studies. Praise The Lord!

Oh yes, remember the trash? I said I thought no one cared. As I sat in Sabbath School the last Sabbath the teacher was upset as he said, “I think anyone who contributes to the litter of our streets should be ex-communicated!” Wow, that’s a bit extreme I thought. But, wait a minute, here is someone who cares about the trash. He went on to say that the residents of Bacolod needed to band together and clean it up. If you see someone dumping trash or even a piece of paper, stop them!

Earlier I mentioned Mrs. Punay Bermeo. Dear Punay who stole my heart. We could not say farewell. Thank the Lord we don’t have to ever say good-bye. Mrs. Bermeo, a member of the Bac church was assigned to me. She, along with so many others, made my mission one that all I needed to do was show up. I wanted for nothing and everything was prepared well in advance of my arrival. Punay made sure that my personal needs were met as well. When the elastic in my only slip went out, she had me at the mall. She made sure that I was never without water. I was drinking water by the gallons. Just couldn’t get enough. Punay lugged around bottles of water in her bag for me, and after each meeting, she would personally deliver me into the hands of my beloved husband. She made sure there were five gallon water bottles in our hotel room and gave specific instructions to the housekeeping department about how and when to clean our room. My bag that held my equipment was so heavy, but she would not let me carry it. I am truly blessed to have met her and the tears have not stopped flowing from missing her.

Stephanie, sweet Stephanie will be missed by both Jim and I. We now call her daughter. We miss our new son, Brian, too. Our family has increased and we miss them.
Pastor Sonny Mercurio and his beautiful family, his wife Christine and their three children were an inspiration to me. I miss them and pray that their lives will be happy as they serve the Lord.

Pastor Michael Porter, CEO of The Quiet Hour, was there for us every step of the way. He made our first trip fun and gently guided us along. I look forward to other campaigns with Pastor Porter. Where to next, Mike?

I miss hearing and singing our theme song, ShareHim. It was truly amazing to hear women in comfort rooms (restrooms) singing ShareHim. Over at the Ilong church, they were singing it after the meetings on jeepneys and hanging off the back of motorized tricycles and bicycles. Small children were walking down dark narrow streets on their way home singing ShareHim. These children barely spoke English, but one would never know as they listened to these little sweethearts singing.

The hospital cafeteria did all they could to make our meals enjoyable. They tried to Americanize some of our meals, so for breakfast they often served us oatmeal. There was always rice and usually some vegetables. There were mangos at every meal—the most delicious mangos I ever had. One morning we had spaghetti and ice cream sundaes with chocolate sauce and chopped nuts. What a joy that was for me. I won’t do it often, but as the memory fades of that decadent morning perhaps, you might find a breakfast sundae in my kitchen. They thought we didn’t enjoy the food because we were never able to finish all that they gave us. We would have needed another dozen hungry people to help us out. They wanted us to take it back to the hotel, but most of the team did not have a refrigerator so we had to leave it behind. We finally got them to understand that we just couldn’t eat that much food however delicious it was. The presentation was lovely. They placed the food on the serving table and it was just perfect.

The conference took us on a picnic the last Friday we were there. It was a bit cooler in the mountains and very beautiful. It was a great day for fun, good food, and hiking. We took a jeepney up as far as we could then we all got out and hiked to the waterfall. Some took dips while others wished they had brought a swimming suit. There were flowers and trees and sulfur pools. Some of the pools were too hot to touch. There were large bats hanging upside down from trees. We were told they had the wing span of a large hawk or eagle. It’s hard to believe, but we have the pictures.

What will become of our ShareHim team? Will they go back home and resume their lives as if nothing happened? Never!

They tell me that you will never be the same once you go on one of these trips.

To quote a phrase: “We teach best what we need to learn the most.”

One of the sermons that stand out is The Remnant Church. My Baptist upbringing gets in the way at times, I must admit. Until I preached that sermon I still felt that, well yes, we have the truth, but…

The stories are endless, but beyond the stories and the experiences of our team there remains an impression on the hearts of us all—the dear ones we left behind, but oh what memories we have to share.

I went expecting a mission/vacation who knows what will happen, kind of trip, but now I know. I know what it means to allow the Heavenly Father access to my life, to serve without thinking of what reward lies ahead.

I will go willing to serve HIM and to Share Him, wherever that shall be.

Take me out of this body and do with it as YOU will.
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