It’s clear that Rhonda Wilson is doing exactly what she should be doing with her life. The former Red Deer resident has worked in the Philippines for several years with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Born in Kamloops, her family later moved to Cranbrook where she graduated from high school. From there, she went to Canadian Bible College and after graduation headed to the Philippines for the first time on a year-long university exchange.
“It changed my world-view of how people live – I loved it.”
After that, she moved to Red Deer where she worked at Deer Park Alliance Church for three years.
But that passion for the Philippines was only growing during that time. She returned for a two-year stint of service, then it was back to Vancouver.
She moved back to the community of Cebu, Philippines in 2005.
Part of her work in the community included helping with a growing project that included assembling recycled juice and snack containers into a range of useful items and containers – ‘Bahandi Gifts’ – that are ideal for lunches and other items. “We also made umbrellas and backpacks.”
The local Ten Thousand Villages, where Wilson has been volunteering on her current stay in Red Deer before she returns to the Philippines in a few weeks, carries the colourful, practical items. They have also been sold in other locations around the world including Japan, Australia, Germany and the United States.
As mentioned, soon she will be returning to the southern Philippines for four years to continue her missionary service and community development work. The desire to serve in these capacities was sparked within her as a child, she recalls.
“As a young girl, I met missionaries growing up and people from different lands. My mom would read me different stories of their lives and adventures. And I had many friends who went to the Philippines before I did so I’d been hearing about the culture and God had been preparing my heart to love it when I got there.”
She found that once she got there, it also wasn’t hard to feel like she was at home.
“It resonated with me a lot – the relational, relaxed way of doing things.
“We have the luxury of travel to be able to pick and choose the values we want to hold dear,” she added, reflecting further on her missionary experiences. It’s a plus, as people from one culture can bring the good things they’ve learned and share them with another culture. And they can learn plenty from the people they are ‘reaching out’ to. It’s a reciprocal blessing.
As a community development worker, Wilson explains that a lot of what she has done over the years prior has prepared her for what lay ahead. A love for children has grown, which led to helping with the start-up of a sponsorship program.
“Then we thought, it’s one thing to sponsor kids – it’s another to help families be sustainable. So I started looking for projects – we did jewelry-making and wood-working – those kinds of things.”
One of the key goals is to help folks start up small businesses and ventures. And for artisans, that’s where Ten Thousand Villages can come in. People here in Red Deer can directly support those in developing countries by purchasing their products at the local store. It makes a profound difference to so many there. And the joy of giving touches lives here to.
“Working at Ten Thousand Villages does that for me to. Seeing so many artistic pieces, I know what it takes to have a little bit of a company in Cebu, to get that to a sustainable place with a product that is beautiful. I know how many people are a part of that middle process.
“I just love that process of empowering people, because the people that are doing our work there are helping their families to survive, they are building better homes for themselves and educating their kids. They’ve been able to pay for their medical bills, too.”
For Wilson, her many years of living in the Philippines have been transformative indeed. “One of the first things I noticed was how happy people could be in poverty, for various reasons.” The challenges of making ends meet are often partly alleviated by the close family units for one thing. “They are relational, and there are extended families living together.” Caring for and supporting each other are values essentially woven into community life, and generations of families benefit.
Compared to modern, first-world societies where a sense of individualism is pretty much the rule of the day, people in the developing world also tend to be accustomed to living with less and sharing what they have in terms of food and shelter in particular, she said. “They expect less.”
This is by no means to lessen the multitude of challenges that are intrinsic to poverty. But for visitors to the third world, the images and realities of what they see leave a permanent impact.
“I’ve become more grateful and thankful.”
And as Wilson points out, effective community development work doesn’t mean moving in and taking over. It’s about coming alongside, helping and serving.
“There’s a good bit of motivation when people already have skills (like sewing for example). Then we can do capacity building,” she said. “It’s about having a lifestyle of kindness and living out the greatest commandment – to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.”
For more information about Bahandi Gifts, visit www.bahandigifts.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.