NINE members of New Hope Church, including Pastor Neil Cameron and wife Phyllis, have recently returned from a mission trip to the Philippines.
The group arrived at Sefton Village just days after typhoons had battered the area, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
The 12-day trip saw the nine-strong group undertake a range of ministries, from visiting prisoners at the local jail to taking the primary school assembly.
They returned to the UK two weeks ago, and many of the team admitted to having been totally unprepared for what they saw.
Leading the members were Peterhead couple David and Grace Strachan, who along with their daughter Grace-Louise, are extremely knowledgeable of the area, having visited there on several occasions.
David told the Buchanie: “This was our tenth trip to the Philippines and it was great to bring along some new faces this time.
“We keep going back because we have fallen in love with the Filipino people.
“That’s why we really feel for the guys who are working in the fishing fleet in Peterhead as they are away from their families for up to 18 months at a time.
“There were nine of us this trip and for the others in the group it was their first experience of the Philippines,” he said.
Pastor Neil had been invited to the Philippines by Mark Ritchie, who runs Sefton Village Children’s Home along with his wife Mary, more than a decade ago and felt the time was right to make the trip in 2011.
On their first day the group was taken to the local prison where the ministered to the inmates.
“There can up up to 35 men in one cell in the jail accused of anything from petty theft to murder,” said David.
“The people of Cornerstone Church in Santaigo City are involved with the prison and it initially got a very bad name for itself but they have now got a church within the prison and now it has undergone a transformation, both in its environment and the behaviour of prisoners.
“The Governor can only put that down to the establishment of the church,” said David.
“During our visit seven men became Christians and were baptised in a plastic water barrel which was an amazing experience.
“Later we went to the Power House Kids Club where we saw around 150 children having fun while learning about God’s love for them.
“On the Monday we spent time at the school at Sefton Village, while Pastor Neil spoke to students at the Bible College.
“We then visited a radio station which transmits the Gospel throughout the area. That was followed by a cultural visit to an outdoor meat and veg market - an experience in itself - before taking our purchases back to a Filipino house and preparing a meal.”
Day four saw the group do a Powerhouse presentation in a public school for around 800 children. This included a feeding programme for the whole school.
It was during this visit that one member of our group, George McLean, noticed that the children’s shoes were in a state of disrepair.
“George had done a sponsored slim to raise cash for the trip and decided to spend some of the money on providing new shoes for each and every one of the pupils in the school - all 800 of them!
“They were also each presented with toothpaste and a toothbrush courtesy of John Cameron.
George’s fundraising cash also provided bedding, children’s clothing and other items for the children’s home at Sefton Village, while funds also went towards the medical bills of five families in hospital.
“Later that day we went to a resettlement village - Nagassican -which is as poor as you can get. A lot of the people there are in poor health because of the conditions, and it was a big reality check for all of us,” said David.
“Day five saw us at the hospital - a visit which made us glad of the NHS.
“If you don’t have the money for medical provision, then you don’t get treated - it’s as simple as that.
“There is also an armed guard at the entrance to the hospital to ensure that no-one leaves without paying their bills.”
The team was back to the school the next day where they were allowed to take part in the school’s flag raising ceremony.
“The schools in the Philippines begin at 7.30am each day with school assembly and the flag raising ceremony.
“During this time the children gather around the flag pole and the flag is raised to the tune of the national anthem. The children then pledge allegiance to their country.
“A visit to a squatters camp followed, which was basically a homeless refuge which had sprung up on a piece of waste ground.
“We ministered to the children there and it was a very rewarding visit,” said David.
“On the Saturday we then had the joy of a Filipino wedding which began at 9am.
“Phyllis and Mary McLean in our group did everyone’s hair in the bridal party and it was a fantastic experience for everyone involved.
“The wedding began at 9am and it provided us with a bit of light relief from all we had seen earlier in the week.”
The next day the team attended Sunday service at various churches before heading back to Manilla.
It was here that they met with the family of a Filipino fisherman who works aboard the Peterhead trawler Favonius.
David explained: “Phil Buchan, skipper of the Favonius and a member of Newhope Church, told us about a member of his crew, Francisco whose son Francis had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
“Francis is only 24 years-old, married with three children and lives in Manilla. When we arrived in Manilla we met with 14 members of Francisco’s family, including Francis.
“We prayed for Francis and the family members and we took video clips and photographs which Phil has subsequently taken onboard for Francisco to see.
“It is indeed a small world,” he said.
David said that Francis has undergone a month of radiotherapy and oral chemotherapy and is due to have a CT scan on November 5 to see if the tumour has shrunk.
If it has then the surgeons are planning to operate on him.
“It was really a touching moment to meet Francis and his family and to get the time to pray for him.
“It was also surreal in that we met in the local Golibee - which is the Filipino equivalent of McDonalds!!
One of the highlights of the trip was when the group handed over a brand new minibus to Mark and Mary Ritchie for the use of the children’s home.
Some £14,000 had been raised through a number of fundraisers and David expressed thanks to the people of the North East of Scotland for their fantastic efforts.
“The old van was definitely on its last legs as you could see the ground beneath your feet when driving it, so the children were absolutely delighted to receive the new vehicle,” said David.
“The children posed for pictures beside the van wearing special t-shirts which had been embroidered with the children’s home logo courtesy of Catherine Buchan of Buchan Embroidery.
“This van will be of great benefit to the home and should last them a good number of years,” he said.
The team returned home having enjoyed their experience, but they admitted to have been challenged on many levels during their time away.
And they are still keen to help many of the families they met in and around Sefton Village.
Phyllis Cameron and Grace Strachan are now looking at ways to make Christmas a bit special this year.
And they have come up with a festive fundraiser where they are asking folk to adopt a family for Christmas.
Grace explained: “The thinking behind it was along the lines of what can we do to help these people and given them something special for Christmas.
“We want them to be able to have food on the table and perhaps a gift for the children.
“Most of the families are extremely poor and can’t afford any of the luxuries that folk in the UK enjoy and take for granted around Christmas time.
“Having been in the Philippines before over Christas, we remember children receiving wrapped gifts at church on Christmas Eve. We noticed that most of the4 children did not open their gifts and we questioned the local pastor about this.
“We were simply told that on Christmas Day, that would be the only gift that the child would have to open.
“We have worked out that for just £15 we could feed a family of four - two adults and two children - and provide gifts for the kids.
“A local hotelier has become a good friend of Sefton Village and Cornerstone Church and has offered to provide the families with food at the hotel, for a cost of approximately £10 per head, and allow them to use the swimming pool and facilities free of charge. That would leave around £5 for the gifts for the children.
“£15 goes such a long way in the Philippines and it’s not much to ask to ensure that families have a special Christmas this year.
“Money must be donated before the end of November to ensure it reaches the families in time for Christmas,” said Grace.
If anyone would like to contribute to help adopt a family for Christmas they can contact Grace Strachan on (01779) 478238 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“All donations will be gratefully accepted, “ said Grace.
“If you can’t afford £15 then please just give what you can.
“It will be worth it to see the smiling faces of the children when they open up their Christmas gifts,” she added.