Home For The Holidays

What images and feelings does that phrase conjure?

by Michelle Levigne

This will be a Christmas of firsts for a new family where "home for the holidays" holds a special joy and awareness that when God moves and His children obey, nothing will stand in the way–whether bureaucracy, a 15,600 mile separation, mounting expenses or a questioning heart. This year, David and Erlinda Bly and daughter Josie will celebrate their first Christmas as a family. Their prayers, trust in God, the prayers and support of their friends and many miracles made it possible.

David knew Erlinda was someone he wanted to get to know in the very first e-mail letter she sent him. While other women pen pals asked how many houses he owned, she asked about his spiritual life.

Erlinda should have been concerned about money and security. She left her six-month-old daughter in the Philippines to go to Hong Kong and earn enough to support her. Josie will be five on December 19. For the first four years of her life, she only saw her mother three times, when Erlinda could get a vacation. Josie’s father abandoned them, and in the Philippines there is no welfare system. It’s common for women to go to foreign countries to support themselves and their children. Erlinda should have been more concerned about security and money, but she was seeking God’s will first.

God brought them together. Erlinda did like David. They were friends. But she kept questioning, looking for someone else. A voice kept saying, "He loves you so much. He listens to you." She listened to God.

In an interview for immigration, officials asked if she was sure David would be good to her. Erlinda’s answer? All that mattered was that David was Born Again.

As for David, friends and co-workers advised him to take the easy way out and look for a wife here in America. Instead, he worked for the police, for a radio station and drove a cab, saving all he could, incurring large phone and travel bills, and sending money to Erlinda to help bring Josie to Hong Kong.

Now? "I’ve never been happier in my entire life."

Just before David went to Hong Kong to meet Erlinda, a stranger approached him in church and prayed for him. Part of the prayer was for a blessing on money for him to visit overseas. "I almost lost it right there," David said with a chuckle. There was no way anyone could have known about his upcoming trip or his plans.

This stranger also prophesied marriage. In retrospect, David could say with a smile, "God opened all the doors." When they first met in Hong Kong, he was understandably nervous. He prayed, "Lord, if this is your will, it will come true."

David and Erlinda wrote and talked on the phone for two and a half years. "Ma Bell is very sad we’re no longer on the phone!" (Laughter) When they married, the waiting was far from over. They married February 21, 1997, but they’ve only been together since August 9th. It took over one and a half years to clear everything to bring Erlinda and Josie home.

Their churches and church friends contributed greatly to the miracles that cut through the money problems and tangled bureaucracy in their way.

David has been a member of Church on the Rise over three years now. The members were always there for him and praying. Gifts of money came at odd times–but always at the right time. Once, his pastor handed him an envelope with $3,000; enough to cover his need.

Erlinda belonged to Jesus is Lord Fellowship, also very active, praying and supporting its people. Those prayers carried her through the questions and obstacles that rose in her way.

One large problem came from Erlinda’s journey from the Philippines to Hong Kong. She lied about her age. She was 23, and she had to be 25 to go to Hong Kong. When she applied to come to America, her birth certificate didn’t match her passport. The paperwork jammed up. At the time, Erlinda was only thinking about supporting her daughter. She never foresaw problems in the future. She never foresaw David or the United States in her future.

Hong Kong officials needed the permission of Josie’s father for Erlinda to take her to America. She told them that was impossible because he had abandoned them. That obstacle vanished.

When it came time for a crucial interview with immigration officials, they and their friends prayed there would be no questions about the discrepancy between her birth certificate and passport. And there were none. She was told she would get her visa in ten days. Thank God for grace and mercy.

Then the next problem appeared – the money to bring Erlinda and Josie home. They had to trust God to provide. After all, He had provided so much already, hadn’t He?

"Out of the blue," a friend of David’s offered him several thousand dollars. She gave the money, and mother and daughter now had their tickets to come home. "She was blessed. We were blessed," David said.

The miracles began long before that. The exchange rate worked in their favor, helping to pay for those long, long-distance phone calls. Every U.S. dollar turned into 7 when transferred to Hong Kong currency.

God blessed Erlinda with a kind employer. In Hong Kong, immigrant workers work 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., six days a week. They earn around 3,500 Hong Kong currency, which equals about $500 U.S. – a month. Employers basically own the workers, because they have contracts. If workers don’t live up to expectations, the contracts are broken and they either find a new job or leave. When Erlinda took Josie from the Philippines, Hong Kong officials didn’t want the child to stay. Her employer intervened. They didn’t charge her for Josie staying with her, and when she left Hong Kong, they even gave her money to help with expenses. That miracle took "a lot of prayer and fasting."

Erlinda expected to be lonely – there were no Filipino women waiting in Ohio, to make friends and speak her language. Church on the Rise made her very welcome. The women helped clean and prepare David’s house. They held a barbecue the day she arrived. New friends brought gifts to welcome the new arrivals. They even went to the airport to welcome her – with tears.

The Bly family is still trusting God to help pay the debts incurred, but there have been "lots of miracles." Anonymous gifts of money still appear at "odd times." God’s miracles aren’t limited to money, either. A week after, they lost out on Indians tickets because of some misunderstandings in a trivia contest, a pastor handed daughter Josie, four tickets to see the Tribe.

Exciting times coming to another culture and climate.

By now, several "firsts" have passed for David, Erlinda and Josie. Their first summer, first Thanksgiving, and first snowfall. Exciting times, coming to another culture and climate.

There have been low spots, too. "Satan keeps throwing in tests for our love." While learning to drive, Erlinda ran into a telephone pole. That was when she realized she really was far more important to David than his car.

They’re very active at Church on the Rise in several ministry areas. They belong to Aaron and Hur, joining with others to lift up the pastor and congregation in prayer during the worship services. Erlinda belongs to Choir of Fire. David serves on the Truck Ministry, the Ministry of Helps, and the Sound Ministry. They belong to a TAG group and are serving their apprenticeship to host a Cell Group for mixed couples.

David, Erlinda and Josie aren’t sitting still as they enjoy the blessings God has showered on them. They’re busy sharing the joy, passing on what they have learned and opening their hearts and home to others, this holiday season and all year long.