It all started in 1990 when Sharen Keller went on a Mission Trip with Campus Crusade to the Philippines. Immediately Sharen’s eyes were opened to the extreme poverty of the area, including many young orphans. Sharen began sponsoring her first child nearly three decades ago; she has lost count of the number she has supported since then.
Thirty years later, Sharen’s heart is still thousands of miles away from her apartment at Oak Crest in Spring Lake Park, MN and planted firmly in the Philippines. Sharen currently sponsors three orphans who live at the Children’s Shelter of Cebu. She regularly writes letters and sends small gifts to the children and is overjoyed to receive updates in return, seeing each child grow in the nurturing environment of the shelter.
My heart is in the Philippines
In conversation with Housing Administrator Cheryl Grams, Sharen divulged that she has wanted to return to the Philippines for a long time but was unsure how she would manage it with her limited mobility. Cheryl worked with Sharen and the local office of the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, putting the pieces in place to make the trip happen and ensuring safety was the top priority. The Oak Crest community rallied around Sharen’s mission; holding craft and bake sales to raise money for the children and learning more about the ministry.
A few months later, Sharen and her fellow missionary friend Christa Ollanketo packed their bags and were sent off by a group of Oak Crest residents who prayed over their journey and blessed their mission. The pair took off for what Sharen calls “a trip of a lifetime,” ready to meet the children of Cebu.
The island of Cebu is only 122 miles long and 22 miles wide yet it is home to 2.3 million people. Organizations like the Children’s Shelter of Cebu were created in response to the heart-breaking numbers of orphaned children. Sharen and Christa arrived around 1am and Cebu city was still buzzing. “There were children alone in the busy streets, it was heartbreaking” she said. Sharen’s tour of the island revealed mounds of garbage, children begging in the streets and an overwhelming sense that she needed to do something.
The gift of time
When Sharen finally arrived at the shelter, far from sad faces and beggars, she was greeted with a chorus of song and children reaching out for hugs, high fives and fist bumps.
“I was overcome with emotion. The children are so loving and caring and they simply wanted hugs,” said Sharen. She came with humble gifts of handmade bead crosses, scarves and little picture books to explain the love of Jesus. The crowd favorite, however, was when she brought out a polaroid camera and instantly printed photos for the children to keep and remember the visit. Whatever Sharen gave to the children, she received tenfold in return from the gift of time spent with children who give her life meaning.
Soon her eyes connected with the faces she knew only from photographs; six-year-old John, 12-year-old Cris and 17-year-old Shine - the three children she sponsors. “I never had children of my own; these are my children and they give me such fulfillment” said Sharen. Tears and hugs abounded as the children met Sharen and showed her around their home. Sharen toured the three homes, each with a Filipino house mother and house father and home to around 30 children. She also saw the medical and counseling buildings and watched as the young children played on the jungle gym and attended classes at the onsite Cebu Children of Hope School.
Her heart was moved by each child’s witness to joy.
Goodbye for now
Sharen’s week at the shelter was full and exhausting in the best way. She spent her days with the children and sharing the Gospel. When it came time for goodbyes, everyone was overcome with sadness. Flying back to Minnesota, Sharen missed the children but was elated to share her experiences with the Oak Crest community, energized by the love both given and received by her children.
Sharen presented to a full house in the Oak Crest dining room to show and tell about the many highlights and smiles of her trip. As the grand finale, she shared a photo of Ace, a sweet and spunky 5-year-old girl whom she met at the shelter. She told the Oak Crest residents that this was the child their bake sale profits and donations would support - for two years. The group applauded and nodded their support of this meaningful cause.
The love and commitment of her community empowered Sharen to live out her dream to visit her children in Cebu. “I have such compassion for these children who give my life purpose.” says Sharen. The trip may have ended but the inspiring memories and enduring love in her heart remain with her and, no doubt, with John, Cris, Shine, Ace and all the children of the Children’s Shelter of Cebu.
If you are looking to live in a community with inspiring individuals like Sharen, find a community near you today!