It’s been five years since we first arrived on Palau, and now we’re back where God first began our mission – as individuals and as a couple. Here is how we ended up serving once again in our island home of Palau.
Throughout college, I felt a continuous tug to go out and serve as a missionary. However, as the oldest of three boys, the desire to be there for my family was something I couldn’t easily let go of. Further, my commitment to finish school held me back from leaving for a whole school year.
When graduation neared, I was looking to take some time off for myself. A small trip to Europe seemed to be a fitting reward. As I started saving up for my trip, God, once again, placed the thought of being a student missionary in my heart. Not wanting to ignore the call, I began my research. Searching Adventist websites, I came across a few leads which provided more information, but leads were all they were. Since I was studying at a state university, it did not have connections with an Adventist church, let alone an SM mission coordinator. This made the process much more challenging.
I came to a point around July 2016 when I believed no one would call regarding my applications. I knew that schools were about to start but I was determined to trust God. I also knew that to fully trust in God, I had to put in my two-week notice at work, again without knowing if I would be called as an SM.
On July 25th, Mr. Abner Sanchez, the Palau Seventh-day Adventist Schools principal, called with the invitation to join the staff as the P.E. & health teacher. Four days later, my bags were packed and I was off to Honolulu for orientation.
The next ten months in Palau allowed me to grow in my profession and, most importantly, in my relationship with Jesus. I loved exercising with my students and being able to spend time with my fellow teachers who I consider family to this day.
The date was July 31st, 2016. I was on the escalator at the Honolulu airport, descending to the baggage claim after passing through immigration. That’s the moment it hit me. I was really doing this: being a student missionary.
Growing up with parents who are teachers, I did not really have a full-on interest in following in their footsteps. Both of them had been missionary teachers on Palau for many years and had always encouraged me to become an SM. I had other goals in mind.
I was a communications major and planned to finish college with my batchmates, find a job after graduation, and start working. Studying in the Philippines, we did not have the same opportunities that come with an on-campus mission coordinator.
I see now how God used my college dean and department chair towards the end of my senior year. They asked me to speak on behalf of my college for the university’s week of prayer. I had to pray about my answer. Never have I spoken in public before let alone in front of the whole student body. God guided me to answer “yes”. I learned more about Him through the months of preparing for the sermon. During the challenges of senior year, I was impressed to process my student mission application with the Southern Asia Pacific Division (SSD). I had goals for my life, but God guided me somewhere else.
What a blessing it was: the first time leaving my family fora while, leaving my comfort zone, and taking on the challenge of teaching a whole class of 3rd graders. God never left my side. I found myself learning more about His love through my co-workers and even more from my students. I gained so much from my mission year. God even gave me something more.
Do you know that point in the movie when you think you know where the story is going but then comes is a sudden plot twist? Our life’s Scriptwriter was not done with us.
At the end of the ten months, we student missionaries separated and flew home to our different countries: Kyari to the Philippines and Javi and the other members of our SM family to the US. Like other missionaries returning from the field, we were homesick for our island home. We missed our students and the life we were so blessed to experience for a year. We started having video calls every day and getting to know each other even better, not just as fellow missionaries, but as closer friends that had the same love for what we experienced in Palau.
While studying for her MBA, Kyari started working at the Adventist University of the Philippines’ administration building, and Javi started working as a teacher in California. We always look back and thank God for technology, because not one day passed where we didn’t send messages to each other or hop on a FaceTime call. Our friendship grew into a deep admiration for who the other person was. A coincidence is far from how we describe God leading us to Palau for the same school year.
Just five months after returning, God provided through the help of a close family friend for Kyari to visit the U.S. for two weeks. Meeting Javi’s family, loving the culture, and let’s not forget the food of a Mexican household, drew us closer. During this trip, Javi called Kyari's family in the Philippines to formally ask permission to start the relationship. The two weeks ended and that’s when we put all our faith in God’s plan as we started our long-distance relationship.
After much waiting, trips to California and the Philippines, and two years spent finishing Kyari’s MBA degree, we decided to take it a step further. Kyari had family in Los Angles that opened their home to her for six months. At that time, we focused on our relationship in-person. We were engaged October 2019 and had the goal for Kyari and her family to fly in from the Philippines the next year to for our wedding celebration.
The fiancé visa takes about half a year to process, leaving us time to scour Pinterest and all the wedding websites in preparation for the wedding. But a few weeks after Kyari returned home, Covid hit. Our six months of processing the visa turned into eight, then ten, then a year. We had thought this was the path God had been leading us to, but now it seemed like the door He had opened was closing. We had the continued support and prayers of our families who reminded us to hold on to the good in the situation. We started praying for the next thing God wanted for us.
In April 2021, we sent a message to the chairman of the Palau SDA Schools, H.E. Surangel Whipps, Jr. and to Principal Abner Sanchez asking if Palau needed teachers. They both had enthusiastic replies. Palau seemed like another open door, but we spent a month praying even more to seek God’s guidance. Having spent 17 months physically apart, He allowed us to spend that time with our families which we now see as Him preparing us for marriage. His promise to be faithful to those that seek Him helped us make the decision of serving in Palau once again.
All the big wedding plans changed and we had to accept the fact that it wouldn’t be as we expected. But God always plans better than us, even if we can’t see it yet. The school’s administration advised Kyari to fly as soon as possible out of the Philippines, in case borders closed again due to the complications of Covid protocols. An intimate wedding in Los Angeles was planned in less than two months. On June 21st, the moment we had prayed for for so long arrived: our wedding day. We flew to Palau a week later and everything has been surreal for us.
Javi is currently teaching 8th grade and Kyari is teaching 4th grade. Being back on our island home, where God brought us together, is proof of His love and care, not just for us, but for all those who seek His plans.