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“Is this the Philippines or Korea?” I asked myself this question last weekend as I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Filipinos.


The girls at the shelter were so excited to show me a little of their culture hidden within in Korea. “Tanya, I know you will love Hyehwa because so many Filipinos are there!” they excitedly told me days before.


I’ve been to Hyehwa plenty of times out to dinner with friends and never saw any Filipinos. Little did I know Hyehwa transforms into a Filipino city on Sundays as the streets are lined with vendors selling their treasured traditional food.


I haven’t seen the girls more excited as they ooh-ed and aah-ed over their familiar food chatting away in their Digalo language with their fellow natives.


Where do they find these Filipino delicacies in Seoul? No clue.

This girl was so cute selling this fish…

When the girls finished picking out their tasty cultural vegetables, off we headed…to a Philippine Restaurant of course. The next hour and a half was not only full of Philippine food, but gave me an unforgettable experience of the Philippine culture.


First, the girls brought us to what seems like a hole in the wall. You may think I’m exaggerating, but the restaurant was tucked away, off the main street, with no other restaurants near. Inside were two doors leading down to a small room…no windows… leading into another world. Any passersby, including me, would have missed it.


I was a bit hesitant at first. It felt like all eyes were on us foreigners (my friends Elaine and David, I, and a military friend) wondering why we were in their restaurant. Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but it sure felt like it as everyone was giving us their buggy eyes talking in Digalo. Of course our sweet girls were all giddy pulling up chairs, guiding us into their culture.


And get this. The meal cost 1,000won. That’s about .85 cents in US!! SOO cheap!


Inside this tiny restaurant was a television set up for karaoke. Pleading with the girls to sing a song, I knew their talent would far exceed many of the American Idol contestants I’ve heard.


You think I’m joking, I’m not.

I was almost in tears as their very heart and souls strung the music together; their melodic voices resonating something deep within me; THIS is what they had come to Korea to do…not to be sold for their bodies.


When any of the girls put her hand to the microphone, the whole atmosphere of the restaurant changed. The passion and quality of their voices felt like I should have been in a stadium with 3000 people, not in an underground restaurant with 30 people.

My heart was pierced knowing the talent of these girls will never be appreciated as it should or even as it could be.















I listened to them sing “Broken Vow;” a song that rings truer now than ever before; a song that tells the story of their lives.  My heart broke as I realized all the broken vows they’ve endured: broken vows promising them of a better life working in Korea, broken vows about working in a club, broken vows by their military boyfriends, and broken vows by the ones they love.

I can’t get over the reality of their horrifying stories. My head shakes with all the wrong that has been done and all the empty promises.


One could easily become depressed knowing even just a portion of their lives. YET I still can’t shake the power of hope, love, and forgiveness. When everything seems hopeless my Spirit rises up within me to spur these girls on and not give up hope. I’m so blessed to see life and joy bubble back up in their hearts, feeding their tenacious spirits and never give up attitudes.

Yes, there are times when it looks impossible. Come on, everyone’s human. But it’s when they are willing to put one foot in front of the other, even when it seems it couldn’t get any worse and yet it still does…that’s true perseverance.


Aren’t they so cute. The girl on the top was in a band in the Philippines. She was asked to come to Korea to perform. Obviously, didn’t work out the way she was hoping…



The guys were thrilled when they sang a song in Digalo. They wanted me to sing, but I told them they would be covering their ears in pain if I were to sing. They said they didn’t care, but I spared them of their misery and let the professionals do their charm.




Sweet little girl playing a game in the corner.



Enjoying the music.




Broken vow…






As I was thinking about broken vows…there is nothing that hurts more than a broken promise. No matter what form; a marriage, friendship, father-child relationship, or a business relationship, the bitter sting has been felt by everyone.


As I was listening to one of the girls sing Broken Vow, my mind was replaying all the broken vows that these girls have had. Out of anyone I know these girls have the “right” to feel hurt, anger, mistrust, and pain. I can’t imagine how are hard it would be to fully trust someone again in their shoes. Tainted thoughts of mistrust, paranoia, and anger would constantly be at the forefront. But then I remembered something that can change all those perceptions.


What is it you may ask?? The power of LOVE.

I’ve seen this relentless love break all chains of anger, bitterness, and resentment. When you experience Christ’s overwhelming, undeserving love for yourself, you find this grace empowering you to love those people that hurt you the most.


Even though the pain of past broken vows may seem to leave a deep wound, Christ has promised never to leave or forsake us. People will always make mistakes and let you down, but His Word says Christ’s love will never disappoint. “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” 1 Samuel 12:22


John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. “


This type of unconditional love will never betray, abandon, or disappoint! Of course the healing process takes time and doesn’t go away with a swipe of a magic wand. But as you encounter this love, you will experience an indescribable freedom and love like never before.


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September 11, 2010 - 10:19 am

Jan Nelson :-) - Oh, Tonya! Bless you and the wonderful things that you are doing and your fabulous work! I’m SO proud of you!!

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