next stop: INDIA

in just 2 days i will be getting on a plane and heading for INDIA.

it will be my first time in india. and the primary focus of the trip is NOT for travel pleasure. no infact it is to “scout” some land and building that was given to my inlaws, the founders of Gentle Hands here in Manila, to start a new work in India, a Gentle Hands India.

using my skills as documentary photographer, i will be going with one primary goal - to photograph everything about everything. :)

i am bringing but a small bag and my little backpack will house my camera and 2 lenses. it will be my “lightest” trip yet - i’m kinda excited about that!

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so i will have a few blogs scheduled while i’m gone. but if you would like to see my instagram feed which i will keep up to date while in india, my IG handle is, none other than, traceylheppner.



merry christmas!

sending warm tropical christmas love to you all! our december christmas will be in your inboxes in the morning (all those on the e-list!).

much love and merry merry christmas!

jonathan, tracey, caleb and rosie xoxo

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us on christmas morning!

tree, our friend from estevan...

our friend Tareina who has been here for almost 3 months came to work with our other friends paul and Ann who run Young Focus.

this past weekend, with donations from ESTEVAN CANADA, Young Focus was able to feed more than 700 people for christmas!

what a blessing. so proud of my proud of our former home of estevan. so proud to be a part of the big family of god! :)

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doctor's update for jonathan

update from jonathan after his two doctors appointments:

Got blood tests. Just checking testosterone levels and such. Still think its all related to recovery. ‘You are not that far removed from being in the hospital’, his words. He was not suggesting that I am close to going back in the hospital, but that it wasn’t that long ago that I was in the hospital. Recovery time is really not predictable. He just wants to check levels and see if supplements will help normalize anything.

then before he left yesterday:

talked to doctor again today. He said everything is normal. All is as it should be. Soooo, he said its just a waiting game. It will all come back he said..all the internal functions and nerve stuff.

SIGHS of relief. and a long before us yet, but not impossible or defeated!

how i deal with traffic...

rosie's class photo!

just got this in - wow…what a multi-cultural class of 6th graders!

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seriously? 15????!

can you believe this guy will be 15 on sunday?

WHERE does time go?

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today i walked a mile || life in tondo, manila

i had an idea of what to expect; since the first time we were in manila in 1996 we did outreaches and worked in very depressed areas where the poor lived. welfareville with my motherinlaw with kids and pregnant mothers. malabon with my sisterinlaw with families and abused & neglected kids.

smokey mountain 2…which makes one question, ‘oh there is a smokey mountain 1?’

yes..yes there was. smokey mountain 1 was the original dumpsite, that over the last 40 years, collected over 2 million metric tons of waste. WHOA. that’s a lot of garbage.

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and a jackpot for scavengers to make a fair living off of. the epitome of recycling. what could be found and sold means money in their pockets.

the government finally agreed in 1993 to build housing at smokey mountain so these squatters who were living ON the dumpsite would be moved OFF the dumpsite.

temporary housing was made, the residents moved into it, the dump closed and a new dump close by opened. the unfortunate thing is that once the residents moved into the new housing out of the temporary housing, the temporary housing filled up with squatters. and the new dumpsite also has scavengers living on it.

the vicious cycle continues.

one of the major money makers for scavengers is making charcoal to sell. how do they make it? they collect wood and all sorts of things that burn and let it smolder for days to then box up and, “voila!” charcoal. that’d be all great if the place where they did this had safety regulations so they wouldn’t be breathing this in all day. that’d be great if the place where they did this wasn’t on-site, on the dump, where their homes are also.

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yesterday was my first visit to smokey mountain 2—the second dumpsite. there is said to be approximately 30,000 people residing on the dump. let that sit for a minute. 30,000 people. that’s the size of some small cities in canada. or universities in the USA. that is a freaking LOT of people.

as i was led thru the paths of this area, a heavy dark haze was apparent. the haze of billowing smoke from wood or other things burning, to make charcoal.

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i could hear children giggling behind me. as i turned my head to look backwards, i was met by these adorable littles, with soot all over their bodies, with small bags of “things” that were burnable, most probably being taken to their parents to help with “the family business”.

my heart raced. i wanted to scoop them up and give them a bath and let them play in a safe, CLEAN place.

the beckoning of one to another at the top of their lungs, brought me back to reality, and i watched them gleefully skip away.

this is their reality.

we have some very dear friends from the netherlands who have a remarkable NGO (non-government organization) who sponsor children from this area to go to school. these are the very wee ones, and older children and teens, they work with. their programs at Young Focus are extent. (please go to the website and see what they are doing…i was there first hand and it was remarkable!)

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 we go to the breakwater, the end of the cement where the river meets manila bay and the big wide open sea and what i see next brought me silently to tears:

there, just past the scavengers homes built on sticks above the water was a sweet young mother and her toddler. it looked as though she was giving him a bath. he was happily obliging to her instructions as she cleaned him up. then she plopped him on the edge with his feet dangling over and started to play peek a boo with him—she would bounce under the water and then pop her head up and make him giggle.

it was a beautiful sight.

the part i didn’t tell you? that she was surrounded by the most polluted, garbage filled water.

this is their reality.

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with tears in my eyes and my mothers heart touched deeply as i watched another mother adore her son, we walked back along the waters edge.

there i met a “lola”, or a grandmother, picking thru her things that had been smoldering. her face blackened by the nasty soot, she looked up at me. her breathtaking gaze struck me and i asked her if i may take her photo with my iphone. she giggled when i told her i thought she was so very beautiful. as i framed my photo and took her photograph, i began to think…

she, along with many other grandmas in this area, have children who are sponsored to go to school through Young Focus. going to school means another road for their future. a road that leads to college which leads to a job which means they dont have to scavenge on this toxic dumpsite like their grandparents have. what hope!

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with my heart very full, we continued to walk back to the on-site daycare of Young Focus and i knew without a doubt - this is where i am to be today. for now. for this next season of my life.

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and with great amounts of gratitude and thankfullness for everything i have and dont have, i smiled into the sun and thought about my next time here…


our crazy family

despite a very hard summer, we still can be crazy. well…some of us. ;)

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what?? an update? from us?? stop everything! :) - may 2012


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We had REALLY great intentions of doing an every 2 months newsletter. No, really, we did! The amount of teams and visitors to GH and staying with us has been NONSTOP since December 21st! Christmas was busy and fun…New Years came and went with a bang! And Tracey was sick with a nasty flu thing for most of January. (More about the visitors near the bottom of this post!)

But it didn’t end there!

More visitors in February, a trip to the USA for Jonathan, spring break at the beach and 3 weeks of Dengue, Typhoid & UTI for Jonathan as well! (We figured by counting the days of incubations, etc, he acquired Typhoid in his last US trip and Dengue somewhere here in Manila before we went to the beach for Spring Break.  After two weeks of his bones feeling like they were breaking and constant fever he started to feel better and the colour started to come back to his face. Literally his colouring was grey.

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us on our spring break at the beach

Thank you all for your prayers for him the last few weeks! Not gonna lie – it was a little frightening for us all. Thank GOD for his recovery!

Our year anniversary back in the Philippines has come and gone!

It is TRUE! We arrived in Manila for our “second time around” last January 1, 2011. It was hard to believe when New Year’s arrived that we had been here a year already! Boy, does time really fly!

What an incredible year we have had readjusting to Filipino life, moving from the little condo the bustling business district in Makati City to a lovely house in quiet Pasig City. 

The kids have had a great year at Faith Academy – making friends, getting involved with teams (basketball for the boy) and clubs (puppets and band for the girl).

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It has been really awesome to watch them grow – as individuals and in height! If you can believe, Caleb is a good 2 inches taller than me now!! CRAZY! And Rosie is not far behind!

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Jonathan has continued to travel back and forth over the pond to Canada & the US as Fund Developer for Gentle Hands at many churches and groups who are interested in being involved in GH, whether it is sending supplies, finances, or teams to come volunteer. He also has been doing some speaking when he is here in Manila, at his dad’s church in some of the Sunday meetings. Plus he and his high school friend who is also a missionary here with his family, Robby, have started a basketball clinic-type program, afterschool for middle school boys, called The Furnace. In the words of Caleb, it is awesome. Plus our involvement in Church of God Makati, the church we planted along with J’s dad and some other pastors when we were here the last time, will be increasing in the near future..more about that in our next update!

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Tracey continued to volunteer at Gentle Hands thru Media & P.R.– taking pictures, doing some admin here and there for my sister-in-law, and whatever else may come up to be done. She has stepped down from taking an “official” role as Media & PR at GH but remains an advocate and helps out Charity whenever needed. She has also been getting involved in the photography community. She heads up a community group called SMUG, where photographers, from hobbyists to pros, have speakers, give back to the community, have fun together, go on’s awesome! In November, Lonely Planet Philippines magazine sent her on an assignment to Turkey to photograph for their feature cover story. The issue came out in April..pretty exciting!

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trace on a SMUG (photo community) “giving back” outreach with Habitat for Humanity Philippines

Yes, our first year has been very rewarding and everyone has adjusted well. For sure it’s had some rough spots – missing home and all it’s conveniences, the occasional being sick, etc. But for the most part – it’s been awesome!

Thank you for continuing to support us in prayers and support, both emotional and financial, as we continue to serve the beautiful people of the Philippines.

Welcome to Grand Central Station!

We have LITERALLY had NON-stop visitors since December 21st of last year!

For the holiday season we had Cuong & Athena and their family from Japan from the 21st to the 1st of Jan 2012. We have known Athena since 2000 when she was here as a short-term missionary working with Evan & Charity. It was great to reconnect and share some holiday cheer with them, and be involved at everything that goes on at GH at Christmastime!

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us with pastor alan and pastor joel from canada

Then in January we had two different pastors from Canada come visit – Joel Goodnough from Brooks, AB was here for 3 weeks and Alex Allan from Swift Current, SK was here for 2 weeks. They did lots of speaking, preaching, helping, working at the church here in Manila, at Gentle Hands, out in the province. We even got to show them some touristy things too – so they got the full meal deal! It was cool to get to know them – Jonathan knows them both quite well, but the rest of us not so much. But that changed now!

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trace’s cousin blayne and wife tara here volunteering at Gentle Hands

A week after they left my cousin Blayne and his wife Tara were here for 2 weeks to volunteer mostly at Gentle Hands. It was super-awesome to have them both here!

At the same time, Tracey’s sister, Kristal, arrived on the 13th of Feb and will be here until June 2nd. It’s been so amazing having her here and seeing the growth in her life and the dreaming for what can be really take hold of her heart!

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kristal, trace’s sister, and one of the sweet ones from Gentle Hands

See? Lots of visitors! We love them!  

Summer 2012: Canada

This summer we will be going “home” to Canada for the months of June & July. Along with Jonathan doing a number of camps and meetings across Canada and the US, we will be visiting some friends, family & supporters along the way & Caleb will be working with my cousin Blayne for almost a month to make some summer money – he’s at that age now. We will be finalizing schedules shortly here. Check out Facebook page for more details and for our schedule…we would love to see you!

Also if you would like to get together with us, please contact us so we can fit you into our really crazy summer schedule! We are thinking of doing some big BBQ type gatherings in some of the major cities so we can see a bunch of you at once!

 Love you all! xoxo

Jonathan, Tracey, Caleb & Annarose