After retiring from her job of 31 years in the health care profession in 2007, Marilyn Curtis had dreams of buying an RV and travelling Newfoundland and Labrador to enjoy the many wonders her home province has to offer.
“That was the grand plan,” she recalls. “I’d live off my little bit of pension, get in the RV, and just go.”
Energetic, enthusiastic and exuberant are just some of the words that come to mind when talking to the slender dark-haired lady from Springdale. Dressed in nice clothes, and presented in a very respectable manner, if you were to meet her on the street, she would come across as what she is – someone whose worked to make their way, and is now spending retired life doing what she loves to do most.
But what she’s doing is a far cry from travelling the province in an RV.
As she begins to tell her tales, another word springs to mind to describe the woman who has passed sixty years of age, but appears to haven’t reached much past a young woman just starting out in life when it comes to her drive and determination. Passion.
Prior to retirement, Marilyn began to travel to countries all over the world to assist in Mission trips. She visited places like Kenya, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Romania, Cambodia, and Laos.
Then, when retirement came, before the dream of the RV could come to fruition, another opportunity arose to travel to the Philippines.
“I had never been, so I saw it as a chance to go somewhere new,” said Curtis.
The trip was scheduled for four months – not a problem for the new retiree with loads of free time on her hands. But when Curtis got to the Philippines things began to take a drastic change – first for the worse, then, for the supernatural.
“I couldn’t take it,” she said. “It was so hot, and humid, and so uncomfortable. I remember I was there for a couple of days, and I said to myself ‘I’m not going to make it four days here – let alone four months.’”
Despite the trials and troubles, though, Curtis soon had an encounter that would change her life. One that to this day she still isn’t over, and has become has she has built her life around since that day.
“I walked into an orphanage, and there he was,” she say, with pride and joy in her voice. “I looked into his eyes, and he had me – right then and there, he had me.”
Curtis was looking into the eyes of a young boy named Andrew. His life in desperate need of help and hope – which the woman from Springdale could offer him – however, it would soon be Andrew who would bring Marilyn hope, and in turn a generation of children just like him.
“I could have taken him – I could have brought him back to Newfoundland, and he would have had the best of everything, and lived a full and a happy life here – I could have done that, for sure,” she says. “But that’s not what was meant to happen. That’s not what I was called to do.”
Suddenly, the temperature and humidity didn’t matter anymore. Curtis’ four-month stay, soon turned into much longer.
Curtis took Andrew and fostered him for four years. After that, a family in Finland adopted him. The strong, willful woman tried to be that the day she said farewell to her boy – and decided to take what he had taught her in his short time with her, and do great things with it.
“I started Andrew’s Children’s Ministries – I named it after him, because he inspired it,” she said. “I realized there were a lot of Andrew’s in the Philippines, and they all needed help like he had.”
So began the journey of the retired Health Care worker from Newfoundland, working in the squatters area of the Philippines with the homeless, the abandoned, the neglected, the abused and the orphaned children.
“It’s a garbage dump,” she said. “It’s an area outside town that’s a garbage dump, where these children were born into the harshest of conditions, and their parents before them.”
Curtis says that statistics show that there are more than two hundred thousand children living on the streets of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
“Many of them are naked,” she explained. “They can’t afford food – let alone clothes. So they go around for the most part naked.”
It was that thought that broke Curtis’ heart during her early days working with the children in Manila. In her heart, she knew what she needed.
Curtis says she believes the supernatural happened at that moment, as back home in Newfoundland a group of ladies in her hometown had gathered for their weekly sewing group.
Rosemary Huxter was the driving force behind the group, and she says they were trying to come up with a project to do for the year, when all of a sudden the idea came to her.
“I remembered Marilyn in the Philippines, and began wondering what we could do for her,” she said. Not knowing the conditions in Manila, Rosemary and her team took in donations of used clothing and material, and began sewing dresses and shorts to send to Marilyn.
When the package arrived in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, Marilyn says she became overwhelmed. “I cried and cried and cried – because they had no idea what I needed most,” she said. “And yet, here it was – all these beautiful garments – hundreds of them.”
Today, Marilyn is still in the Philippines, ministering to children like Andrew. Her heart and soul goes into helping children that need it most, and she shows no sign of slowing down.
“I tell them that when they have to carry me on the airplane, then I will stop,” she said. “But until then – I will do what can, and need to do.”