Thursday, September 24, 2009

Leaving You Hanging . . . Day Three

Leave you hanging.

I realize the last note / bog / article I posted might have left you hanging a bit. I mean, it was a pretty harsh and realistic piece about a particularly tough part of the Philippines. To leave you with the impression that most of this wonderful country is in this condition is completely untrue and is certainly not representative of most of what we witnessed.

However, after leaving the cemetery we proceeded to visit with ministers and those whose mission it is to go face to face with the people of Manila, share the Gospel with them (no matter their circumstances or living conditions) and commit to stay with them as they learn the Truth.

After that, we drove (in the driving rain) to another part of the city of Manila known as Smokey Mountain. They say it’s so big and puts off such smoke that it can be seen from space. It’s the main garbage dump for the city.

One thousand tons of garbage arrive each day. And yes, you guessed it, there are people living in the garbage dump. This is not some Sanford and Son recreation. If it were possible, it’s as dark – literally and figuratively as the cemetery slum. People build makeshift dwellings among the piles of filth and garbage. The mud and whatever else was on the ground was ankle deep. When new trucks arrive, the people of the dump run to claim sacks of garbage, then start to rummage through to see what treasures they can find.

We didn’t get out of the truck to have a closer look. And I didn’t shoot any video. Honestly, by that point, after the cemetery, it was all just, well, just too much. I don’t know when I’ve ever felt so sad and helpless. I remember thinking, “Just get me out of here and back to the hotel.” It wasn’t so much a spoiled, western cultural attack - “Ok, I’ve seen enough of this pain and I want my clean sheets and shower and wash all this off me.” It was more of a need to get somewhere safe where I could be alone. If you’d asked how it all affected me at that moment, I don’t think I could have answered.

But can I tell you how focused these men and women are that work for Bible League International in the Philippines? I mean, they’re not distracted or put off by anything. They keep their eyes on the one thing that means something. And they are committed to telling their countrymen about Christ.

The next day was to be our “hike into the mountains and visit a remote village” day. We were all told about this before we left the states. We were told to buy serious bug juice – I think the stuff I got at REI really was called Bug Juice. We were told to bring some kind of mat or inflatable pad to sleep on. We would be sleeping in the village – on the floor – or at least that’s what we were told!

We boarded a ferry - yes, the old tubs that you hear about turning over in the Philippines and other parts of the world. The ride on the ferry was a little over two hours. Our destination was the island of Mindoro. After we disembarked, we loaded onto two vehicles that would drive us as far as they could. On the way, several sections of road were washed out from the heavy, seasonal rains. Finally, the trucks pulled over, drivers got out and said to the interpreters something akin to, “This is as far as we can go.”

There was only a light mist falling at this point, so with healthy, hearty attitudes and adventure in our bones . . .

OK, can I say here that I’m not a camper kind of guy. I’m not really a hiker either. I do like to ride my motorcycle and have been on some long trips on two wheels, but at the end of the day, adventure, to me is pulling into some new town without a hotel reservation. Edgy!! I slept on the ground one time, I think, when I was a kid in Boy Scouts. I think I nabbed my camping merit badge and resigned the next day. OK, so there you have it. Take your best shots!

….we set out up the mountain toward the village of DubDub (spelling is only a guess).
Of course, the rain began to get heavier, the incline more steep and the mud more deep. Geez, that sounds like a song! Several in our troop lost shoes in the mud. There was a trail maybe a foot wide in places but deeply grooved by the constant rainfall. In lots of places, we had to take to the grass to progress. There was falling, tumbling, laughing, mild grumbling (hmm…another rhyme…I’ll get a song out of this yet.) and somewhere between hours one and two, someone shouted “village in site.”

Another “camping” note from the expert. I was doing the last minute shopping and prep for the trip at our local Academy store when I came to the aisle stocked with parkas. The prices ranged from about a buck to ten or fifteen. I don’t know what came over me, but I picked up this tiny pack that said there was a rain parka inside. It was light and wouldn’t take up much room. The price was $2.99. Just a word here. Don’t skimp on the parka when you’re going to be in a rain forest! Mine was little more than a Glad Bag with arm holes and a hood.

Darkness was falling at a pretty raid pace. The reality that we were going to spend the night in a place with no electricity, no running water, that we would sleep, who knows where and eat who knows what, began to sink in. But we were soaked through with rain and perspiration and weren’t too concerned about much of anything but stopping.

We found out that some of the 70 citizens of this tiny village had TB. That spoke volumes to the food preparation issue and we feasted on bread and water that night.

Evaluating the sleeping options, I chose to roll out my mat (it automatically inflated to, oh, about two inches of buoyant luxury right before my eyes) in the chapel. I was told there was more room there.

The chapel was occupied, when I walked in, by two pigs, a goat and several chickens or members of the chicken family. I bet they all tasted like chicken. Never got a chance to find out.

The chapel was a grass-roofed hut with a dirt floor with several boards nailed to posts in the floor for seating. The size of the entire place was probably 10 x 15 feet. The hosts began pulling up the boards and placing them three across to provide some place for us to lay our mats. Their hospitality was awesome. They would do anything to accommodate us – even rearrange their chapel “pews.” I’ve been in a lot of churches that require a committee meeting to move a piano.

About 40 of the 70 that lived in this village were believers and followers of Christ. The others, we were told, were Muslim.

The believers gathered in the chapel as the deep darkness settled in. We sang with them and listened to their leader speak to them from God’s Word. It was beautiful. I played a couple of songs for them myself.

We found out later they’d never seen a white man. We were the first in their village.

After the great fellowship and worship, everyone retired for the evening.

No Sportscenter for you!

I think we laid our heads down about 8:30. There was to be a bell at 4 AM calling everyone back to the chapel for prayer. This was not a special service for our benefit – they gather every single morning at 4 – for an hour and a half of prayer. Humbling.

I guess the leader was a little excited. I saw him creep in the chapel and ring the bell. Assuming it was 4 AM and time to rise and try to shine, I hopped up. Looking at my watch that said 12:30 AM, I softly announced to the others that it was a tad early to be getting up. I rolled back over and caught a few more minutes of sleep. Where are those ear plugs?

The other alarm that shook me was the bleating of a goat a few inches from my head. Say, have you ever heard a goat in the middle of the night a few inches from your head? They should capture that sound for some alarm clock. . . . you’d never oversleep!

At the real 4AM, the bell was rung again and the little chapel soon filled with children and young adults ready to sing and hear the Word. I was overwhelmed at their innocence and their zeal for Jesus. It wasn’t complicated with what kind of church building, what version of the Bible, what one was wearing or anything of the sort. They simply gathered to revel in the common love they shared – the common redemption by Grace they’d been offered. It was truly sweet in the finest sense of the word.

You’ll want to read the next installment about the trip back down the mountain!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay...the last blog had me almost crying and this had me laughing out loud incomtrollably! YOU are definitely not a boy scout. Maybe you went on this trip as an extra bonus to learn to enjoy the great outdoors. I love the goat story! LOL.