Sunday, April 29, 2012

Greetings from Mindoro!

Incarnational ministry. It is the example that Jesus left for us. In order
to reveal God to us, He became a human, and specifically a Hebrew. He
learned the language of the Jews, the culture of the Jews, and the legends
of the Jews. He learned a trade and worked to support His earthly family.
He became one of them.

And so I strive to become a Batangan. To that end I go with them wherever
they go, and work with them wherever they work (as far as I am able),
learning language all the time. Now that my house is built and I have moved
in, I've had more time to wander in the mountains with my people.

This time of year is honey season. All of the mountain farms have been
cleared and burned off, but not enough rain has fallen yet to start
planting. While the people have been clearing their mountain farms, they
have kept their eyes peeled for wild bees' nests in the nearby trees, and
now they go back to collect the honey.
This is no jaunt in the park, though. Wild bees are a bit different than
their domestic relatives. In the States, harvesting their honey would be
classified as an extreme sport, reserved for adrenaline junkies. Here it is
part of life.

Occasionally the bees make the mistake of building nests on a tree branch
fairly close to the ground. In that case the procedure is to gather a huge
pile of wood and green leafy branches. When the fire is burning hot, the
leafy branches are put on the fire and pumped up and down to create huge
billows of smoke. When the smoke hits the bees, they angrily swarm seeking
the creatures that have done this to them. Those tending the fire try to
get in the smoke as much as possible, while continuing to keep the smoke
billowing up. If all goes well, in about ten minutes most of the bees clear
out and it is relatively safe to cut down the nest while nursing three or
four stings.

Last Sunday was different. A group of us had spotted a giant nest while
scouting out where Delpin (my Alangan partner) and I will be making our
mountain farm. Sunday we had a little free time in the evening, so we went
back to get the honey. The nest was about fifty feet up on a branch that
overhung a mountain farm which had just been burned off. If the intense
smoke and heat from burning off the field hadn't succeeded in driving off
the bees, then we were going to have to go to plan B.

Plan B is to make a "toldang." We gathered sections of dry bamboo about
three feet long, smashed them so that they would burn hot and fast, and then
tied green buri palm fronds around them to make a bundle, called a toldang,
that would generate lots of smoke when lit. The whole bundle was then tied
to the end of the longest section of bamboo we could find.

My friend Sandy had spotted the nest. He was the most experienced at
harvesting honey and he went up the tree first to set the toldang. The pole
was long and heavy, though, and he had to have someone else to help him.
The whole time that we were making the toldang, the group debated who would
go up with him. Delpin was the most experienced next to Sandy, but he was
sick and couldn't climb. The other two were too scared. I thought to
myself, "Well, you say that you want to become one of them, and do what they
do. Why don't you give it a try?"

I walked over to the tree. The only way up was to climb a vine, through a
thicket of bamboo, up to where the roots of a parasitic banyan formed a
criss-crossing braid that could be climbed like a ladder right to the first
branch. I grabbed the vine and started up. I didn't make it very far,
though. As I clambered back down to the ground, Sandy laughed, "At that
rate we'll take thirty years to get to the bees!"
Laughing, I called back, "I suppose I could do it if my life depended on

When the toldang was done, Sandy climbed up, and we finally coerced one of
the others to go up. He climbed half way up, passed the pole up to Sandy,
and then chickened out. Climbing down as fast as he could, he took off into
the jungle with the rest of the people, scared of the bees.

Delpin and I looked at each other. Sandy HAD to have someone to help him.
He couldn't leverage the heavy pole out to the nest by himself, and if he
couldn't get it in the right position fast enough the bees would get mad and
swarm him. Delpin simply couldn't make it up. I was the only one left.

Grabbing the vine I swallowed my fear and started climbing. I climbed, and
climbed, and climbed, and climbed. I climbed through the incredibly itchy
bamboo, but was so focused and full of adrenaline that I didn't notice. I
reached the banyan roots and meticulously made my way up the last twenty
feet to the lowest branch. I knew that I couldn't make it back down that at
any decent rate of speed when the bees started to swarm. I was going to get
stung, and stung badly.

I arrived ready to take a break and get my wits about me, but Sandy already
had lit the toldang. He was fighting the pole with all his might, but
couldn't get it into position. If he couldn't get it in quickly, we were
gonners. I climbed up to him, grabbed the end of the pole, and together we
torqued it into place. Unbeknownst to us, however, during the maneuvering,
the toldang had snagged a hanging vine. The vine in turn whacked the giant
hive, sending the bees into a frenzy before the smoke hit them.

I set the base of the pole and Sandy started to holler, "Go down! Go down!
Don't hurry, but go down!"

"You go first!" I shouted as we both started down. I knew that he could
climb down twice as fast as I could, and there was no sense in him hanging
around just to get stung more.
Sandy refused to leave me, though. The bees were all around us by now,
stinging and crawling, crawling and stinging. "Be deliberate but make your
steps faster!" Sandy continued shouting as we both climbed down the banyan
roots side by side.

I don't remember much of what I did, just Sandy's words that cut clearly
through the confusion. On the climb up, I had programmed myself that on the
way down, I must ignore the stings, not get frantic, and be deliberate in my
climbing. Now in the frenzy, my body did what I had told it to do without
any conscious thought.

We reached the vines, about thirty feet from the ground. Sandy had mapped
out an alternate route down so that we wouldn't be on top of each other on
the vine. He said, "I'm going this way! Just hold on with your hands and
slide down, don't try to use your feet!"

I've heard all the advice about staying calm around bees and not running.
I'm not sure that it applies, though, when you have smashed their house and
they have started swarming you angrily. I think that it is a little too
late at that point. The local lore is that once a couple have stung you,
the bees know who their target is and they will all try to attack you.
Whatever the case may be, we hit the ground running.

Taking off through the jungle, my hands now free, I started removing bees
from my body as fast as I could. A number were crawling under my shirt so I
ripped it off and left it somewhere out in the jungle while I continued to
run barefoot through the brush. Each of my ears had a bee in it, wiggling
and buzzing. I tried and tried to get them out, but all I succeeded in
doing was pushing them farther in. I desperately didn't want them to sting
my ear canal, but there was nothing I could do but pray, "Lord, please don't
let them sting me in there!" After about five minutes of running they
managed to wiggle out and flew off without stinging my ear canal. Praise

As I continued to run, I ran into Sandy, still running too. He saw that I
was running in a straight line and hollered, "Run in circles! Run back and
forth so they can't follow you!" Of course! I had heard that before but
had completely forgotten.

It was starting to get dark, and I couldn't keep up the pace much longer,
but just about then I broke out of the jungle into the clearing of an old
mountain farm. The bees that were on me followed while the rest stayed back
in the jungle. After a few minutes of zig-zagging through the field, I
managed to get all of the angry little creatures off of me and started
pulling out dozens and dozens of stingers.

When I thought the bees had given up, I started back to the jungle. They
were there waiting for me, though, and started to attack again. Three times
I tried to get through, and was forced back to the clearing before the bees
gave up and I was able to start home.

That night was spent in a stupor. By the time the severe itching from
allergenic plants I had crawled and ran through in the brush had subsided,
the pain set it. Between Delpin and I, we pulled out approximately 140
stingers. The next day I was racked with fever and aching bones. I thought
surely that I had malaria, but everyone told me that this was the reaction
you get the first time you get stung that badly. They told stories of
children who had gotten swarmed and hadn't been able to run, and had ended
up completely white, head to toe, from stingers. I was blessed.

Today, a week later, I'm still counting my blessings. First and foremost I
praise God that I made it up and down that tree without falling and breaking
my spine. I am also immensely grateful that I didn't go into anaphylactic
shock, there wouldn't have been a whole lot that I could have done if it had
turned bad. I praise God that we are all safe and well, now.

I especially am thankful for the chance to share this experience with my
people and earn my place in their hearts. Incarnational ministry. It can
be interesting at times!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Greetings from Mindoro!
Thank you so much for your prayers!  By God’s grace I am writing this from the Batangan village of Balangabong!
God is able to work more powerfully in response to His children’s prayers, and I could tell that there were many prayers going up for the Batangan as I began my move, Thursday, March 1.  Previously, every time that there has been a big development with the project, there has been some sort of attack.  As I packed, said goodbye to my family in Pandarukan, and started South, I was braced for something to happen.  Nothing did.
I arrived at the trail head late in the evening with Delpin and Soosing, the two Alangan who had volunteered to go down with me and help me move.  I found that no one seemed to know that I was coming.  Delpin went ahead to see if there was anyone who could help carry some of my junk up the mountain, but he arrived back reporting that there was no one who could help.
“Oh boy, here we go again,” I thought to myself.  “Here I’ve packed up my house in Pandarukan and traveled halfway across the island, and now we’re going to have a repeat of Tamisan.  We’ll finally get my stuff up there only to find that they’ve called an impromptu meeting to tell us that they’ve changed their minds and we’ll have to go.”
As we started up the mountain, though, in the falling dusk, we heard whooping off in the distance, and a few minutes later the leaders of the church appeared, panting from running all the way from their mountain farm.  “We’re so sorry!” they said.  “We knew you were coming, but we were delayed upriver.  Don’t worry, everything is fine and we’re thrilled that you are here.”
Praise God, and thank you for your prayers!
Friday night, after vespers, and after everyone went home, I went back to the church and spent quite a while worshiping and praying for these people and my ministry.  I found out later that at that very time, back in Pandarukan, Ramon’s son Dipi became so sick that Ramon and several others took him to the district hospital.  Several other children in the village became sick at the same time, including two of Standing's children.  It seems that if he couldn’t get at me, the Devil was going to get at whoever he could.
Despite the commotion in Pandarukan, several Alangan showed up Sunday morning to help build my new house and get to know their Batangan brothers.  I took a quick break this morning to write this, and as I type one team of people is thatching the roof while another is splitting bamboo for the floor.  Within a week or two I should be able to move in!
As soon as the house is done I will be able to give myself wholeheartedly to language learning.  It is such a blessing already knowing Tagalog.  Because of this I have been able to immediately communicate at about a 3 on a scale of 1-5.  Tagalog is not their heart language, however, and we both struggle to express ourselves sometimes.  I long to speak Batangan proficiently.  As we walk upriver to cut posts, or sit on my rafters thatching the roof, I collect words, phrases, and sentences, and am working on making a Batangan-Alangan-Tagalog-English dictionary.  I already have half a notebook worth of words and phrases waiting to be entered into my Excel template.
God is very good!  I am finally among my people.  The language and culture in this lowland Batangan village has become quite mixed with the lowland Filipinos, but it is my start (there are several elders who know the true Batangan ways, and I intend to tap them heavily).  Thank you so much for your prayers and support!  The work has finally begun!  Please continue to pray, though, remembering the Alangan as well.  Also please pray that God will give me wisdom and will guide my tongue.  I keenly feel my lack of wisdom.  Thank you!
In His Service,

John Holbrook
Greetings from Mindoro!
Good news!  By God’s grace, I’ll be moving into the Batangan territory this Thursday, March 1!  The Batangan project is about to get a new birthday!
As you may recall, I mentioned that there is one lowland Batangan village, named Balangabong, that has a Seventh-day Adventist church.  This is the village that Dong came from.  It was planted 30-40 years ago, and has never really matured or grown.  After the church was planted initially, it was abandoned.  About 15 years ago, the Balangabong church sent a delegation to the local Adventist church, asking for help, but because of a lack of personnel, cultural issues, and politics, the church has received almost no help except for development projects.
As you remember, in the meeting in which Fausto kicked us out, he told us that if we wanted to live in Batangan territory, to go to Balangabong where we already have brothers.  Because of all of the politics involved with the Balangabong church, as well as our desire to start fresh, putting “new wine in new wineskins,” we decided to explore our other options first (Matt 9:17).
Since that time God has systematically closed all the other doors, and seems to have flung the doors into Balangabong wide open.  During the Conference Workers’ Meetings that I mentioned in the last update, I met with the man who is responsible for the Balangabong church and the development projects that have been done there.  He was glad to have me live and work in Balangabong.  When I got back to Mindoro, some of the other political sticky points were cleared up as well.  Then when I went down to visit the village again, they asked me on their own initiative to come live with them while I learned the language and continued to work to find an open village in the interior.  They promised whatever help they could offer to get into the interior in exchange for my helping their church while I lived there.
It sounded like a good deal to me!  After prayer and consultation, I let Balangabong know that I would be moving in.  While I’ve been wrapping up the last few loose ends up here in Alangan territory they have been gathering materials, and Thursday we’ll start building my house.  Praise God!
It has been my plan from the beginning to involve the Alangan in this project as much as possible.  The Alangan and Batangan are both tribes native to this island, their languages are somewhat related, and their culture and spiritism are almost identical.  Hopefully the Alangan will hopefully be able to relate and bridge the gap more quickly than I would be able to do alone.  In return, the experience will hopefully provide good training for the Alangan in cross-cultural missions, and help to fan the flame of evangelism.
The Alangan have long been deliberating on who, then, would go with me.  As with any church anywhere in the world, it is easy to get in a rut and just keep on going with life as usual.  It is also difficult for anyone to move to a distant and unknown place, but this is especially true if no one in your entire extended family has ever made such a move.  It was finally decided, though, that Delpin, my best friend since I arrived here as a child, will go with me on a part time basis and see how it goes.
The Devil is not happy.  Just like Ramon when he was on the initial expeditions, Delpin has noticed that whenever things start heating up with the Batangan, his family starts to get all kinds of sicknesses.  Since we have finalized plans with Balangabong, Satan has tried to frighten us again in the form of strange sounds, things moving around, dreams, etc.    He does not seem to have as much strength against us as he used to, though, and we know that he cannot harm God’s work unless we give in to him.
Please pray for us!  The last time we, “got in,” we were immediately kicked out again.  I know that Satan is fighting our arrival down in Balangabong as well as up here in Pandarukan.  Please pray that God will bind his power and not allow our move to fall through again.  Please pray that God will strengthen us and give us personal victory in our fight against the powers of darkness and against our own sinfulness.  Please pray that God will be glorified and His cause moved forward in all that happens.
Thank you so much!  I don’t just believe in the power of prayer, I depend on it, and I thank you so much for your faithfulness to the Batangan.  According to God’s will, the next time I write to you will be from a Batangan village!
In His Service,

John Holbrook
Greetings from Mindoro!
I left you, over a month ago, with us having just been kicked out of Tamisan and the Batangan territory as a whole.  I apologize that it has taken me so long to get back to you.  For a whole month, God seemed to be silent regarding the Batangan.  Our plans to try to enter the territory again from the north fell through, we couldn’t find anyone who would take us.  Our plans to court any Batangan from the mountains that we might meet in our travels fell through simply because none came down this season, at least none that we could find.  Idea after idea failed, and all I could do was say, “Those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength . . . “ Is. 40:31.
I have tried to improve the time as best I could, working on my Batangan/Alangan/Tagalog/English dictionary, entering the words and phrases that I was able to glean on the trips that I made into the territory before we were asked to leave.  I’ve made a couple of trips for AFM business.  And I’ve sat in innumerable meetings.  I have to say, when I left the States I thought I’d be done sitting in meetings for a while.  I forgot that this culture operates by meeting, even more than Americans do!  I started out attending all of the political meetings when I got here to glean as many cultural insights as I could.  As we started having more and more meetings regarding the Batangan and other church work, though, I’ve become “meetinged out!”
Speaking of meetings, in mid January, I was invited to attend the Workers’ Meetings for the conference that covers our territory.  Eager to make a good relationship better, I gladly accepted.  Most of the content of the lectures was not directly applicable to my project, but I was able to meet all of the pastors in the conference, as well as make friends with the conference officials.  I found that the Batangan territory spans an area covered by three district pastors (each of which have 18-26 churches), and I was able to meet with these three pastors.  I was given two opportunities to speak, and the messages were well accepted.  Towards the end of the week, the Conference President took me aside and thanked me for my efforts to coordinate with and work alongside the organized work.  “You are the only supporting ministry in our area to do this,” he said.
Back home again, after a few too many all-nighters on the road, I found that yet another of our plans had fallen through.  Lunito, who is the Alangan, “Mayor,” their equivalent of Fausto, had not been happy at all at the outcome of the meeting in Tamisan.  As an Adventist, he had a vested interest in the Batangan work, but aside from that, simply as a civil leader, he felt that Fausto’s decision was very unfair.  Lowland Batangan have sent Evangelical missionaries into Alangan territory for the last 5 years or so.  They have never spoken to Lunito or asked permission of the local villages, and have simply moved in.  Often times their work has been less than beneficial, and in a few cases it has split the village.  Yet the Alangan have been extremely patient with them, and have not hindered them, preferring to give each person the freedom to choose.
On a side not, I find it fascinating that the lowland Batangan Evangelical Christians can’t get into their own relatives in the highlands, and prefer to send their missionaries to other tribes on the island.  Those highlanders are tough!
When Lunito heard that despite our doing our best to go through proper channels and respect the authority of the Batangan leaders, we had been almost unconditionally shut out of the territory, he was livid.  The Batangan team (me and the Alangan church leaders involved with the project) calmed him down and convinced him to wait a week or so before going to meet Fausto, but he was determined to ask for a redress.  At the beginning of January there was to be a meeting of the leaders of all seven tribes native to the island, and Lunito determined to present his case there.
The date came and went, but so few representatives showed up that the meeting was called off.  Lunito tried again to reach Fausto in his own village, but failed to reach him.  The original meeting was rescheduled, but again fell through.  After three failed attempts, I had pretty much chalked up the whole idea as another failure.  But that brings me to yesterday.
Yesterday morning I came home from my bath to find a handsome adolescent Philippine Cobra waiting to greet me on my front steps.  As you may know, Philippine Cobras are the world's most deadly species of cobra.  Unfortunately both of my machetes were inside my house, on the other side of the friendly snake.  I hollered for my faithful friend Delpin (we’ve been like brothers since I was eight years old) to bring a machete while I kept my eyes on the snake.
My first strike missed, and the snake took off with Delpin and I in cautious pursuit.  We spent the next five minutes searching until we found him trying to climb up a post into my house (the last place I wanted him).  Delpin gave him a mighty whack with a long piece of bamboo and I cut him in half.  Poor little cobra, he just wanted to say, "Good morning!"
I happened to be completely out of money (literally down to about 10 Pesos in coins) and almost out of food.  I don't normally let that happen, but my reserve money got stolen, and nobody can figure out how.  Oh well, water under the bridge.  Since Delpin didn't have anywhere that he needed to be that day, he decided to come along with me to Mamburao, the nearest town with an ATM.
When it rains it pours, and yesterday was my day for a downpour.  Time after time on the way up to Mamburao, dogs ran out in front of me, children crossed just as I'd come up beside them, and the wind nearly blew me off the road at one point.  Coming into the little town of Santa Cruz I was following a huge delivery truck.  Without any signal he suddenly swerved into the left lane, then cut across both lanes to make a sharp right turn.  Both tires were on the verge of locking up and I still barely stopped in time.  A few minutes later in down town Santa Cruz the same thing happened with another truck.
Then about two miles north of Santa Cruz my engine suddenly made a horrible noise and started to lug.    Looking down at the engine my heart sank.  Oil was dripping off the block.  "Oh Lord," I prayed.  "Please don't let my engine be fried!"

Examining the engine we found that the oil drain plug was nowhere to be found.  "Oh great!" I groaned.  "How could the drain plug have possibly come loose?  I changed the oil a week ago, and I distinctly remember being very careful to tighten the plug well and check for leaks.  And I just checked the oil level  a few minutes ago."

Nonetheless the drain plug was nowhere to be found.  "Come on," the restaurant owner said.  "Let's head into town and see if we can find a new drain plug for you."

I didn't tell the man that I didn’t have a red cent to my name until I could get to Mamburao, but I gave one despairing look at Delpin and he read my mind.  Reaching into his pocket he pulled out three tightly folded hundred Peso bills.  "Praise God, and thank you!" I said.

I am eternally grateful to that old man.  He is a faithful Catholic, and was glad to hear of my work with the native tribes.  We stopped at the main parts store in town and asked for a drain plug.  "Oh," they said.  "They haven't come in from our supplier yet."

"Hmm," I thought.  "That's a funny response.  How many drain plugs do they sell in a year anyway?"  But I didn't think too much about it as I was busy begging God that the only other parts store in town would have the plug.  I also said a few prayers reminding God that this was His project motorcycle, that I had done my best to take care of it, and that I really needed a few more years out of it.  But ultimately, as always, I left the situation in His hands.

Praise God, the other parts store had a drain plug.  I was kind of in a hurry to get back and get some oil in the crank case, but the proprietor was more interested in talking to this white kid who could speak Tagalog.  The restaurant owner was related to the parts store owner (he seemed to be related to just about everyone we met), and he was doing me a huge favor, so I let them take their time and pepper me with questions.  On the way into town I had thought to myself, "Wouldn't this just be ironic if his motorcycle breaks down while he is helping me.  I don't have a penny on me except for what was left of the P300 that I borrowed from Delpin, we’d both be stuck.  Wouldn't you know it, just on the outskirts of Santa Cruz there was a loud, "Pop!" and then a terrible grating noise as we came to a stop.  "Chain's off!" the man called out cheerfully.  "I'll have to tighten that up a bit when we get back."

Again praising God that it was only his chain, I helped him pop it back on and we headed back to his house.  The drain plug fit perfectly, and after filling the crank case with oil I turned the engine over 10-20 times with the key off.  It didn't seem frozen at all.  After I was sure that it was as lubed as it could get with the engine off, I stopped, we all said a prayer, and I started her up.  She started with the first kick!

Praise God!  That's the good news.  The bad news is that after she started, there was a nice little knock, which means that I’ll have to rebuild the engine.  Praise God that it’s only a little 125 cc motorcycle engine and not a full sized, multi-cylinder truck engine!

Anyway, there wasn't much else to do but to limp on into Mamburao, so after thanking the man profusely, and forcing him to take a little of the remainder of our money for his expenditure of gas, we were off again.  As we rode on, very cautiously, I started wondering, "What in the world is going on?  This is uncanny.  I just about died three times this morning, and now my oil drain plug pops off and my engine freezes up when I know for a fact that I tightened it well.  I just went out of my way to check the oil level a few minutes ago on the road.  In fact, I've driven the bike for about a week now since the oil change and haven't had any problems.  Is there a reason for all of this?"

That's when I remembered that Lunito had heard that Fausto was due to be in the town of Sablayan that day, and was on his way in to try and meet him.  "Could this have anything to do with that," I wondered.  It didn’t seem normal for to have so many close calls in one day after about a month of relative peace.

Sure enough, this morning Lunito came by and said that he was indeed finally able to meet Fausto in town yesterday, and meet without a village full of people listening.  He related to Fausto his concerns/grievences, and asked for a redress of the decision made in the meeting at Tamisan.  Fausto replied, "Look, the people in the mountains are very scared.  The people down in the lowlands where the churches have entered are more used to outsiders.  You and your people can travel about and work in these villages.  And then, if you do find someone from upriver who wants you to come in, that's fine with me."

Praise God!  This doesn’t mean that I can move in tomorrow, Tamisan is still closed so I’ll have to find another village.  But we are free to travel and visit, and free again to live in the territory when we find a village that will take us in.

Thank you so much for all that you do to make this project happen!  I cannot do this alone, it takes a team.  Please continue to keep the Batangan and I in your prayers!  We very much need them!

In His Service,

John Holbrook

Greetings from Mindoro,
The Devil is real, and he is not happy.  I ended my last letter saying that I was heading out to Tamisan in a few minutes.  My two Alangan companions and I arrived at the village late Tuesday afternoon, excited to be there.  We came ready to really start digging into the language, and we had high hopes that the village would let soon let us move directly in, or would help us to find a village farther upriver that we could move into.
As we walked into the house where we normally spend the night, however, we were shocked.  No one in the house would even look at us.  Even the children, who had always been curious and happy despite their parents’ initial suspicion, wouldn’t turn to face us.  We stood confused outside the house for a few minutes, trying to think of what we might have done to offend them.  Just a few days before Fausto had given us permission to come and go as we pleased, and we had left on good terms with all, at least as far as we could tell.  Now we were being treated like criminals.
We quickly decided that we had better go straight to Fausto, let him know we were there, and make sure that everything was still ok.  Our host, Jose, who happens to be Fausto’s son, finally told us that we could go ahead and put our bags in the house, and then walked out.  Dropping our bags and followed.
We arrived to find Fausto’s house full of people, and more people milling around outside.  The man himself was nowhere to be seen, so we sat down outside to wait and see what would happen.  We saw our host, Jose, inside the house, talking confidentially with several men.  After a few minutes he came out and told me that they were about to call a meeting about us, but it would be a while before everyone came together.  I assured him that that was fine, and we sat down again to wait.
“A meeting?”  I thought to myself.  “What happened?  Just a few days ago we everything was fine.  Did I do something offensive?  Are they going to try to kick me out?  Are they just meeting to decide what village I should go to?”
Obviously there were no answers, though, so I started some doing some intense praying, and then decided to just make the best of the situation.  I had come prepared to do some serious language learning, so while we waited I pulled out my pocket notebook and began asking people around me how to say things in Tawbuid (synonymous with Batangan).  Instantly a happy, chattering crowd gathered around.  Being a lowland Batangan village, they had a lot of contact with the outside world, and were realizing the value of knowing English.  For the next two hours we had a great time swapping languages and cultural practices.
By this time it was quite dark, and people were starting to gather for the meeting.  Jose came back, and found us a place in the house to sit until they got started.  While the people waited, a few of the men started an arm-wrestling competition.  Let me tell you, I have never seen anything like it.  Batangan arm wrestling is more like all out wrestling, except that there is only one point of contact.  This can be the hand, forearm, or just the middle finger.  There are two basic types, one in which the entire fore arm down to the wrist is on the ground, and the other in which the arm is free and the wrestlers can go anywhere and do anything.  They are very serious about their arm-wrestling.  There are no rules, and the wrestlers put everything that they have, plus a little, into the match.  As they wrestle, they are thrown back and forth, scrambling in the dirt, and grabbing for anything they can to gain a little more purchase on their opponent.  Members of the audience are regularly grabbed by the arm or foot to help anchor themselves.  So intense is the, “fight,” that I saw one set of wrestlers fall right into the edge of the cooking fire and keep on wrestling without even noticing.
Finally about nine o’clock, the meeting got started.  All of the elders sat in a huge circle outside of the house, with the local evangelical church leaders on one side, and the village civil leaders on the other.  Jose led out, and he first asked me to explain again, publically, why I was there and what I was wanted in Batangan territory.
Remembering Jeremiah’s prayer when he spoke before the king, I sent one last quick prayer for guidance, and then laid out my intentions and motives.  I explained that I was indeed a missionary, and that my intention was to go deep into the mountains where Christ has not been preached.  I assured them that I was not trying to go behind anyone’s back, and that is why I had come here to speak with Fausto.  I was not in Tamisan to steal members of the local church, but hoped to learn their language and provide medical help while I prepared to move deeper into the mountains.
The church leaders spoke first.  They said that they already were Christians, and so had no need of my being there.  They would prefer if I stayed out of their village, and simply help to reach the highland Batangan.
When they were finished, I reiterated that I was not there to sheep steal.  I did indeed want to work among the highland Batangan.  In fact, as civil leader of the tribe, if Fausto could point me toward the right village, I would prefer to go straight to the highlands.  I had only come here in order to be open and upfront, and hoped to learn as much of the Batangan as I could in preparation for going into the mountains.
Fausto spoke next.  “You’re lucky,” he said.  “Very lucky indeed.  Your religion happens to already have a representation among the lowland Batangan that have religion.  Proceedings are underway right now to freeze the number of religions among the Batangan.  You are lucky that you are already in.  This dry season, a meeting will be held with representatives from the entire Batangan tribe, lowland and highland, and we are going to deal with this issue of religions once and for all.
“As far as going into the interior, the highland Batangan don’t want people coming up and evangelizing them.  As a result, they have commissioned me to keep people like you out.  I’m very sorry to speak so bluntly, but I must.  There are highland Batangan here in the audience, and you can ask them if I am lying.
“If you must work among the Batangan, you have your people in Bangalabong.  Go there, take your medicines there, learn the language there, and if anyone from the interior wants religion, let them come down to you.  After all, if a highland Batangan gets religion, they are ostracized from the tribe.  They aren’t even considered Batangan anymore, so they’ll have to come to the lowlands anyway. ”  (This last statement is an indicator that the current evangelical church is likely not a culturally indigenous church.)
“Wow,” I thought.  “That’s quite a mouthful to swallow.  What am I to do with this?”  I knew that I couldn’t let the meeting end without finding some sort of loophole, otherwise anything else I ever did among the Batangan would be viewed as directly fighting the governance of the tribe.  As he talked, I prayed and searched for such a hole.  Fausto seemed to have pretty well sealed the case, but there was one possibility.
“Sir,” I asked.  “May I just ask for clarification on one point?  Do I understand you correctly that if, per chance, a highland Batangan were to ask me to come to the highlands with him, then you would not have anything against me accepting the invitation?”
Fausto chuckled, and then replied, “Well that would be their fault now, wouldn’t it?”
With that, Jose concluded the meeting.  The evening was far from over yet, though.  Jose suggested that to relieve some stress, we have some more arm-wrestling competitions.  After a couple of rounds they  asked me, probably more out of politeness than anything else, if I’d like to go a round with them.  They knew that lowlanders arm wrestle differently, so they set up for American style arm wrestling and of course I was soundly beaten.
“Ok,” I said.  “Now I want to wrestle Tawbuid style, and I want to wrestle Jose.”
The people let out a whoop.  I doubt if they had ever seen anything like this before.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but a broken arm or wrist seemed like a very real possibility.  One of the men counted down and we started.  Jose started out a little timidly, not sure if I was serious about this.  I was very serious, though, and put everything I had into it just as they did.  He responded in kind, and we thrashed around in the dirt for the next ten minutes, grappling for rocks, roots, audience members feet, or anything else we could find to anchor ourselves.  To my shock we came out tied.  I had won the right handed match, he had won the left handed match, and other than some scrapes and bruises I had no major injuries.
God really did bless.  I admit that that during the meeting, I didn’t see a whole lot of hope of getting in.  God guided me, though, and I think that between my conduct in the meeting and the arm wrestling afterward, I won the respect of a lot of the people in that village.  Jose, who had been so cold that evening, and was the most suspicious on the first couple of trips, now treated me like his best friend.  He decided that if the elders had decided to not let me come language learn there, then he would teach me as much as I could write down before the sun rose the next morning.
Somewhere around three o’clock the next morning, with over twenty notebook pages full of words, phrases, and grammar notes, I was ready to pass out.  Jose reluctantly let me go to bed, but I don’t think he slept a wink the entire night.  Within less than an hour he tuned his radio to a Christian station, and listened till light.  Then in the predawn, without a bite of breakfast, he said goodbye and left.
We couldn’t leave until nearly ten o’clock as a people from the village kept coming by, asking for a few more phrases of English, and wishing that the meeting hadn’t turned out that way, and that I didn’t have to leave.  I’m not sure what God has in mind for this village right now, but I’m sure that this is not the last that we will hear of Tamisan.  If nothing else, we have done our best to be above board and to go through the proper channels.  We leave Tamisan with a good taste in their mouths, wanting more, and pray that God will water those seeds as we go elsewhere.
Back home last night, the Alangan church leaders and I met to discuss what we should do next.  God showed us several more potential ways of getting in, some faster and some slower.  Bangalabong has several drawbacks in terms of location and politics, so before we make any serious agreements with them we are going to make one more try for the interior here at the opposite end of the tribe, near the Alangan-Batangan border.  We won’t push or do anything to undermine Fausto’s authority, but we’ll see if God opens that door.
Even though in the Adventist Frontiers magazine, the Batangan project is not listed as a, “Creative Access Project,” I’m beginning to feel like I’m trying to get into a closed country.  I think of several missionaries that I know who have struggled for years to get in and stay in their target countries.  Others have been forced to work on the borders.  I have a new sympathy for them, and others like them, who have endured much greater struggles than I have to reach their people for Christ.
Ramon, who understands Mangyan culture and politics far better than I ever could, is certain that Fausto himself will not try to stop us working in the interior.  The very first time that we me him, he told Ramon that the missionary is under orders from God Himself, and no human has the authority to stop him.  Ramon is sure that Fausto was pressured to say what he did by the fact that it was a public meeting and a number of highland Batangan were in the audience listening.  He had to take a firm stand.
I pray that Ramon is right.  I pray that we will soon be able to enter the tribe.  I pray that God will bring the right people to us that we may be able to use the loophole that Fausto left for us.  This is God’s work, however, and we are on His time.  He didn’t bring me here for nothing.  Many of the great missionaries such as Judson, Carey, and Taylor worked for most of their lives just to open territories, and never saw the full fruit of their work.  I have only begun.  Following in their footsteps, and in God’s strength, I will be patient and continue to fight.
In His Service,
John Holbrook

P.S.  If you’d be interested in hearing a dramatic reading of the article, “Forbidden Valley,” from the December issue of Adventist Frontiers, check AFM’s Facebook page.  I haven't heard it yet, but I'll have to check it out the next time that I can get to internet.
Good News from Mindoro!

When Ramon and I went to Tamisan last week, we finally got to talk to Fausto.  He was busy, with several small meetings going on in his house at the same time.  We sat for about an hour trying to get a word or two in edgewise, but nothing was happening.  His daughter, who is a village and township political leader, was sitting next to me.  Since Fausto wasn't talking, I decided to make the best of things and started asking his daughter what various words I had heard meant.  This started a conversation which led to my explaining why I was there, that I wasn't trying to sheep steel from the lowland Batangan who have been evangelized, but that I intended to go to the highland Batangan as soon as I could.  I explained that I had come to Tamisan as I needed to learn the Batangan language, and I wanted to be all above board and not be going behind Fausto's back.

I was counting on Fausto listening in on the conversation, and I was right.  As I continued to talk, Fausto turned to Ramon, and for the first time started talking to him.  I couldn't hear the entire conversation as his daughter wouldn’t stop talking to me, but Ramon says the upshot was that Fausto said, "Well if he's just wanting to learn the language here (in Tamisan), there's no problem with that."

Before the end of the conversation, we had full permission to come regularly to Tamisan, learn language there, and go anywhere we want in the village's territory.  Faustor's daughter suggested, as have three or four other people, that I move to Tagalongan.  This is a village just upriver from Tamisan, and is the last lowland Batangan village.  It has not been evangelized, and is a little more removed from the lowland influence.  I planned on targeting Tagalongan as my first move before trying to get all the way into the interior.  Now Tamisan might give me a free ticket into the village!

God is very good!  It has taken a while, and I still don't have permission to live in Tamisan or any Batangan village, but it is a start.  We have our foot in the door.  By God's grace, the work of the Holy Spirit, and a lot of time spent with the people we will be able to work up from here.

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and support!  Please continue to pray as this is just a start, there's a lot of work ahead.  I head out to Tamisan in a few minutes, and if it is God's timing, I'll be asking to move into either Tamisan or Tagalongan.  Please pray that God will continue to soften their hearts.

In His Service,

John Holbrook
Greetings from Mindoro!
Early yesterday afternoon, Standing and I arrived back from another trip to Batangan territory.  Our Batangan guide, Dong, has been working closely with us.  He has specifically been helping to extend our reach by visiting numerous Batangan leaders between trips, securing their approval as we work to gain permission to move into the territory.   Dong was supposed to meet us in Pandarukan last Tuesday, or soon thereafter, but he never showed up.  We decided to wait till the next Monday to do anything as the Head of the Tribe, Fausto, whom Dong was supposed to be meeting with, is regularly out of the village attending meetings.  Monday morning came, though, and still no Dong, so Standing and I saddled up my horse, as the Alangan like to call my motorcycle, and we headed off.
We first stopped in Bangalabong where Dong lives.  As we walked in from the end of the road, we met a Batangan plowing for a lowlander.  He seemed very suspicious, wanting to know why we were there, what we wanted, why we were taking the shortcut instead of the long way around, etc.  He wouldn't definitively tell us anything about Dong, but as we left he insisted, "You won't meet him there!"  Since he wasn't giving us any information, though, we insisted on continuing into the village.
Dong's house was abandoned.  We have another friend in the village, so leaving our bags, we went up to her house.  She and two other women were there, and seemed happy to see us.  They told us that neither Dong nor his wife were there, and that they had left a couple of weeks ago because of family problems.  They refused to tell us anything more, though.  Just as we were about to leave, Dong's daughter showed up, not knowing that we were there.  She seemed very shy, and refused to answer Standing's questions, except to say that her father was in Calintaan (a nearby town).  Standing was gently pressing, and as our friend began to speak again, Dong's daughter told the lady in Batangan something to the effect of, "Don't tell them!"  She didn't, but finally said, "The truth of the matter is that Dong is being held by the police.  You'll have to wait for the village chief, though, to tell you why.  We thanked her and after cooking a quick lunch in Dong's house, with nothing better to do we headed for Tamisan to try and catch Fausto.
On the way in we ran into Fausto.  He was with a lowlander and they were on their way to San Jose for a meeting.  A vehicle was coming to pick them up at the road, so they were in a hurry, but we were able to at least say a few words, and make sure that it was ok with him for us to go ahead and spend the night in the village since it was too late to go home.  When we got to the village, we stopped at the house of Fausto's son.  He and his family graciously put us up, but they, like everyone else we had met, were very suspicious and withdrawn.  Standing told them what he and Ramon and I had agreed that we would say, that we had come to see how the medicines that Ramon had left were, if they had been used, and if anyone was sick who would like to be treated.  We had also been hoping to talk to Fausto.  He replied that while our previous medicines had all been used, the next day a medical mission was coming from the nearby town of Calintaan so they were pretty well covered for now.  As far as his father, as we already knew, he had gone to San Jose.
After dinner, the family warmed up a little bit.  We spent most of the evening exchanging Batangan words and phrases for English and Alangan ones.  As we were going to bed, their children were working on homework and they asked me to help them understand a section of their English science textbook on igneous rock, so I translated it for them into Tagalog.  Still, they were very reserved, and seemed to only open up just enough to not be overtly rude.
Knowing that news travels very fast, we also asked about Dong.  Since they were a little more removed from the problem, they willingly told us that Dong had been put in jail for abusing his daughter.  After 15 days, he was to be transferred to the local prison in San Jose.  Standing was shocked.  Of all of us, Standing had been the closest to Dong.  He had made two expeditions with Dong as their guide.  When Dong had come to visit our village, whether with his family or alone, he had stayed in Standing's house.  Dong had been an elder in the only Adventist church among the lowland Batangan, and had spoken once in our church.  Now he was in jail for an unthinkable crime.  Satan is using everything that he can think of to stop this work, and to get at anyone associated with it.
I have to admit that for the first time in the seven or so years that I have been working on getting this project going, I was tempted to be discouraged.  I had spent years anticipating and preparing for this work.  For three months now I had tried time after time to get into the tribe, but had little to show for it.  It was starting to seem like they might never give us permission, and without it, the highland Batangan wouldn’t let you get closer than shouting distance.  Finally even this lowland Batangan village wouldn't give me the time of day despite the fact that I lived like a Mangyan (tribal native of Mindoro), spoke Tagalog, Alangan, and a few words of Batangan, and came bringing aid that they wanted.  I was tempted to despair of ever being accepted by these people, who so desperately didn't want me there.  It made me feel a little homesick for my Alangan people.
Mrs. White once said, though, that “Workers for Christ are never to think, much less to speak, of failure in their work” (6T 467).  Every time thoughts of discouragement started to come into my mind, I remembered this statement, and the fact that I had been undeniably called of God and had vowed to never give up, never stop unless God Himself told me to.  I refused to let myself think of discouragement, and I determined once again, that no matter how I felt, no matter how many years they might reject me I would keep on trying.  Then I put all these thoughts out of my mind and went back to gleaning Batangan words from the conversations going on around me.
After breakfast, the man we were staying with took off to work, and we started preparing to leave too.  We had told him that we would be back Thursday, and he had acknowledged us, though he continued to act very suspicious.  A couple of older men from the village wandered up as we packed, and started talking to us reservedly.  Finally the woman of the house worked up the courage and blurted out, "What are you really here for anyway?  What do you REALLY want?  We know that you are a missionary, so what are your intentions?  In this village we already have religion, we don't want you trying to re-evangelize us."
The culture here dictates that important matters of business must not be immediately stated.  One must give plenty of time to build relationships, and to, "warm up," to each other.  The native tribes also tend to prefer using idioms to dance around what they really want to say if it might be touchy.  Knowing these things, we had purposefully been discrete.  It was obvious that it was time to lay our cards on the table, though, and it was my turn to speak as they wanted to hear from my own mouth what my intentions were.  I explained that I was indeed a missionary (as we had already told them), and that my purpose was not to, "sheep steal."  As Paul said, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation" (Rom. 15:20).  I further explained that my aim was to go deep in the mountains, to the highland Batangan, where there was no knowledge of Christ at all, but that I needed to learn the language, and thus far had not been able to find a way into the interior.
There was an immediate change in their attitude.  Huge grins broke out on their faces, and one old man lay back in his hammock with a look or relief saying, "Well if that's what you want to do, you should go to my father's area, way up in the mountains."
The woman of the house chimed in, "Or you could at least go up to Tagalongan, just upriver from us.  But," she was quick to add, "You must get permission from the Head of the Tribe before you do anything!"
After the momentous expedition that I wrote about in my last update, we realized that we would never get very far without Fausto being on board.  The very first time that Ramon and Standing went to the Batangan, God providentially led them straight to his house, and he gave them grudging consent to work in the Batangan territory.  "But don’t you go stirring up the people, or trying to force anything on them!” he had said.  We had been operating on this permission, but we were finding that though each village chief has almost complete control over his own village, no one seemed to want to do anything without Fausto's explicit approval.  Since then, we have been working to gain his support and his approval to enter his village or one of one of his choosing.  That was the main reason that we were in Tamisan at all.
With this in mind, I assured her that we weren't trying to hide anything, or usurp any authority.  Besides checking on the medical situation, I said, we were here in Tamisan (as we had already told them) to talk to Fausto, obtain more official permission to enter, and guidance as to where we should start.  They seemed happy with this, and we left praising God.
On the way home my motorcycle hit a large rock at the bottom of a pot hole.  The rock and the pot hole combined to bottom out the front shocks, and the bike flipped half-way over.  Other than a few scratches and bruises, both Standing and I were fine, and we stopped to thank God right there on the road.  When we tried to take off again, though, the engine kept lugging down, and soon I smelled burning brakes.  It took another hour or so of fiddling with the bike to figure out that when it flipped over, air got into the rear brake line and was preventing the rear brake from letting loose.  Five minutes later the brakes were bled and we were on our way home and we arrived without further incident.
When I last wrote, I hoped that I would be writing this letter from a Batangan village.  Each time word comes back, it seems like the next time we should for sure be able to get in.  God's timing is perfect, however.  He cannot be rushed.  Thank you for your prayers and support in this work.  Your help is very much needed, and greatly appreciated!  May God richly bless you!
In His Service,
John Holbrook

Thank you for your prayers during this past week!  They were very much needed!  Ramon and Standing arrived in the wee hours of Friday morning, completely soaked and exhausted.  It was a very rough trip.
Tuesday morning they left our village of Pandarukan, arriving at the trail head around 3:00 p.m.  They met their guide, Dong, and headed off to the first village named Barison.  It is only about a half hour from the end of the road, so they made it easily by dark, and spent the night there in an old school building.  This village is a lowland Batangan village, and being so close to the end of the road it has had quite a bit of contact with the outside.  There is a one room school house operating in the village, and everyone wears cloths.
The three of them were only passing through, however, and the next morning they set off.  A huge, almost impenetrable mountain range separates the lowlands from the interior.  Their first objective was to get over this range, and so they started climbing up the trail.
I use the word, “trail,” very loosely.  Trails in the interior, here, are nothing like the kind of trails we have in the States.  They are more like deer tracks in that they are simply where people tend to walk frequently.  As such they are faint, unmarked, constantly changing, and resemble mazes.  You really can’t just take a trail which leads to such-and-such a place, you have to actually know where that place is and how to get there.
Never having been this deep in the interior, the three of them were practically wandering in the dark.  About an hour in, the “trail” seemed to disappear into a thicket of brush.  Something made them decide to cut off to one side to look for the trail instead of going straight through the brush as would be logical.  After a bit they found the trail again only to see a stick poking into the ground with another stick crossing it pointing to the brush thicket that they had just skirted.  It was the sign of a wild pig trap.  If they had pushed through the brush where they originally thought the trail led, Dong, leading the way, would have been speared through with a type of bamboo which is lethal.  God was watching out for them.
Noon came and went without a sign of life.  Suddenly, Dong motioned for them to stop and be silent.  A highland Batangan was coming up the trail.  Seeing movement, he stopped, ready to run, but Dong called out in Batangan, “Friend, don’t be afraid!  It’s us, we’re Batangan too!”
Tentatively the man approached.  Dong asked where he was from, and he informed them that he was the chief of the next village.  Dong asked if they could visit his village.  Beating around the bush, the man replied that if he was there that would be all right, but he was off to set more wild pig traps, and they couldn’t come into the village if he wasn’t with them.  He told them to stay on the trail they were on and to not veer to the right or to the left, and then he disappeared into the jungle.
Not to be dismayed, the three pushed on.  In another hour or so the trail started skirting the base of a monstrous mountain.  A trail took off straight up the mountain, and the three decided to take it as it seemed to lead toward the interior where they wanted to go.  They climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed.  Every time they stopped for a breather they looked back at where they had come from and it seemed like they hadn’t moved at all.  The trail was all business and made to switchbacks.  It headed straight up, and the mountainside was so steep that all three of them feared for their lives.  Determined, they kept climbing, and by mid afternoon they had reached the summit and started down the other side.
The terrain here was unlike anything that they had ever seen, and as they continued to pick their way down the mountain, they began running into little Batangan villages.  Every time, while they were still half a mile or so off, the Batangan would start crying out in fear, asking who was coming.  Children and adults alike would start jumping out of their houses and running for the bush.  All three men wore nothing but g-strings and had purposefully blackened themselves with the bottom of a blackened cooking pot so as to not stand out so much, but the people were still terrified.
I have never fully understood this phenomena.  The Batangan rightfully boast of having the greatest Satanic power of any of the tribes on the island, and they claim to have need of nothing.  At the same time, they live in a terror like I’ve never seen before.  This is a common phenomena among animists, but it seems to have been taken to an extreme with the Batangan.  You don’t have to be white to strike terror in them, you don’t even have to be from another tribe.  Anyone not from your immediate clan is a threat.  I have heard stories of Batangan becoming so frightened by the appearance of a stranger that they hung themselves rather than suffer whatever evil he might bring.  The Batangan have two leaders that supposedly govern them, one in the north and one in the south, but in reality these men are simply chosen to make sure that outsiders don’t come in and scare the true Batangan in the interior.  The true power rests in the elder/chief in each individual village.  Permission to enter or have any dealings with a village has to come from this chief regardless of whatever the tribal leader might have said.
A little while before sundown, the three men came to the top of another ridge, and the interior of the Batangan territory spread out in front of them.  For mile after mile, as far as the eye could see, the hillsides of the huge valley were dotted with mountain farms indicating the presence of small villages.  At the base of the hills was a high valley, cut through the middle by a river.  As Ramon’s eyes followed the river up to its headwaters, he saw it.  It was the village that God had shown him in his dream.  Ramon said that it was an exceedingly beautiful place, but as he saw it his heart fell.  There was no way that they could get to the village.  There was no way that we could immediately start working there.  The resistance and terror of these highland Batangan was so great that the few villages they had passed through were dangerously close to calling a meeting and demanding of the southern tribal leader that he keep us out.  This village was another day’s walk from where they were, past many more villages, and if they pushed any farther they would destroy any possibility of our working in the interior.  He was within sight, and he could testify that the land was indeed very good, but there were giants in the land, and for the moment they were forced to retreat.
Night was rapidly falling by this point so the men quickly pushed on to the village that was just ahead of them.  As they had done at the other villages, Ramon and Standing held back while Dong who was lowland Batangan and could speak the language, negotiated with the village leader from a few hundred feet away.  They were exhausted.  They had been climbing all day, were drenched with rain, hadn’t eaten all day, and had been fighting off leaches by the handful since they had crested the high mountain.  Dong begged that they be allowed to stay the night, but the terrified chief refused.  Dong asked if they could just sleep on the ground in the mountain farm a few hundred feet from the house, but again the man refused.  Discouraged and faint, they turned back.
As dark fell they found a patch of wild banana trees.  Cutting armfuls of the broad leaves, they laid them down on the ground in hopes of keeping the leaches away.  There was nothing but damp scrub wood to cook with, but they managed to coax enough of a fire out of it to cook supper, and then they fell asleep.
As they slept, God gave Ramon a dream.  He had actually seen two places that day, both of which had looked just like his dream.  One had been on the slopes of the first mountain range earlier that morning, still well within range of the lowlands.  The other one had been the village at the headwaters of the huge valley.  As if to confirm that this second village was the one He intended, God briefly showed Ramon this second village, the one deep in the interior.  Ramon strained to see how God intended for us to get across the obstacles keeping us from reaching that village, but the scene vanished from his sight.
When Ramon woke up the next morning he rolled over, and to his surprise, saw that Dong’s sheet had a huge splotch of blood on it.  Waking him up, they found that in his sleep, a leach had found its way in, drank its fill, and then inched off to leave the would bleeding onto the sheet.
After a quick breakfast, the three headed back out of the mountains, and in the early hours of the next morning, Ramon and Standing arrived home.
I have to admit that we were all sobered by what we discovered on this expedition.  Not that we question in the least bit that we will make it into the interior, and that the gospel will prevail.  Victory is sure.  But the road to it is going to be rougher than we had even imagined.  We are looking right now at setting up residence in Barison, the lowland Batangan village that Ramon and Standing stayed in before heading into the interior.  If they let us come into Barison, I will begin learning the Batangan language and culture while at the same time making frequent trips up into the mountains.  We’ll push in a little at a time, giving the people time to get used to us and build a degree of trust.  If we can develop enough trust in a village on the way into the interior, I’ll move into that village and continue pushing slowly deeper at the same time learning the language and culture.
One of the greatest fears of the Batangan is sickness, and it looks like my Mom’s teaching and the course I took in medical missions could well be the one tool that will get us in to the interior.  If I develop a reputation as a source of healing, this will hopefully make me easier to trust, and create a demand for my presence in the interior.
Only time and God can tell what will actually happen.  Barison held an election today for their village chief, and our ability to use the village as a base rests on the outcome of that election.  Hopefully by next week we will know if we can start building a simple house there, or if we need to look for yet another plan.
The enemy seems to have an inordinately strong hold of these people.  I am puzzled as to why he is holding onto these people so much more tightly than any of the other tribes on the island, but it is a sign that there is something important waiting in that valley.  Those people must be reached with the gospel.  God won’t let Satan win this war, and so until that day, we continue to fight.
Greetings from Mindoro!
In my last update I mentioned that despite my efforts to write consistently, I live in a jungle and things happen.  I apologize for not writing in so long, a lot has happened!
After I arrived in the village of Pandarukan, my base for the moment, I had just over a week to get settled and make repairs to the room that is my temporary home, and then life got crazy.  The temporary visa that I had been given when I arrived in the country was due to expire on Friday, and and knowing that it was rainy season, I decided that I’d better renew it Monday to give myself plenty of spare time.  The closest immigration extension office is in Batangas, a 4 hour bus ride and 3 hour ferry ride away.  I should have been able to make the round trip in one day, and to be sure I got up at 2:00 a.m. Monday morning to catch the first bus that came by.  Nothing.  For 5 hours I paced up and down the road, alternating by trying to sleep propped up against my bag.  Finally at 7:00 a bus arrived.  It was a later start than I expected, but I should still have been able to make it back late that night.
Four hours later I arrived at the pier in Abra de Ilog, where I’d catch the ferry to Batangas.  A ferry was just arriving, and was scheduled to depart again at 12:00, but just as the ticket office opened to sell us our tickets, someone heard news that Batangas had just announced that a signal 1 bagio (category 1 hurricane) had hit.  Though the seas were still calm where we were, and Batangas is a well protected harbor, they decided to not sell any tickets, and the ferry went back to Batangas empty.
Hoping that the other major ferry company operating in our area would take us, all of us passengers waited till its 2:00 p.m. ferry arrived, but they refused to take passengers either, and it also returned to Batangas empty.
With a signal 1 bagio on the way, I knew that there was no hope of getting off the island until Wednesday at the earliest, so I took the last bus from Abra and arrived home around 10:00 that night.  While I slept, the bagio hit full force.  When I woke up the next morning the river that runs through our village was impassible, and the wind was blowing sheets of water right through the cracks in the walls of my room.  I was soaked by the blowing rain by the time I walked to the edge of my porch, so I decided to go ahead and take a shower right there that morning.  I sure enough wasn’t going anywhere that day.
By Wednesday morning the storm had abated some, and I was running out of time to renew my visa, so I got up at 1:00 a.m. hoping that I had missed the first bus last time.  I should have known better.  I found out that the road was broken just south of us and just north of us, I was boxed in.  When people started waking up around 5:00 that morning, I went to a friend who had a motorcycle and asked him if he’d be willing to take me to the break in the north, so I could find a way across and catch a ride on the other side.  After a bit of cajoling, he agreed and we set off.  About an hour later we arrived at the break.  An entire valley had turned into one huge river, and it had broken across the road at its lowest point.  About a quarter of a mile of road was four to five feet deep under the water that rushed across it.  Two little outrigger boats had been dredged up from somewhere, and for an outrageous price they were ferrying people across just above and just below the break in the road.  There were no vehicles on the other side, though, to take people, so I decided to wait a bit and see what happened.
Just then a huge grain hauling truck pulled up.  It was the only vehicle that had any chance of getting across, but its owner was worried that it would be washed off the road.  After about half an hour of pondering, he decided to go for it, so about 20 of us hopped in the back and held on for the ride.  A couple of times the truck seemed like it was starting to slide off the road, but the driver kept moving and we got across without incident.
The truck was only going as far as the capital of Mamburao, about an hour south of Abra de Ilog, so when we arrived I grabbed a tricycle (motorcycle with sidecar) to the bus station.  Of course none of the busses were running.  I was sorely tempted to call the whole thing off and go home to sit out the rest of the storm.  After all, what were the chances that the ferries were running?  But if I didn’t get my visa renewed by Friday, I was going to be in big trouble, so I sat in the bus station to see what would happen.  About 20 other people were doing the same thing, and it seemed to me that the busses could make a profit if they would run.  I’ve lived here long enough to know, though, that during a hurricane all semblance of organization goes out the window.  Busses, Jeeps, ferries, etc. run whenever they want to, or not at all, and passengers are completely at their mercy.  And so we sat.
About an hour and a half later, a small van service that runs between Mamburao and Abra, decided to take advantage of the passengers, and so all 20 of us piled in and headed north.  It was mid afternoon when we arrived, and I’d already been traveling for over 12 hours, but I had made it to Abra and I wasn’t going to leave until I had my visa.  Of course no ferries were running, so I settled in to wait it out.  This time I had been smart and had packed a change of clothes, a blanket, and a long book, all wrapped in a thick plastic bag.  If I was going to have to camp, I was going to be a comfortable as possible.
I spent that night on the back seat of a bus, and surprisingly got a pretty good night’s sleep despite the hooting and hollering of the drunk bus driver and conductor in the bar right outside.  Abra is no place to spend a night.  There is absolutely nothing to do after dark or when there are no ferries, so most of the population gets drunk every night.  That is one of the reasons that I went home Monday night.  I was running out of time, though, and didn’t have much of a choice, so I said a prayer and enjoyed being somewhat dry for a few hours.
By 12:00 p.m. the next day, Thursday, the seas had calmed down enough for a ferry to come.  The pier at Abra de Ilog was built originally by McArthur’s army as they made their way through the Philippines (McArthur’s famous, “I shall return,” speech was given on the beach in San Jose on the south end of our island).  It was only intended as a temporary landing point and was built on a completely unprotected section of beach.  Since it was easier to just use what was already built rather than make a new port, we are still making due to this day with the makeshift jetty.  Unprotected from the still churned up sea, the ferry pitched and rolled and gouged huge chunks of concrete out of the pier as it tried to exchange its load of passengers and trucks.  We had to time our jump just right as we boarded to keep from getting smashed as the steel ramp grated up the pier as the ferry crested a wave, or alternately ending up in the ocean when the ramp dropped off the end of the pier as the ferry fell into the next trough.  (Where’s OSHA when you need it?)  We were on board, though, and 3½ hours later I was in Batangas.
Visas in the Philippines have become increasingly more difficult and complicated as the government looks for new ways to generate revenue.  We used to be able to get 7 year resident visas which were relatively quite economical.  Today, the best way for the average person to stay in the country is to renew your tourist visa every 59 days, and leave the country once a year.  I was pretty well resigned to this, and walked into the immigration extension office that afternoon fully planning on just renewing my tourist visa.  I had planned on being careful and reserved, speaking English and not offering any unnecessary information.  I didn’t want to raise any unnecessary questions even though I had nothing to hide.  God had a better plan, though.  I think He let me forget my intentions, because I walked into the office speaking Tagalog (the national trade language) and openly telling the official behind the counter why I was here and how long I planned to stay.  To my utter surprise he turned to me and said, “You can renew your tourist visa like you had planned, but if you leave me your passport over the weekend, I can get you a one year visa for a fraction of what you would pay for a year’s worth of renewals.  That way you also won’t have to come back up here every two months.”  I was a bit nervous about leaving my passport with someone that I didn’t know, but God seemed to say that it was ok, so I left my passport with him and headed home.
When I arrived back at the port, I found that the apparently the ferry company felt that one ferry per day was enough, and they had no plans as to when they would run another ferry.  There was nothing else to do but bed down again.  The seats in the ferry terminal are metal bucket seats, and they weren’t particularly comfortable to lie across.  That combined with three TVs blaring through amplified sound systems kept sleep to a minimum, but somewhere in the early hours of the morning a voice blared over the PA that the ferry company had decided to run another ferry, and it would leave around 8:00 that morning.  I was going home.
By the time that I got to Mindoro and caught a ride down to my base village I was so exhausted and hungry that I almost passed out and had to put my head down.  It’s awfully hard to get anything worth eating while traveling over here, most prepared food has unclean meat in it.  I managed to make it back home around 10:00 p.m. that Friday night, and after a big pot of soup and a shower at the village hose, I fell asleep.  Finally I could rest.
Alas, the rest didn’t last long.  I had to be back in Batangas on Tuesday to pick up my passport, but in order to pick it up I had to pay the balance of the fee, and I was out of Pesos.  I had exchanged as much as I thought I’d need for a month before I left the capital of Manila so as to keep as many dollars as possible to make transporting the money safer, but I had underestimated and I hadn’t been able to find a money exchanger since.  Monday morning I was up and off to San Jose on the south end of our island.  At about 5 hours by public transportation, it San Jose has the closest reliable bank.  The water had subsided on the road to the north, and busses were getting through there, but up till Sunday night the landslide and washed out bridge to the south of us was still under repair.  My friend agreed to again take me to the break so that I could walk across, and I caught the first leaving bus on the other side.
When I got to the bank in San Jose, the lady at the new accounts desk said that she’d love to give me a new account, but their policy for foreigners was that they had to see the foreigner’s physical passport, and the zerox copy that I had, along with 3 other IDs, was not enough.  I couldn’t open an account, and thus couldn’t exchange the dollars that I had with me.  She wouldn’t budge.  In desperation I asked to talk to her manager, and while I waited I did some serious praying.  If I couldn’t change my dollars I couldn’t pick up my passport, but if I didn’t have my passport they weren’t going to give me the account that I needed to exchange my dollars.  It was my own fault that I got into such a pickle, I should have thought ahead a little more, but I was in the pickle none the less.
When the manager showed up he took a look at my IDs (including my missionary ID from AFM), and listened to my predicament.  “Ok,” he said.  “No problem.  I see that you’re a man of God, so we’ll open an account for you, let you take just enough to get your passport back, and then put a hold on the rest until we see your passport.”
It meant another trip to San Jose, but God was good and I would be able to work it out.  In the end I found out that I’d have to make another trip anyway.  San Jose was where I was going to buy the motorcycle that was to be my means of transportation.  When I stopped by the dealership on the way back I found that I’d need a bunch of paperwork from my local township.
To make a long story a little bit shorter, the next day I headed back to Batangas to get my passport.  The official was late getting my visa from Manila, so I ended up having to sleep in the Batangas terminal again, but God was incredibly good to me and against all odds I now have a one year visa for a fraction of the cost of renewing my tourist visa like we normally would have to do.  Within a week I made it back to San Jose, unlocked my bank, bought my motorcycle, and was back in the village of Pandarukan.
Oh, did I forget to mention that that first big hurricane ended up being a category 3 hurricane that caused more destruction and deaths throughout the Philippines than we have seen in years?  I think I also forgot to mention the 2 more hurricanes that followed in quick succession during the time that I was traveling back and forth to San Jose.  That’s a total of 3 hurricanes in 4 weeks.  Looking back it doesn’t seem like I accomplished a whole lot in that time.  I got a visa, opened a bank account, and bought a motorcycle.  Considering the three hurricanes, all the red tape I had to crawl though, and the public transportation, however, I’m surprised at how much did get done.  Satan was fighting, but God was with me and now I’m set, as soon as God allows, to move into the mountains where I’ll be out of contact with the lowlands for months at a time.
Speaking of the Batangan . . . .  Backing up to the Monday that I made the first attempt to renew my visa, Ramon (the Alangan church leader whom God has given several dreams to regarding the Batangan) and another church leader named Standing were scheduled to make the first trip into Batangan territory.  The plan was for them to scout out the territory and find the place where God showed Ramon that we should start at.  The highland Batangan are so bent against the outside world that even if one of the lowland Batangan comes to their village speaking the Batangan language, the people will disappear into the bush.  Ramon felt that it would be wise, all things considered, for them to make the first contact and ease the Batangan in the area into the shock of a white person.   I also felt that this was the wisest plan, and was glad to have the Alangan taking so active a role in the project.  It may mean a little longer before I can move into the mountains of the Batangan territory, but the investment will pay off in the long term health of the project.  It may actually be faster as the highland Batangan might have utterly refused if a white person had shown up the first day.  The ideal, as I have mentioned before, is for this project to be a joint project with the Alangan believers from my parent’s AFM project, and I, hopefully helping to overcome some of the Batangan cultural barriers more quickly and effectively, at the same time giving the Alangan hands-on mentoring in cross-cultural missions.
That Monday Ramon and Standing were scheduled to leave for the first expedition to the Batangan, but they weren’t able to leave because of the hurricane either.  Early Wednesday morning they headed out, while I headed north to Abra.  There were so many breaks in the road to the south that they had to take 4 different vehicles, and do quite a bit of walking in between.  Once they got off the bus where they heard there was a trailhead to the Batangan, they walked another 3-4 hours before reaching the first village.  On the way they came to a fork in the road.  They asked directions to the village that they were aiming to reach, but were told that the river crossings were still too high from the hurricane.  They were told that there were Batangan at the end of the other fork in the road too, though, and there were no river crossings that way.  They made a quick change of plans and headed to that village.  This village is one of the lowland Batangan villages, but when they arrived they found out that the man who leads the southern half of the Batangan tribe lives in that village, and they were invited to stay in his house.  God had led Ramon and Standing right to the head of the tribe without their having any idea that he lived there.
The Batangan culture is markedly different from most Asian cultures in that they prefer to not beat around the bush when conducting business.  If there is a reason that you are visiting a Batangan, you should just come out and say so right away rather than do the careful social dance leading up to your request like most other Asian cultures expect.  Knowing this, Ramon and Standing laid out their reason for being there right from the start, despite their plan to simply visit villages and not make a stir.  The man was not particularly happy, he didn’t really want them there and refused to talk much, but he admitted that his jurisdiction as the leader of his tribe did not extend to the things of God, and if God had sent them (and me) that he did not have the power to stop us.  He did expect us not to force religion on anyone, or to make a big commotion and stir up the people in the interior.  Essentially, though it was grudging, he gave us free reign to work in the interior if the individual villages are willing to let us in.  This was as far as that trip got because of the hurricanes, but praise God as this was a major advance! 
One week later Ramon and Standing headed off again to Batangan territory.  Satan had been fighting hard, bringing problems at home with sickness and finances, and Standing had almost backed out.  God gave Ramon another dream during this time where he saw himself in a Batangan village, and a man approached him saying that he would guide them wherever they needed to go.  With this encouragement, they pushed forward and headed south on Monday.  Right as they arrived at the trailhead the third hurricane hit.
They spent the night in the village that they had intended to go to before, and there they found a man named Dong who was expecting them.  Friday night, God had given Dong a dream telling him that two Adventist natives would come asking him to guide them.  He awoke puzzled.  He was actually an Adventist who had been converted nearly 40 years ago, along with a small group of other lowland Batangan, from the work of an intern Filipino pastor who had taken a fancy to his village.  Less than a year later, though, the pastor left and the believers were left with practically no support till this day.  The church, abandoned in its infancy, has not grown or reached beyond itself since that day, and has done nothing to reach the highland Batangan.
Considering this, Dong had dismissed the dream.  As far as he knew, there weren’t any other native Adventists, and no Adventists had ever given any indication of wanting to do any mission work to the highland Batangan.  Remember that centuries of fighting between the mainstream Filipinos and the native tribes including the Batangan have created so much prejudice and cultural barriers that the gospel has never been able to penetrate when carried by the locals.  That is why AFM is here, to provide a culturally neutral bridge for the gospel to reach the Batangan.  Considering all of these things, Dong had just about dismissed the dream when Ramon and Standing showed up asking for a guide to take them to the interior.  He gladly accepted, marveling at God’s timing and wisdom, and they set off hurricane and all.
As the three of them headed toward their destination, Ramon began to recognize landmarks.  They were very near the place that he had seen in his dream.  In his dream, God had first shown Ramon a map of the world, color coded by receptivity to the gospel.  Then He had zoomed in on the Batangan territory.  As he seemed to zoom closer and closer, Ramon found himself looking up a huge valley between two mountain ranges.  He was looking south, and a huge finger, God’s finger, pointed to a place up near the headwaters of this valley, where the river that flowed through the valley split into two tributaries.
As the three men walked along the base of a mountain range, Ramon began to recognize this as the outside range of the one that God had shown him.  Excitedly he tried to get to the top of the nearest mountain in the range, hoping to see up the valley and ask their guide what village was at the fork of the two rivers.  Every time he tried to climb up, though, heavy clouds socked them in and reduced visibility to about 500 feet.  Night fell without their being able to identify the place.
The hurricane had hit full force by now.  The hard packed clay of the area was as slick as ice, everything they had with them was soaked, and all the rivers in the area were impassible.  They were forced to turn back without reaching their destination or identifying the area in their dream.  However before leaving they made an agreement with Dong to meet again in a week and head as quickly as possible to that area.  Today, Ramon and Standing left to meet Dong and start into the mountains.
Friends, please pray for this trip, from Tuesday through Friday of this week.  This could well be the decisive trip.  If all goes well, the men will arrive at the place that God has shown us on Wednesday morning, and will immediately try to find a village willing to let me live with them.  If they can find a receptive village, they will start building a house, and next week I will go with them and finish it.
Satan has been desperately trying to stop us.  He has been fighting us ever since we got here, but he seems to have stepped it up.  Sabbath evening Satan almost tempted Dong and Standing to back out.  Later that evening, when through intense prayer, plans for the expedition went through, he caused an unexplained motorcycle wreck.  God protected me, and neither I nor the motorcycle got a scratch even though we went over a 3-4 foot cliff.  As soon as I got back to the house a messenger arrived asking for medicine for Ramon’s wife who was showing symptoms of poisoning.  There was no explanation, though, as she hadn’t eaten anything that the whole family hadn’t eaten.  While Ramon prepared the charcoal, I prayed asking God to bind Satan’s power and keep him from preventing this trip.  Ramon’s wife immediately felt better, and recovered completely without any medication.
Now, as Ramon and Standing left just this morning, news has arrived that a low pressure system is moving in.  God has all power, though, and He can stop the rain just as easily now as He did on Lake Galilee.  Please pray that He will bind Satan, protect his agents and their families, and that this trip will succeed in finding a receptive village.
Thank you!  The spiritual powers that are fighting us are very real.  Here they manifest themselves more openly, but they are no less real at home.  God will not be defeated, though, and He has promised to work in answer to His people’s prayers.  Thank you for being a part of this team, thank you for fighting with me!
I hope to have news regarding this expedition early next week, Lord willing.  Until then, God bless!
John Holbrook
P.S. I forgot to mention in the previous update that I can’t receive mail at this e-mail address.  My only means of communicating here in the mountains is through a satellite phone powered by solar panels.  It is a little bit expensive and dependent on the sun shining.  To keep usage down, I send these updates to a volunteer in America who forwards them to the e-mail list.  The address is only monitored for address changes.  If you know someone who wants to receive the e-mails, do send their address to this e-mail, of if you want to be dropped, reply as such to this address.  However it may be up to a year before I can get to a place to check and reply to letters sent to this address.  The best way to get a hold of me directly is through AFM at their website,