Monday, April 16, 2012

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

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