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,