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!

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