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.