Monday, October 15, 2012

Greetings from Mindoro!

I was wiped out. After almost a month of traveling for visas, church
meetings, and a last minute testimony at ASI South East Asia, I was ready to
get back to my mountains and stay put. God rarely asks my opinion on these
things, however.

Three days after arriving back in Balangabong, the captain of the village
called an assembly meeting. I hadn't yet had an opportunity to attend one,
so I was eager to see how the lowland Batangan conduct their business. Out
of a village of nearly 300, 7 people showed up including me and my partner,
Delpin. We had plenty of time to talk since almost no one showed up, and
one of the items on the agenda, that everyone was talking about, was the
upcoming survey of the Taubuid Ancestral Domain (equivalent to the American
Indian reservations).

I had no idea that such a survey was to take place, but as I listened to the
conversation I gathered that two lowland engineers were being brought in by
the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). They and a group of
Taubuid would circumnavigate the tribe, surveying the Taubuid territory's
boundaries. The survey was scheduled to start in three days, and would go
for at least a month.

As I listened, an idea slowly formed in my head. Nearly the entire tribe
had gotten together and had agreed to let this outsider engineer come in to
the very heart of the highlands, let alone travel the length of the
lowlands. If they would let him in, was there a chance that they might let
me tag along under his permission? It was very slim chance, very unlikely,
but as I continued to think about it, God seemed to say, "It can't hurt to
ask, can it?"

I was blown away. When I broached the idea everyone immediately accepted
it. They had been looking for someone to provide medical care as in the
pre-survey several years ago there were a number of serious illnesses and
injuries. They were delighted that I volunteered and took it upon
themselves to formally request to the higher officials of the tribe that I
be brought along for medical care.

In the next three days, God opened every door which had been keeping me out
of the interior for the last year. Because of the last minute testimony at
ASI, I had missed the big meeting that planned this expedition, and I
thought that I had missed out. However now I realized that God planned it
that way. If I had approached them all up front I almost certainly would
have been turned down. God orchestrated it so that I slipped in the back
door, and so, on Monday, September 25, we began surveying. God opened the
doors so suddenly that I didn't have a chance to write you before I left,
and I apologize for that.

As I write we have finished surveying the boundary between the lowland
Batangan and the Filipinos. The ten day estimate turned into two and a half
weeks of bush whacking through jungle and over mountain after mountain. In
that time we had two hurricanes blow through, killed two snakes, found the
skin of a Philippine Cobra 21 inches in diameter, got swarmed by angry wild
bees twice, and treated approximately two hundred patients. I've met every
chief from along the lower boundary of the territory, and by God's grace, I
hope that much of the distrust that these villages had of me has been
dispelled. I have official permission now to freely visit almost all of

I have found it extraordinarily hard to convince the Batangan to tell me
their stories, legends, myths, and spiritual beliefs. Similar to the
Alangan whom I grew up working with, alongside my parents, the Taubuid do
not tell these things to outsiders. I have been able to extract bits and
pieces, enough to build a skeletal understanding of their beliefs, by saying
things like, "Now in the Alangan culture, the shaman uses such-and-such a
spirit to so so-and-so. Do the Batangan do that too?" Often I would only
get a grunted, "Yes," or, "No." Occasionally someone would elaborate
briefly, but never offer any information. And stories were nearly
impossible. In six months I had gotten one story.

One night on the survey expedition, however, while the second hurricane beat
on the tiny charcoal shelter that 35 people had crammed into, God gave me a
new idea. Here I had a house crammed full of elders from all across the
territory. Most of them were experts in the culture and lore of the
Batangan, and many of them had egos that wanted expression. I had gleaned a
name of one of their ancestors a while back, but no one would tell me about
him, so after supper, while everyone was lying around, I started up a
conversation with one elder. "Will you tell me a story?" I said. "I'd
really like to hear about this fellow I've heard mentioned, Ak-tat, no,
Ak-at, no that's not right . . . ."

"Ak-tab!" the man corrected. "His name was Ak-tab."


"Oh, that's right," I started again. "Now I remember the name. But tell
me, what did Ak-tab do?"

By this time all ears were on us. There was a tension in the air, and I was
just waiting for one of the elders to shut us down.

"Ok," the man replied after a pause. "It happened like this. Back before
the great flood . . ."

No sooner had he stared when an elder from across the room broke in, "No, no
, no, no. That's not how it starts." Then he offered his version of the
story. Others chipped in and offered their versions. Several other names
and stories were mentioned and using these I was able to keep the elders
competing in their story telling for almost two hours. In those two hours I
learned more of the Batangan's oral history than in the last six months of
digging. It was just a scratch on the surface of their culture, but I hope
it is the foot-in-the-door that I need to get going.

On another evening I started talking to another elder who took such a liking
to me, and trusted me so much, that when the conversation shifted around to
spiritual beliefs he began talking and talking and talking. He told me all
the major framework elements of the spiritual system that I had been looking
for these last six months, and he probably would have been willing to tell
me just about everything he knew. Unfortunately these kinds of
conversations require incredibly deep language that is beyond my present
ability. I was able to follow along, but missed a lot of important
information. He promised that I could come visit him in his village any
time, though, and I plan to take him up on that.

Last December, after Fausto, the head of the tribe, kicked us out of Tamisan
and restricted us to Balangabong, Ramon had a dream that he refused to tell
or explain to me. All that he would tell me was that this wasn't the end of
Fausto's role in this project. He said whatever would happen would have to
do with Fausto's wife being sick and asking for help. I had hardly thought
of the dream since, but as the expedition neared Tamisan, I suddenly
remembered it again. I was waiting, and sure enough, just a few minutes
before we left she came asking for medicine. She wasn't gravely ill, and
there was no spectacular recovery, so I'm not sure what it means, but we'll
see in God's time.

All this God has done, but we haven't even left the lowland Batangan yet.
After the lowland boundary was finished, everyone agreed that we needed to
take a few days' break before heading into the interior. The boundary
between Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro, which marks the upper
bounds of our territory, is nearly impassible. Several years back, when the
government did a conservation project in this area, in an attempt to save
the endangered Tamaraw buffalo, native to Mindoro, they had to drop men in
by helicopter, and then airlift the Tamaraw out. But this is where my
people live, and this survey is vital to protecting them, so that's where
we're going.

If all goes according to plan we will leave Monday, October 22 (a
particularly fitting day for Adventists). The more difficult and dangerous
half is yet ahead, and I greatly appreciate your continued prayers, also for
my own walk with God. By God's grace, in the next few weeks, I will for the
first time enter my target people's territory. I know that the enemy is not
and will not be happy, but he cannot touch me without God's permission.

To God Be The Glory

John H