Monday, May 6, 2013

Greetings from Mindoro!

It was September 2011, and just a couple of weeks after arriving in the
Philippines I was heading back to the city of Batangas to renew my visa. My
renewal happened to come due just as one of the strongest hurricanes in
years hit the northern Philippines, and a 15 hour trip turned into a week of
sleeping in busses and ferry terminals trying to get to the office of

When I finally arrived, wet and very weary, the official behind the counter
gave me two options. A two month renewal or a one year renewal for slightly
more. It was obvious that I would save money and a lot of time on the one
year visa, so I chose it, and he has been renewing my visa ever since.

Fast forward to February 2013 and I am in Batangas again to renew my visa.
Everything seems fine and dandy, but a week later the official still hasn't
returned my passport and visa. Down in Balangabong, I start giving him a
hard time about it, but he won't give it back. For two more weeks I battle
it out with him by text message, but he just keeps feeding me promises and

Finally I pack up and head to the office of Immigration, going to the head
of the local office, and report this official who has abducted my passport.
I find out that in the last month or so he has done the same thing to at
least two other foreigners, but they have been able to get their passports
back. Apparently the man was transferred to the other side of the
Philippines because of his misconduct, but he won't go.

The office and I both fight with the guy for another week, with the only
result being that the man gets angry, threatens my life, and stops answering
our texts and calls. The head of the branch office recommends I get another
passport, and we part ways.

Unbeknownst to me, while the head of the office and I were talking, an old
retired official who hangs around the office over heard. He texted the
errant official and said, "Look, mister. You give this guy his passport
back or I'm coming to your house tonight and I'm going to kill you!"

Within ten minutes the errant official texted me the tracking number for a
local courier with whom he had sent my passport. Unfortunately, wanting to
give me as hard of a time as possible, he had sent it back to Mindoro, and I
was scheduled to leave immediately for Mindanao to pick up AFM's student who
was graduating that coming weekend. I would have to put the visa off
another week.

I am VERY excited to announce that Jener Murillio, AFM's student from the
Alangan, has now graduated from Mountain View College with a Batchelors in
Elementary Education, and has already passed his board exams! It has been a
long time coming, but now the school can really get going. This is a big
step for all the tribes on the island. For the first time we have a
certified, Adventist, native teacher, and soon an accredited school run
completely by the natives themselves!

When I got back I immediately traveled down to Mindoro, picked up my
passport, and came back up the Batangas. I knew there would be a little bit
of a late fee because of the fellow had held my passport so long that the
last visa had expired. I wasn't prepared for what they told me, though.

All the visas the Immigration official had given me were fake visas. I was
considered to be a year and half over stayed on my original tourist visa. I
had gone to the Office of Immigration itself, spoken to a uniformed, badged,
ID bearing official of the office, and yet had been given fake visas. The
only clue that I should have seen was that the receipts that I received were
hand written. But in the Philippines, hardly anyone gives receipts at all,
and those that are given are usually written out on slips of scrap paper,
even from government offices. I hadn't thought much of it, but I sure got

The branch office told me that this was too big of a case for them to handle
and that I would have to take it to the main office of Immigration in
Manila, a dismal catacomb of overworked and cynical bureaucrats which I have
come to dread like the smell of death itself.

There was nothing else to do, though, so I went. I spent day after day
working through mounds of paperwork, running papers up and down flights of
stairs, from window to window, procuring document after document to add to
the growing stack that I knew no one would ever even glance at. Finally I
was told that the whole case had to go to the commissioner himself, and that
I should come back in a couple of days.

It was with dread that I heard on the radio, during those days of waiting,
that the commissioner was being publically berated for letting a Korean
criminal slip out of the country on his watch. I feared that the public
outrage would push the commissioner to greater strictness, and just as he
was about to review my puny letters of apology atop the mass of paperwork on
his desk.
I came back at the appointed time, only to be told, "Nothing has come down
from the commissioner yet. Come back another time."

My time was running out. I was due to fly to Thailand for AFM's Asia
Missionary Retreat in just a few days. What really turned my heart to ice,
though, was the prospect that the commissioner might put me on the black
list. I couldn't bear the thought of never again seeing my people, both
tribes, or my brother or sister, for as long as I should live on this earth.

God was merciful beyond measure, however. When I went back the third time
the man behind the appointed window simply demanded my passport and
disappeared. Half an hour later I was given my passport back with two pages
filled with stamps, notes, and scribbles, amounting to the fact that in
consideration of the whopping fine I had paid, my visa was waived and
pending obtaining one more paper, I could leave the country and re-enter

And that was all there was to it. I obtained the last paper the day before
I flew out. We had a good and educational time at the Asia Retreat,
reviewing each other's projects, praying for each other and brainstorming
about the best ways to proceed. I was allowed back into the country without
incident, and am back in Balangabong again.

I found out during this whole process that a new law had been passed since I
arrived. In an attempt to crack down on fraud, it is now law that anyone
possessing fake visas in their passport, even if old ones that were given
unaware, the bearer of such passport would be imprisoned and deported
immediately. If the official hadn't abducted my passport, I would never
have known. I would have gone to the airport to go to the retreat in
complete innocence and would have been imprisoned and barred from the
country. The whole mess cost nearly two months of time, a lot of money, and
even more stress, but it is clear that God was orchestrating the whole
series of events precisely how He intended them to happen. Glory be to God!

Before I close, one more big piece of news. I will be coming to the States
on furlough this summer. No, there are no problems, don't worry. I had
arranged with my supervisor to take furlough in 2014, but when we started
reviewing where the project is right now, we felt it wiser to come this
summer. I am still in quite a bit of limbo right now, not yet in the
mountains, and between major transitions. I could very well have just
gotten into the mountains by next summer, and taking a couple of months away
after having just arrived would not be good for anyone, so we decided it was
wiser to come back this summer.

So who knows, we might get a chance to talk in person in just a month or
two! Again, I want to thank you so much for being a part of this team.
Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your support. God's word will
not return to Him void, there will be a harvest in heaven because of what
you are doing. Thank you!