Thursday, July 10, 2014

Greetings From Mindoro!

I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry! It has been over a year since you
have received an e-mail update from me. The reason is mostly technological,
my old e-mail server stopped working and getting it back up again on the new
one from overseas without internet, as well as getting everything working on
my contact's computer in the States, has proven to be rather difficult.
Sheer business has been part of the reason as well.
My reason is poor, and my lack of communication with you is inexcusable. As
Robert Louis Stevenson once pointed out, the only thing left that I can do
is admit my fault and fall on your mercy. I'm sorry, and I will try
earnestly both to catch you up to date, and to keep you updated henceforth.

So in my last update, in May of 2013, God had just resolved my visa problem
when the corrupt official had given me fake visas, and I was getting ready
to head to the States for furlough. I met many of you, spoke at many of
your churches, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting and reporting on the progress
of the Tawbuid project. I also had some funds to raise, and thanks to your
generous financial support I was able to launch back on schedule in
September. Just a note on finances, you have been so faithful to the
Tawbuid and I that I did not have to raise any additional monthly pledges
last furlough. Thank you so much! May God bless you for your faithfulness!

I arrived back to find that a lowland former missionary had come while I was
gone and had preached terror and brimstone and 666 while I was away. My
poor members were practically trembling in their flip-flops. I hadn't
planned on going into the intricacies of 666 quite yet when we weren't yet
thoroughly grounded on salvation, but I found it necessary to explain the
true meaning and help them to understand that we should look forward to, and
prepare for, the end time events with quiet faith in the only God who can
bring us through them.

While on furlough a dear family friend taught me to pull teeth. Not long
after I got back a lady decided that her tooth hurt so bad she would be
willing to be my guinea pig and my first patient. Now, 20 + teeth later, I
feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it, and there are a lot of very
happy people in the village who would still be living with that terrible
pain otherwise. Thank you so much, to my friend who taught me!
If you've been reading the magazine you may have notice that two of my
recent articles were written by my cousin, Lisa Jester. Lisa came to visit
in November, and stayed through March. Lisa came for a number of reasons,
to visit, to get some perspective, and also to volunteer her help. She was
a tremendous help to me personally navigating some complicated decisions,
and the Tawbuid remember her best for the English seminars she taught. Most
of the public schools here teach much of their curriculum in English, and
the native students have a really hard time. They greatly appreciated
Lisa's help.

Which reminds me, Lisa also helped me set up our new training center. A
former Filipino volunteer to this area built a concrete building right next
to where my house is now, but left before completing it. With the church's
permission we commandeered it, put in a solar lighting system and chalk
board, and have been using it for health, English, and simple business
classes. It has also become the church's multi-purpose building for
meetings, social nights, etc.

One of those major decisions that Lisa helped me navigate was the purchase
of a vehicle. While on furlough, I talked with my supervisor and the AFM
staff about the possibility of purchasing a truck. I had been operating for
2 years on a Honda 125 glorified scooter, and it was getting to be pretty
miserable. I regularly had to carry loads of 100 + pounds as well as a
companion, for 2 hours or more. For nearly half of the year here it rains
every day, and driving a motorcycle in the rain, even in the tropics, is one
of the coldest things I can imagine. My health suffered as a result.
Besides my own health, many times I had emergency patients that I needed to
get to the hospital, but there was simply no way on my little bike.

By God's grace, and as a result of your generous financial help, our fund
balance was healthy enough to purchase a small Toyota pickup with a van
style bed. It official seats 15, though we have already proven that it can
carry much, much more. It has already saved the lives of several emergency
patients that we were able to get to the hospital in time, and it has saved
my health countless blows as we can now haul supplies and people in comfort
as far as the little barrio where I park the truck. There still is no road
to Balangabong, so from the barrio to home it is a ½ hour to 45 minute hike.
My faithful little water buffalo (which Lisa named Kirk Patrick) helps with
hauling the heavier supplies. All in all, life is significantly easier than
it was for the first two years. Thank you so much for your help which has
made this all possible!

One of the most difficult parts of life in Balangabong has been the lack of
water. There is an old water system which brings water down from about a
mile upriver. The source is simply a pipe stuck into a river, and not a
very clean one at that. Many highlanders live in the area and whenever
there is too much killing by witchcraft, they move to our water source and
use it for bathing. Furthermore, fish and eels regularly get into the pipe,
get stuck, and rot in the water.

Balangabong, being a lowland Tawbuid village, and mostly Christianized, has
left much of the old culture behind, including its witchcraft-based
discipline systems. However it has not adopted the Filipino/Western systems
for discipline either. The result is a people almost completely devoid of
discipline or any motivation to follow any order or authority. I like to
think of it as the Wild West, except no one has six shooters to enforce the
law for themselves, and there are no marshals either. In my nearly three
years here, the only crime I've seen punished was a man who finally was put
in jail after years of raping his daughter. No one wants to plant much of
anything because it is simply stolen before they can eat or sell it, so
everyone ends up always hungry.

When it comes to the water system, this lawlessness means that the people
simply slash the pipe along that one mile of line, and use the water
whenever and wherever they feel the desire. Nothing the village has done
has been able to control how the people abuse the system. The nearby
Filipino village came in and fixed the whole line last year, and reburied
it. Within two days the people broke the pipe and again. As a result,
there is rarely water in the village, and what water does come often has mud
and water buffalo feces in it from where the people have slashed the pipe,
besides whatever comes down from the dirty source. Even filtering my
drinking water, I've had almost chronic diarrhea for over a year. Many
times I haven't had water for a few week to a month. We simply take our
jugs and start walking till we find water, sometimes half a mile away.

I feel like a sissy complaining about a half mile hike to find water, when
many people in Africa walk miles to get muddy fouled water. Nevertheless,
if there is something I can do about it I think I should do it. I rejected
the idea of putting in a new water system as I know that there is simply no
way to control the people, and it will be back to the old way in a couple of
weeks. The next best thing is a well, and to that end I began working last

There's something you should know about Balangabong. We have rocks. I
mean, we have REAL rocks. Our rocks here are massive white quartz/granite
rocks that laugh at shovels, digging bars, and even ordinary drill bits. My
first step in putting in a well was to find a driller. After several false
starts, I found a man who guaranteed water, and promised that no type of
rock would stop him. He came well recommended, and I had personally used
several of the wells that he had put in over the years. Two weeks later,
after having only worked cumulative of about 3 days, the guy gave up and
said it was impossible. Maybe we should try digging.
It took about two more weeks to find a crew who was willing to dig. They
got down 20 feet and then they gave up. I found another crew, they dug down
five more feet, started getting into slushy mud, and then they gave up for
fear of a big rock in the wall.

I hired another crew to remove the rock and keep digging. We didn't realize
how big this rock was, though. By the time they had dug it out of the wall
of the pit they had filled the pit in and we had a granite rock the size of
a Smart Car, 10 feet down in the pit.

I rented two chain blocks, hooked up the electric winch from my truck, and
set up four additional rope blocks with most of the men in the village on
them. We used over 60 meters of rope (around 180 feet) making a harness for
the rock, but we still couldn't get the rock out.

Next I tried pounding a pipe with a point welded on the end, thinking that
if water was near the end of bottom of the pit originally dug we might be
able to pound it deep enough to break through. We tried three sites, each
time getting about a foot of water in the pipe, but we were still in the
hard-packed clay and the water seeped in too slowly to be able to pump out.

Next we dug out part of the old pit, levered the rock into it, and started
digging a new pit uphill of the rock. This time we got down to about 25
feet, again hitting the slushy black sand that everyone here says comes
about 10 feet above the water table. Then one night we had a sudden rain
storm and the pit collapsed. Now it is rainy season, and there is no chance
of being able to work on the well, so we are out of business until next dry
season comes 'round again.

The final building project that we did this year was rebuilding both my
house and my partner Delpin's. You might have read in article, "Cary On
Soldier," in the Adventist Frontiers Magazine, about how my house was
falling apart. Actually I didn't have space to fully describe just how bad
the house was. It was difficult to get into the house without falling
through the floor, the walls were paper thin where the bokbok beetles had
eaten the bamboo, the roof leaked badly, and one good hurricane would have
toppled the whole thing despite the poles propping it up. I had only
originally planned on being in Balangabong a year or so until I could move
up to the highlands. It was becoming apparent, though, that my mission was
going to look quite a bit different from what I had originally envisioned,
and I might as well build a quality house that would last for a few years.
Houses built out of native materials typically last don't more than a couple
of years here. But by chain sawing dimensional lumber and searching out the
best quality posts and materials, as well as building in the right season,
you can push the life span of the main structure to nearly ten years, only
having to replace the roof, floor, and walls every two or three years.
When my supervisor, Laurence Burn, came to visit in November he fully agreed
that both of our houses had to be rebuilt.

One major improvement in the new house is that I have built a small
outhouse. I haven't had a bathroom for the last few years. I won't be able
to use it during dry season when there's no water to flush it with, but now
during rainy season I have hung a few pieces of tin under my eaves to catch
water in 55 gallon drums which I can use for bathing, washing clothes, and
flushing the toilet. Talk about luxury!

Well, I'm four pages in and only described the developments in our
day-to-day survival. I think I'll sign off for now, and try to get this out
to you. Next week, Lord willing, I'll catch you up on what has been
happening in the church planting side of things. Until then, may God bless
you, and thank you again for your help, support, and especially your