Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Greetings from Mindoro!

I have great news! We have just sent out our first missionary family!
We're making progress. But more on that later.

In the last update I talked mostly about the infrastructure developments
over the last year. Today I want to tell you about the church-planting
developments. After all, that's the heart of why we're here.

About a year after arriving here, you may recall that I was asked to provide
medical support for a trip to survey the Tawbuid territory's borders as the
Tawbuid applied to the government for a title to their ancestral lands,
similar to our reservations in the States. While on that trip, I met an old
man from the highlands. His wiry hair all stuck straight out as if he had
just been electrocuted, and the perpetual surprised look on his face seemed
to confirm the fact. Like most highlanders, he was dressed only in a
loincloth so small that his pubic hair showed around it, and his body was
black with years of dirt and soot.

What made this highland elder different, though, was that after his initial
jitters at seeing me, he didn't seem to be afraid of me. He tentatively
talked with me, and begged for medicine for his wife who was sick up in the

I normally never treat patients unless I personally assess them. I told the
old man this and asked if he would like me to come to his home and treat his
wife. "Oh no, no, no, no!" the old man replied. "The people in the
highlands are still much too afraid. You cannot come yet, just give me
medicine and I'll give it to my wife."

I was about to respectfully apologize and say no, like I normally would, but
somebody seemed to be whispering in the back of my mind. I paused to
listen. The whisper seemed to say, "If you don't help this man now, you'll
never be able to work with him or influence him again."

I didn't know if the whisper was God or just an over eager me wanting to
grasp at any hope of getting a foothold in the highlands. I remembered,
though, what a Baptist preacher friend once told me, though. He said,
"Son, when you hear that voice speaking to you, do what He says. Don't be
afraid or double minded. Trust Him."

So I asked as many questions as I could, picked the safest drug I could, and
gave explicit directions as how to take it. Then I prayed and left the
matter in God's hands.

I never heard back from the man. After a while I just wrote it off as yet
another of the hundreds of false leads I've chased since arriving here, and
went on my way.

Then last year one of my church officers got the idea in his head to take
teams and go wander around in the highlands once a month. I have been
trying to help my members see the need to develop relationships with people
while leading them to Christ, and be committed to the long-term discipleship
of the converts. My members learned from former lowland Adventists,
however, to just walk into a village, preach hellfire and brimstone, take
anyone interested down out of the highlands and transplant them in

When I heard this young man's plan I tried my best to guide and mold his
initiative to the highlands, but without stopping him or discouraging him.
The compromise ended up being that he and his team wouldn't preach hellfire
and brimstone, but they wouldn't stay long term in any one place either.
They would basically scout out the highlands looking for people and villages
that were receptive.

On the team's very last trip they ran across an old man who seemed different
from the other highlanders they had come across. Most of the highlanders
wouldn't even talk to them, or if they did they simply gave them false
directions that would take them out of the highlands and angrily told them
to leave. Even though my members are Tawbuid, living near the lowland
Filipinos and wearing clothes as they do, the highlanders reject them just
like me. This highland elder, though, seemed glad to talk to them.

Later that evening, as they camped by a nearby river, the old man came to
visit. He talked to the team for a while, made them welcome in his
territory, and then turned to leave. Pausing momentarily, he turned back to
one of the older members of the team and said, "You should keep coming back
here. If you do, before you know it, we'll be wearing shoes just like you."
And with that enigmatic statement, the man was gone.

The man knew that we were Christians, and that the team was in the highlands
looking for people interested in hearing the gospel. We took his words to
mean that he was willing to let us come, and interested in hearing about
God. As soon as we could, we started sending groups of three and four to
visit each week.

After a while the old man invited me to come up one time with my members to
treat his sick family members. As I was coming, though, the old man's
village got wind of my arrival and the whole village, along with all the
people in the surrounding region moved away higher up in the mountains.
Only the old man remained.

He accepted my medicines, and then regaled us with stories for the next
several hours while we cooked lunch and ate. In the course of the
conversation he mentioned that he always had wanted a shirt, but no one had
ever given him one. I had taken mine off to dry the sweat out of it, and
before we left I offered it to him. I can now say that I literally gave the
old man the shirt off my back.

The old man only let me come into the highlands twice, but for several
months my church members visited every Sunday. The few people that we met
from the region were also friendly and open, unlike the majority of
highlanders we have encountered.

About this time I had to leave on a trip for several weeks. The old man was
starting to help us get into the village that he was associated with, and we
had high hopes that this would be our foothold into the interior. I left
with instructions to continue visiting every Sunday and build relationships.

When I returned, everything was lost. In their infinite wisdom the church
decided to that they should let things cool down and not visit the old man
or the village for the next three weeks. Just as I came back they went to
visit again, expecting the same warm reception. All they found was coldness
and anger. The old man met them and told them that the people in the
village had had enough of our visits, and we were not to come back again.
If we had business higher in the mountains we could pass through and say hi,
but otherwise we were to stop visiting him and his people immediately. With
sadness in our hearts we turned back towards home. Jesus never forced
Himself on anyone, and if the people in this area didn't want us there we
would respect their wishes.

I still wonder what happened. I wish with my whole heart that my members
hadn't gotten the bright idea to let things cool down. In truth, though, I
don't know if that was what precipitated the village's change of heart. The
Devil is real, and every time we get close to making a breakthrough he seems
to manage to cut us off. I don't know when the Lord will stand up and open
the doors. But I fully believe that He will in His time and way. I hope
and pray that this is not the last time I have reason to write about the
friendly old man with the electrocuted hair. Something tells me that this
is not the end of His story.

Well, about this same time I got a call from a couple who are both shamans.
The husband, Eddie, had been sick for quite some time and wanted to try my
medicine. He also had a patient, a man who had asked me to treat him long
ago, just after I arrived in Balangabong. You may recall my article about
him in the Adventist Frontiers magazine. Back in the day, Robinson had
spinal TB and wanted me to treat him, but the shaman he was living with at
the time became livid and threatened to kill him through witchcraft if he
left. He was too afraid, and stayed. It turns out that after a while, he
still hadn't recovered so his shaman sent him to this other shaman couple.
They were willing to admit that they couldn't cure him, and asked me to
treat him.

Robinson (who changed his name on arrival the Benson) moved to Balangabong
with me to receive his medicines daily, along with a dose of Bible stories
to lay a Biblical foundation for conversion. He is in a lot of pain and
quite uncomfortable because his spine was so far weakened by the TB that it
started to collapse and compress the cord. He is still able to feel and
move his legs, though, and I have high hopes that he will at least maintain
that functionality. Will you please pray with me for Benson's complete
healing and conversion. I know that God's power is not limited, and even if
the injury to his spine is serious, God can restore. Even more importantly,
Benson is open to the Lord, and I pray earnestly that he will come to love
Jesus passionately.

Back to the shaman couple, Eddie and his wife, along with our church elders
and I had several long talks. We let them know in no uncertain terms that
God and Satan do not mix. If they were to ask for our help, they must not
practice witchcraft simultaneously. I would not force them to become
Christians in order to receive my help, Jesus helped all whether or not they
accepted Him. But I would not treat them in God's name while they were
asking Satan to treat them too.

They agreed and I began treating Eddie as well as a highland family who had
come to them for treatment for measles. The family has recovered
completely, and they are now happy and healthy. Eddie turned out to have a
kidney stone. As far as we can tell it has come out, but he continues to
have a lot of pain. I have taken him to several doctors, all of whom agree
that he has another stone which has yet to come out.

Please also join me in praying for Eddie's healing. This man is very
influential in the highlands. He has single-handedly brought whole villages
down from the highlands and influenced them to become Christians (before he
knew of the Seventh-day Adventists). He has indicated his intention to
leave the old ways for good, become a Christian, and help us bring the
gospel to the highlands. I have trouble putting a lot of faith in the
promises of a sick man who is possibly bargaining for healing.
Nevertheless, leaving all of that aside, he is a child of God who is in a
lot of pain, and is asking God for help. God hasn't chosen to heal him yet,
I'm not sure why, but please join me in praying for God's will to be done in
Eddie, in His time. And please pray that Eddie will keep his promises and
will become a bridge to the highlands.

Since Eddie has been sick, as well as everyone in his house, he has begged
the Adventists to send two or three people to live with them, give them
their medicines at the proper time, and help them. This is the busiest
season of the year for my people, and they have had a hard time finding
anyone who could afford to leave their family for any length of time. One
of our church elders, Abel, and his family volunteered to move to Eddie's
little village and become our first missionaries. They have been there just
over a week now.

Abel and his wife are both very intelligent, medically minded, and best of
all deeply spiritual and committed Christians. Abel has a good
understanding of the highland ways, and a bit broader view of life and
religion than many of my members, as he converted to Adventism as a young
man. I couldn't have chosen a better missionary family if I had done the

Abel and his wife have already become close friends with the highland family
who was sick with measles. Abel and the husband have already visited his
highland village and received a friendly welcome. The family has been
having simple worships morning and evening with both this family and Eddie's
family, telling the stories of the Bible from Genesis onward to lay a solid
foundation for faith. The highland man has accepted a number of the stories
enthusiastically as he has heard equivalents in his own people's legends.

Sometimes it seems that the Tawbuid are impenetrably resistant to the
outside and to Christ. Often it has felt like progress has been at a crawl,
or non-existent. But God is moving, in His own time and in His own way. I
have never expected or anticipated the moves that God has made, He ALWAYS
surprises me. And that's just the way I like it. May God make me a
faithful agent, ready to move wherever He moves. And may His power be
poured out mightily and visibly for the salvation of His prized children.