Greetings from Mindoro!
A group of men came slowly down the path, a long bamboo pole slung over the shoulders of the middle two. An ingenious ridged platform of bamboo was suspended from the pole. As the men walked by, I caught glimpses of an ancient, filth encrusted body lying inert on the platform.
My entire youth Sabbath School/New Believers class immediately ceased listening and stared gawking at the strange spectacle. The seven newly baptized youth, whom most needed to understand what I was teaching, seemed to be the most fascinated. I decided it would be futile to try to draw their attention back to the topic at hand, so I stopped to watch too.
After a nervous consultation, the men set the body on the porch of our training center, right next to my house. Then with furtive glances at us, they melted away.
It wasnât until after church that I found out what was going on. One of the men came over and asked if we would be willing to help them. And old grandma from the highlands had been sick for many years. She had been taken to two hospitals, neither of them treated her. Herself a ruthless and feared shaman, she had been treated by countless other shamans as well. None had been able to help her. She was so demanding that no one wanted to deal with her anymore. They were ready to just drop her and run. The manâs final words were, âPlease treat her gently, but your religion can have her if you can help her.â All eyes turned on me.
One of the foundational goals of AFM is sustainability, and Iâm one of their number one champions on this point. Over and over again, in the years that I have lived and worked around missions, I have seen projects flourish and then die out when the missionary left. In our fervor to help people, we rarely take the time to think about what will happen when we leave. Will our help be for the better, or will it make their life worse?
This is often true of medical work. Many times I have seen missionaries treat people with western medicines, with wonderful results. Sometimes the missionaries even make clinics so complete that they are almost hospitals. The people learn to become dependent on the medication and treatment from the missionaries. Then when the missionary leaves, they are left without any practicable way of getting treatment. No one knows how to treat their sicknesses, or if some do they donât have access to the advanced medicines and equipment that the missionary used. Many get sick and die, and many become disillusioned.
Another area where not preparing for sustainability quickly cripples missions is evangelism. Even more often than in the medical field, Iâve seen missionaries pour funds into indigenous evangelism. They will provide food for mission expeditions. They will buy generators and projectors to show the Jesus film and colorful slides in order to woo the people into the faith. Lay evangelists and Bible workers are salaried and sent out to reach others. Then the missionary leaves, and the funding stops. The lay evangelists and Bible workers, no longer receiving funding, go back to their farms. Churches stop evangelizing because they feel they canât win people without the generators and projectors and computers that the missionary used. Often, the church leaders themselves begin fighting among themselves or apostatize over funding or the lack of it.
Iâm not perfect. Whew, I said it, now everyone knows! I mess up all the time in my attempts to lead the Tawbuid to Christ. But as my good friend and mentor, Dale Goodson, told me to do, I try to make my own mistakes and not repeat the mistakes of others. So Iâve striven from the very beginning of the Tawbuid project to build sustainability into the very foundation of the church.
One of the first ways that I put the principle of sustainability into practice was how I related to the small body of believers that was in Balangabong when I arrived. Previous Adventists who had worked here had taken control of the church and run every aspect of it the way they saw best. To the members surprise, I refused to do so. I insisted that they continue running the church. My leadership consisted mainly in teaching and working with the men and women who were already running the church. The only times I preached from the front was when THEY asked me to. So far the technique has been successful. Though growth has been painfully slow, the changes that have taken place continue to stick even when my work takes me away for long periods of time. Praise God!
I have tried to apply the same principle in the realm of evangelism. Here Iâve received a lot more push back. My members have tried to evangelize their people many times. Always in the past someone has come and given a bunch of money to buy them food for quick expeditions into the interior. Or else they will bring a Share Him type evangelism team to the lowland areas, complete with generators, projectors, bells, and whistles. Evangelism, in my membersâ minds, is defined as a short-term and outside funded evangelistic series.
I see a different pattern in the Bible. Paul, my missionary hero, often spent years in one place, planting the church deep and growing the members to a minimum level of maturity. Then he continued discipling them by letter and visit. Almost always, even when he moved on, Paul would leave behind one of his companions to continue the long term work among that people.
Further, Paul was mostly self-supporting. The modern missiological term, âTent Making,â comes from Paulâs practice of settling down in a city and getting a job as a tent maker to support himself and his companions in their work. Jewish custom required all young men, including church leaders such as the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin, to learn a trade that they could use to earn a living. Paul learned to make tents, and he used this trade many places that he went, to support his mission work.
Paulâs methods of evangelism were immensely effective. I have tried from the beginning to establish the same practices here in the work of reaching the Tawbuid. In order to do that I have attempted to set an example to emulate. I have made it clear that I plan to stay here until a church-planting movement has started. The two and a half years that I have spent here so far testify to my commitment to take the time to do the work right, even in a difficult area.
I have also attempted to set the example of tent making. Just as Paul sometimes received support from the churches, many of you generously and sacrificially support the Tawbuid project financially. Thank you so much! May God repay you beyond anything I ever could! I have set aside a portion of your support each month to buy seeds and plant a small farm. The rubber trees that we planted will, in about eight years, provide a steady if small source of cash. The seeds will allow any Tawbuid who wants to, to also plant rubber. Finally, the rice and vegetables we grow between the saplings help supplement our food and our gifts to those who donât have enough. I canât say that the work among the Tawbuid has matched Paulâs example of being fully self-sustaining yet, but with your help Iâm doing my best to ensure that it will be.
The medical work is where I am admittedly the weakest in practicing sustainability. In my attempts to make my medical work sustainable I have kept my treatments as simple as possible. My entire pharmacy consists of a single 5 foot board stocked with the most common and least expensive drugs available. In every case possible, I use naturally occurring medicines: charcoal, water, sunshine, certain plant-based medicines, etc. Some tropical diseases simply cannot be treated with these means, and can kill within hours. In these cases I treat aggressively with whatever I have available. However whenever naturally occurring medicines will, or might work, I refuse to treat otherwise until they have been attempted.
I am currently working on writing a curriculum and reference book in order to start training Tawbuid health care providers. We plan to start in December, and if all goes according to plan, I will turn over my medical work to them. At first I will mentor them directly, and as they learn I will simply be available for questions or difficult cases. To fund the medical work we are working to start several small, Tawbuid-run businesses whose proceeds will fund the medical work and other development work. One of these is a village for-profit pharmacy, another is a dedicated rubber plantation/farm, a third is a deep-well drill (which we will also be able to use to put in our own well). Each of these are still in their infancy, however. It has yet to be seen if we can make the medical work completely self-sustainable.
Anyway, Iâve gotten away from my original story. When the grandmaâs companions asked if we would help, every eye riveted itself on me. Thankfully I had realized what was going on when the group had first walked in, and had spent most of church praying and thinking about what to do.
âI am willing and happy to treat grandma,â I replied carefully. âBut remember that because of my work I have to travel quite a bit. I canât take care of grandma every day like she needs. I am willing and happy to treat her, but I need you to do you part and take care of her daily needs. Will you commit to this?â
It took more than an hour and a half to come to a consensus. The Balangabong church has often made similar agreements, but rarely keeps them. Because the entire group agrees to do something, when it comes time to do it every individual says something along the lines of, âI just HAVE to get some water to my field today. The whole church will be there, so they wonât miss just one person not being coming.â Unfortunately, when all but one or two people say the same thing, no one shows up. (That never happens in America does it?) We had a very candid, and rather heated discussion of this problem, with the result that they made a renewed commitment to really work together this time.
That night I started treating her. She had spinal tuberculosis, was paralyzed from the waist down, and had three huge abscesses/bed sores. The end of her femur was poking out of one bedsore on her left hip, and the abscess on her lower back was so deep that her vertebra were showing through. The smell, even after she had been bathed for the first time in months, was so bad most of my helpers fled the room the first time I cleaned and dressed the wounds.
I wonât bore you (or gross you out) with all the details. Suffice it to say that we immediately ran into two problems. Number one, the grandma didnât want to take the medicines the way that they needed to be taken. She wanted to take them in her time and in her way. Further she refused to eat anything but meat. We had told her upfront before we accepted her that we had no meat to serve to her, and she had agreed. But when it came to the 3rd and 4th meal of vegetables she started to refuse to eat. On top of that, she wouldnât drink water. When we gave her cold water she wanted warm. When we gave her warm she demanded cold.
Problem number two was that, again, the members care petered off after a few days. I finally figured out that the only way to guarantee care was to entrust her to ONE person. That one person could be held accountable. Even though it was unfair, it was simply the only way to make sure that she was cared for.
The one ray of sunshine in the whole matter was that when we talked to her about Jesus and His power to save, and asked her if she would leave her old ways and accept Jesus, she accepted! Other Christians in the area had been working with her before she got to us, but as the Bible says, one sows and another reaps. All I care about is that she accepted Jesus. She clearly understood very little, but she continually insisted that she had left the old ways and believed in God now. When we prayed she insisted that we pray loud enough for her to hear, and that we talk to God about her using her real name.
To keep an already long story from getting longer, the grandma lived for two weeks. Between her refusal of the medications and her refusal of food and water, it was only a matter of time. Early one morning, after asking for prayer, she went comatose. By late afternoon she had died.
Was it all a loss? I probably wonât know for years to come, but I donât think so. We learned a lot as a church about how we really work together. I learned how to make sure something actually gets done in our situation. I hope that the start of an example for self-sufficiency and sustainability was set in the church. I know that during the process several members expressed interest in the program that I am planning to start in December to train local health-care workers.
But ultimately, I hope that Christ gained a soul through our united efforts. And I pray that God will use the incident to continue cracking the door into the highlands open. Please, please pray for us. Please pray that God will start a church-planting movement among the Tawbuid that will sweep through the entire tribe, and beyond. Please pray that God will show us how to live and work in order to enable Him to start such a movement. And please pray that God will keep me faithful to His love.