Monday, October 17, 2016

Greetings From Mindoro!

I am regularly asked what I do on a day-to-day basis, and what life is like here. These are difficult questions to answer, as life is so unpredictable in this line of work. Let me see if I can give you a small sample of what my job involves, though.

As I write, the wind of the latest hurricane is whipping rain through the thin bamboo walls of our houses and plastering our nearly ripe rice crop to the ground. My clothes smell moldy after several days of straight rain. The trail up the mountain is a swath of mud. All in all, pretty normal.

Before this hurricane hit, Delpin, my native team mate, and I were just about to put in a crop of eggplant and okra at our farm which is about 45 minutes farther up toward the mountains. The rubber trees that we have planted as a long-term livelihood project are almost as big as my arm. Now it's time to start intercropping, growing vegetables in among the trees. The slash-and-burn farming that the Tawbuid practice, combined with the rice that they plant on these farms, combine to deplete the soil after a single crop. I have been trying to convince the people to farm vegetables instead. Growing vegetables, they don't need to spend 2-3 months every year clearing new land. The soil is not depleted and can be cropped year after year. Furthermore, vegetables produce much more per hectare than rice. Of course, no one wants to listen to me talk, so it's time to demonstrate.

In order to water the rubber trees as well as the vegetables, we dug a well where there was a seasonal spring at the farm. It has water all year long except for the final month and a half of dry season. God was merciful and we haven't had nearly the trouble putting in this well that we had putting in the well in the village. Last week we put on the finishing touches, and poured a concrete slab so that ground water won't contaminate the well, and we can start drinking from it when we are at the farm.

The believers here in Balangabong have recently opened a small co-operative dry-goods store. I have been trying hard to teach the church to stand on its own feet, and not constantly depend on outside help for everything it needs. To this end, when the church approached AFM asking for money, we responded that we would prefer to help them start small businesses. (The rubber trees have been part of this initiative as well.) The store struggled for the first few months, and some sparks flew. Learning to run a business, or even just manage cash without spending it immediately, presents a VERY steep learning curve to the Tawbuid. I'm very happy, though, to see that they are starting to get the hang of it, and the store is starting to turn a small profit. They have agreed to use the first profits to put in a lighting system in the church so that they can more easily worship at night.

Lately I spend a portion of each day writing. At this stage of the project the believers and leaders need materials that they can use in carrying on the work themselves. I have a long list of writing projects, but the two at the top of my list at the moment are a book which answers the most common questions of unbelievers and a protocol book for my new medical workers. One of the most frequent reasons that the believers give me for not being bold in witnessing is that unbelievers always ask difficult questions, and they can't remember the answers that they have learned. After several years of hearing this objection I decided to write a book which will answer all the most common questions and objections that unbelievers here mention. Hopefully this will help the church to teach boldly.

Every afternoon at 4:00 I go to our new clinic. The 3 healthcare workers that I have trained run the clinic all by themselves, but I still go whenever I'm in the village in order to be available to answer questions when they run into diseases they aren't familiar with. I also use the opportunity for Just In Time training. When I'm not needed in the examining room I sit in the waiting area and answer questions from the patients waiting to be seen. The protocol book that I am writing will be a reference for the medical workers. It needs to be simple enough for my workers who have a highschool education, but thorough enough that they can look up and jog their memory on any diseases which they might possibly see here.

Friday I spent the day in town with a new patient from the Alangan tribe. After being pregnant 13 months, her husband finally took her to the hospital. The hospital admitted her and kept her for a month and a half. During that time they did a CT scan and found that she has a massive tumor. The tumor grew with the baby, and eventually killed it. When the husband found out that the surgery to remove the tumor would cost $1,000, he knew that there was no way he could afford it, so he took his wife home. Two months later, in desperation, they came to me for help. I've been trying to find a hospital which has the capabilities to do the operation, and which I can afford. The local hospital has doctors' capable to performing the operation, but their ICU doesn't have the equipment needed to care for her after the operation. This week I will take her to the provincial hospital. I hope and pray that they can perform the operation, and can do so affordably, as taking her to the capital of Manila would be exorbitantly expensive.

The civil leaders of Balangabong came to me a few weeks ago and asked for help to make a map of the village. The local government is requiring maps of all the native villages to help ensure that development projects don't overlap. I used my ipad and images from Google Earth to make a simple but accurate map, with the village elders showing me what went where. Then I printed the map in town on a tarpaulin so it would last. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) saw the map at the subsequent meeting, and asked me to help them map the entire territory. Properly mapping the reservation territory is a major project, which will require continuing the formal survey which we started back in 2013. I have been working with the NCIP and the tribal leaders, though, to make a simple map which they can use until the formal survey is complete.

Because AFM does not have a branch in the Philippines, I have no way to get a long-term visa. This means that every two months I have to travel to the main island of Luzon to renew my tourist visa. This is typically at least a two day trip. As long as I'm already on Luzon I usually take the opportunity to purchase Bibles at the Philippine Bible Society, and stop in to see if any literature is available at our publishing house. Supplying the growing leaders with tagalog literature is one of my ongoing struggles. Many of Mrs. White's books are translated into Tagalog, but our publishing house does not print them anymore, assuming that everyone can read English.

This trip to Luzon every two months has become MUCH MUCH easier since we were able to purchase a truck for the project. I know that I have mentioned the truck several times, but I am so thankful for it that I want to say it again. Thank you to each of you who has contributed to this project and allowed us to purchase and maintain the truck without extra fundraising! The truck has saved lives of emergency patients, and it has dramatically improved my health. I used to have to drive my tiny motorcycle through the hurricanes with all of my supplies on my back plus a passenger or two. In the truck I can stay dry and comfortable, and can get to where I'm going and back much more quickly. Thank you!

Thank you also for your prayers! Sometimes it seems like the work is moving slowly, but God is answering your prayers, and change is coming to the Tawbuid. Lives are being saved, health is improving, families are learning to provide for themselves, and most importantly of all, churches are being planted and souls are being saved. Thank you for partnering with me in God's work!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Greetings from Mindoro!

Today, history was made for the Tawbuid. Today, the very first Tawbuid
medical worker conducted her very first mobile clinic in the highlands on
her own.

One of my very highest priorities has always been sustainability of all
aspects of this project. Early on I made a choice that I wouldn't do
anything that the Tawbuid could not or would not do. This has limited the
ways that I could help the Tawbuid. I have seen so many wonderful mission
projects crumble into non-existance after the missionary left, however, that
I felt it was a necessary limitation in order to help guarantee that I would
leave a lasting improvement in the Tawbuid people's way of life.

My most glaring inconsistency regarding this ideal has been my medical work.
I never advertised that I knew how to treat illnesses. I never asked to
treat anyone. But when someone is suffering, and there is no other help, I
cannot stand by and watch. God blessed far beyond my limited knowledge, and
soon word got around that people who came to me for treatment recovered. I
had people coming to me from three tribes to be treated. Sometimes they
traveled days to get to me.

My popularity slacked off after a while as people realized that I would not
simply push pills at every ache and pain, but taught people to live
healthfully, and also insisted on natural treatments whenever possible.
However as those who would follow my teaching consistently got well, even
when the established medical authorities in town were not able to cure them,
my reputation returned. I also had opportunities, several times, to work
with medical doctors and dentists from America and different parts of the
Philippines. All very graciously supported me and allowed me to work beside
them on their mobile clinics to our area. By so doing, they lent much
greater credibility to my own medical work.

My medical work has also been vital to our church planting, which is the
first and central goal of my being here. Every new village we have entered,
every highlander we have contacted, we have entered and contacted with the
aid of medicine. Wherever the gospel has gone, relief of people's
sicknesses has gone first.

However I was always troubled because it seemed that my medical work was
unsustainable. From the beginning I insisted on using natural and locally
available remedies as much as possible. The manufactured medicines that I
did use were chosen from among the least expensive and most readily
available. Some medical procedures that I could do I chose not to as I knew
they could not be done by a Tawbuid medical worker, if there ever would be

I frequently talked to Tawbuid about learning to treat diseases themselves.
I asked individuals who showed promise to come and learn from me. When I
taught health classes, I recruited the brightest students to work with me.
I talked to the Tawbuid leaders about opening the old abandoned clinic
building that the German government built in the village years ago but which
had never been used. But every attempt failed. No one would consistently
attend classes I taught or worked along side me. Finally I gave up. I
decided that this was one branch of my work which would die with me when I

And then God began to work. One day a Christian Filipino doctor and a
visiting German Christian walked up to my front porch. I had no idea that
anyone was scheduled to come, but they were there to hold a mobile clinic,
and had brought boxes of medicines with them. The Filipino doctor heard
that I operated a clinic out of a room next to the church, and he wanted to
see it. He was sufficiently impressed that he asked me to work beside him
as he treated people that afternoon.

All that afternoon I saw patients right alongside the doctor, and the next
day I pulled teeth while the doctor saw the remaining patients. He was
impressed, and saw an opportunity to improve both his and my ability to help
the Tawbuid. He approached the tribal elders, and asked them for permission
to open the old clinic building and to make me medical director. I chipped
in with my two cents worth about training Tawbuid healthcare workers to run
the clinic themselves one day. The elders, out of respect for the doctor,
agreed to let us open the clinic under my direction on condition that the
whole tribe would be served, not just our village. They were also flattered
and pleased by my desire to teach their own people to treat diseases and run
the clinic. The doctor came back a few weeks later with a carpenter and
supplies, and the clinic was officially opened. We were started.

I still didn't have anyone to teach, however. The clinic still couldn't
last any longer than I was here unless I could pass on my knowledge to
someone else. God had that all worked out too. One of our Adventist
believers approached me and asked me to teach her about health. I gladly
agreed, and to my joy a whole room full of people showed up to learn. Most
of them dropped out over time, but two months later, three Tawbuid ladies
graduated from my class and began their apprenticeship in the clinic.

Which brings us back to today. One of my three students is Jenevi, the wife
of one of our Tawbuid missionaries. She is intelligent and has learned
quickly. Two weeks ago, a team from our church visited one of our highland
contacts, and they asked for medicine. The highlanders would not tolerate
me coming into the area. Jenevi has progressed so far in her
apprenticeship, though, that I asked her if she would like to go and conduct
the mobile clinic with our missionary team.

It was with a full heart that I trudged up to the clinic, early this
morning. I helped Jenevi pick out medicines that she knows how to use, and
would likely be needed. After a few reminders, I prayed over her, praising
God for letting me see this day, and asking His blessing, guidance, and
protection over her and the team. And then they set off.

I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I'm not usually a very emotional
person, but I've been through a lot to see this day. How little have I
suffered for the Tawbuid, though, compared with Jesus. Jesus, thank you for
what you have done to bring these Tawbuid out of darkness and into the light
of your life. Glory to your name!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Greetings From Mindoro!

Two years, one month, and twenty seven days from the fateful morning, we are
finished. The well is done. We have a steady supply of clean water. It's

Balangabong is a two or three hour hike from the nearest steady source of
water. Years ago, a development agency put in a water system, piping water
to the village from a river in the mountains. There was no way to fully
capture the spring from which the river flowed, however, so the water was
always contaminated from the very source. Highlanders often, to this day,
flee to this area when witchcraft threatens to wipe out an entire village.
They bathe in the water, and use the area as a bathroom. Frogs, eels, and
fish get sucked into the intake, then lodge in the pipe and rot.

These were all problems which I could solve, however, if the people would
allow me. The real problem in Balangabong, and all of the border area
Tawbuid villages, is that discipline has nearly ceased to exist. In the
highlands, discipline is maintained by authoritative chiefs who wield the
power of sickness, life, and death over their people through sorcery. When
the border area Tawbuid accepted Christianity, they left these
spiritualistic forms of discipline, but they failed to adopt the Western
forms used by the lowland Filipinos, such as prison or corporal punishment.
The result is that, after a generation of no discipline, everyone does
whatever they please and no one does anything about it.

Say, for example, I was washing clothes at the end of the hose and someone
else wanted to fill up a jug. Rather than wait for me, the other person
would simply go upstream of me and cut the hose open. People do this every
day, until the hose is simply a mass of holes. Further, as people walk to
and from their fields they cut the line to drink. Wherever people cut the
line, a mud hole forms which the water buffalo love to wallow in, mixing
their feces into the mire which gets into the hose. The result is that,
very little water ever reaches the village, and when it does, it is filthy.

For two years I endured this system. Often we would have no water for a
month. We would walk for up to an hour to fill up our jugs with water which
gave me almost continual diarrhea, even after using a filter to clean my
drinking water. Often I would bathe for six days in an eight-gallon bucket.
How easily I could have fixed the water system, but the lack of discipline
would have caused it to be broken again almost immediately. Indeed, during
this time two different agencies came in and fixed the system from the
source all the way down to the village. Each time, within one week it was
broken again and there was no water in the village.

Finally I concluded that the only way I could get clean and reliable water
for myself and the village, would be to put in a well.

Our first attempt to put in a well here began on May 14, 2014. I hired a
local drilling company to drill a well for us, explaining that we were
situated in the foothills, and that we had quartz and marble boulders to
drill through. They guaranteed that they could manage no problem. When
they arrived, it turned out that they only had a jetting rig, which uses
high pressure water to displace dirt and sand, but which cannot handle rock
at all.

After the jetters left, we attempted to dig a well. After three different
teams gave up digging, the excavation caved in on a fourth team at 25 feet,
and we gave up digging as too dangerous. The most water we found was a
trickle from the wall of the hole that produced about a liter of water in a
week, and then dried up.

From the bottom of our 25 foot hole, we attempted to pound a well. Here, a
common method of making wells is to weld a point on the end of a pipe, and
simply pound it into the ground until it reaches water. We attempted to do
this, thinking that we might be able to reach water from the bottom of the
hole, but to no avail.

In July of 2014, the Carolina Conference asked me to present on missions
each evening during their camp meeting. The offering which was collected
allowed us to purchase a locally built well drill that used diamond coring
bits to drill through the quartz and marble rocks.

We began drilling in January, 2015. The company which sold us the drill
sent a man to operate the drill for us while we learned the ropes. I
thought that the process would be somewhat like how we drill wells in the
States, and that in a few days to a week we would have a well. Well
drilling here, though, is a long and tedious process. The drill itself is
made from parts scavenged from junk shops. The various parts of the drill,
not designed to be used for drilling, are continually breaking. True
well-drilling bits are not available. Coring bits are substituted, which
are purchased from companies that take core samples for mining or
construction operations. Because they are core bits, they must be taken out
and cleaned whenever they clog, unlike the bits that drillers use in the
States which can drill continuously. In the States we use bentonite clay or
a type of polymer which solidifies the wall of the bore hole to prevent it
from caving in. Here, it is very difficult to find bentonite, and polymer's
simply don't exist. In addition, any type of rotary mud drill must have
circulating water to cool and lubricate the bit, and to bring cuttings to
the surface. The main reason that we needed the well was because of a lack
of any kind of water, so supplying sufficient water to drill nearly made me
go bald.

Overcoming all obstacles, however, we finally hit water after a month of
drilling. We joyously celebrated, disassembled the drill, and poured a slab
around the well. Sending the driller home with many thanks, we returned to
find that the pump had stopped producing water. Undaunted, we pulled the
riser, found that the silt which we had been steadily pumping out, had
ground the valves to pulp. Replacing them, we tried to put the riser back
in, but found that the bottom of the bore hole had collapsed and there was
no water to be had.

At this point I returned to the States for furlough. When I returned, we
started drilling again. Since the fall of 2015 we have been drilling off
and on again, but problem after problem prevented us from reaching the water
level at 120 feet. In the process we broke one bit off inside the borehole,
started a new borehole, and lost another bit in the new hole, which we were
able to recover, however.

Early his year, we decided to make one last attempt. We contacted the
operator who had taught us, and asked if he would come back and help us
again. He arrived and began drilling in May. Just as before, the drill
broke several times a week. We were continually short on circulating water.
The bore hole kept collapsing, or rocks would fall into the hole. We broke
off three bits in the hole, losing one of them forever. By God's grace, and
a lot of perseverance we were able to recover the other two bits, however.

Through this whole process, I have continually asked God what His purpose
was. I wanted desperately to give up, by always the conviction was strong
that I must continue. "What is it that you want to teach me through all of
this," I cried. "Why won't you either give us water or release me to give
up? There seems to be no point, whatsoever, in going on and on and on with
no results. Surely we should cut our losses and simply endure the water

But God would not give up, nor let me give up. Today, just two days after
we finished, I'm still not sure why God has allowed this. He could have
given us water, flowing from the rock above my house, just like He did for
Israel. Why did He make us struggle for two fruitless years? I'm still not
sure. But I have a suspicion that this well is an allegory of our mission
to reach the Tawbuid. On an even larger scale we often seem to be spinning
our wheels with little to show for the years and tears we have poured into
the people. Often I have begged God for release. I have pointed to my
flaws in character which, in my eyes, make me unworthy for this work. But
always the conviction returns, "Go, it is in my hands. Keep working until I
release you."

And so I have hope, which will not disappoint since it is from God. I have
this hope, that as the well produced its clear, life-giving water after two
years of fruitless labor, even more, God will bring forth springs of living
water among the Tawbuid after we have endured for a time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Drilling Starting Tomorrow

Greetings from Mindoro!

I want to let you know that a professional well driller is coming today to
help us. We should start working on the well again tomorrow. Please join
me in praying for water, if it is the Lord's will.

Thank you!

John Holbrook

Friday, May 6, 2016

Greetings from Mindoro!

I'm afraid that I'm starting to have trouble with sickness again. I had an
extraordinarily long, healthy spell. Lately, however, I've been getting
sick much more frequently than I would like. For the last two weeks I've
been fighting a nasty sinus infection along with the ever present malaria.
It makes my mind a jumble, and every task a marathon. But, the good news is
that I think I'm finally pulling out of it. If I can stay home and rest for
a few more days I should be set.

The last couple of updates you've had from me were quick notes that I wrote
to my parents and asked them to share with you. A couple of exciting things
have happened, though, since we last talked.

First of all, we had another baptism. Ida, our missionary in Pusog, started
studying with a young man from a village about an hour further up in the
mountains. Satan tried to stop the studies many times, though angry
relatives, personal problems, and even starting a legal suit against the
young man. Both he and Ida persevered, however, and during our Native
Campmeeting, at the end of April, he was baptized along with Ida's daughter
and 15 new Alangan believers. Ida is working with the young man and his
family, and we have high hopes of a new church being planted in his village

As an aside, the Alangan church, which we finished planting in 2002,
continues to grow. At campmeeting this year, besides baptisms, we had the
joy of meeting with two newly planted but vibrant churches. These were
planted by Alangan and Tawbuid working together, and in part assisted by a
Filipino layman living in the nearby lowlands. Often this work seems slow
going, but it is encouraging to see AFM's vision happening, with
self-replicating churches continuing to grow and reach the unreached long
after the missionary is gone.

That campeeting is what did in my health. The event is planned and run by
the natives themselves. I only participate as they assign me parts. This
year they gave me a number of challenging tasks, and I didn't get much sleep
or food. It was worth it, though, to spend that time with the more than 500
native believers that attended.

When we got home from camp meeting, we tried tackling the well again. As of
this point, we have very nearly given up. Various donors have given us
sufficient funds to hire a professional well driller, and he is supposed to
come in the middle of May. I hope and pray that he can make the well
happen. This is our last attempt, however. If he cannot get water we are
going to stop drilling.

One of the reasons that I have not been able to rest is that we had a
Filipino doctor come to our village earlier this week to hold a medical
mission which was attended by sick from throughout the tribe. The doctor
and I talked, and he was so impressed with my knowledge of medicine that he
asked me to see patients with him to relieve his load. After treating over
150 patients together, and my pulling a number of teeth as well, the doctor
called the village leaders together and asked them to start a formal clinic
for the tribe under my leadership, and let me train Tawbuid healthcare
workers. This is the very thing that I have been trying to do, with rather
limited success. There is an old clinic building in the village, built
years ago by the German government. I have been wanting to move my clinic
into it ever since I arrived here. The doctor convinced the village leaders
to fix up the old clinic and to staff it with the Tawbuid that I train and
under my direction. This is a dream come true. It is vitally important to
me that everything that I do be locally sustainable in the long run. My
medical work has been the weak point in this philosophy. I hope soon,
though, to be able to report that the Tawbuid have taken over the medical
work on their own.

Sabbath is coming, and I hope to get this out in time for you to read it
over the weekend. So I will close and send my letter. Thank you. Thank
you so much for your support of our work here among the Tawbuid!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Greetings from Mindoro!

I've been having trouble getting e-mail out. Every time I can get online my connection freezes up before I can get an e-mail sent. Hazards of a weak infrastructure here in the Philippines.
Lets' see if I can remember what has happened since I wrote last. The day before Christmas eve we worked until 3 a.m. A couple of times as we had been drilling, water had gushed up out of the drill rod at 80 feet, turning into a temporary artesian well. We had been drilling for a week without being able to get past 100 feet, so I thought maybe God was trying to tell me something. We cleaned out the bore hole as best we could and put the casing into 90 feet. Then we took some desperately needed time to rest over Christmas.

When we came back we put in our pump and tried to test the water. To make a long boring story shorter, the water level seems to hold steady, but we can't get more than a couple of gallons of water out of the hole. I think there is water down there, but it is too little to support steady pumping. We still know that there is abundant water at 120 feet, but those last 20 feet seem to be cursed. We can't get down there no matter what we do.

I'm just about out of strength, patience, and ideas. Delpin and a friend of ours, JR, are going to continue working on the well. I have been putting other project work off too long, though. I have to keep going on other fronts and let the chips fall where they may with the well. Thank you so much for your prayers! Work continues on it, and I will continue to update you as there are developments.
Speaking of work on other fronts, I don't think that I have told you yet that Ida, our missionary in Pusog, has led 4 people to Christ in the month that she has been working there. All 4 have been through a baptismal class, and have been interviewed in preparation for baptism.

In fact, when I got back from Christmas I found that Ida had taken one of the ladies to the nearest pastor and had her baptized! I'm excited to see Ida taking initiative and not waiting for me. It is always our goal as missionaries to transfer our vision and leadership to local believers, just as Paul did. It is immensely encouraging to me to see Ida step up, take charge, and get things done with or without me! May God give the Tawbuid 100 more such leaders!

I just got back from a meeting yesterday with two of the three district pastors that I work under (it can get a little confusing at times). A certain lay man, who has at times gotten involved in the Tawbuid work, showed up in Pusog last Sabbath with grand plans of building a big church, a parsonage, and various other projects in the village. He also tried to convince Ida that I had no right to work in Pusog as I lived in another district. By the time he left Ida's head was spinning. We have had to tread VERY carefully to avoid getting kicked out of the village. The converts that Ida has led to Christ, and the other contacts she is developing have all come in silently and under the radar. I'll presume that this layman's intentions were good, but he was threatening to ruin our ability to work in Pusog, and was trying to get me kicked out.

Oh politics, I despise them. But they are part of human nature and must be dealt with. I asked to meet with the two pastors involved, diplomatically explained the situation. Praise God, up to this point I have always been able to maintain a good working relationship with all levels of church leadership. Both pastors understood, and promised to gently head off the problem before it got too big. We also plan to have a baptism in the nearest mother church later this month for the other converts.

In Layaban the work is moving more slowly, but is still progressing. Originally the captain was one of the strongest oponents of our moving there or evangelizing. Sandy and his wife have made a point of befriending him. Just this Sabbath he told Sandy, "You really ought to set up a church here!" Praise God!

One of our former members lives in Layaban, she was our first contact. She hasn't been able to bring herself to stand up to her father-in-law, though, and come back to church. Sandy and Ilene have been praying for God to send dreams to the people in Layaban, and just this week this former member had a dream that shook her up and sent her to our missionaries asking for help to go back to church. You'll have to wait until the story comes out in the magazine, though, for the full scoop! I can't give everything away here 

Thank you so much for your unceasing prayers and support! God is working, and progress is slowly being made!