Monday, June 24, 2019

Greetings from Mindoro!


The tractor's wheels sporadically spun then caught in the soil of the steep ascent.  All of us workers jumped off the trailer full of gravel, hoping to give the tractor just a little more oomph as it tried to pull the load up the mountain.  Slowly, slowly, the tractor lugged the gravel forward, and we were past the steepest part.  Grinning, we jumped back on the trailer and started throwing gravel down on the bare clay dirt.


With rainy season coming and the Balangabong church rebuild just starting (see article in the Adventist Frontiers), we had to get some gravel on the road that we had cut up to the village of Balangabong.  This was the fourth rainy season since we had made the road by hand, and each year it had washed out in the first big storm in April or May.  Then we wouldn't be able to rebuild it until nearly Christmas each year. This year, with all the materials to build the church, however, we would need better access.


Due to the number of development projects that we were starting this year, we would need to rent heavy equipment at a high price, or spend weeks in manual labor.  We determined that the price of rentals would be the same or more than the price of buying a second-hand mini backhoe.  Thanks to your generosity, we were able to purchase a Japan surplus, Kubota brand miniature backhoe, with an included breaker/jackhammer attachment.


We first used it to demolish the old, dangerous church building.  Then we leveled the lot and cut drainage to protect the new church.  With the breaker/jackhammer, along with several large bonfires, we were able to break up a huge boulder that had been in the way for years.  Now we were using the backhoe to fix the road up a bit and then load gravel to help keep it from washing away.


The poor tractor pulled 152 loads of gravel before we got a simple two-track laid down to the village.  Now that it is in, however, the whole village has benefited.  Many people ride our truck to and from the village when we make trips.  Vendors often come to the village now to sell fish and other food which the people used to only get when they went to town.  Several villagers have taken advantage of the better transportation to expand their tiny stores, providing better selections of food to the village.  The teachers in the local elementary school show up to teach school more regularly since they can drive their motorcycles to the village.  Many of the local products grown in the mountains such as sweet-potatoes and bamboo are getting to market more quickly and consistently.  And, most surprisingly of all to me, a number of Tawbuid have managed to beg, borrow, or finance used motorcycles.  It is not uncommon, this year, to see Tawbuid driving grossly overloaded motorbikes up and down the mountain.  You can usually identify them by the look of intense concentration on the face of the first-time driver, and the 3-4 passengers who are laughing and screaming wildly as the motorcycle zigs back and forth from one ditch to the other!


Thanks to your help, Balangabong is slowly developing.  The standard of living is increasing, and the people are starting to gain greater respect in the lowlands.  Thank you for continuing to pray and encourage and support the work here among the Tawbuid!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Greetings From Mindoro!


A shout went up from the Tawbuid believers as the church wall crashed to the ground.  A string of young men, who had been pulling a rope attached to the top of the wall, stumbled as the rope suddenly went slack.


It was a sad day in Balangabong.  The beautiful Adventist church which a generous Korean believer had sponsored nearly 15 years ago was now rubble.  But it was a relief as well.  The contractor who had built the church had used sand mixed with dirt, and too little cement.  When the torrential rains of typhoons came, the dirt in the concrete softened up, and the walls began to crumble.  Several people had been hit in the head during church as chunks of concrete fell from the walls.


Everyone agreed, the church desperately needed to be rebuilt, and rebuilt right.  Because of communication challenges, the fundraising was announced in the Adventist Frontiers magazine several months before I was able get an article published.  You, the supporters of the Tawbuid, were so faithful and generous that even before I had explained, the funds were already fully raised!


Praise the Lord, and thank you so much to each of you who contributed!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and from all of the Tawbuid believers!


The old church has now been demolished, and the site of the new one graded and prepared.  All we are waiting for is my contractor to find enough masons to start work.  By the time we were ready to start, almost every mason on the island was already locked into contracts for the duration of the dry season.  Just yesterday, however, I was informed that by the end of May we should be able to start, and the contractor is committed to working even through rainy season.  This time we will build the church right, and it should last well past our lifetimes. 


In other news, we just finished Mangyan camp meeting.  This began as the Alangan camp meeting which my parents started just for the believers from the Alangan tribe.  We have switched to the general term, "Mangyan," however as other tribes from our island have joined the fellowship.  This year we had Seventh-day Adventist believers from 4 tribes participate, with well over 900 in attendance.  This is only a fraction of the total number of believers, as many had obligations which kept them from coming.  God has brought us a long way since my family first arrived 24 years ago!


The Leadership/Missions Training has been growing as well.  We now have nearly 50 students from 4 tribes involved.  More than anything else, this training program is responsible for the growth of our work into other nearby Mangyan tribes.  When my family started working among the Alangan in 1994, there were almost no believers among any of the Mangyan tribes.  Now, in partnership with the various district pastors on the island, we have beachheads among the Buhid and Hanunoo tribes, as well as established and growing work among the Alangan and Tawbuid.


Back to training, the graduates of last year's class are now teaching what they learned to the new students.  They teach in teams of two, and those who are not teaching meet separately with me for more advanced study.


My wife and daughter are finishing up their school year at the Adventist University of the Philippines, and are looking forward to coming home for a few weeks before summer school starts.  I never believed my Dad, growing up, but it's true, I've been putting on a few pounds here and there since I got married.  You won't hear me complaining though!


I will be in the US this summer from July to October.  I will be teaching at AFM's Summer Institute of Frontier Missions, and then continuing on with my furlough afterward.  I hope to have speaking appointments posted in the not too distant future.  Hopefully I will be able to meet and talk with many of you while I'm there!


Once again, thank you so much for your interest, prayers, and support of the work among the Tawbuid, and the other Mangyan tribes which are now starting to be reached as well!  May God richly bless you!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Greetings from Mindoro!


To give you an idea of the major events of 2018, here on the Tawbuid project, I'm going to write up a short timeline.  Before we get to 2018, however, there were two major events at the end of 2017 which I never was able to write you about.


First, in November, just after arriving back from furlough, we made the transition to a new field supervisor.  Laurence Burn, my former supervisor and AFM's training director, came to make the turn-over visit along with our new supervisor Jack Bowers.  Jack Bowers has been an AFM missionary in a closed country for a number of years, and has recently transitioned to field supervision.  He is basing out of the Philippines, and it only made sense for him to take over supervision of the Philippines projects.  We welcome Jack to the Philippines and to the Tawbuid project!


Second, on Christmas day, I formally proposed to Rodelyn Calas!  We have known each other since childhood, and have become closer and closer friends over the last 6 years.  In fact, we were already planning the wedding back in October.  But we made it official on a mountain top in the heart of Alangan territory on Christmas day.


Now, on to 2018 


Overview of 2018


·      January

o   The Alangan church leaders decided that they wanted to hold a training event to pass on what they learned from my parents and other early missionaries.  The Tawbuid joined, and we used this event to kick of a year-long missions/leadership training series.  Frequent, short training events work best here, so we meet for three days, approximately once a month.  This first event, held in a dry river bed, was led out entirely by Alangan.

o   I have lost the exact day, but sometime near the beginning of the year, the Tawbuid church sent its latest missionary family to a new village.  This is the first fully Highlander village that we have been able to work with full time.  The family were not allowed to move into the village, but planted a farm and made a small hut at a distance from the village.  They work with, and visit with the highlanders each day, trying to gain their trust and teach them.  This is our third church-planting project, and fifth missionary family to move to work in these church plants.  These three projects are supported by the home church in Balangabong, which also sends out regular expeditions to the highlands to search for individuals and villages which will be open to the gospel, or even just friendship.

·      February

o   AFM's training department asked me to come to their South Africa training to coordinate and co-teach the Second Language Acquisition and Medical portions of the training there.  I am thoroughly enjoying teaching, and was overjoyed at the chance to step foot on the continent of Africa for the first time!

·      March

o   We held our second missions/leadership training event in an abandoned building near an unreached village.  I led out, teaching basic principles of missions, with a focus on strategies for entering unopened and hostile villages.  I also led out in several team building activities/games which worked surprisingly well.  Learning through hands-on activities transitions cross-culturally better than I expected.

o   I also traveled to the American Embassy in March to get the last bit of paperwork necessary to complete the application for our marriage license.

o   Years ago, I purchased the lot of land that I grew up on, in the village of Pandarukan in Alangan territory where Rodelyn is from.  There were still four walls standing from my parents' old house.  Over the years, very slowly I have been trying to rebuild the house into a comfortable base where we can rest, work on translating/writing/recording projects, and have a place to fall back to if we get kicked out of Tawbuid territory (this has almost happened so many times I have to take it seriously).  Since this is my personal house, though, my funding has been severely limited.  In March I was finally able to seal the house in with doors and a ceiling, and get electricity hooked up in preparation for our wedding guests from America.  The house is still very bare and unfinished, but it is safe to stay in, now, and has the basics.

o   The last week of March my Mom flew into Manila, and I met her there.  Dale Goodson and his wife, former missionaries to Papua New Guinea, as well as Laurence Burn were able to come also.  They stood in as my extended family, and I am overwhelmingly grateful!

·      April

o   April 1 was the wedding day.  I have already written about that previously, so I won't repeat here, other than to say that Rodelyn and I both felt God's presence and His assurance very strongly the whole day.  It was God's wedding present to us.

o   After the wedding Rodelyn had to return immediately to college.  Dale Goodson, who now works with AFM in the training department as well as the West Coast Development Director, came to the Tawbuid project with Mom and I.  He visited and observed for several days, giving me valuable advice, and an expert perspective.  After his return, he wrote up a detailed report with many further suggestions.  I am very grateful for his help!

o   Below is the official statement regarding the next major event of April:

On April 12-21, 2018, Adventist Frontiers Missions (AFM) held a global summit in the country of Thailand for all frontline AFM personnel. 

The first-ever, 10-day world summit incorporated four distinct AFM goals: first, to enable all AFM field personnel to connect with the rest of the AFM team; second, to spend time in intentional nurture of our personal family life; third, to sharpen our church-planting skills, vision and focus; and finally, to deepen our relationship with God.

AFM generally conducts a week-long regional retreat every 24-36 months in each of its four divisions—Africa, SE Asia, Euro-Asia and Oceania. However, in preparation for the 2018 global summit, AFM eliminated two cycles to cover the cost of the worldwide event. Thailand provided the most cost-effective location in the world.

Since 2011, AFM has steadily grown, opening two new missionary-sending offices in South Africa and Brazil. Furthermore, God has blessed us with a record number of frontline missionary colleagues. This brings certain challenges in maintaining a common vision, in communicating with colleagues across cultural barriers, and even in knowing who our colleagues are in other countries. In fact, until the recent Thailand summit, most AFM missionaries had never met most of their frontline colleagues from around the world! The summit provided us a much-needed opportunity to connect with colleagues from other projects, participate in church-planting seminars and spend time in prayer with each other.

Pastor Dwight Nelson drew us closer to Jesus through his series of worships on the daily baptism of the Holy Spirit as he clarified the Gospel using beautiful narrations. We were truly blessed. In addition, the children attended meaningful meetings targeted specifically to their needs. 

We are so grateful to God for this precious season of prayer, spiritual refreshing, family nurture and team-building; and we have now returned to our portion of the Lord's vineyard with fresh energy in our steps!

o   Two days after arriving back from the summit, we began our annual "Mangyan Camp Meeting."  Mangyan is a term which is often used to denote all of the native tribes on the island of Mindoro.  This camp meeting was started by my parents for the Alangan believers.  The Tawbuid churches now participate every year, however, and we regularly send out invitations to other tribes to join.  The camp meeting is planned, led, and put on by the native believers themselves.  They even provide their food.  Since I returned to work here in 2011, I have contributed in the planning and providing, but only as a contributor.  They themselves give me my assignments and we work together as equals to make the event happen.  This is one of the most visible examples of God's work to mature the Mangyan believers here into self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing Bodies of Christ.

·      May

o   During the second week of May I taught a class on Discipleship for Philippine Frontier Missions.  PFM is a sister organization to AFM.  It was started by Abner and Maila Dizon.  Abner Dizon was a student missionary at AFM's first project in the northern Philippines.  He started PFM to send missionaries in the Philippines and abroad, and has a philosophy of missions similar to AFMs.  After this training, I began working with PFM, off-and-on, as a consultant and to augment their training.  I love PFMs simple, fresh approach to missions, and their beautiful adaptations of organizational structure in order to be effective in this non-western culture.  I look forward to working with them more in the future.

o   Rodelyn was finally able to get away from school for her summer break, which means we were finally able to have a honeymoon!  We spent nearly a week together, while our adopted daughter, Ellen, stayed with her grandparents.  Then we came back and brought Ellen and her friend to the beach for one more night.  On our way home, I found an advertisement for a glass bottom boat tour of a nearby coral reef.  I was intrigued, and the price was right, so we decided to try.  Many Filipinos are marvelous small-scale engineers.  This man had made himself a simple plywood flat bottomed boat, and then epoxied sections of sheet glass into the bottom.  The whole setup probably cost ¼ of what a manufactured glass-bottomed boat would, and worked just as well.  Rodelyn and Ellen were ecstatic.  They had never seen so many fish before in all their lives!  We even got to see a sea turtle!

·      June

o   Nothing terribly exciting happened in June.  It was wonderful to work on the mission together as a family.  I also thoroughly enjoyed tutoring Ellen a little bit each day.  It is so fulfilling to invest in her, and watch her grow.  Sometimes I wish we could do missions the same way, just start over again with kids and their supple, unbiased minds.  I'm sure that God feels the same way about me pretty regularly too!

o   Rainy season started in earnest in June, and we got "imprisoned" twice as hurricanes raised river levels so height that no one could get in or out.  Once we were trapped in Balangabong, and once in Pandarukan as we passed through on business.

·      July

o   More Tuberculosis patients start treatment.  I am being overwhelmed.  I only take patients who have tried the public health system, and have been turned away, but I still have so many that I can't keep up.  I keep the pharmacies bought out, and have to turn patients away for a lack of medicines.  The public health system here simply does not recognize any form of TB other than lung TB.  The disease can infect most of the tissues of the body, however.  I have a very strict system in place, and I only accept patients who are willing to move to my village, support themselves, and receive their medications every day.  That is the only way that I have been able to prevent people starting and stopping, developing drug resistance in such a dangerous disease with limited medicines available to treat it.  But I still can't keep up.

o   At the end of the month, AFM's training department flew me to the States to teach for the Summer Institute of Frontier Missions.  This is one of the highlights of my year.  Teaching is exhausting for me, but I love doing it, and I pray that God can use my experiences to help future missionaries be more effective.

·      August

o   The first week of August I was still teaching.  Then I took a little bit of vacation time to visit my parents before returning to the Philippines.  They are slowly trying to build a house, and I help as much as I can every time that I am in the States.

·      September

o   The George family, working on the island of Palawan here in the Philippines, have a program for their volunteer missionaries which gets them up and working in the language quickly and consistently.  Many volunteers/student missionaries learn the language of their target people very well, but the Palawan project has one of the most consistent success rates.  Second Language Acquisition is one of the classes that I teach at AFM, now, so I wanted to see what they did that works so consistently.  I spent most of a week at the beginning of September on their project observing and taking notes.

o   I also taught another class for PFM, this time on Team Building and Conflict Resolution.  This is a new area for me to teach, but AFM invests heavily in our missionaries in this area, so I had a lot to pull from.  AFMs training team also mentored me, and by God's grace the training went well.

o   After the training, two of PFM's missionaries, two young men working in the Norther Philippines, came back with me to the Tawbuid project to observe and learn for a month.  They were warmly welcomed by the Tawbuid, and helped to strengthen and encourage the Tawbuid believers and missionaries while learning themselves.

·      October, November, December

o   There are so many blanks in this summary which I would never have time to fill in.  Most of the interesting events which make newsworthy notes are when events have happened off project.  When I am here, plugging away, life seems normal and uninteresting.  But I am actually most busy when I am among the Tawbuid.  So much so that I almost broke my health this last quarter.  I had emergency patients almost 5 nights in a row at the beginning of the October, starting me off with a serious lack of sleep.  More emergency patients at all hours of the day and night kept me hopping throughout the quarter, right through Christmas and New Years.  Then various meetings with the Tawbuid civil leaders and our church leaders/missionaries kept me up late and woke me up early every morning.  I spent almost every free moment writing, editing, and translating materials for the Tawbuid.  I was called by a local judge to help out in a legal case involving a Tawbuid.  I visited each of our missionaries and mentored them.  I put on another missions/leadership training along with the Alangan church leaders.  I ran to town for supplies.  I helped put one of our missionary teams back together which was breaking up from team conflict.  I preached.  I studied with people.  I treated patients most evenings in the clinic.  I mentored the two missionaries from PFM.  I caught up on my accounting for AFM, wrote reports, wrote proposals, and did other various office work.  I helped a new Tawbuid couple get legal paperwork for their marriage (the Tawbuid get married earlier than the law permits, but they have the right to self-governance under Philippine law.  This always creates a legal headache as many government programs require a marriage certificate from the government, but the government doesn't agree on whether the marriage is legal or not).  I applied for a new visa, now that I am married to a citizen, which should allow me to stay here for much less cost.  It was a long process, however.  Finally, on top of all of this, I tried to cook and eat and sleep and generally stay functioning.  This is the kind of stuff which goes on each day during the long gaps in the timeline!


Once again, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the long, long delay in my getting these updates to you!  I hope that this timeline, if a bit long, will give you an idea of what has happened on the Tawbuid project since we talked last.  Thank you so much for your continued prayers and support of this work.  May God richly bless you as He has blessed me and the work among the Tawbuid!