My first journey to the Philippines utilizing Hawaiian Airlines was indeed an adventure. Originally scheduled to fly out on January 9 Seattle to Honolulu and then on to Manila, the airline later changed my reservation to accommodate their needs by moving my flight up to January 8 from Seattle to Honolulu with an overnight stay in Honolulu at their expense. I agreed to this change. However, when I attempted to check in online as required by the airline, I was listed as a domestic flight Seattle- Honolulu and surcharged fifty-five dollars for two pieces of luggage! Two pieces of luggage travel free on international flights. The food was terrible on the flight and they charged extra for the single movie they showed, use of any headphones (including your own), and for snacks.
Upon arrival in Honolulu, they acknowledged their error and gave me a card to contact for a refund of the luggage charge. They then delivered me to a hotel for the night which was located on the perimeter of the airfield. The hotel offered no food services except Tuesdays through Thursdays. This being Saturday night, I was left to the broken vending machine and a small microwave in my room. Sunday morning I returned to the airport where the Hawaiian Airlines (I recommend anyone traveling internationally carry a bankroll of $5-$20s), but I found that Hawaiian Air only accepts credit cards for conveniences on their airline.
When you consider the distances traveled, the bargain fare, and the purpose of my trip-- these are inconveniences that are to be tolerated. Airport customs is difficult at either site which I was grateful. I arrived on time in Manila at 6:30 pm local time on Monday, having crossed the international dateline and was able to locate my baggage with no problem.
I was met by Bishop Marben Lagmay outside the airport and he and his niece Melaee hailed a taxi for our trip to the bus terminal. The local bus terminal is an experience one does not easily forget. It consists of an all-too-small tarmac upon which waltz large commuter buses, taxi cabs, motorcycles, bicycles, motorized tricycles, pedestrians, vendors, and those anxiously awaiting the un-posted arrival of their buses. Add to this a very muggy 90°, an open-air Mr. Donut stand, and a vendor selling rice and fish from buckets straddling a pole across his shoulders, and you have a good idea of what a four-hour wait is like.
When the bus does arrive, the ticket price is based upon the seat you select. Marben graciously elects to buy the two front seats at a higher price because they are larger and recline. This works well when you are five feet tall, which is the size these seats are designed for. (I am 6’2tall!) Everything in the Philippines is intended for shorter people than I. We arrived at Santa Maria at 2:30 am and I was given time to rest until the next evening.
My accommodations consisted of a converted storage room situated in the back of the Elohim Covenant Community Church. Marben and his wife live here as well as do several other pastoral students. There is but one small restroom. Our meals are prepared by Marben’s wife Amy with the help of others, and we dine on a table set up in the sanctuary area, Sometimes there are as few as two or three people eating, and on other occasions twenty or more. The food is generally rice and several types of fish, but, to accommodate my allergy to seafood, they are preparing chicken and lots of vegetables.
Tuesday evening marked our first outreach. We were invited to barangay Ag Agrao, a small village situated on the Abra River about eight miles away. Marben sold the Honda van which we had used for previous occasions, so he rented the use of a small Jeepney vehicle. Jeepney does not afford enough leg space for me so I must duck and climb in the back with the band equipment and band members!
Arriving at the barangay about 7 p.m., we found it to be very dark and began our work by stringing lights in the trees from nearby houses. Plastic chairs were assembled in the yard among wooden chairs and benches from the area houses. Most of the homes are modest--two or three rooms, constructed from combinations of concrete, cement blocks, bamboo, and corrugated steel roofing.
Ag Agrao was the first barangay (barangay means village) I visited in 2007 so it was fitting to start this journey at the same point. Most of the people remembered me so that it was obvious my personal testimony would be repetitious. The program began about 8:30 p.m.with the pastoral team leading people in songs and then eventually in worship. At that point I was introduced and Marben translated for me. It is an amazing thing to find yourself in the jungles of the Philippines surrounded by huge towering ferns, palm trees, lush tropical growth, in the heat of the night, speaking to about 150 people who do not know about Jesus. They are really receptive as I preach on events in Romania, Jerusalem, and Seattle, conveying my understanding of our loving God! Using my sermon which I call “Four Meals,” I tell them how much God loves them. At the end, Marben gives an altar call to which nearly everyone responds. I anoint those receiving Christ and they are counseled by the pastors. Then I bless the children and pray for those who are ill. We then break camp and store much of the equipment in the village since we are returning there the next day for a communion service.
Wednesday we borrowed a car and drove to Santa Cruz for a funeral service of a man recently killed by a drunk driver. They were waiting at the cemetery for our arrival as we became the last car in the funeral procession due to the poor road conditions and travel delays. The PNP (Philippine National Police) had several road blocks in the area.
Marben and I delivered messages and comforted the family as best we could. It was a unique sight peculiar to this area of the world to see the bereaved widow stuffed by the family into a motorcycle-tricycle with several others and then carted off screaming in agony. Marben said the services were held too soon by custom here and she was simply not ready. I was appalled at the method but marveled at the efficiency with which she was taken away. There were perhaps two to three hundred mourners there as he was only 51. The drunk driver worked for a delivery company (not LBC) so the funeral line included a number of vans from the company to pay their respects.
We returned to Santa Maria and rested from the heat until 7 p.m. Then we piled into the Jeepney and headed back to Ag Agrao for a second service and communion. At this service we commissioned Auntie Cora as the pastor for this village and we recognized her five assistants. I preached again and we followed this with communion. It was a very touching and moving ceremony as the village came together as a church for the first time. The trip back included moving all of our equipment back into the Jeepney, which meant a very crowded vehicle. I shared my space with the drums.
Thursday was a very long and hard day. We headed for barangay San Quentin which is located in Abra Province but can only be reached by canoe. The equipment was loaded in the Jeepney, atop the Jeepney, and in several motorcycle-tricycles. We headed off at 8 a.m. and an hour later and through three roadblocks, we reached the river. From there, everything was ferried across on pontoon canoes to the other side. Getting into the canoe itself was a problem as my legs are simply not strong enough and fold under, even if I can get them high enough to get in. We decided the best method was my sitting on the bow and sliding back….but we made it! Once on the other side they let me ride on the cart pulled by the caribou as the village is about two miles inland uphill. I felt somewhat a spectacle coming into town that way but everyone accepted it in good humor.
In the morning we held a christening service for a one-year-old named Harry, and celebrated his birthday. It was a good service but short due to the heat. The church had poor ventilation and was severely warm so we adjourned to the family’s home for a celebration meal (fish, fish, rice, bread, pop, marshmallows and tiny hotdogs on a stick). The hostess was upset she had nothing for me but she had no way to know I am allergic to fish. By dinner she located cabbage salad with carrots and a pork chop.
We napped for the afternoon in a shady area on bamboo racks. Then, in the evening lights were strung from the house and we set up service in the yard of the host family. During the last trip here we did the service on an outdoor basketball court and were plagued by bees! Again the bees returned!
Following worship time, I preached on Deuteronomy 30:5-15, one of my favorites. I clearly was preaching an anointed message as I had strength, power, and a moving message including much I had never shared before. In the middle of it, I was stung by a bee on my hand. I said “OUCH!” pulled out the stinger with my teeth and spit it out, and kept on talking! Later, Marben was stung in the leg. It hurts! But the message got out and the Lord was indeed glorified. I am in awe constantly how He gives us just enough power when we need it!
My ride back down to the boat via caribou was accompanied by a parade of villagers wishing me well and calling for us to come back. We engineered me onto the canoe, back across the river, and into the Jeepney. It was very crowded but we were full of joy!