Saturday was the First Anniversary Service of Living Waters Church in the village we visited. It was a very poor village but everyone turned out for the celebration. I preached two hours--much to my surprise! It was the testimony of how I accepted Jesus. They asked many questions afterwards and insisted somehow I return for another visit...
Saturday afternoon we rested as Sunday was very busy. It began with service in Candon Living Water Church, the home to the Bible College we support there, and the mother church to 48 congregations. They are very proud of being a Caleb Church and proudly display the library of books we have sent. The books can be used at the church but not checked out.
From there, we went to Candon City Radio to broadcast a 30-minute program and then to a mountain village called “Pancake” for the evening service. We returned at 11 p.m. to the house to eat dinner and be fed to the mosquitos. It was an exhausting day.
Monday, Marben brought me back to Santa Maria where we rested and packed for the 11-day journey into the mountains. I will probably be out of communication range for the next 11 days as it is very remote in the mountains. We are going into an area where the gospel has not been preached. Marben has been sending in Caleb gifts from our boxes in preparation for this journey.
I have now preached 40 sermons in 22 days, only two being repeats. I have a cold but otherwise feel great and excited! Please keep up your prayers!
We arrived at Baoyan Village atop a mountain in Abra District at 11:30 a.m., having left Santa Maria at 5:30 a.m., in an effort to beat the heat. The journey was magical, going up the rugged mountain roads which are often gravel or plowed dirt. Passing through many small villages, Marben took time to introduce me to many Caleb pastors. Clearly the presence of our gifts is clearly felt in this area of the globe.
At one rest stop for coffee at Penro, I asked to use toilet but discovered you could not enter if you are over four feet tall! Physically not possible! All furniture and doorways and ceilings are for shorter people here. The coffee was good but the cup very hot and the lady serving noticed and rushed to a cupboard, climbed up on bottom drawers and reached a saucer, rushed to wash it and then gave it to me just as I finished the coffee. They try very hard to please here.
Each of the pastors were very excited to meet me and wished us to stay but we had a busy schedule. The villages grow rice, tobacco or conr on terraced lands. The vegetation shifts from dense jungle to arid land with each turn of the road--huge vines and palms alternating with cactus and flowering trees. The view is spectacular and the ride in the tough jeep like something out of Disneyland! Caribou and wild birds are visible along the way as well as mosquitos and big flies!
There are seven young pastors with us, three ladies and four gentlemen for music and setup for the evangelisms. They are great sports and earned the trip by their work in the Bible classes.
I was sitting in the yard of the church/residence of the local pastor, surrounded by kids curious about my laptop, along with about 20 chickens, a pig, and pigmy goats. The family makes wooden furniture for a living. We have stopped at a mountain village called Baoyan and are visiting Pastor Deborah who has been trying to found a church here two years. The village is very small and remote. After supper of boiled egg, tomatoes, papaya, and rice and fish, we go to the tiny church and set up for the service. Earlier, I played Bill Gaither videos on my laptop as some rested and others watched. Church was small but fun. Most were children so I tailored the message “Calling of Timothy as a Disciple” to the audience. One young boy darts in and out wearing a Mariners-Griffey shirt but I could not get his photo. The tiny church seats perhaps 30 people and has a “lace curtain” for its altar centerpiece--very, very basic and simple structure. A big brown spider approached me, about the size of a silver dollar. I asked Marben if they bite and he said, “Only when hungry.” I moved away! The pastor and adults were very grateful that we stayed and preached in their village, saying that no missionaries had ever been there before! The mayor gave us a gift of a loaf of bread as a special thank you. Most adults are not believers in this area but about 12 came to the church and received Jesus. Deborah and her husband were very encouraged.
About 10 p.m. we headed out in our Jeep and one motorcycle, still headed for Bolinda. The roads became treacherous with boulders, mudslides, big potholes, wide ruts, and even creeks to forge. An hour later we stopped for the evening bunking at a home of friends of Marben, sleeping on the tile floor and blankets. In the morning they fed us eel, fish and rice--I had a boiled egg, sliced tomato and coffee. The hardboiled egg, sliced tomatoes and papaya have become routine for my meals three times a day with addition of two boiled hot dogs or hard-fried pork or hard-fried chicken legs. Everyone here eats fish and they have no idea what to give me so this is what they settled on. Marben also tells them no spices--not even salt--so it is very bland.
This morning Marben telephoned several contacts for an additional jeep as we have too much gear to forge the next river. He is a sight standing on the roof for cell phone signals! Finally, help is promised by 2 p.m. so we are at rest for the morning.
I feel like an old Indiana Jones with a Bible! This is truly an astounding journey Jesus has brought me on. Help does arrive in the form of change of plans. We leave the jeep and the motorcycle for several days and travel up this mountain by local Jeepney. Around 8 a.m., two Jeepney transports arrive in the village, one destined for our site. We are loaded aboard through “windows,” and the back door, and stuff was strapped on the roof. Our five boys ride among pigs, chickens, boxes, burlap sacks and whatever else you can imagine. I am opposite Marben on the bench at the back door. Our feet are resting on live chickens strapped together on the floor in bundles, with our luggage atop them in our laps. Many parcels are simply tossed in up to window level and passengers just climb in whatever window has any room! Packed in, pigs are raised in baskets to the roof just outside my opening. My head is too high so I have to keep it cocked to the left or hit roof girders! I find a small opening above the door frame just big enough to stick my head when bumps occur, which is nearly constant! Occasionally, fresh eggs are “laid” and roll out beneath our feet, most breaking in the process. My suitcase is looks like it nested in scrambled eggs! The road is awesome, hugging mountain curves and crossing several rivers along the way with water lapping at the side of the Jeepney fully 18 inches high at the sides. Our jeep would not have made it! The ‘bus’ is packed inside and out, atop and on front, with two baskets of live pigs hanging from rear doorway. The vehicle kicks up dust storms which roll in through the openings, covering us like a blanket. No one warned me to cover my nose so I swallow and breathe dust for hours, coughing it up for two days! It is an awesome and magical ride, rivaling anything Disneyland ever had! Arriving at the village of Tami, Marben says luggage stays here but we go on for another night and will return. I hastily retrieve meds for the night and get back on the bench in the bus, this time less crowded. We go another 45 minutes up the mountain to the furthest inland village, Danak, or “goat sacrifice!” Here, we climb several tiers of ladders and steps to reach the uppermost home, belonging to our host, the pastor. Houses are arranged something like a Navajo hillside village. Chickens and goats and pigs abound. We are welcomed and feel exhausted. Two buckets of water arrive for cleaning up and then we rest for the afternoon in a large, plain living area. I am given two benches put together as a bed and the others are given bedrolls. Dinner is rice, coffee and more rice, with or without fish sauce. The pastor arrives and thanks us for the many Caleb gifts Marben has forwarded. (This happens repeatedly at each church!)
At 8 p.m.we climb our last two staircases to the church which is atop the mountain. The stairs are high and have no bannisters so the boys help me along. People start arriving as the music starts and people come from literally everywhere on the mountain. The place is packed by 8:30 p.m.with campfires at the doors as it is very cold for the locals. All are bundled up except me! I decide to give my testimony, thinking I will never live to climb those steps again. The Holy Spirit anoints the meeting and I end up speaking two hours! I was amazed as it seems much shorter. We anoint many who come forward and then return to the house to sleep in the big room. About 6 a.m. I get up to find several other local pastors trying to convince Marben to have us stay over. It is not possible so by 10 a.m. we are packed and on the bus back to Amti to meet up with our luggage and stay two nights. Our home is a house built in trees and on pillars like a big tree house. It belongs to the family of Malee, the young pastor taking care of me. Marben and I share a little room with the boys in the hallway and the girls in the cooking area. The bathroom is across the street and up the hill in a short unlit basement. I am served Vienna sausages, corn and rice for my meals as all else is fish. As dinner is served, many locals come to visit. It turns out Marben’s grandfather evangelized this village as his first and as a base for taking the mountains. He was a legend, coming on horseback and bringing spices and salt as a gift. The locals were headhunters which made me question the spices thing! They turned from Christ in the last 50 years because communist rebels attacked the church membership in particular. Now, Marben wants to reestablish the church of his grandfather, who is affectionately known as “The Lion of the Mountains” by locals.
For our meeting, the Barangay Leader (mayor) has set aside an open field as the church is too small. A contingent of the Philippine army has volunteered to clear and prepare the field for us. In the afternoon, a group arrived from our last village, having walked the mountain trail to bring us a gift of red rice and to hear me preach again. At 8 p.m. they took me to the field and some military brought me water and a chair to wait. We started at 9 p.m. and the field is packed! It’s the largest crowd I have seen yet on this trip. After the music and worship, I preached on Restoration and Deuteronomy 30:4-16. Marben was then moved to give his personal testimony for the military present. Many were anointed. In closing, the commander of the unit came over and told me his men felt my message was “directly from God” and they were extremely moved! We were ecstatic of course. Our work was worth the endeavor! The Barangay Leader joined to sing two hymns with our musicians and then presented us gifts of food (fish and bread). The next day Marben and the pastors visited homes as I rested. The rare air and heat were slowing me as physically I became exhausted. That evening we preached in the local church which was full! During the anointing many were slain the spirit, even myself while anointing others! We returned and ate a very late dinner Saturday night. One lady said she thought she was older than me, being 75 but they cannot find the house she was born in to prove it. (Births are registered by writing on the walls when it happens.) They are all amazed at my stamina, but I feel like I am barely functioning.
On Sunday as we were packing to leave, the locals lined up out on the stairway with offerings and gifts of foods, rice, and vegetables. We finally get on the bus and return to our Jeepney and motorcycles we had left three days ago. From there, we headed across the mountain to Luba, a city I have been in previously. This is a rebel city where I stayed in 2009, but in a different area. Luba has four Caleb churches and we will also travel five hours away to a second one tomorrow as we are a day behind already.
The next morning we awoke to learn the rebels attacked and won control of Amti the very morning we left! The Philippine Army contingent that helped us has withdrawn into the mountains. Our timing could not have been closer! The journey from Amti was beautiful in the mountains but rugged in the valleys as there are few maintained roads here. At Luba we are greeted by the pastor of the church we are due in on Sunday but he came straight ahead as the road to Mambo where we were due Saturday is flooded. We stayed at the Luba pastor’s house two nights, Saturday and Sunday, holding two services Saturday and three on Sunday so neighboring villages can walk in. Communication is by shortwave radio as cell phones have no signal here. The pastor’s house is central for the shortwave reporting, including rebel locations and supply needs of eight villages up here. The Saturday service had many healings and the mid-day Sunday service was like a “Rave” with so many young coming to see our band. Sunday night we commissioned the two local pastors and then had their congregations surround them and hug them as they prayed. One inebriated man tried to escape and I stopped him at the door and explained this was his pastor and he had responsibility to support him. The man went back in and I stood OVER HIM as he thanked the pastor. They hugged and then both thanked me for making him stay!
We have requested a Jeepney ride into and out of this area as our supplies are heavy for two bikes and one small jeep but the companies refuse to come with rebels so active. Saturday services went well, but I fell over some who were slain in the spirit, trying to reach others. My left knee has been very painful but I continued on. We packed it in heat (no ice here!) and Sunday I used hydrocodone tablets for the pain. The preaching and healings were incredible and we are overwhelmed at the pleas to stay longer. But Monday morning we must move on to keep our schedule and avoid confrontations with the advancing rebels. Three of our men ride the hood of the jeep as lookouts for road hazards and human hazards. I expressed concerns for the young pastors in the event rebels locate us, but he confides that the father of one is a rebel leader so we face little true danger!
Crossing one of several rivers, we lose footing and must push the jeep out with help. I am escorted across as the mighty vehicle is freed. Arriving at Tuba, another city in outback Abra, we stayed at the home of an Assemblies of God pastor. Service is at 7 p.m. and it is interesting to see how many arrive here in this remote hillside! There are eight Caleb churches here and each pastor has visited me asking for more toys, medicines, food and other such assistance. They are so grateful for what we have done here.
Everywhere we go they have received CALEB goods from Marben over the last three years. Nearly every village knows of Caleb and loves us! It is incredible up here in these remote hills to hear our work has gratified so many.
The Assemblies of God Church in Mewagan (Part of Tubo which has eight villages) is pastored by a woman. They provide a large room with concrete floor and a bamboo mat for our bed. We hold a “rocking” service in the sanctuary that night and the next morning I am given a “bed” and basket of fruit--apples and pineapples and such! Marben is elated as his relatives pioneered the work here. Since the roads are closed to Supo, this was our last stop on the mountain and Marben is disappointed. No Jeepneys will come and our little jeep will not cross that river! We packed to leave and then an old banged up Jeepney arrived, sent from Supo! It is so short I must lean over inside. The 45-minute ride was agony as we literally drove up the river in places like a tractor across the rocks! We finally arrived at Supo and the oldest Assemblies of God church known in these mountains. It is majestic in its size but barely clinging to the hillside! I was NOT permitted on the outside deck as it is too shaky! A very old pastor greeted us and was quite excited to have our visit. He was one of those involved in building this church many years ago. Marben’s ancestors were very prominent in this village and were instrumental in starting the work. Service began and I gave my testimony after worship time and then the Spirit hit with a force I have literally not seen often! All within reach are slain at once. Marben grabbed four young men by their hands and crossed the hands and I simply toucedh the top hand and all four were down! It was clear that five men were bent on disrupting us. I went to the tallest who was standing firmly with legs planted like concrete and arms folded defiantly. I touched his ear and over he went. He was sitting on the floor and I said, “Who else is with you here trying to defy the Spirit?” He pointed to four others. I told them the last time anyone tried that they were left “barking” on the floor until they wet themselves! The five immediately got up and left! We then continued praying and one lady was healed of paralysis as she “danced” with Marben! I estimate that 85 to 90 of about 110 people were slain and were lain across the floor. The old pastor was sitting on the platform just weeping with joy. One lady said no one had visited since 1978 and the pastor said they had not held an altar call as long as he could remember! Marben was weeping as he said he had never seen the Spirit work in this village in his many years of visits. It was incredible, awesome and so inspiring. This is the village Marben wanted to reach most of all and it was clearly reached and transformed.
The bumpy trip back to our camp at Mewagan took longer as the river had risen in the four hours since our coming but we finally made it. Following breakfast, we set out to leave the outposts of Abra Mountains. God sent us a gift--a councilman in Mewagan came in the morning to offer help of his 4-wheel drive jeep to drive us across the rivers. Now, with two jeeps and the motorbike the nine of us and our gear made it readily. We headed now to the less dangerous area of Abra where Cynthia Leppago and Heart of God Fellowship are situated. During the journey, the brake on the left rear of our Jeep gave out, making it slow travelling but we arrived at Cynthia’s around 2 p.m. She served us lunch, gave us place to rest, and then dinner. We were scheduled to do the service that evening and the next at Lagongilong (the nearest town) but Cynthia reported they did not permit visitors in their church. Since arrangements had not been made by her in advance, we decided then to head back to Santa Maria that night so that we might repair the Jeep. When we stopped at Bangued, the Mt. Zion Sanctuary invited us to return the next evening for a program so we went back.