‘Precious Things of the Lasting Hills’ (M.C.B.C SOWING THE SEEDS’ Ministry to Philippines on 11th to 17th Dec. 2012)
by Bethany Khng
“And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills” (Deuteronomy 33:15).
Philippines. The verse in Deuteronomy 33:15 describes a land that belonged to Joseph one of the sons of Israel, a land that was bountifully blessed by the Lord God. However, the land of Palawan, one of the 7,000 islands of the Philippines, was nothing like Joseph’s mountains. There were ‘precious things’ indeed, the indigenous local natives, who live in small crude huts or shelters tucked out of sight in the ‘lasting hills’ of Palawan. Poverty, however, is etched on the faces of the people, although the land is rich natural resources.
This is the journal entry of a ‘reluctant missionary’ who tagged along, ‘reluctant to let go’ of her half-completed school work to go on a missions trip organized by the Church from 11 – 17 December 2012. With an attitude such as this, one wonders if the Lord’s blessings will flow or cease because one person is not getting her priorities right!
But God is good. He did bless us – He did bless me, despite my unwillingness to ‘let go’ and let Him have His ways with me. He watched over us, guided and protected us; He kept the mini bus we were travelling in from breaking down (it was known to be unreliable!) so that we were none the worse from the experiences, except throwing up a couple of times (in handy plastic bags or in the sea!) Still, we survived the ordeal with precious lessons learnt.
Notes from my Diary…
December 11, Day 1 - After four hours on the Cebu Airlines flight, we landed in Puerto Princesa Airport in southern Palawan. Brother Jason Malacao picked us up from the Airport and whizzed us off to a local restaurant with a quaint tropical setting where we had seafood for dinner.
After dinner, we checked into the Victoria Guest House, where the ‘rookie’ missionary (me) experienced some culture shock and learnt a few lessons:
12 Dec, Day 2 – We were up and early on our 1st sight-seeing trip to the famous Palawan Underground River, that accepts only 900 visitors per day. We took a motorboat ride to another part of the island and transferred to an 8-man canoe. It was rowed by a guide who took us on a 45-minute’s tour into one of the 7 new Wonders of Nature!
The underground river is in a huge cave with hundreds of bats and with hanging stalactites and stalagmites that create awesome formations within the giant cave of the Underground River. Using our imagination we were able to ‘see’ the shapes of Tyrannosaurus Tyrannosaurus RexRex (T-Rex) dinosaurs, gigantic turtles, humongous fruits, famous ‘human celebrities’ and even a scene of the Last Supper! (I thought).
In the evening, we visited Brother Jason’s new church at Puerto Princesa. The church meets in a room of the local university, where Jason’s sister, Deborah Faith, works in. There were over 20 believers gathered in this place where some of us in the team shared our testimonies of salvation and sang special items to the accompaniment of Brother Mark’s guitar. Pastor John gave the exhortation that Wednesday Prayer Meeting. After that we separated into pairs to pray. It was a special time of fellowship as we chose our ‘prayer-partner’ – someone not from our group, but from a member of their church.
13 Dec, Day 3 – In the morning, we took a 5-hour bus ride to Brooke’s Point where Jethro’s church is situated. We were warned to expect a very rough, bumpy ride on extremely poor road conditions. However, we did not bargain for the road to be strewn with rocks and stones or pocketed with potholes. It was a wonder that the tires of the bus remained intact by the end of the journey!
Thank the Lord - the anti-nauseating pills that everyone took half an hour before the harrowing ride, kept us from throwing up, as our bodies were tossed and jolted, pummeled and battered during the 5-hour journey in the mini-van! Mercifully, we arrived at our resort, still in one piece, where we were to stay for the night. It was a ‘regular’ hotel that provides towels, shampoos and soap but still no tea or coffee. The rookie missionary was thankful and satisfied with what little blessings we received this time!
In the evening, Brother Jethro came to pick us up for the night services. Senior Pastor Malacao, his father and the founder of the Brooke’s Point Bible Church, his wife Fe, his children Jay, Jason, Jethro and Deborah Faith, their only daughter, and the entire church gave us a very warm welcome! After the first part of the evening programme, when John preached and Brother Jethro interpreted, we were invited to a dinner on the grounds where platters of Filipino food and fruits prepared by Mrs Malacao and the ladies of the church were spread before our eyes on long tables in the middle of the church compound! In between munches, we concluded that the Filipinos were truly fabulous cooks!
After the sumptuous feast, we had a second message by Pastor John, translated by another brother – Joseph, a fantastic interpreter. Sister Leng Li and Brother Samuel Chng gave their testimonies of salvation, followed by special items from our team with Brother Mark accompanying with his guitar.
At the end of the service, Brother Jethro organized the distribution of gifts for 40 over lay pastors, and helpers – both men and ladies. These gifts were from Mt Calvary Baptist Church, Singapore. Each person received a gantan of rice and a package of useful household goods. It was touching and humbling to see the gratitude of these dear brethren-in-Christ who received our simple gifts.
Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation.”
14 Dec, day 4 - Today, we trekked up the mountains on foot to pick up more ‘precious things on the lasting hills’. The climb was supposed to be a ‘short one - only 45-minutes’ (for the locals), but it took us city-slickers close to 1½ hours to reach our destination! There were gasping and panting for breaths, stopping to rest our weary feet or chasing after the slippers floating down the stream … but finally everyone made it to the first hill-side church. (Don’t we look like ‘pros’ in these pictures?)
We had come to ‘bring good tidings’ but with a lot of blisters on our feet, too, by the time we arrived at the Cabangaan Bible Church, a wooden structure with zinc rooftop that rattled in the wind!
Our first introduction to the hilltop church hospitality? One of the Christian brothers climbed up a tall coconut tree to hack off 6 to 7 coconuts for us to quench our thirst with the refreshing coconut juice. Delicious! Then out of ‘nowhere’, people started appearing until there were about 50 adults and children.
Service started in the little building with our testimonies of salvation, followed by different groups of the Palawano natives singing special items in their language to praise the Lord! Amen.
Pastor John preached to the adults while we, the ladies and the children - Wei En, Wei Ren, Michelle, Christopher, Vanessa and Anna Joy - performed a skit on the ‘A-B-C of the Gospel’ to the Palawano children under the shades of some thick foliage. A Filipino sister interpreted the Gospel skit into Tagalog or a local dialect that the children could understand. We marvelled at how complex Tagalog sounded, as there seems to be more syllables for each word than the diction of the English Language! However, praise the Lord that even children can understand the Gospel in their language. Six to seven children prayed the ‘Sinner’s prayer’ to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. We ended the session by distributing gifts of stationary to all the children who were present.
When we rejoined the adults at around noon time, our stomachs were rumbling. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were greeted by the welcome sights of huge trays and condiments of fried ‘tung hoon’, fragrant glutinous rice packed in bamboo chutes and sweet coconut juice on the table in the middle of the church building!
Hey! Where did these dishes come from? We discovered the ‘mystery’ that our Palawano brethren had trekked up the mountains carrying these large containers of food on their heads and shoulders to feed all of us - 50 to 60 people!
Knowing that everyone would be hungry by noon, they shared with us their lunch. These simple fares tasted better than any restaurant cuisines because they were labour of love and home-made! (The tung hoon was actually fried by Deborah Faith). We were grateful to our Filipino brethren for their generosity in sharing with us, not from the abundance of their plenty, but out of the little they possess. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5: 3).
After lunch, Sisters Sally and Leng Li and the children, with the help of Bro Jethro, organised a final distribution of the ‘goodies’. These were the old but still-in-good condition clothes that ‘Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Singapore, had collected prior to our missions trip. With much ‘selling’ and encouragement from us, the shy folks came forward to pick up the pieces of clothing that fit them. After about 20 minutes of ‘lelong-lelong’, the last piece was taken. We were glad to see that even our used items could bring some cheer and joy to these simple folks. Oh that we would be more grateful to our Heavenly Father for the many blessings He showers upon us dialy… in Singapore!
Before we left Brooke’s Point in the late afternoon, Pastor Malacao and his family invited us to their home for an early farewell dinner. We were not very hungry then because of the sweet fragrant rice we had had on the mountain, but we could not refuse the kindness and hospitality shown to us by the Malacaos, especially when Sister Fe (mother) and Deborah Faith (daughter) took the trouble to whip up another 8-course seafood meal for us with fish, crab, fish broth, sauté large prawns, chop suey and other delicacies with names I could not pronounce. After that, it was hugs and goodbyes and promises to pray for the people and the work in Palawan before our 5-hour journey back to Puerto Princesa again in the small mini-bus.
POST-SCRIPT: A few days ago, we received an email from Brother Jethro that ‘typhoon Pablo hit the northern part of Palawan on the last week of December 2012’ (about a week after we returned to Singapore). Pablo brought heavy rains and disruptions to normal life. Then just last week, another typhoon, Auring, ‘hit our area in Southern Palawan’, Brother Jethro wrote. This was a severe storm that resulted in much damage and loss of animal lives. An important bridge that connects three different churches has also been destroyed! As a result, transportation of food and daily necessities to these places have been greatly hampered. Brooke’s Point is also suffering the effects of intermittent power failure and no internet access to the outside world. The hilltop church, Cabangaan Bible Church, where Pastor John had preached in had its rooftop blown off! This was the building where even a breeze would make rattling noises on the zinc-attap rooftop.
Dear sisters of Mount Calvary, please pray for the roof to be fixed soon and for the wooden building to continue to withstand any storms! Please pray for faithful believers and Brother Jethro and his family and their ministry at the Bible churches in Palawan for they truly have many needs that we take for granted here.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9: 37-38).
(Edelweiss Special Issue 9: February 2013)
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