I and my family have been serving in the Philippines for 10 years. I found some colored papers with my handwriting on it. It was reflections from the first two weeks in the Philippines (back in early 2004).
We have been in the Philippines for 13 days. The first 8 days we spent in Alabang and Cavite, just south of Manila. We have seen Laguna Bay from the 31st floor of our hotel. We have seen squatter neighborhoods where families live in a level of poverty that we Americans cannot fathom. We have seen the Taal volcano, a small active volcano which is an island in a lake which has formed within the crater of a much larger volcano. Manila is the center of everything in the Philippines. It has the richest and the poorest of the nation. We over 11 million people, Manila ranks among the largest cities in the world. The heavy smog and equally heavy traffic jams do little to dampen the generally pleasant dispositions of its inhabitants. But what is the most memorable thing about Manila? The city has gigantic shopping malls that put malls in the US to shame. They are gigantic multi-story architectural works of art, filled with almost everything. They are not merely places for buying clothes and food. They have large entertainment areas, worship services, sporting events, and huge food courts. In tropical Manila, air-conditioning is still for the homes of the privileged but in the malls, it is a free gift for the masses. They are crowded at all hours with Filipinos, many having no interest in purchasing, but simply enjoying the sights and sounds in air-conditioned splendor.
We decided to rent a driver and van to drive us to Baguio City rather than take a bus since we had so much luggage. It took us about 9 hours including a long lunch break in Tarlac. Baguio City is only about 130 miles from where we were staying in Cavite. So, outside of lunch, why did it take so long? That’s the way it is in the Philippines. First we had to traverse the 24 hour a day gridlock that is Manila. Then we had beautiful super highway driving through the Provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga. Pampanga is where Celia was born and spent her early years. But no time to stop now, have to visit another day. At Angeles City (downwind of Mt. Pinatubo) the expressway ends and we are sharing narrow roads with all manner of car and truck, bicycle, bus, jeepney and tri-car. Especially irksome are the tri-cars. These are small motorcycles with side cars. They act as mini-taxis carrying 1-5 people (not including the driver). They slow us down a lot. We pass through the Provinces of Tarlac, and Pangasinan and La Union.
In Tarlac in the Province of Tarlac, we and our driver stopped to eat. We spent maybe an hour and a half at Max’s Restaurant. (In the Philippines, food is meant to be enjoyed, not merely eaten). Then we hit the Province of Benguet. Until then everything was flat coastal plain. Now suddenly springs up these mile high rugged mountains. We snake our way up into these mountains. Some of the construction costs must have been amazing. In one area the risk of landslide was apparently so great, that they built a long concrete roof over that stretch followed by a long bridge curving along the mountain but keeping the road up and off the rock face. After an hour and a half of this we see a mountain that looks different from the rest. Other mountains have rocky tops with trees, grass, tree ferns and such growing on them, but this new mountain is covered with buildings. As we draw closer we see there are several mountains covered with buildings separated by steep ravines– also covered with buildings. In between these buildings are narrow, twisting, steep roads full of people and diesel vehicles. Sadly, the diesel vehicles need serious tune-ups. The temperature is mild year around. The attitude is different here. Many dress in clothes more reminiscent of the Western states. Many wear Western-style jackets, boots, and listen to Country-Western music. But you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Baguio city is like no other.
We settle into our house. We have, in this chaotic city, a peaceful tiny apartment which is part of a bigger house owned by Celia’s family. We have no heating or cooling, but in Baguio they aren’t really needed. Like most Filipinos, we have no hot water heater. We also have no car— which is a blessing. First, public transportation is excellent. Second, the people drive like maniacs. Traffic laws are suggestions only. Strangely, in 13 days, I have seen no accidents. I can only see one reason for this lack of catastrophe. There seems to be no road rage here. In the US, people become indignant when cut off on the road. US drives tend to get aggressive and foolhardy over trite offenses. In the Philippines, if someone is cut off on the road… “Bahala na” or “No worries.” Everyone cuts off everyone else at some point. It doesn’t mean anything. The use of the horn is a normal and healthy part of driving. In the US it tends to be looked upon as a personal affront.
These are days for shopping, visiting the seminary, visiting relatives, and so forth. We won’t bore you with all of this. The seminary is beautiful. We look forward to starting with summer classes in late April. On day 13, we stopped by the Baptist church near our house, the one Celia was saved in 31 years ago. We talked with Pastor _A__ and he introduced us to ___B__, a lay leader in the church. ___B___ had been in the US Navy and had served on the same ship I was on (but at a different time). He is now retired in the Philippines and works at doing mission work in rural areas. He is preparing a medical/dental trip to Iloilo later in April and another one to Palawan in June. We went to his house Friday evening for a Purpose-Driven Life group meeting. The church is finishing up its campaign. They had about 30 cell groups formed for PDL. One girl was saved at the meeting we attended.
Reading these notes from 10 years ago, I note a few interesting things.
- As far as basic information, it is fairly accurate, although not particularly insightful. There are a few minor factual errors, and some things that were true then that are no longer true. But most of the observations are pretty surface level. Some of the deeper insights may have came from my wife (who was raised in the Philippines) or from travel books.
- Almost nothing important that was going on in my inner life was noted here. I remember leaving the airport on day 1 and riding in a car through rough neighborhoods and feeling the nervousness of being in a very 3rd-world nation. I remember being put (by my brother-in-law and family) the next day in a fancy hotel and feeling so out-of-place there… a room of marble. The juxtposition of poverty and wealth was disorienting and I felt out of place in both. I felt the terror of our young children trying to look over the rail of the hollow hotel that wold lead to a potential 20+ story fall. I remember the frustration of traffic and smog, of slow-moving traffic, and of taking so long for lunch when we were (in my mind) running so late. I remember a generalized sense of dread… wondering if we were in the right place, and whether I was right to quit my job, leave a comfortable house, and move to a place where we all were living in one tiny room, and we were spending more than we were earning (via missions support). This is what was real… not the little notes about roads and provinces.
- I am surprised at how much of our present was set into place in the first two weeks. The house we stayed in for only a few days upon arrival in Baguio has since become our home of 9 years. The seminary we visited back then has become a central part of both our training and our ministry up until the present. The church we visited was our church for three years (and school for our children for about the same amount of time). The other person we met was our ministry partner from 2004 until 2009, and set in motion much of what we are still doing even today.
Pulling these thoughts together, Despite being scary, it still was a time of affirmation and preparation. Even in the first two weeks, we were being trained and prepared by God for His work. It occurs to me that a lot of Short-term missions are around 2-weeks long. It occurs to me that God can do a lot of training and preparation in STMers… if they are willing to feel, listen, and learn.