This photo kind of encapsulates my feelings over the last couple of days. Up and down, just like those hills. On Friday I joined my dear friend Joe on a little trip with a man named Mordegai. Mordegai is the man who takes me into Isla Verde, the slum that I have told you about. He makes frequent trips into remote villages to provide primary health care and dentistry. Normally he visits villages that can only be reached by a day long hike. On Friday he was making a dentistry trip to a small community that could be reached by 4x4. I was very eager to join him.
We drove north for a few hours along the highway, and then the adventure began. I was glad to hear that the "road" was dry enough for us to drive, so I wouldn't have to waste any precious calories by walking. Mordegai has this funny little truck that can go anywhere and do anything. He seemed very excited for the chance to put it into action. I thought I had seen some rough roads before. I have been on some of British Columbia's logging roads and couldn't have imagined anything worse. Those logging roads were like fluffy pillows compared to the road we traveled on Friday.
A few times, we had to jump out of the truck to hold it down and keep it from tipping over. At one point, several of us men were asked to walk between the truck and a cliff in order to prevent the vehicle from rolling down into the valley below. It happened so fast, we didn't have time to think about the fact that if that truck had begun to tip over, it likely would have flattened us and continued down the ravine.
After a very bumpy ride that would rival even the best of roller coasters, we arrived in a tiny little village. While Mordegai pulled teeth (over 130 teeth in one day), I spent time talking to a woman named Murli. She has been helping arrange these visits for Mordegai for years. I spent a long time talking with her about Impact Nations and the water projects that we will be doing around Mindanao. She has spent years serving these small villages and has an excellent relationship with them. I learned so much from her as she told me about how to go about ministering to these people effectively. I was greatly discouraged to hear about how much the local government can get in the way of truly blessing these people. She told me story after story of good intentioned church groups and NGOs that have invested in the community, only to have the majority of the funds end up in the pockets of politicians. I'm sure this is the same all over the third world.
I was very excited to meet Murli and her friend Beth. I am certain that I will be working with them to bring clean safe drinking water to many of the homes throughout that mountainous region (pictured above). However, I couldn't help but feel discouraged by their tales of woe in regards to the crooked politicians that so often stymie the best intentions.
Yesterday, I again joined Mordegai for a visit to Isla Verde. As we walked through the slum, breathing in the scents of low tide, garbage dump, and outhouse, I was again overcome with the feeling that something must be done. The children hounded me more than ever for money. It seems that the only English they know is "Give me money!" They followed me through the entire village, pulling at me and hitting my pants because they could hear the change in my pockets. I wanted so desperately to do something for the children, but there were so many of them. I couldn't just start handing out money. Even if I could afford to give each of them a few pesos, what good would it do? I quizzed Mordegai over and over, searching for some way to minister to these forsaken people. Sadly, every one of my questions was answered in a way that made me feel more hopeless than ever before. Everyone I've talked to indicates that the people of Isla Verde cannot be rescued from their poverty mentality.
I've been in communication with a man named Todd. He is from Butuan, and is our contact for the upcoming JOC in April. He has worked with Habitat for Humanity, and studied the Isla Verde situation. He told me that having analyzed the situation thoroughly, Habitat believes that fault lines and seismic activity, the housing cannot be improved at Isla Verde. Instead, they would like to move the entire community to a location a few miles down the beach. Unfortunately, Todd says that so far the local politicians have made that impossible. When I asked Todd about changing their poverty mentality, he essentially told me that it can't be done.
Although I feel like I want to bless the people of Isla Verde, I can't seem to figure out how to do it. I'll continue to ask the Lord for simple small strategies, but in the meantime I will go through the doors that are open. Having met Murli and Beth this week, I think they will provide many open doors for me to minister to people around Mindanao.
Another possible open door is this whole rubber plantation thing. Impact will be making a number of project proposals to a large group of business men in Pennsylvania next week. It looks as though the rubber plantation will be included in that proposal. Please be praying that we see a major financial breakthrough (for several projects) as a result of that meeting.
So it has been a week of ups and downs, but God is sovereign. I know he has a great plan for this country. When I'm feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I need only remind myself that though I'm only one man, I work for the God of the universe.
And now for some pictures. (By the way, these photos almost always look better if you click on them and view them at full size.)