I've got another long story for you today. I've got some photos to accompany it, but they won't upload right now, so check back later today. I know this is really long, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Be blessed!
Yesterday was Thursday. The day before that was Wednesday. Wednesday was a day of reformatting my hard drive and reinstalling a whole bunch of software. I was up until midnight because I wanted to get some work done on the rubber plantation proposal. Normally a midnight bedtime would not be worth mentioning. I mention it because Thursday morning started at 3:30am. For those of you keeping score at home, that's three and a half hours of sleep. I'm not complaining, just stating a fact. A fact that became relevant at around 2pm, Thursday afternoon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
My early morning wake up call was not a result of a faulty alarm clock. I was meeting Mordegai at 4am to begin another of our adventures. Believe it or not, I was pretty chipper when I met the others in the back of his truck. Probably a little too chipper. I think I was annoying those who were still feeling groggy. Soon we found ourselves, 8 people in all, motoring down the highway in the dark towards the mountains. I shared the back of Mordegai's funny little truck with 5 other people and 5 large sacks of clothing that we were delivering to the poor.
One of the Philippines' biggest exports is bananas (it's hard to type "banana" if you're from Canada). As the sun slowly rose from the distant horizon painting everything pink, it revealed the banana plantations that line the side of the highway and seem to stretch into eternity. Crop dusters heralded the arrival of day. Banana plantations require a great deal of pesticides. In fact, they are sprayed by planes at least once a week. Thursday was crop dusting day. Those of us in the back of the truck spent several miles breathing through our t-shirts, trying not to inhale the potent chemicals that were being dropped on nearby fields.
It would seem that our truck resembled a banana tree. One of the planes was not satisfied with dusting us from afar, so it looped around and began dumping its load on the highway, directly on top of us! There was mass panic and Mordegai shouted from inside the truck that there was a tarp that we could use. Mass hysteria and 40mph winds are not good conditions for unfolding a tarp, but with a little team work we were able to pull that blue cocoon over us before the cancer mist completely enveloped us.
Within a couple of hours we were off the highway and had begun our assent up the mountain. We stopped at one village to pick up a pastor and his two children. The count was up to 9 people occupying the tiny bed of the truck. That was when the real adventure began. Last week I told you about some pretty crazy jungle roads. Those roads were like the I-5 compared to what I saw yesterday.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The problem really began with the absence of a road. In order to get our destination, we had to cross two rivers. No bridges. Just rivers. The road ends abruptly at the river's edge, and then picks up again at the other side. I volunteered to be the guy to wade across the river to test the depth. Mordegai would observe my path as I sought out the most shallow route. When he was satisfied that it was shallow enough, he drove through the river with everyone else still in the truck.
The first river was fine. Piece of cake. The second river was a different story. Again, I was sent out to test the depth. This time, the water was flowing above my knees. I estimated the depth to be two feet. The river was flowing pretty fast too. Mordegai decided to wade out and investigate for himself. His findings were the same as mine. Two feet. He waded back to the truck, and I waded to the other side of the river with my camera. I wanted pictures of this.
The truck made it about halfway across the river when Mordegai suddenly shouted "Get out and push!" I watched as the truck emptied out and people began to push. The engine sputtered and died, and the pushing wasn't getting them anywhere either. By this point I had put down my camera and was wading in to join them. When I reached the truck, Mordegai stepped out to reveal that the water was leaking into the cab of the truck.
We couldn't get the truck to move forward any more and the engine wouldn't stay running, so we decided to retreat and regroup. After a great deal of effort we pushed the truck back to the shore that we had started on and took a much needed rest. Mordegai went upstream to investigate a much shallower portion of the river. There was no road on either side of the shallow portion, but he decided that it was our best option. Having dried out a bit, the truck started up okay and he drove across the rocky shore to the shallow point and then drove across the river with ease.
"We should have tried that the first time!" he exclaimed. We had to drive through a field to get back to the road, but it was certainly better than just hanging around the middle of the river. We were tired and wet, but spirits were still high. The engine, however, was suffering from having spent so much time under water, and its work was far from over. It behaved strangely for the rest of the day.
The rain on this island is something to behold. When it rains, you feel as though someone has picked up the Pacific Ocean and dumped it on you. The effect of the rain on these mountain roads is rather hazardous. Large trenches are slowly eroded into the middle of the road. Very large trenches. Mordegai is a very skilled 4x4 driver, but even he seemed to be concerned on many occasions yesterday.
Some of those trenches were so wide, they were impossible to avoid. We would end up with one side of the truck in a trench, while the other side was still on the high ground. Many times the edge of those deep trenches seemed to be the only thing keeping the truck from rolling onto its side. A few times my weight was a helpful factor. When the truck was up on two or three wheels, my friend Chad and I were asked to get up onto the truck to sit on the high side in hopes that the extra weight would press the wheel down and help it to grip while everyone else pushed with all their might.
We were originally told that this trip would include a short one hour hike. Unfortunately, Mordegai had not anticipated that the roads would be as bad as they were. Those of us in the back of the truck had to be ready to bail out at a moment's notice. When he shouted "OUT" we would all spring out and run away from the vehicle, unsure of which direction it might turn. In fact, we learned to jump out the sides, not the back, because often times the engine would die because it was still waterlogged and the truck would begin to roll back down the mountain, threatening to flatten us underneath it.
With us out of the truck, the engine was able to climb even the most treacherous of terrain. As we stood beside it, it would suddenly get the grip it needed and go zooming up the hill, leaving us in the dust. Mordegai didn't dare stop it once it got going, so several times we watched as it disappeared around the corner, leaving us to climb the hill on our own.
Clear cutting is a significant problem on the island of Mindanao. Unlike in North America, the clear cutting is not being done by logging companies, but by citizens. I think they cut the trees to build their homes. The lack of trees leads to significant soil erosion. This leads to some very big mud "puddles" in the middle of the road. We got stuck in one that threatened to eat the truck and several of its passengers for breakfast. The harder Mordegai tried to get out of it, the deeper the truck sank.
Eventually, we had to use a machete to cut away a tree and get to the other side of the truck. We then lifted the back end up out of the mud and dragged it to solid ground about a foot away. Once the back end had traction, we stood knee deep in the mud and pushed the front of the truck while Mordegai tried to reverse the car. His wheels spun, flinging mud all over us. Then the wheels suddenly caught, and the car lurched backwards, nearly sending me face first into the mud.
When we finally reached the top of the mountain we had exhausted our water supply. We came upon a village that had a large concrete cistern of spring water. Now, I've been told a hundred times not to drink water when outside of Davao City. Ironically, one of my missions here in the Philippines is to bring filtration systems to these mountain villages so that their people won't get sick from the contaminated water. We had a choice to make. We could suffer from dehydration, or put off our suffering and get terribly sick the following day. Each of us chose the latter. I drank from the faucet coming out of that cistern as though I hadn't seen water in weeks. I didn't care about the consequences.
Once we had filled our water bottles and washed the mud off our legs and feet, it was time to begin our hike. The village we were visiting was at the bottom of a valley, next to a river. The hike down wasn't very long, but it took its toll on my feet. I don't have any decent hiking shoes, so I was wearing the sturdiest pair of sandals that I have. I've hiked with them before and they have always served me well. Unfortunately, they were wet and we were going down hill. With each step my feet would slide forward, causing the leather straps to dig into the flesh on top of my toes. We reached the village about an hour later, and by that point my feet were throbbing.
The purpose of our journey was to deliver medicine to a woman who was recovering from tuberculoses. A few months ago Mordegai brought this woman out of the village and into the city so that she could get the medical attention she needed. She has since recovered at an incredible rate. TB medicine is a six month prescription, so Mordegai was delivering the last three months worth. Many of you may remember that our friends Jenn and Joe were looking after a malnourished infant named Jaycee a few months ago. Jaycee's mother is the woman we delivered the medicine to. Jaycee wasn't in the village yesterday, but we are told that he is doing very well and that he is good and fat.
We also delivered several large sacks of clothing to the village. When I say "we" I actually mean the two Filipino men that we hired to carry the sacks on their heads. Mike, one of my fellow travelers, brought a big bag of flip flop sandals that he had bought at the mall here in Davao. Everyone had a great time trying on the clothes and the sandals. After those festivities, we ate lunch at the local pastors house. We had fun chewing on raw sugar cane. With fuel in our tummies, we started our trek back up the mountain. We had stayed in that village for less than two hours.
The hike up started out just fine. We were going up the hill now, so I was getting all new blisters, and the old ones weren't bothering me too much. For a while we were walking in the shade, so the heat wasn't bothering us and everything seemed to be going well. That's when it happened. I started this story by telling you that I got only three and a half hours sleep. At around 1:30pm, it was starting to catch up with me. I'm very out of shape as it is, and it had been a long day. But to throw in the added complication of lack of sleep was the perfect storm.
I started taking frequent breaks. Mordegai and a couple of young women (Mercy Maternity students) were in good shape and were able to got up that mountain with ease. Chad and I were having trouble and Manny's legs were cramping. I was seeing stars. I was getting chills, and it took everything in me to keep myself from falling backwards down the hill. I knew that we had a bit of a time restraint. We needed to get off the mountain before it started to rain and before it got dark. Oh, and I didn't want to die from exhaustion.
All I could do was pray. I had never felt so exhausted in all my life. It was just a silly one hour hike, so I don't think it was the hike that was causing me difficulties. It was simply a lack of sleep. I prayed my way up that mountain. I won't say it was easy, but the Lord did give me a supernatural burst of energy. In fact, I wasn't even the last one to reach the top. I collapsed beside the truck and took a well deserved break. One of the locals brought us some water. I didn't know where the water had come from, but at that point I didn't care. As it turns out, I am writing this at six o'clock the next evening and so far I have felt no ill effects from the water. Thank you Jesus.
Soon the others joined us at the top of the mountain and we prepared for our drive back down the other side. Going down was much easier than getting up, so we made pretty good time. I was sitting on the spare tire for the whole bumpy ride, so I've got a pretty sore butt today. By the time we reached the highway it was dark again. We reached home at 7:30, just in time for Chad to lead our home group. Bethany was staying home to do homework, so I used that as my excuse for not going to home group. Really, I was just too tired and dirty and I wanted to go to bed.
When I joined Mordegai for his dental outreach last week, I found myself standing around doing nothing at times. I came home happy for the adventure, but not sure that I had ministered to anybody that day. Yesterday, I began to understand my roll. Mordegai was saving a life by bringing much needed medicine to the woman with tuberculosis. I helped him save that life. All of us did. If we hadn't been there to bail him out of all those crazy situations, he might still be stuck in the middle of the river, or spinning his tires in the mud. The woman wouldn't have got her medicine, and the village wouldn't have received new clothes.
Using the Good Samaritan analogy, I guess you could think of me as the mule that the Samaritan used to get the victim to the inn. One day, when the King says to me "I needed clothes and you clothed me..." (Matt 25:6), he may add "...by pulling that truck out of the mud and pushing it out of the river." I feel so blessed to be a part of God's great adventure. I can't wait to see what he has for me next.