While at a coffee shop yesterday, Bethany got into a conversation with another missionary. When Bethany began to tell the woman about my job with the water filters, she received a response that is all too common in this country. It is a warning that is just as likely to come from the nationals as it is from the foreigners: "Be careful, Filipinos are not to be trusted." Our friend Chris, who drives us around town on his motorcycle, is diligent to remind us of this on a weekly basis. He even warns us not to trust him, and that he would rip us off if given the chance.
Bethany responded to this woman's warning by telling her that I've got a great Filipino man working with me. The missionary was not convinced, and began to regale my wife with her cautionary tales. It seems she's been battling broken trust in this country for 15 years, and she has completely given up on finding an honest Filipino.
Well, to that I say Baloney. (I assure you I am using stronger language in my mind, but as we all know, abstaining from curse words is the highest of Christian values.) Honestly, each time I am warned not to trust the Filipinos, my heart breaks. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy. If they know that they can't earn your trust, then why bother trying?
Now, I'm not naive. I'm aware that there are plenty of people who will take full advantage of me if given the opportunity. I've only been in the Philippines for 15 months and I've encountered my fair share of would-be crooks. But I refuse to believe that there is a complete and utter lack of honorable men and women in this republic that declares itself "The only Christian nation in Asia".
I offer you exhibit A: my friend and colleague, Toti Ambulo. Toti has been working with me for 8 months now. I hired him the week we returned from our furlough in February. Since then, he and I have worked together to build a pretty effective little ministry—we've served an estimated 10,000 people. I cannot claim any credit for this accomplishment. I couldn't have done any of it without Toti. Time and again, he has proved himself to be a compassionate man, a hard worker, a lover of Jesus, and a dear friend.
Toti lives with his wife and four children, in a simple house here in the city. He is a worship leader at his church and a visionary for his country. Not satisfied with just bringing clean water to people, he approached me recently asking if we could start a feeding program for the poor. I gave him the go ahead, and he's planning it right now. In fact, he's busy this month trying to make the water filter project fully self-sustaining so we can redirect the funds to the feeding program.
Ironically, Toti is the one who looks out for crooks for me. On several occasions he has pulled me aside to warn me that "something just doesn't feel right" about the individual we are working with. And yet, I have never once heard Toti make the declaration that his countryman are not to be trusted. Toti is also quick to challenge me in my faith, and at times has chided me for not being bold with the gospel.
I truly believe that the Holy Spirit directed me to Toti. I will never forget the conversation I had with Joe last January, when we expressed to one another that we felt the Lord had put Toti in my path to help me realize my vision for bringing safe drinking water to the people of Mindanao.
Today is Toti's birthday. He is 40 years old, which means he seems ancient to a young pup like me. I may be his "boss", but in reality, I'm just here to keep casting vision and help him raise the money to make it happen. Eventually, Bethany and I will pack up and move on to another country to start all over again. But Toti will remain as the new director of Impact Nations - Philippines, and I'm confident that he will see our vision through to completion. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the privilege of working with a true friend.
I thought it might be nice for you to get to know Toti a bit, so I've put together a brief video using some of the footage that Greg recorded during his visit a couple weeks ago. This is my very first attempt at editing video, so forgive the jerky transitions. My thanks to Greg Meeres for the use of his footage. And please don't show this to Coldplay, Bruce Cockburn, or U2, because I don't want a lawsuit. So without further ado, meet my friend Toti: