Isabela

Sunset

The trip to Isabela was 12 hours long, and I embarked on it with a bag loaded with clothes, a thick study Bible, and a pair of shoes.

The goal

I was part of the UP DCF Missions Team. The missions exposure trip is an annual event of the DCF to spread the gospel of Christ, and to equip the local churches, especially the youth. This was to be my second exposure to the mission field, after having gone to Sibalom, Antique last year.

Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling

Pink house

When we arrived on October 22 after a bus ride that seemed like eternity, we were hosted to delicious brunch at the house of Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling, his wife. We would live in their home for the next week or so.

Pastor Ollie

Pastor Ollie is the senior pastor of Sta. Maria Bible Community Church. Gifted in music, he has composed and translated Christian songs in Ibanag, the local language. His preaching is God-centered, and he's not hesitant to talk about Biblical truths, even those that are hard to understand and swallow.

Ate Telling is working closely with him. Her dedication to the work of the Lord, her extraordinary insight and encouragement have been instrumental in the success of the mission trip.

Later in the trip, they would recount to us how they met each other. Their love story is dotted with scenes shot for movies. Their parents and seniors were against their relationship, yet they chose to listen to God and obey what He commanded. When they had to choose between their parents and the clear command of God, they chose to follow Him.

The past years have seen them though thick and thin. Pastor Ollie's kidneys failed him. In those hard times, Ate Telling had been with him, pleading with the Lord and seeking His will. Theirs is a story of the Lord's faithfulness.

Cabagan and Sta. Maria

Cagayan River

Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling live in Cabagan, but it takes 15 minutes to reach SMBCC, their local church in the neighboring Sta. Maria town. The road becomes unforgiving during heavy rains where rising waters of Cagayan River would cover the bridge, making it impossible for any land-based transportation to pass through.

Cabagan is more developed than Sta. Maria, but in both places, the heat is sweltering. Every time I stood under direct sunlight, it felt as if the sun pierced through my skin. That partly explains Jaylord's bungang araw, and Kuya Jordie and Arnold's excessive sweating (yay to DryChlor!).

Much of the livelihood in the area is farming and pottery, and there are no malls. Interestingly most of the sari-sari stores I visited didn't even sell Coke.

It's certainly not a rich area. The houses are small, mostly made by nipa, and life is simple.

The people

Sharing time with Rashel

I've never seen a group of people so accommodating and hospitable, exceeding my Ilonggo standards.

I've also never seen people love their vernacular as they did. They spoke, wrote, and sang in Ibanag. Being the first time I have been exposed to the language, I had difficulty piecing the words together. But it was always a blessing hearing them call out the name of the Lord in their native tongue.

Together we joined them in singing Ibanag songs, praising the Lord in different languages. Kemuel, in our sharing later that night, called that scene "a vision of heaven."

Lafug-er, etc

Kids

We eventually understood a few Ibanag words/phrases, among them my favorites:

komang - rice fields
uvovug na Dios - the word of God
so si Lance - I'm Lance
yayya si Jet - That person is Jet.
lafug - joke (from which I derived lafug-er, which means joker)
Dios ta nikamu ngaming - Good afternoon everyone.

Just before Antonina, Jobelle, and I were about to enter the sixth grade class for the classroom evangelism, I asked them to teach me some Ibanag statements. Here's what I practiced:

Dios ta nikamu ngaming. So si Lance. Yayya si Antonina. Yayya si Jobelle. We are here to share uvovug na Dios.

But I didn't dare. It sounded, too...off. "It doesn't sound Ibanag to me, but more like French," my friends joked.

Mga lafugers talaga.

Ate Trining

I spoke with Ate Trining, a full-time church worker who supervised the food preparations during the plenary sessions. Taking a break from washing the dishes, she told me, excitedly, that she had been able to share the gospel to all her neighbors, 60 of them. In her little house, she holds Bible studies, exhorting the people to know and follow God.

I recall this one instant when she passed by a cottage outside the church building. Out of the blue, she asked three girls in Ibanag (Luther translated them for me), "Si Hesus ba nasa puso niyo na?" They said yes, and then...well, she said goodbye. That came out naturally, like me asking my friends how their exams went.

Conversations with Luther

A few minutes after I had unpacked my things on Day One, I got a text telling me to come back to Manila for a 10-minute presentation for a competition. Luther got a similar text two hours after I did.

We took the bus to Cubao on Thursday night with Kuya Caloy and Oslec who accompanied him. Luther and I were decided that after the presentation, we would immediately hurry back to Isabela.

During the trip, we found ourselves talking about anything and everything under the sun. What lessons has God taught you so far? What do you think of this or that?

Luther has grown so much in the faith. He has remained humble, steadfast, and available for the work of God in UP, and it has been an encouragement having known him.

House-to-house evangelism

Mikmik reminds me of childhood

I've never done house-to-house evangelism before, the kind where we knock on each household and tell the people inside the good news, if ever they allow us. I was partnered with Ate Shii who, at that time, did not have a clue we were in Cagayan Valley, with mountain ranges surrounding us on all sides.

Funny things happened. We were assigned to a block of houses beside the solar drier. In Brgy. Valbuena, Ate Shii cluelessly searched for a techie-looking tower with a solar dish on top. Imagine her disappointment when, after sensing her confusion, I told her, "Ate, that's what a solar drier looks like." I pointed to a flat, cemented area near a basketball ring, a far cry from the solar panels she had been imagining.

We went to two houses that afternoon. It broke my heart to learn that the people did not have any assurance of going to heaven if they died. They thought that they had to do good things, so they can earn they way to God's kingdom. They were shocked to learn that they did not have to. Salvation, after all, is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are a result of one's salvation and are not the means towards it.

The next day I was assigned to Brgy. Poblacion where I got inside the smallest houses I've been to. I was encouraged when the mothers told me their children were attending Sunday school. The local church there is creating whirlpools for the expansion of God's kingdom.

Kallao Cave

At Kallao Cave, Cagayan

After more than a week of ministry, we went to Kallao Cave for our time of rest and recreation. The youth from SMBCC went with us. We had a great time together.

Just as we were about to end, we formed a big circle beside the quiet river and sang songs to the Lord. During sharing time, Pastor Ollie took out his guitar and sang a song he composed for us. The song had all our names in it. I recall the words, "Salamat at mahal ko kayo" which he sang with all his heart.

When we all said our goodbyes, our newfound friends burst into tears. What did we do that should merit this overflow of thanksgiving? We then received letters from them, telling of how much they praise God for our lives.

And we praise God for theirs.

Oh, it was the Lord who did those wonders in Isabela. It was the Lord. It was all because of Him.

UPDATE: More photos.

Off to Isabela

At 10 pm tonight I’m leaving for Isabela. God has been so gracious as to give me an opportunity to be part of the DCF missions team this year.

I’m excited to see how the Lord will do wonders there. He always has, and it has left us all amazed, our lips overflowing with praises.

Please pray:

1. That the people there be responsive to the gospel.
2. That Christ’s name be ultimately exalted and lifted up.
3. That we in the missions team be filled with the Spirit as we speak God’s truth.
4. That we may not lack in anything, for the Lord will surely provide.

My next update will be in, what, 10 or so days. Isabela, here we come!

Morning snapshots

Manong's law readings clutter much of the floor's surface area.

Paper clutter


Here's his trusted Macbook that I borrow once in a while, especially when I have presentations to do.

Mac(hine)

Ate Pie Sobrepena is Renan Laruan's niece who regularly visits the apartment, usually with a meal idea in mind. Here she's reviewing for the board exam this Thursday.

Ate Pie

Kuya John Dasmarinas is on his way to an art exhibit in UP. Later in the day, he's buying a kiwi drink. It's a weekly ritual.

Kuya John

My brother. You won't miss the nose.

Studying

This break I plan to finish these books:

1. The Journals of Jim Elliot, given to me by Kuya Caloy. I've started reading the first few pages, and it's already been a blessing. What an encouragement Mr. Elliot is. Each page is just soaked with God's truth reflected in man's thoughts and prayers.

Jim Elliot

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I have no idea what it's about, but I hear it's really good.

Fahrenheit 541

A time to rest

Trusted notebook

It’s the stillness after the storm.

As far as I know, yesterday marked the end of my sem. A lot of friends, especially in MBB, think this has been the hardest. And it’s been hard, considering our academic load, lab internships, and org responsibilities. I’m just relieved that, at least for the moment, I won’t be thinking much of them.

Right now there are awkward moments when I feel I should be doing something but in reality there isn’t. All these sleepless months have conditioned my body to a state of unrest, so imagine the weird-ness of it all when I found myself alone last night in my brother’s apartment, without an exam or a meeting or a deadline in mind.

Rest is a precious gift. Thank you, Lord, for the chance to get hold of that.


Good morning

The troubles of losing something

To declare someone (or something) is missing, 24 hours should've passed since the time that person (or object) was last seen. The last time I saw my personal journal was Sunday afternoon. It doesn't take a genius to understand that it's been more than 24 hours.

I remember leaving it on my desk beside my mug when I went out of the dorm. I didn't bother bringing it—it was a matter of great importance. Private things should remain in their private places.

Now I'm having second thoughts if I'm remembering things rightly. Memory—at least mine—has its way of messing things up. I've looked at my bed and under it, I've asked my roommates, I've created a mental movie of what I did that Sunday afternoon.

It's still missing. Otherwise, I wouldn't be so desperate writing this.

What if someone reads my journal?

Well, it's personal, for one—and it shouldn't be read. At least, not by everyone. There are many things I've written there that I wouldn't normally talk about. They're not embarassing blackmail entries, so don't count on ever reading something like that in case you pick up my journal after I'm dead.

I don't think it was stolen, though. My gut feeling is that it's just somewhere, hidden in a corner, waiting for the right time to be found.

UPDATE (October 14, 2008): Calvin saw it, tucked neatly between the bed sheet and the wall. Thanks Calv.

Death

Two days ago Shean texted me the news that Herman's father is dead. Herman was our high school classmate who's now teaching part-time at Ateneo de Davao while taking up his Law degree.

I called him this morning to express my condolences, but I was at a loss for words.

This was history repeating itself. Reinier's father died last year, too, and I had nothing else to say, except for a text message telling him I would be praying for their family in the time of grief.

Why do words desert us when we need them most?

Jogging reminded me of my heavenly home

Today was the first time I jogged in a long time. It felt good—the first few hours after my first and last round—and right now I'm not too sure if, with all the lactic fermentation going on, I'd still be able to walk tomorrow.

Jason knocked at my door at 6 am. Coming from Yakal, we (Jason, Jaylord, Remrick, and myself) walked to the Grandstand where we met Luther and Arnold. Rashel and Steffi arrived soon after. We warmed up—not with stretching, as Rem so vehemently insisted against—but with taho and a good dose of laughter.

Then we ran.

O, it was fanstastic: seeing all those people in jogging pants, sweat pouring down their faces.

At the last quarter of the distance before finish line, I had a panoramic view of the crowd, running, never looking back.

And then I remembered what Paul said in Philippians 3:13b-14, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead; I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I wondered if heaven was like like the view I was seeing. People rushing to the finish line, excited about meeting God face to face, dressed in white robes because all their sins have been washed away.

If only for the reminder of heaven, I might consider jogging as a hobby.

UPDATE (October 13, 2008): My legs hurt, but I'm not going to need that wheelchair, thank you.