I am without a doubt, 100% sure that the prayers for me ascending to the throne room made heaven a little louder this week! And, I am beyond grateful! I have always wished I was one of those people that lived life with abandon - but fear has to often held a grip on me. This week I faced fear - many times in many ways. Most of it was the irrational, blown-out-of-proportion kind of fear - I think I've come out stronger.
I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)I will begin at the end. The last day of our time in the bukid (boo-kid) - the mountainous, tribal region. It is an area still relatively untouched by the modern world. Electricity, indoor plumbing, vehicles (with the exception of an occasional motorcycle) are either unheard of or only exist in tales from the few villagers who have traveled to the city.
On Friday morning, after a long productive week, our group of about 20 people - including 15 of my new Filipino friends from a local church, a father and his sick son from the village, and three white girls (myself included) - intended to hike 1 1/2 - 2 hours from the village where we were staying to a village with a jeepney that could make the 3-5 hour drive to the city. That jeepney would leave at 7 a.m. We woke up at 3:30 a.m. when the kitchen team announced that the food was ready. I noticed that as we began our routine the roosters throughout the valley announced our early awakening. Aided by the lights from our flashlights, we packed our remaining items in our backpacks, did a few necessary morning things, and went to the hut across the village courtyard to have breakfast. Steaming rice with a side of ramen was waiting. We ate and then washed our plate and spoon in water hauled from the well and packed them into our pack.
We hiked out at 5:20 a.m. just as the light began to come over the mountains. A caribou (water buffalo) driven by a village boy followed us hauling some of our supplies. The pastor of the church in the village offered to carry my pack as he accompanied us to the next village. I felt embarrassed as my pack easily weighed twice what the locals' packs did. He didn't seem to mind, and in broken English told me he carries many more kilograms often on that hike. I'm determined to pack lighter next time.
But there were two problems with this plan.
1. The motorcycle drivers were charging an outrageous rate for our stranded group.
2. Finding enough drivers who were (a) not drunk or hungover from a local festival that was happening in the next village or (b) willing to drive through the next village during the festival was proving to be a problem.
One motorcycle was hired and 5-6 people (including the driver and all of the packs) piled on. Yes. Things are done a little differently here. While electricity and running water are rare in the bukid, 5-6 people on a motorcycle riding up and down steep, curvy, rutted, muddy mountain roads are not uncommon. The rest of us decided to hike to the river - another hour or so to try and find more motorcycles. During the hike our group separated into two groups as one group was going at a faster pace.
Miraculously I was in the faster group - this was the case throughout the week. At first it was simply my survival instinct. Stay as close to the leader as possible so if we run into any poisonous snakes (thanks to my inquisitive eldest son - we had recently learned that several of the top 10 most poisonous snakes in the world live in the Philippines) or radical rebels - who may have wondered away from their usual routes looking for random people hiking through the jungle to kidnap for ransom - I would be close to someone more experienced than myself in dealing with these unlikely events. (You can see the theme in my life - FEAR - though based in some truth, grows to irrational proportions!) Between your prayers and my prayers this week, we most definitely had God's attention (as if that is any different than normal.)
We made it to the next village, found some water - but had no money for food. (Ok, that is a lie - I had my emergency stash - but I figured we weren't starving and I didn't know when we might really need that money - you'll see I was right a little later.) So we sat and waited for some of our group to arrive - as we assumed they were still behind us somewhere. Sure enough about 15 minutes later the remainder of our group pulled up on a motorcycle. They had been more successful at finding rides and two more motorcycles had found already gone on to the closest city (Panabo) to wait for the rest of us. This was the last group and they were quite worried that we were lost. So now, we have two motorcycles, 11 people and all our stuff to load up and ride 2 hours to the city. We wait for a while for a third motorcycle that never shows up - so we load up.
Insert another fear: I do not like motorcycles. I have NO desire to ever ride one. I think people that do are crazy. I can kind of understand Harley-type riders as these bikes are bigger. But the racing motorcycle crowd totally baffles me. So here I am on a racing bike with four other people and our gear. Riding up and down steep, curvy, muddy, rutted mountain roads. You can pat me on the back - I did not vomit! I just buried my face in the driver's back and prayed. One good thing about those mountain roads - you really can't go very fast - so I felt like my escape plans were fairly realistic if the need arose for me to bail out. One of our group members rode side-saddle on the gas tank, then came the driver, me, and then two more group members. The two guys behind me - of small Filipino build - were using my shoulder as their life-line to keep from being bounced off the back. Therefore, I got the best ab workout of my life. I held a constant flex as we went up and they held on for dear life; I relaxed at the top; then I flexed as we went down to keep me and the two guys behind me from smashing the driver and the guy in front.
Besides the ride itself, the motorcycle adventures included having to stop and fix a flat tire, running out of gas (thankfully near a gas station near the city), and something happening to the bike that meant it could only carry the driver. So 5 minutes from our destination, we switched to a tricycab (a motorcycle with a side car) and I used my emergency stash to pay for our ride to the transportation center where the rest of our group was waiting. The hour drive back to our hometown was fairly uneventful. Our 5 hour trip turned into 12 hours - but it was an adventure.
Something I thought about as my face was smashed against the back of some Filipino motorcycle driver named Tata (a normal name here) - I am on an adventure with Jesus. I am safe with Him no matter the circumstances. The best place I can be is in a place of completely trusting Him. That is a great "thought" - but one that is hard to live out in our comfortable lives. I've never had to rely on Him for my next meal or to heal my baby because there was no access to medical care. To my knowledge, I was not in any real danger this week. The fears in my mind were much bigger than any real danger. But, God definitely used it to bring me another step closer to trusting Him.
So that is enough for now. I will work hard to tell the rest of the story soon. But being gone a week has put me behind on several of my responsibilities here - so, if you are interested in the amazing people I met this week, please be patient - I will tell their stories soon.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)