This was my first trip to the Philippines and as we landed at Manila I realised it would be an experience never to be forgotten and unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my life.
The first thing that I noticed was the noise ,every noise imaginable, cars, motorcabs, jeepneys, horns and all so loud it was impossible to hold a conversation in the street. Even in the hotels and churches the noise at first is almost unbearable. This continued until I returned to Manila three weeks later. However I got used to it and learned to live with it .
The Philippines is the most poverty stricken land I have ever been to, People just living in at best what we can only describe as shacks. This I noticed as I got off of the plane and looked around from the taxi I was shocked at the way people had to live, this became an everyday sight and one that I found difficult to accept as in the West we all have so very much.
However, when we arrived at Dipolog we were greeted by the most wonderful ,happy people I have ever met. Nothing was too much trouble for them, they looked after us as though we were royalty and laughed all day long. If you were to ask me what was the best thing in the whole of the Philippines I would without doubt have to say the people. They are wonderful , during the three weeks stay I never saw one miserable face or anyone pass a bad word or comment about another person or a bad situation. They are amazing and just get on with life with all it’s problems and believe me the problems they have to face on a daily basis are ones we from the west would never have to face in a lifetime.
The life of the pastors is extremely difficult. they start work very early and continue throughout the day and the week with hardly any time off. They have full schedules as I was to find out.
A typical day to be up at 6am breakfast and set off to the police station to teach the officers from the Bible and then on to a prison where the inmates would be waiting to hear the gospel. Some prisoners were in cages and we had to preach from cage to cage. They were mostly very receptive asking for Bibles. Next on to the children where they are first given the gospel in songs and ,stories then they are fed with a type of chocolate drink fortified with vitamins and thickened with oatmeal. On some occasions in the upper mountain regions we took rice and chicken for the children. As well as the food clothes are distributed. Again I can only say I had never, never seen such poor children and yet such happy ones. In some cases the parents come along to see what’s going on when they hear their children singing so fervently. They are also given food. What a difficult life they all have most have no running water, just a pump in the village from where the water has to be carried. No proper cooking facilities just a fire on a stone slab inside the shack or an open fire outside in the open air. No proper flushing toilets, one toilet for the whole village to share often as many as 120 people [probably a lot more] shared the only toilet. No medical attention, the list is endless simply endless as you can imagine.
After the feeding back to the church for a meeting either prayer, praise or Bible study, feeding the congregation usually comes into it as well. Most pastors have dozens of people living with them in the church building, this includes children and whole families. Most days the Pastor has to visit his other churches that have been planted in the mountains. In those villages a service will be conducted followed by food which the Pastor usually supplies. Children are dedicated to the Lord and older children and men and women are frequently baptised in the sea. Many of these mountain villages are Catholic and many people have come to know the Lord from Catholicism in these out of the way places. In some cases the whole village has become evangelical and a church has been built and people left in the village to instruct and teach these new followers of our Lord.
The travelling aspect of the Philippines is not good as the roads are full to capacity especially with motor bikes. If a family is fortunate enough to own one the whole family rides on it together this includes babies. I have seen seven people on a motor bike at one time!! Therefore it is a very arduous experience for the travelling pastor to get to these mountain churches as the roads are mostly unmade. When the rains come they are impassable. Their vehicles are shaken literally shaken to bits!! Of course due to the lack of money the vehicles are not kept in good condition and if one works then they just drive it until it beaks down. We broke down several times and know first hand how difficult it is for them to cope. BUT cope they do with a smile on their faces. We had the most horrendous experiences in these vehicles and they had to be repaired whilst we were there in order for us to continue our journeys.
The church buildings leave a lot to the imagination and often because of the bad rain have to be built on stilts with the sewage underneath along with the pig and a few chickens. Which are no different to the conditions elsewhere. The conditions are appalling almost like 16c England. However each church has some form of instruments and the travelling pastor usually takes his instrument or another Christian with their own instruments. The music is loud and often good and every child I ever came across could pick up any instrument and play it, no teaching, no after school sessions with the piano tutor All are self taught and most of them can really sing well and can be found continually praising the Lord.
Food is another thing I soon found out that a permanent bad stomach was the order of the day and often praised the Lord for Imodium. The food consists of rice and rice and rice with chicken without any meat on the bones, noodles and fish sometimes tuna which when fresh is wonderful. Also mangos which are to die for when picked from the tree at the church door. Coconuts are in profusion as are pineapples there are also several fruits that the rest of the world has yet to see which the natives love but the rest of us tolerated . However the diet never varies and most people are certainly under nourished. The water must not under any circumstances be drunk and we were saved by many a villager from drinking the drinks placed on the table . In most cases this was done by someone just grabbing the drink away from us and laughing.
I will in he near future write a more detailed article about our adventures because adventures they most certainly were but for now I again want to reiterate what I have previously stated about the people they are the reason to continue with this ministry. They are the most long suffering, joyful,happy, smiling, very kind, and the most considerate people on the planet. They are amazing and I can fully understand the English pastor who said he would never leave them as they were and are the nicest people he has ever met. Many times he has thought about moving back to the UK but when he has looked into the eyes of his congregation he knows he would never be able to leave the most amazing people on earth. They deserve our help.