My mind is so overwhelmed I cannot even find how to begin sharing about today’s events. It’s hard to believe it’s all happened in less than 24 hours. My internal clock and compass are all messed up so that I have no idea what time (or even what day) it is most of the time. I do not know how people travel the world regularly!
My first impressions of the Philippines are so vast it’s hard to put them into words. I will start with how they came to me and try to share. We flew in a bright yellow and blue plane with propellers from Manila to Naga City early this morning (which Melody, Bayanihan Baptist Church’s pastor’s wife, whom I am so thankful for—but we will get to that in a moment—clarified is not really Naga City at all ha!)
Anyway, I was first struck by how at home poverty is so far segregated from wealth. Here it is not like that at all. There will be a somewhat nice house sandwiched in between two concrete houses with no windows or door and then right next to that is a thatched-roof hut made out of bamboo and coconut shells. There are people everywhere, and they are going in a million directions at once. And they stare at our big ole group of white Americans, but they are quick to share smiles that cross oceans and language barriers.
The second impressions are of the smells. As we drove through Naga City (the actual one), we were overwhelmed by odors I can’t quite readily identify, mostly exhaust and burning wood, occasionally fish as we passed open markets. Eric and Jenny were quick to point out in Manila how the power lines are really a tangled jumble of black that look like fishing lines all knotted up and spouting every direction. Some are held to poles by being wrapped around them. It’s amazing when it rains the streets don’t turn to electrocution alleys. We stopped for lunch at a . . . drum roll please . . . McDonald’s! Finally something rather familiar. I wanted to take pictures but it was very crowded and a lot of different social classes coming and going on the streets outside, so I didn’t feel comfortable getting my good camera out (my cell was dead).
We rode a bus, which is a loose term relative to what we are used to. No windows, very
low ceiling, and long benches with a slick aluminum floor. Our luggage was stacked on top and the boys from the church that helped us were kind enough to cover it over with a tarp and try to tie our blue million bags on with some plastic string. That didn’t prevent us from losing a bag on a particularly bumpy curve, so we had to pull over and retrieve it. It was quite a fun adventure. I really enjoyed zooming through the streets, passing farms, huts, rivers, and trees. We saw cattle, goats, chickens, stray dogs and cats, and even a beautiful white stork.
It’s hard to describe the driving here. Pastor Bill has jokingly said multiple times, “You’d go to jail for that here!” He isn’t lying. On a two-lane road we often had cars four wide with motorcycles darting in between. Motorcycles are by far the most common vehicle here, with everyone from children to pregnant women to elderly racing by us.
Photos are proving harder to post than I anticipated (crazy American lady expecting her technology to actually work), so I may have to add those later. I had a scare today with my phone. As silly as it seems, it really bothered me. My phone turned off and I could not get it to turn back on. I’ve not worried about a thing about this trip until that happened. It felt like I was instantly cut off from everyone at home and everything I knew. But I will say that God is so good. As Shawnte says, “Pray about everything!” So I did. I surrendered my fears to Him and begged Him to please work a miracle on my technology in this technologically-backward place. When we returned from our first church service this evening, I plugged it in and it instantly came to life. Thank you, Lord!
The people here are wonderful. Melody is a wonderfully cheerful woman with a joyous laugh who answered all my questions about people drying rice on tarps or on the pavement on the sides of the roads, medical care and access, school, and more I don’t even remember. I would say that without her and Tracey, I would not have survived today.
We checked into the Nathaniel Hotel around noon today and settled in for a nap. After that Melody took Tracey and I shopping for supplies. You talk about an overwhelming experience! I’ve learned a very important lesson today: when walking with Melody Cuenza, you’d better be quick! The crowds are dense and there seems to be no pattern to walking. You simply go where you need to go and zip around people as you would if you were on a motorcycle. Though I did not one time feel claustrophobic or experience any pushing or anything like that. I get the overwhelming impression that people here are simply living life as they need to in order to survive.
The first shop we went to was a neat little place with very helpful women and we were able to purchase scissors, colored paper, glue sticks, and crayons for a very low price, though I’m too tired to even attempt to remember or provide you with the pesos-to-dollars conversion. My brain seems to have completely forgotten how to do math. Paper plates proved a bit harder to track down. Melody took us through the market. It’s called an open-air market, but that isn’t a very accurate term at all. Once you weave your way into the inside of the booths (picture a massive flea market with no air conditioning, plumbing, ventilation, or good lighting), there was such stagnant air that for the first time in my life I was nauseated by the smells, especially in the center where they hung meat for sale. Fish scales covered the floor. After we bought the plates, we dropped our bags off at some sort of holding counter outside, which was a good thing because they were getting heavy. She next took us to a market (with air conditioning, yay!) and we were able to purchase candies for the children. We stood in line for a VERY long time and Melody excused herself to run another errand. Tracey and I were the deer in the headlights and the possum playing dead and nearly getting smushed at the same time. But the adorable pregnant woman in front of us saw the look, recognized it I suppose, and helped us figure out the lines and process of checking out. No, it’s not the same as at home. It is the people that make this country so beautiful.
We hopped back into a trike and sped toward the church. The side car is like a little pod
and it is built for Filipinos, not two ladies from the states. But we squeezed in with our bags and when we arrived at the school, Melody and the motorcycle driver hopped off. Tracey and I were quite literally stuck and we began rolling away very, very slowly. It was hilarious. We all got a good laugh out of it!
The school is unlike anything I’ve witnessed. I will try to get photos tomorrow, because I do not think I can describe its simplicity and rusticity, and in those two features, its beauty. Each time we would look at one of the children here, they would giggle. At first Tracey and I couldn’t figure out why. Boogers in our noses? But then we realized it is because they wanted to speak to us, to be the first to greet us, but were too shy and nervous to use their English. How humbling! I’m nothing special, but these people treat us like celebrities. I can already tell you I’m loving meeting them. There is a science teacher here named Jonathan that has stolen a special place in my heart already. He is kind and has a wonderfully loud, happy laugh. After Tracey and I checked in, we visited with some of the people of the church. The rest of the team arrived and we ate a delicious meal prepared by Jalen. I’m not joking when I say the fish was better than any I’ve had at Shoney’s or Captain D’s or any of our restaurants. It was delicious.
After dinner, we were seated in the front row as the guests of honor at the kickoff ceremony for the family camp. We entered to applauses and people wanting to shake our hands and greeting us with such respect. If all the children in the USA behaved as wonderfully as these kids, we’d be doing all right.
It didn’t take long to plunge me even farther from my comfort zone as they called each of us by name and welcomed us . . . and then gave us a microphone and asked us to say something. Oh boy! Pastor Bill preached the message. I couldn’t stop the flow of tears nor the cry in my heart for God to tear down the walls. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly had church before tonight. These people really understand what it means to worship.
I had a beautiful little girl come sit in the chair next to me. I asked her name and she replied, “My name is” something about a mile long that I cannot pronounce. I told her that her name was beautiful. She smiled and then a moment later told me “I was so beautiful.” You talk about heartstring-tugging! I cannot wait to see the children tomorrow and teach them and play games. Though I am feeling very overwhelmed by the new stimuli and information flooding my brain and feeling so unworthy and underprepared, I know that God will provide and will use me tomorrow.
I saw a huge bat this evening. I’m assuming it was a fruit bat. And also a cute little lizard. Mango trees, flowers, and loads of birds too.
After service last night, Bill gave the invitation and so many children and their families moved I couldn’t count. It was heartwarming and wonderful and overwhelming in a most glorious way! God is at work in this hot, muggy little island country and we feel blessed to be a part of it!
Now, my arms must weigh 50 pounds each and I must shower or I will melt. I miss my family! Thank you for your prayers and thoughts! And, yes, Dad I am safely tucked into my room with the door securely locked and I am never going anywhere by myself here! I would be so lost it wouldn’t even be funny!
(The featured image picture is of the first lizard I saw, hanging out on the wall behind Bill as he preached)