Misty Mountains and Unexpected Gifts, Part 2
What has roots as nobody sees, Is taller than trees, Up, up it goes, And yet never grows?
Allow me to continue the tale of my third visit to the Philippines. (Read Part 1 here.)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 17TH
We awoke to the sound of another singing rooster, as faithful as the dawn. Much like the morning before, we packed up camp, had breakfast, said goodbye to our new friends, and were on our merry way by six o’clock. I was hopeful that going down the mountain would prove to be slightly easier than going up, though I knew it would be no stroll in the park.
All hope faded away after the first fifty steps when my legs affectionately informed me just how exhausted they still were. Apparently, less than twenty-four hours is an inadequate amount of time for some muscles to recover. Big sissies. And without the anticipation of our previous destination to urge us forward, the trek downhill was turning out to be equally as trying as going uphill. I did not trust my legs in the least; they shook underneath me with a tantalizing threat to collapse at any moment. But they would have no choice, would they?
Today would require more than mere mind-over-matter willpower. All we knew of the return hike back to kilometer fifty was only that we were taking a different route. Forget the comfort of familiarity to help gauge how far was left in the journey, today was going to be an all-new adventure.
Half an hour into our hike we came upon the most exquisite view of the lush mountainsides. The mist hovered elegantly between the peaks, like a flowing piece of soft satin. Although it was early in the day, the sun was brightly illuminating the sky and peeking through the clouds. From our vantage point we could see for miles upon miles. I remember feeling very small, despite the fact that I was taller than my Filipino guides.
From there, our downhill climb was considerably more pronounced. The ground was wet and muddy from the downpour the night before, which provided my unreliable legs with an even greater challenge. My hiking boots did their best, they kept my feet dry and my ankles safe, but no tread could wade through the layers of mud accumulating on my soles. And although I pride myself in my better-than-average balance, I feared every foot I set down was going to result in disaster, namely, my tumbling off a cliff and breaking my limbs.
An hour or two later we came upon a delightful stream. I was eager to wash my face and arms off, considering the nice variety of small scrapes I collected from the thick foliage and razorblade leaves. As the morning wore on, the humidity under the canopy of trees grew to such an extreme thickness that it seemed difficult to breathe. There was no breeze strong enough to pierce the forest floor, only a heavy blanket of warm moisture. Needless to say, we sweat an equal amount as the previous day.
At one of our lovely but brief water breaks, I unknowingly invited an entire family of ants for a ride down the rest of the mountain. They seemed to enjoy the trek from the inside of my shirt. I would say my enjoyment level was less than none. This became awkward quickly, seeing as how I was the only female with six men and all I really wanted to do was rip off my shirt and throw it in the stream. But instead, I was forced to continue hiking until one of the little devils bit me, resulting in a hushed squeal, a brief halt, and the swift death of one of my unfriendly passengers. Yet it could have been worse. It could have been spiders. And that story, my friends, would have gone very differently.
Somewhere close to ten o’clock in the morning we reached a wider path and the ground leveled out a bit. We stopped at a nearby village to refuel and give our sweat-soaked, depleted bodies a little rest. They brought us boiled potatoes, fresh fruit, and water, all of which we welcomed with thankful hearts. We spent about an hour there, meeting their chieftain and a few others in the tribe. The view from here was equally breathtaking, continuing to grow the sense of awe within me for a Creator who could bring such art to life.
It was only another five kilometers until we reached kilometer fifty-five, but the sun was scorching and much less pleasurable than the overcast we experienced the prior day. Our previously found stream turned into a river, which we eventually crossed on foot and provided for a fleeting moment of cool refreshment. But then there was a good deal of up-hill climbing and our pace drastically declined. Once we reached kilometer fifty-five, I knew there was only another hour or so left. “This is why you run and exercise back home: endurance. You’ve totally got this,” I reminded myself. Thankfully my body was used to exhaustion, and then being pushed a little father. Just three more miles, I knew I could do it, I had done it a hundred times before.
Side Note: It is a privilege to honor God with your body this way, being physically capable to do and go whenever and wherever he calls. All of the hours I spend training in the gym are instantly worth the time and effort.
Now I will not lie – those were a long three miles. I would have loved nothing more than to just drop my pack and take off running, merely for the fact that I knew I could get there quicker. That’s my motto: the faster we run, the faster we’re done. But I couldn’t leave my friends or my pack. Finally, sometime around one o’clock in the afternoon, and some twenty-five miles later, we made it back to camp and rejoined our group. The rest of that afternoon is kind of a blur between hunger pains and hurting to move.
There are countless reasons why that portion of my adventure will always be remembered. And it is not because I am exceptionally gifted in evangelism or teaching, there are more skilled people for the job than myself. But being faithful to go when God calls, whether you understand why he chose you or not, is a key component to living out the mission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28).
Fact: If it makes zero sense, is entirely inconvenient, makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, but there’s a rapid increase in your heartbeat, then you are most likely being called to act.
We are not always aware of the ways God is using us as his hands and his feet. This trek was significant because the people of this remote tribe understood the sacrifice it took for us to reach them. And I have a feeling that I was the first female foreigner they had ever met. It is important to me that women are willing to suffer for the sake of the mission as much as the men are. I hope that my presence spoke to these women, despite the fact that we were strangers and we didn’t verbalize many words at all, that they are valued, known, and loved. I hope they understood that their salvation and their eternity is more important to me than any sacrifice it took for me to get there. In these moments I must believe that actions can penetrate the heart deeper than any words ever could. This is why I go.
THURSDAY, JUNE 18TH
Today would be our last full day on the mountain. Our discipleship classes had been going well, despite an initial delay. Our team in the schools had been teaching their lessons. Our trekking team had made it back safely. But our water pump team had been discovering all sorts of thought-provoking hurdles.
Our men working on this project impressed me beyond the imaginable. It was a long week for them, the rain would come every afternoon delaying progress, the tools were sparse, and they were running out of time. But everyone worked with such dedication and focus. They had a great attitude and remained hopeful, despite the odds, that they would accomplish that which they were sent to do. I shall never forget the joy on their faces when the water started filling the pipes and the water tank started overflowing.
Also on our final day, we were privileged to be a part of the school’s award ceremony which congratulated students on the completion of another year and honored those students who showed exemplary dedication. All two-hundred plus students and their families gathered together in the meeting place and celebrated education. They allowed our team to assist in handing out award ribbons and concluded the event by avidly encouraging us to join them in a tribal dace. (This was really more of a literal dragging out onto the middle of the floor.) Nonetheless, the children’s laughter which filled our ears proved to be well worth the embarrassment. This whole charade was unexpected gift number five.
FRIDAY, JUNE 19TH
Over the course of the week I had grown more and more anxious about the ride down the mountain. For I knew that the accumulation of rain we experienced was going to make for treacherous traveling on the skylabs. Similar to my trek down the other mountain a couple of days prior, the tread on the tires of these bikes were inadequate to handle the slickness of the mud, the weight of the passengers, and the inescapable momentum.
We began our journey soon after seven o’clock that morning. Except this time I got to ride with one of the more experienced drivers, whom we referred to as as Honey Badger, as well as two of my hairy brothers. We called ourselves the Hobbit Burglars. Together the four of us made up “Team HB.” It was quite the unexpected journey.
I put in a request with our mission team leader asking that our bike take the lead in the caravan; he happens to favor me considerably so I hoped that it might be granted. A wife should get at least one perk, I should think. It was a good thing too, because ole’ Honey Badger does not like to follow – he speeds along at his merry own pace.
Fact: The honey badger has been referred to as “the meanest animal in the world,” and they are often considered to have no enemies, apart from man. They are a tenacious but small carnivore that has a reputation for being Africa’s most fearless animal despite its small size.
Let me spare you a lot of the mildly frightening details by summarizing that our Team HB had to turn around on more than one occasion to go back and assist other skylabs and its passengers. Every bike, except for ours, crashed or tipped over. One bike had a flat. One passenger went flying off helicopter-style while the other passenger’s face made friends with the trees. One bike almost drove off a cliff. Many of the other passengers received intimate looks of the muddy terrain.
Yet despite a few bloody scrapes, frightened Americans, and exhausted Filipinos, we made it alive back to Talacogon about lunchtime. I would call this unexpected gift number six, except that I did fully expect us all to make it down that mountain alive. We still had work to do, after all.
Relieved to be done, we hopped in two vans and made our way to Surigao del Norte, which was about four hours north from where we were. Compared to our previous hours of transportation, the cold air-conditioning and padded seats combined with the peace of not fearing for your life, felt like the most wonderful luxury in the world. The only thing better would have been a shower, which was only a few hours away. So this I will name unexpected gift number six.
We have now made it through most of my tale, with just a few more adventurous days to go.