Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mercy & Grace

To begin this year my first story must be about the greatest missionary we’ll ever know, Jesus Christ.  It’s a story of what He has done for me. 

A missionary is someone who unselfishly, intentionally seeks to reveal the character of our Father to those whom it has been hidden, to bring reconciliation between the sinner and God who does not count our sins against us.  This is the work Christ did for me last year.  Although I am not a stranger to God I still have much to learn of His character!  From our human wisdom we constantly seek ways to make ourselves feel good.  Choosing to serve in a jungle for a year accomplished this for me.  It would make me feel better about myself in any case.  And so I came to Palawan thinking I had entitlements and expecting to receive what I deserved.  I was blind to all of this and God in His gracious mercy started showing me.  Jesus began His reconciling work by revealing my pride and how utterly sinful I really was.  I realized I deserved nothing except the natural consequences of living a sinful life.  Was it hard?  It was terrible!  I was found utterly defenseless and proven guilty.   And so my heart was fully prepared to receive the torrents of God’s grace!  For I saw my desperate need and knew my only hope was in God’s mercy!

  This year I came to Palawan with a much clearer understanding of the work of a missionary.  Although I am a second year Student Missionary I hold on to no entitlements.  I am still keenly aware of what I, an imperfect human, deserves yet I am resting peacefully in God’s unchanging character of being a merciful Father.
  Jesus has taken my expecting, prideful heart and given me a humble, grateful one in its place.  It is the greatest miracle I’ve ever known and a gift that keeps on overflowing.  And so I share with you my story for the express purpose of publicly giving God all the honor and glory He deserves and thanking Him for being so gracious to me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our New Home

       The leaves and grass rustled against our arms and legs as we squeezed through the encroaching jungle vegetation.  Stepping down into a creek and climbing up the other side on a system of roots we stepped into a whole new habitat.  Here lofty trees towered above and beautiful palms created a second canopy.  The sounds changed, instead of the droning sound of crickets and other bugs the musical voices of frogs and birds echoed from the trees.  The enveloping shade cooled the atmosphere.  My soul was awakened yet peaceful.  "Ah, THIS is a jungle!"  I thought to myself.  My ears caught the melody of yet another stream which we descended into.  As we walked among its little current water droplets fell from a gutter system of bamboo above.  I knew we must be close.  Ascending up out of the creek we came upon an open space filled with wiry ferns.  Their aroma filled the air.  Up ahead squatted several homes.  "Have we finally arrived to our new home?" I wondered.  Our guides brought us over to the largest structure.  It was the Emrang school.  It had certainly seen better days.  Having only two walls, a leaky roof with the whole center section missing, and a rotted out floor on both ends it looked a bit woebegone.  But the sight of it could not have made me happier.  Due to its lack of walls we had a beautiful view of the cascading mountains with a blue ocean spreading beyond to the horizon.
        From there our guides took us on a different trail down to the missionary hut.  Stepping down into the little clearing of our new home we were delighted to see five pineapple plants growing, two of which had fruit!  Former student missionaries Shama Eller and Ali Westermeyer had planted them and to every one's surprise they had survived.  With excitement building Mabin handed us the key to the padlock and we ventured on up inside.  Bunk beds, a kitchen counter, a book shelf, and another small table met our searching eyes.  All our rice sacks of boxes we had sent the previous two weeks were all piled on our bed.  We were finally in Emrang and were elated!
    The eager faces of our companions communicated clearly that they wanted to come inside, and we gladly invited them in.  Remembering I had some candy in my pack for such an occasion.  I pulled them out and we all enjoyed a tasty treat and rested our weary legs from the days hike.  It was already about 3 o'clock by this point and Kiley and I hadn't really eaten a lunch.  Eating in front of others without having something to offer them is extremely rude in this culture and we didn't have anything else to offer so we were feeling stuck.  The girls showed no sign of leaving, however, so we dove into cleaning and unpacking.  They were a great help getting cobwebs and dust swept away.  After about a couple hours everything was cleaned and the boxes were in their proper location partially unpacked.  Everyone eventually dispersed then and our thoughts returned to our stomachs.
      Assuming we would have no more visitors until the next day we decided to get a few more things done before daylight slipped away on us such as getting our beds made.  At this point we discovered that we were missing one of our rice sacks.  It was the one that held Kiley's blankets and both of our mosquito nets.  We quickly decided we would both sleep in the same bed, a tradition we are still practicing today even after acquiring our lost goods.
      Once the bed was made our full attention went to getting some grub.  We had a pugun (poo-goon), a hollow, cylinder block of ceramic that you fill with charcoal to cook your food.  Kiley and I had opted to use this instead of worrying about getting propane gas out here.  Being inexperienced in the ways of a pugun we found the task of lighting it more difficult then we anticipated.  With a smoke filled house and growling stomachs we persisted but with little success.  Our earnest efforts were interrupted when we heard the stomping of feet come plodding down to our house.  We gave each other a puzzled look both wondering who would be visiting us at night and for what reason.  We opened our door and were somewhat relieved to find that Mabin and Mabit were there.  They had come just to visit.  Inviting them inside we had a look of confusion on our faces.  In this culture if a guy and a girl are ever walking alone together you know they are either married or siblings.  With them being only teenagers I assumed they must be siblings.  Feeling very curious we asked them if they were, in which case they reacted very shyly and informed us they were married, a surprise to us.  We continued visiting and I again started working on our smoking charcoal.  Mabit kept looking over in my direction and eventually asked if we had any begtik (bug-tic), which is literally a chuck of flammable, dried sap from a begtik tree.  I informed him we did not and he promptly replied, "Oh.  No begtik, no fire."  To this we all laughed.  It was obvious that we were not going to eat if we didn't get some help.  Mabit graciously went and got some of their own begtik and came back to help us get some flames going.  Charcoal and begtik he was familiar with, but not the pugun.  For the next hour we worked on it until we finally got it going.  Then they left to go home before the food was done so we didn't feel we had to feed them also.
     After they left Kiley and I just looked at each other in amazement.  Here God had sent us our neighbors in the middle of the night at just the right time to help us get our fire going.  After filling our bellies we had a prayer of thanksgiving and nestled into our bed having a peace that God was going to take care of us.

Good Day

Just like anywhere else there are good days and bad days in the mission field.  This particular day was a good one.  It was Monday, the beginning of another school week.  I guess our kids missed us over the weekend because instead of meeting us up at the school at 8:00 they all decided to come down and hangout before school.  Upon invitation they all crammed inside the clinic portion of our house.  Some of the boys had tawans (cuts), but for the most part we were all just visiting.  After a while we finally told them that we still needed to get ready for school.  They got the hint and all filed up towards the school again.  Kiley and I took the opportunity to finish getting dressed and inhaled some food before following.
                We brought our cameras that day and had a great time taking pictures and videos.  Later that afternoon we put on some rice and beans over our fire to cook and low and behold there were our kids again.  I guess they just hadn’t gotten enough of us yet that day.  In talking with them we learned that the little siblings of Bibi were sick gain.  We decided we would go to them since the kids were so small and it was quite a hike.  Kiley started getting all the meds together we thought we might need while I kept the fire going.  Meanwhile our students eagerly observed Kiley preparing all the meds and asked question upon question like, “Is that medicine sweet?” “What is it for?
  Kiley let them smell the different medicines and soon conversations were rolling.  Thinking back over all the visits we’ve had this one still ranks the highest.
                By the time we were ready for our home visit it was 5:30 pm and raining, but we decided to go anyways even though we had a lot to do since we had to go to Kementiyan the next day.  We were both happy and excited to go.  As we started down from Emrang we decided it was best to go the barefoot route because of all the loose gravel on the trail.  We loved it!  We reached the house on their farm only to find that there were no people there. Just across the valley we could hear voices and we figured they were probably there. As we reached the creek we were met by two young children about 4 years old sent to be our guides.  Upon arrival we realized we were among friends, and not strangers.  Mirey, her son’s family, along with his mother-in-law, and Junilin one of the older siblings of the two that were sick were there.  They all were very talkative and we enjoyed a great little visit.
                Continuing on we followed Junilin (about 7 years old) to where her family was.  Darkness had just settled into the valley when we reached their benwa (house).  It was good to see them again and we were so glad we came.  These people, this place, and this culture are quickly finding a spot in my heart.  We so desperately wanted to pray for the family and the sick ones who were our friends, but do not know about their Almighty, Compassionate Creator.  We asked if they wanted us to and to our delight they said yes!
                As we stepped out under the canopy of stars to begin our journey home our hearts were full, and feeling the dirt between our toes only added to all the magic.  Just a few steps up the trail I stepped in something that felt a lot like mud, which was a bit concerning considering we were in the middle of dry season.  My worst fears were confirmed.  It was in fact poop, and human poop at that!  In moments like that there’s nothing to do but scrap off what you can, say “sigi lang” ad just keep walking.
                With both of us still in the recovery phases of malaria we stopped more frequently on our way home as it was all up hill.  One place we stopped was the abandoned home of the family we had just been with.  We took advantage of the unique opportunity to pray that God would claim their hearts in their own home.  We continued on filled with awe in being tin the service of the King of Kings.
                A little further up, we stopped gain in the middle of a newly burned uma (farm).  We spent quite a bit of time there contemplating and talking about the works of God, How He has been growing and changing us, and how we’re seeing more and more the great controversy being played out.
                I believe we weren’t walking the trail back home alone.  The One who has always been found walking among his servants, the One who walks before and behind us, He was our companion.  He was the one inspiring our thoughts and words.  Amid the pressures of daily life, with pressing fears all around, and trials abounding in our future we were able to have the peace of God, find solace in  His promises, and find courage of heart.  Never doubt that Jesus is well at work still today.  Open your heart to Him and you will find He is walking with you too.

The End of Suffering

“Kasia, we have another patient.  It’s Mabi.  I already pulled his chart, and he’s lying down out front.” “What does he have?”  “Malaria.  I’ll go draw up some paracetamol.  His temperature is 104’F.”
As I walked out onto the clinic porch, I instantly recognized eight-year-old Mabi.  Not quite a month before, he had been lying on the exact same bench suffering from the same condition.
                 I sprang into action.  Malaria is a disease we see often here, so its treatment has become very familiar.  First thing is to get the fever down.  I quickly filled a basin of water and began applying wet washcloths to Mabi’s head.  One might think this would feel good with such a high fever, but not so.  Malaria makes people feel very cold and achy.  All they want to do is to curl up in a blanket.  As I sponged his head, Mabi rolled over, and I looked into his eyes.  I smiled, but received no smile in return.  His eyes said it all.  They were tired.  His eyes should have had a mischievous twinkly and a hopeful gleam, but they had neither.  Sadness welled up in my heart.  So much suffering for a little boy!  Why does he have to go through this time and time again?
                Malaria destroys red blood cells, so it makes sense that his eyes looked tired, but I wondered if that tiredness meant something more. Was it the tiredness of combating this disease over and over again?  Medicine often helps, but there is no way to fully prevent malaria from recurring.  Because Mabi’s fever was so high, we had to give him a rather painful injection, something he has had to endure many times.  He was brave and took it patiently, though tears streamed down his face.
                Aren’t we all in this same scenario?  This world is not our home.  We were never meant to go through all the suffering sin has brought us.  Jesus is the only One who can rescue us from the hopelessness of our fallen state.  I’m looking forward to the day when Mabi and the rest of us will never suffer again, and we will all be home with our heavenly Father.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ba'ag Warriors

        "Shak-oy siyu!"  The magic words were spoken.  Instantaneously all our 8-10 year old boys leap off the backside of our school about a four foot drop, and go bounding down the trail for recess hooping and hollering all the way like a bunch of Indians on a warpath.  Shak-oy is what we always play for recess except for the occasional game of tag.  All you need is a pair of shoes and you're good to go.  The rules are very similar to kick-ball.  Here in Emrang the kids play shak-oy before school, during recess, and in the afternoons, really any chance they get.  Many times Kiley and I can hear them playing across the valley.

    It has been fun learning to live in a new culture.  Living up in the mountains where you are surrounded by nothing but nature, sound travels exceptionally well. At any point of the day or night you have a general sense of who is home, what they are doing, who is crying, and who may be sick.  One evening we got to listen in on our neighbors attempting to kill a rat that was hiding in their roof hoping to feast on their rice later that night.  Other times we get to listen in on the playing of a Palawano guitar before we go to sleep.  It's fun to be so in touch with you're community simply by keeping your ears open. 
      With the excellent opportunities of communication this culture has adopted megbenseg (mug-bun-sug).  It is what you might picture trail calling as.  Everyone develops their own cadence, so you can actually identify who is who just by their megbenseg.  Kiley and I have both taken to making our own calls and enjoy learning to communicate in this new fashion. 
     Some times the megbenseg is used when you are by yourself and you are wondering where all your friends are so you can get together and play shak-oy.  Or perhaps you are leaving for the lowlands for a day or two and you want to let everyone know you are headed out.  In which case it is appropriate to megbenseg back to send your farewell.  The megbenseg is also a great way to show your excitement.  Anytime you hear a large group of people together doing their own version of the megbenseg you can be sure someone has just lit their newly cleared land for their uma (farm) and soon you'll be able to hear the roar of the flames if not see them. 

     Another unique aspect of this culture is the ba'ag, which is more or less a loincloth the men sometimes where.  More and more you see the traditional t-shirt and shorts being worn, but every now and then you'll run across a ba'ag.  My first encounter happened in Kementiyan when Bikwa came walking through with his tukew (2-cow) or machete tied around his waste and a tabig (basket) hanging from his head on his way to gather and sell food.  My second encounter took place at the clinic when patients from Kebgen (Cub-gun), a village from the other side of the island came for medicine.  Getting an assessment on him was certainly a new experience.  I never know when I'll come across a ba'ag next but everytime I do it is always surprising.  One of the most startling encounters happened here in Emrang.  Our school kids had called us up to come play shak-oy with them, and here two of our 14 year old boys had rolled up their shorts into a ba'ag.  You would think they would be embarrassed with us being their teachers in all, but it didn't phase them at all.  Some aspect of a culture are easier to embrace then others, and this one is certainly taking more time.
      It was a Wednesday and the dismissal for recess had just been given.  One of the boys had snagged my sandals in the bustle down the hill.  By the time I arrived the infamous game of shak-oy was already in session.  Feeling especially pagud (pa-goo-d) or worn out that day I opted to watch the game while sitting against one of the big mango trees.  Little did I know how eventful this game of shak-oy was going to be.  It all started when someone got the idea to play shak-oy in a ba'ag.  Like monkey see monkey do another pair of shorts got rolled up till each of the young boys had their "ba'ag" on.  If any of them were lacking energy before they sure weren't now.  They were all jumping around megbenseging like a bunch of hooligans feeling their testosterone no doubt, and here I was in the back getting all the view!  When I thought it couldn't get any better everything came to a climax when a giant elupian (centipede) from the tree tops above fell in the middle of all of them.  Elupians have a nasty venom that causes a lot of pain if you're ever bitten by them, so naturally every elupian gets killed on the spot.  No sooner had the doomed creature hit the ground then the boys picked up anytime in reach to be used as a weapon against it.  All rushed at the elupian smacking it with whatever they had in hand.  It quickly split in two and so did the boys.  In a few seconds there were only pieces left, which were quickly discarded into the kerikutan (curd-i-couton) or jungle, and then everyone was back to playing shak-oy as if nothing had happened.  Such is life in the mountains of Palawan, Philippines.

Part III - Clinic Days - Dawn

     Darkness turned to gray and the little groves of guava trees planted in front of the clinic began to take shape.  The night sounds faded into the many voices of the morning, birds chirping, roosters cocking, and a little bug I like to call the jungle's alarm clock added its own wail to the chorus.  It was an exceptionally humid morning after the typhoon rains swept through.  Emerging unto the front porch I breathed in the clear mountain air thankful it was morning and the long night was over.
    At the first hint of light Bisita had headed home.  She was afraid of the evil spirits the Palawanos always associate with the dead.  They believe the spirit of the deceased comes back to haunt the place where it separated from the body.  Our other three in-patients were still very sick, otherwise, they probably would have left too.  The pressures of the workload that day quickly began to build as patients started lining the porch waiting to be seen.
   Two o'clock.  It was time for the funeral.  Those who were going to come were there.   It was a group of about twenty comprised of missionaries, relatives, and close friends of the family.  Maman, before he died had requested a Christian burial.  He was lowered into hte ground wrapped in a white sheet.  Flowers were thrown down to him and last words were spoken.  One of his brothers pleaded that he would not come back to bother him, but would leave him alone.  The missionaries and other Christians sang Christian songs and Pastor gave a small service.  After all was done sections of bamboo about 2 feet long were placed at an angle just above the body to prevent dirt from falling on it.  The men replaced the dirt they had dug out and it was finished.
      Dreariness clung to my soul like the humidity to my skin.  My thoughts wandered.  Are the three girls going to share a similar fate as Maman?  Discouragement was threatening an invasion.  Drums calling to evil spirits rumbled ominously in the distance, and the choking cough was still as strong as ever.  For days we continued treatment with no real effect, but eventually their bodies did respond.  Before we knew it the hour for them to return home had come.  After helping them get their last few things together and the medicine they would need at home we sent them off.
      My highest emotion was relief.  Coming down with a chest cold of my own after all the sleepless nights and busy days my body craved a rest.  As the family of six filed around the corner of the clinic each one paused just a moment to make eye contact.  Their smiles though small brought a cheeriness to my soul.  Although I was glad to get a full nights rest again I would miss them.  Their smiles were my reward, and by the end of the three week marathon I realized it had all been worth it.

Part II - Clinic Days - One Saturday Night

     The conversation ceased mid sentence as all the nurses listened intently to the coughing in the next room followed by an eerie gasping for air.  "Will they need help clearing their airway?" was the question on all our minds.
    It was just after dusk and all the clinic staff were meeting in our little pharmacy to discuss the plan for that night.  We had just admitted two new in-patients making a total of five.  We were all exhausted.  We each had been getting up every other night and sometimes more often in order to check on our patients and keep on track with their medication's schedule.  This had been going on for more than a week and we still had to run the clinic during the day.  In assessing our own energy levels it was decided that Carrie and I would be the nurses on duty for this night.  After getting all the meds ready and setting up our bed in the middle of the clinic we nestled in for what we knew would be an eventful night.  We set our alarms for our first round only an hour and a half away.  As I laid there looking up into the rafters I was suddenly filled with joy as I thought about my situation.  I had no idea where I would find the strength to get up and help our patients, but I was just happy to be there and to serve.  After calling on God to be our help we quickly fell asleep.
     Our five patients that night were Bisita a women about 45 or so who was suffering from TB.  Jinilin, Mingga, and Irlin were sisters who we expected all had pertussis or whooping cough. And then there was Maman.  He was still with us.  It was only five days earlier that he had his series of mini heart attacks.  Although he didn't recover immediately, the following day he had his appetite back, was walking around, and having a great time visiting with people.  There was no explanation for it other than a miracle.  It was so good to see life return to him, but his miraculous good health didn't last long.  He soon began to deteriorate again.  His pain came back and his oxygen saturation dropped very low.  Everything we tried seemed to be in vain.  We didn't know what his outcome would be.  The alarms went off.  I woke up from a deep sleep and felt extremely groggy.  Struggling to put to-and-to together in my mind and then getting my body to respond to my brain took a while, but eventually I was able to get my self out of bed and help Carrie do assessments and get the meds to our patients.  All was good so far.  We headed back to bed.
     As the night continued the girls kept up their coughing spells.  Carrie repeatedly got up to help them clear their sputum so they could breath again.  I felt as if I was fading in and out of consciousness. I would wake up to the coughing, hear Carrie scramble out of bed to help, and then I was out again as there was very little that two people could do to help.  Sometime after midnight a major rain storm swept in with vengeance.  It  pounded our tin roof making a very abrupt volume change.  As my brain fumbled to find the meaning of the sound, rain began splatting my face.  Finally my brain had clarity.  "A typhoon just hit.  I am in the very center of the clinic and I'm getting wet, and Bisita is on the back porch.  She must be getting drenched!"  I sprung into action quickly getting Bisita with her IV inside the clinic while Carrie closed the patients' windows.  Even though it wasn't our scheduled time, Carrie decided to get an assessment on Maman while I got dry sheets and cloths for Bisita.
    I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was Carrie looking a little more wide eyed than normal.  "Kasia, I think he is dead.  Can you come and listen?"  Carrie and I just looked at each other for a moment.  I grabbed my stethoscope and went into Maman's room.  Looking at him under a head lamp his eyes were closed like he was sleeping.  I put  my stethoscope to his chest... nothing.  There was no bounding heart or loud breathing as before, just stillness.  I stayed listening for a little while partially because there was family in the room and I wasn't prepared to break the news, and partially because I needed the extra time to process the passing of a life.  We had all been expecting this, but no matter how much you prepare for it death just isn't natural.  As a nurse I have listened to many heartbeats and breath sounds, but I will never forget the lifeless sound I heard that night.
    Our first course of action was to wake up Ellen Grace our head nurse.  We tried to keep everything low key as we knew our other patients would be very afraid if they found out someone had just died.  All the family members who had been staying with Maman except for one went to go notify family even though it was dark and still raining.  The funeral would be the next day and each family member needed to be told in time for them to come if they wanted to.
   As the night wore on family members who were close by began filtering in.  They congregated in Maman's room and spent the time together talking.  We were curious what would happen come day break.