Thanks to Fr. Carl Lund for inviting Matt to visit Holy Trinity in Houston TX on Feb. 28, right after the Synod for the REC Diocese of Mid-America. It is a blessing to be able to combine trips, and it will be a pleasure to see Fr. Carl again.
A few weeks ago, I got a message from Nerissa Cumpio. “Good morning Sora, the opening will be on September 16th, I hope you are available that day.” For several months, I’d been getting updated photos of the building project progress and finally, the date was set for the (re)opening celebration of Cumpio’s Midwife Clinic! I immediately started to plan my trip.
Rather than fly into Tacloban airport, I decided to make it a bit (more) of an adventure and drive to Leyte. I figured that the cost for gas and the ferry would be comparable to flying and that this plan would allow me to see more of the Philippines, and bring Naomi and Ezekiel with me. Unfortunately, I had a very tight schedule for when I needed to return to Davao, requiring some very long days of driving! Ezekiel decided the long days in the car did not appeal to him, and Matt had classes to teach in Davao, but Naomi came with me, along with Gabriela, one of our friends from Davao.
We set off on Sunday afternoon, well-provisioned with snacks and water bottles. The plan was to drive from Davao to Surigao City on the north-eastern tip of Mindanao, spend the night there, and take a morning ferry, reaching our final destination in Leyte in time for lunch. I had not been able to find a working phone number for the port or the ferry company in order to confirm schedules, but I had the all-important copy of my vehicle’s OR and CR and I had found what looked like a fairly recent ferry schedule on a travel website so I wasn’t too worried.
The drive from Davao City to the ferry terminal in Surigao City is estimated at just over 5 hours by the google maps app. All I can say, is, whoever created the algorithm for the google maps travel times must never have driven in the Philippines. Our trip was on the Pan-Philippine highway the entire way, but most of the Pan-Philippine highway (outside of the major cities) is only two lanes, and there are frequent landslides and bridge repairs requiring constant maintenance.
When road construction limits the two lanes to one, there are never any flaggers directing traffic nor lights at night. And when passing through the numerous small towns the road becomes full of slow-moving tricycabs, bicycles, pedestrians, motorcycles laden with anywhere from four to six passengers plus cargo, dogs, chickens, carabao, etc. (Most of these also have no lights at night.)
Gabriela had been working day shift at the clinic so we did not depart Davao until 2:00 pm. We reached Surigao City around 10:00 pm, completely exhausted. I had planned to go to the ferry terminal before we slept to confirm the ferry schedule and find out how early we needed to show up to secure our place on the ferry, but we were so tired we by the time we were approaching Surigao City that we chose to just check into a hotel and set our alarm for 5:30 am, figuring the ticketing office was probably closed already and that getting to the ferry at 6:00 ought to be enough for an 8:00 am departure. (Rookie mistake!)
We slept well and arose bright and early, headed for the ferry about 10 minutes away. As we got closer, the lines of parked cargo trucks on both sides of the road led me to suspect I might have made a tactical error in not taking the time to visit the port the night before. My inquiries at the port quickly confirmed my suspicion. I was permitted to hand in a photocopy of my vehicle registration to secure my place in line, but not to buy a ticket yet. I was told the morning ferry was already full and the noon ferry was “probably” full as well. The driver of the first car in line to board informed me that he had arrived at the port a little after midnight. Ooops! I texted my friends at the birth camp in Dulag to let them know we would not be there for lunch after all (“Maybe supper, then?”) and we decided to make the best of it by driving around Surigao to see the sights and maybe finding a (more pleasant than the ferry terminal) place to relax for a few hours.
We bought some pandesal at a local bakery and found a place where we could rent a beach cottage (picnic table with a roof) for 100 pesos. Naomi played in the water and Gabriela took a nap. We’d been told to check back in at the ferry terminal at 11:00 am, so right on time, we headed over. The ticketing agents were clearly overworked and stressed. When I finally got their attention, I was told my name had been called half an hour before! (I protested that I had left my cell phone number… but that was with a different agent, who had gone off duty in the meantime.) It was okay, we still had our place in line for the next ferry and were allowed to buy our tickets — a multi-step process involving no less than 5 different people all in different offices. I continued to hope for a lunchtime departure though there was no sight of a ferry yet, we parked our car where we were directed… and waited.
The ferry showed up around 2 pm and unloaded. Then the loading process began, and I realized this was going to take a while. The order of priority for ferries is passenger buses (which get on the next departing ferry after they show up), private vehicles (like mine, which apparently usually need to wait a while!) and finally cargo trucks, which explains the lines of trucks on the side of the road leading to the port. And all of these vehicles, crammed as tightly as possible in order to fit as many as possible, are required to back into their place on the ferry… the ramp only works on one side of the boat.
The crossing itself was pleasant and uneventful, taking a little over an hour. The sea was calm and by leaning over the side into the breeze we could avoid the smell from the large truck full of pigs directly below us. Though there was some nervousness in certain quarters due to the unfortunate ferry accident that had occurred just two days before, I saved all my anxiety for the night driving.
As the San Ricardo ferry terminal came into view, we enjoyed the beautiful views of the sunset over the mountains (the sun sets early near the equator!)
Unfortunately, we still had 170 km to drive, mostly in the dark, on winding mountain roads. Again, we pulled into our destination around 10:00 pm, tired from a long day of travel. Nerissa and her husband Alex were waiting to meet us at the Haiyan Foodstop, a restaurant built after (and named after) the typhoon. The Haiyan hotel is still under construction but two guestrooms are open, and that was where we were staying for the night. A joyful reunion and a good night’s sleep (with no 5:30 am alarm this time!) and we were ready for the next day’s adventures.
We have a black Toyota Revo, a sort of narrow, miniature SUV that is admirably adapted to the streets of Davao City. We bought it from another missionary leaving for furlough in February 2013, and since that time, it has helped us have many fine adventures.
Unfortunately, getting the right papers for it has also been an adventure. Right out of the gates, there was a scare when we tried to register the car. The Pentecostal missionary who sold it to us had transcribed the license plate wrong on the handwritten bill of sale. So when our insurance agent Miss L submitted it to her computer, it showed up as a Honda Civic. The clinic director, Matt M, broke the news to me: “You have a hot car.”
I am accustomed to associate “hot car” with Ferraris or Lamborghinis, but our Revo is dull black and won’t win any concourse prizes. How could it be “hot”? Matt M explained that this meant “stolen”. This seemed increasingly likely since (1) it was from outside Davao City, and (2) the previous owner had never bothered to register the car in Davao, choosing to leave it as a Manila vehicle. And now the plates did not match the car. Near as anyone could tell, we had just spent five thousand dollars on a stolen car that we would never be able to register or own.
A day later, resigned to the loss, I had a sudden inspiration to check the bill of sale against the physical plates, and discovered that an F had turned into an E by a stray stroke of the pen.
So it wasn’t a stolen vehicle after all. I texted this welcome discovery to Miss L. She went down to the LTO, and initiated the registration process. We had already insured the car so we could drive it. That was in February 2013.
16 months later (Sept 2014, last week), we still did not have the registration and title to the vehicle. But now there was a deadline: Sora wanted to take the car to Tanauan, Leyte, for the grand opening of the rebuilt Cumpio Midwife Clinic. This would involve a ferry, and ferries will not take vehicles without registration papers — because, after all, they might be “hot cars”.
So I put Miss L on notice that we needed to get the OR and CR (original receipt and certificate of registration) by Sunday 9/14, and she promised to try hard to make it happen. The LTO had to do a title search in Manila before they could register us in Davao City, she explained. Sometimes this takes two years.
Here, I must beg my wife’s pardon. She is pretty close to being Superwoman. She can read much faster than anyone I know; beats me at all games; and can even deliver babies. She is also marvelously adaptable, and loves being a missionary in a foreign culture. (“What’s your superpower?”) But she is human, and the prospect of her travel plans breaking down because of a failure of paperwork was too much for her to bear. Besides, I’m told it isn’t good for missionaries to publish only their triumphs and hide all their weaknesses, sin, and shortcomings. So here it is: Sora started to worry. I could tell she was worried because she wasn’t saying anything about it. On Thursday, I asked her, “What are you going to do if the OR and CR don’t come in time? Have you considered other transportation?” She replied grimly, “I’m not ready to think about that yet.”
Finally, Friday 9/12 rolled around. This was the day of reckoning: Sora was to leave on Sunday, and the LTO is closed on the weekend. It was now or never. I texted one last desperate reminder to Miss L, and hoped for the best. Sora went about her day, shopping for food to take on her trip. Just before noon, while eating lunch at ArmyNavy, she got a text from Miss L that the CR had been signed, and that we were only waiting for the LTO to print out the OR. At that moment, she heard, of all things, the restaurant’s piped-in music. It was the Beach Boys singing:
“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright
“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby…”
Surely a providential sign, right?
But 4:00 came. Then 5:00. The LTO was closed. Still no word from Miss L.
Here, I come to another weak missionary confession: at this point, we had a good old-fashioned marital spat. I will pass over most of it, but it started with Sora looking for someone to blame for the failure of her plans — and there I was, in the bedroom, the man responsible for dealing with the car paperwork! The spat ended with me shouting, “Fine. I hope you can’t make the trip!” and Sora storming out of the room.
Half an hour later, Sora came back upstairs, lay down on the bed, and said, “I’m sorry for blaming you, honey.” I replied, “I’m sorry for lashing out at you.”
And then, at that very moment, my phone chirped, and a message from Miss L appeared: “My helper has the papers, and will deliver them tomorrow.”
I have said before that God wants us to get used to trusting him. He also wants us to be patient with the different pace of this culture, and to roll with the punches. I’m not sure what moral to draw from this story; perhaps all of them. But this much is certain: it wasn’t our planning or our “get-things-done” attitude that made the difference in this case. Rather, if I may paraphrase Proverbs 21:1, “The heart of a bureaucrat is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it withersoever he wishes.”
Sora got the OR and CR, and I had a gas station attendant check the air pressure in all the tires, including the spare. She made her trip.
(Some details of chronology and place have been corrected from the first appearance of this post.)
On Friday, our family prayed together, then the kids and I laid hands on Sora and asked the Lord to watch over her and bless her work. Krys M., the director of the birth clinic here in Davao then drove Sora to the airport. She went first to Manila, where she stayed overnight because weather had delayed her flight. Then on Saturday, she boarded a plane to Tacloban, the capital of the province of Leyte. From there, she got a ride to Dulag, a smaller town where she will be working with a team of Filipina and international midwives in a field birth clinic. It is situated in a school building that was de-roofed by the super typhoon last year; though the building now has some roofing, the clinic is still in tents. There are 6 Filipina midwives and international volunteers, including a midwife from Poland and one from New Zealand.
Sora texted me that traces of the typhoon’s devastation are still everywhere. She also said that she has no internet (expected), and that her cell phone only has reception in a certain 3-foot square. We texted for a while in that spot, but I’m not expecting further regular communications.
Instead, Sora will be writing in a paper notebook with a pen and taking photos with her phone, and she will blog about the four weeks when she returns. If she texts me anything further before then, I’ll of course post it.
(Someone had to back up here.)
This particular morning, I was not driving, so the clogged alleyway was none of my concern. I blithely snapped a photo of the traffic jam and walked out to flag a taxi down. While heading up the street, this is what I saw:
(Yes, that particular jeepney passenger continued to ride standing on the back of the vehicle the entire way up the street. And yes, that white car is making a U-turn which would be quite illegal in the United States. It is not illegal here.)
After an swift and hair-raising journey, the taxi turned into the rear entrance of SIL and Faith Academy. This took it past the watering hole and grazing field of a family of carabao:
There were three in the hole this morning, looking more like three gray rhinos, all covered in mud.. (Don’t miss Junior there in between mom and dad. He is looking much bigger than he was last semester.) As always, there was no fence, just a couple of sleeping cowherds on the wall nearby, who I hope would have bestirred themselves if one of the carabaos tried to lift up its horn against a passing car.
Later that afternoon, I took our car to get washed. This really ought to be done once a week here, or more often, with all the dust in the city. But we are so busy, but we rarely get around to it that often; as a result, our car is usually filthy. The average car wash is also an astonishingly long process, taking half an hour or more (but it costs only P80 = $2). I usually leave the car, and ride a tricycle to the mall to get some groceries or do other shopping while the car washers finish.
This time, I took a pedicab. It is quieter than a standard, motorcycle based tricycab, and almost just as fast if you have an athletic driver. Here’s the view from the front seat.
This past Sunday was September 1st, and our pastor here ended the church service with, “Merry Christmas!” (The saying in the Philippines is that the Christmas season includes all the months that end in “-ber”.)
Being an Anglican, I have had too many years of the liturgical calendar to feel very Christmassy at the beginning of September. But on Monday, something happened to change that: a balikbayan box arrived from our beloved Trinity REC back in Cincinnati, full of good things.
The box was packed by our friends Jay and Mira Sol Eppinga. Mrs. Eppinga is Filipina herself, and has family living here, so she knows all about how to pack a balikbayan box. Everything was very snug and secure, and protected from damage and moisture by the careful use of plastic bags. Daghang salamat sa inyo, Eppingas!
On the top of the box were all the baby clothes and washcloths for use at the birth clinic.
I won’t list everything here, but there were homeschooling math books, tennis racquets, salsa, Crayola markers, a huge container of mixed nuts, a salad spinner, and a new logic board for our old broken MacBook.
I am especially delighted with the books. These will help immensely with my prep for teaching my next class at the Reformed Institute of Ministry: Jewish Background of the New Testament.
The kids were delighted to see that all their friends back at Trinity REC had made handmade cards for them. There must have been 20 of them!
I’m hoping Sora will share an uplifting birth story with a cute Filipino baby to cheer your spirits and glorify God. In the meantime, here’s another episode of “First World in the Third World Problems”, with a prayer request.
We thought we would be able to get our kids’ hearing aids repaired here in the Philippines. After striking out at three different audiologists, we found an Oticon dealer a few blocks away from our house, and they shipped the two aids — one Isaiah’s, the other Naomi’s, to their branch in Manila. No dice. The Manila office didn’t have the correct part for Isaiah’s aid, and didn’t get the other working to Naomi’s satisfaction.
So we shipped the aids to Cincinnati, Ohio, where the world’s kindest and most wonderful audiologist, Lori G. of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Audiology Dept., not only persuaded Oticon to honor a warranty that had expired while the aids were in Manila, but also threw in a loaner spare for Naomi just in case. She then sent them back… via FedEx.
They arrived in the Philippines in a speedy enough manner, but not to us. A check on the FedEx website showed, “Clearance Delay“. I went to the Bajada FedEx office to see what the problem was. They gave me a customer service number to call. We tried calling, to no avail. They have called us back a few times now, with no result. We have incredibly frustrating circular conversations in which they tell us, “There is a delay,” and we say, “Yes, we have seen that on the tracking website. We beg you, tell us what to do to get it un-delayed.” And they say, “Let us take your phone number, ma’am/sir.” We explain again and again that the package contains medical equipment that our children need, and that it is not being “imported” — we sent them out of the country for repair and they are being returned. The next time FedEx calls, they ask, “Are these for personal or business use?” We swear up and down that these are our kids’ personal hearing aids. (No, we are not posing as missionaries to hide a blackmarket hearing aid dealership! And if we were, would we be importing them three at a time, and in used condition?)
It has been suggested to us (by other missionaries who have had bad experiences) that we are just dealing with corruption, that the “clearance delay” is an excuse to charge extra processing fees and storage fees and whatever other fees can be invented to take advantage of our necessity. At this point, we would welcome the opportunity to fork over a few thousand pesos and get the aids back in our kids’ ears! But no one we’ve talked to has so much as hinted that money could solve the problem, or indeed that it can be solved at all. On Monday, it will be three weeks since the package reached the Philippines and it seems no closer to delivery now than it was then.
Now, to the prayer request. We know this is a small matter in the grand scheme of things and that our children are very blessed to have hearing aids at all. We see naked children in the streets daily. We see children crippled, blind, and malnourished. Our kids are rich. They, like their dad, are accustomed to walking around with several thousand dollars worth of electronic miracles tucked into their ears to remedy their hearing loss. And while the raison d’essence of properly functioning hearing aids is that the wearer may take them for granted, we are very thankful for our kids’ hearing aids. But we’d be even more thankful if they were out of FedEx’s hands and back in ours.
As Proverbs 21:1 saith, “A petty bureaucrat’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Please pray that He will turn whatever hearts need turning so that our kids can have their hearing aids back.
Below: Isaiah not having a fun time while new earmold impressions are taken last month – a process that needs to happen a couple times a year for young, growing ears.