ok go

Look, if I can do this…

The basil, the bag and the birthday – part 2

The bag – One morning I was visiting my friend Gulab in Palo. I had an appointment in Tacloban in the afternoon. That’s all I had to achieve that day. I should manage that, I thought. The afternoon appointment was important. It was with some pastors who’d asked me to visit and who I’d already turned down twice for prior engagements. Turning down invitations in the Philippines is a tricky business, so this time I made sure I had nothing else to do so there were no chance of complications.

Gulab invited me to stay for lunch. That’s fine, still plenty of time, I thought. After lunch, he invited me to stay to meet some missionaries, one of which was a Scot. Now I have been missing my countryfolk, the prospect of meeting one was very attractive, even if he was actually from Scotland, who may not be my countryfolk for much longer. They were going to visit a local village and distribute some food. I was worried about getting to my appointment in Tacloban but Gulab assured me that our excursion wouldn’t take long. Ok, I said. Oh, when will I learn.

I got a lift in the missionaries’ car and when we arrived at the village I realised the place we’d arrived at was near my friend Bob’s house who I hadn’t seen in a long time, so after spending some time in the village I excused myself and went to visit Bob. Now I’d left my bag in the car, but I was expecting to be riding back with them later, so it was OK.  I arranged for them to text me when they were leaving, so I could get a ride with them. Well, I thought I did, but I think something got lost in translation. I returned to find they’d already left. Worse, my bag was still in their car. As I trudged back to Gulab’s house I was thoroughly dejected. I was already pushing it to get to my appointment. Now I had a mission to track down my bag and I expected I wouldn’t get there at all. Now remember I’d already turned Gordon and Emie down twice already. A no-show on the third attempt would be a disaster. Why, God, why…

Anyway, I got back to Gulab’s and managed to get the number of the driver who had my bag in his car. They were in Tacloban. Yes, they had my bag and I could meet them at Robinsons. I texted Emie and she was OK with my lateness, but I had only a vague idea of where they lived and no idea how to get there. At Robinsons, as I collected my bag from the car, someone in the car mentioned “Imelda village” – woah hold it right there, that’s where I needed to be! I inquired. Yes, indeed they were going to Imelda village. Result. Room for one more? In the Philippines, there’s always room for one more.

Ok, we were back on track. On the way, we chatted about their stay. “We’re staying with some local pastors, called Gordon and Emie, do you know them?” Do I know them.. Bosh. In an instant, everything had been turned around. My disaster became a testimony. “Yeah, that’s where I’m going now. Thanks for the ride”.

It turned out that the driver, who I’d been talking to while I was desperately trying to salvage my day’s plans and find my way to Gordon and Emie’s, was in fact Gordon and Emie’s son. Everyone was pretty impressed with this minor miracle. “God is good”, I said, smiling smugly like this happens to me all the time. I thought back to the moment walking down the road when I was kicking myself for screwing up my day, thinking I was a million miles from where I needed to be. Sometimes, when God is silent, it’s because He’s trying to hide a smile: “ Just you wait, son – I think you’ll find it’s all in the bag.”

The basil, the bag and the birthday – Part 1

The basil – It was a friend’s birthday and, since she likes Italian food, I offered to cook. Pasta and its accessories are not difficult to find here, if a little more expensive than at home, but in the wake of the typhoon supplies of everything are still a bit hap-hazard. There is an abundance of shops and they are all full, but they’re full of pretty much the same things. I’ve no idea why this is, but it left me a little concerned about whether I would find some basil. Normally I would trail round the small shops in downtown, trying to shop like a local, but I feared my fate would be a wasted afternoon hearing the words ‘waray na’ (‘we don’t have any’ – it’s not very encouraging that they named the local dialect Waray-Waray. Waray is their word for ‘no’) So I opted to go straight to Robinson’s, the largest supermarket in Tacloban. To my dismay I found that their herb and spices section consists almost entirely of salt and pepper. And mushrooms. Mushrooms, it seems, when dried and put into 20g packets, are a herb. However, waray basil. My last hope was the veg section. To call it a section would make it sound grand. More of a desk. Nothing. Nada. Waray herbs of any description. I was about to leave when I noticed the shop assistant opening a large box behind the counter. Three things led be to believe that the box contained my desired ingredient. 1. I could see that in the box were lots and lots of large green leaves which looked remarkably like basil. 2. Hand-written on the box was the word ‘basil’. 3. When I asked what was in the box, the lady replied, “Basil”. Wow, now I believe. I was pretty sure I could hear God saying “So, did you want some basil? Have a boxful..”

Ever since then, whenever I go to Robinson’s, I check to see if they have any basil. Waray na.

Romance.. @Robinson’s?

I was trying to leave Robinson’s mall. I couldn’t reach the door cos I was surrounded by hundreds of screaming teenagers. No, it wasn’t a dream, and sadly they weren’t screaming for me but for JC de Vera, a clearly-popular celebrity who had just appeared on the specially-constructed stage in the middle of the shopping centre. As I make my way through the crowd, I see him pick a beautiful girl to join him on stage. He looks wistfully into her eyes while mouthing the words to the Goo Goo Dolls backing track:

“All I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life..”

The girl is beside herself. Her face is inches away from his as she shyly returns his gaze. But don’t worry for her commercially-exploited innocence. Her heart may have stopped but she hasn’t forgotten about facebook. She wastes no time getting her ipad out for an on-stage selfie. The fake sincerity is entirely mutual.

The somewhat less than star-cross’d lovers and the words of the song made me remember what had happened to me just a few days before. I was lying on my bed just worshipping with my headphones in. I was waiting on God, asking Him to come, directing my prayers to that place somewhere just above my head, you know, where God is. All of a sudden I felt Him say, “I’m already here”. And then I felt myself realise that while I was talking to the top bunk, the “voice” was from inside me. Right after that I felt wave after wave of God’s love flow through me, and after a little while I was completely blown away. The intensity of the moment made every other ‘worship time’ feel like a rehearsal. I had read that day about how in Jewish culture, when a couple get engaged to be married, the groom goes back to his father’s place to build a house for him and his wife, and he leaves his most trusted friend (his ‘best man’) to prepare his fiancee and keep her pure. The Bible describes the Church as the bride of Christ. Jesus, the groom, has gone away to ‘prepare a place’ for us. The Holy Spirit is like the best man. So I was lying there feeling like I wasn’t just with the Holy Spirit, but with Jesus Himself. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is our teacher, teaching us to dance, but what we experience with Him is ‘dance class’. He is our mentor and friend, but He is just preparing us for the big day, when we get to dance with Jesus. On Monday night I felt like I was dancing with Jesus.

Anyway, I needed to get up to switch on the rice cooker, cos I was cooking for one of the students who had arrived early back at the college. After I’d done that I went to find him and he was with Glenn, one of the carpenters on the site here and also a pastor. I was feeling pretty wasted, smiling like I was high on something. I put my arms round them both telling them how great they are and then I said “Hey, who needs healing? Someone is gonna get healed right now, come on”. Glenn said he has a bad knee, so I put my hands on it, said something spiritual and bosh, he’s healed right there.

It’s a simple testimony of what happens when we have intimacy with Jesus. Heaven comes to earth, for us and those around us.

Back in the crowded mall, I’m comparing that moment of intimacy with what I’m seeing. No-one is being fooled about the authenticity of the romance here – it’s all just a bit of fun to lighten up the weekend. But the brief show reflects what everyone watching the stage dreams of – a Cinderella moment with the king. Please God, can we bring a real moment of romance to Robinson’s mall?

Keep calm and carry on

Things aren’t panning out as I expected. I was expecting to hit the ground running and see miracles, signs and wonders wherever I went. Three months in and I’ve seen barely a trace. Sure, there have been some great experiences but that’s not what I’ve come here for. Let’s revisit the vision:

..from the rising of the sun they will revere His glory.
For He will come like a pent-up flood
that the breath of the Lord drives along.

Isaiah 59:19

Revival. From the start things have been a lot harder than I expected and as time marches on I’m beginning to wonder how long this will take, and if it will happen at all. What should I do if we get to November and we’re still not seeing revival? Should I go home with nothing to show after spending eight months and several thousand pounds here? Could I stand at the front of New Life, after all the faith-filled big talk before leaving, and say ‘yeah, it was ok’. Should I stay here until the vision comes to fruition, even past my planned return in November? These are the questions I’ve been asking God. To be honest, it was becoming more like a plea. Please God, don’t let me go home empty-handed.

I’ve been thinking about my first church visit when I arrived in Leyte. The Pentecostal church at Tigbao, Tacloban. I’d felt like it was significant, but afterwards I couldn’t see why. Physically I’d been in a very sorry state that day, not at all the triumphant revivalist, and I’d left without saying much to anyone. I’ve been wondering if I’d missed something, so last week I decided I would pay them a second visit at the weekend. At least I could see how they were getting on with fixing their roof.

I arrived to find the roof was on and that it was Pentecost Sunday. The projector displayed an image of Pentecostal fire. The pastor was pointing to it and adding some fiery preaching. I remembered how we’d really met with God the last time I was there and now I was expectant again. But after the introductions, the announcements, the birthdays, more announcements, baby dedications and offering we were a full two hours into the meeting. At one point the band started to worship and I felt things started rising in the Spirit, but then they went into ‘smile a while’ and everyone stopped to shake everyone else’s hand. I was thinking we’d missed the moment. It was hot. Under the new roof the temperature in the church felt about right for baking bread and my expectation was starting to wane. I was tired now and ready to go home.

But then the pastor got up and announced that he was going to cut short his preaching. After a brief talk, he said, we would spend the rest of the meeting in worship, seeking God’s face for a fresh outpouring. Man, that cheered me right up! He introduced the theme of his message: “Don’t go home empty!”  Wow, I’d just heard my words come right back at me, no longer a question but an answer. Man, he didn’t need to say anything else (which was just as well because I didn’t understand most of it.) All my questions were answered right there and then. I’m gonna get my Pentecostal outpouring in this province, and I’m not leaving until I do.

Lick your elbow for ‘no’

I was in Tacloban the other day, getting off the jeepney at Robinson’s Mall, when I saw a guy with a t-shirt which said: Do you like me? Breathe for ‘yes’. Lick your elbow for ‘no’.

We all want friends, right? (Yeah, you can say you’re a loner but we all know you’re pretending). Wouldn’t it be nice if friendship were as easy as breathing? This past month or so has been a very hard time, mainly because I’m struggling to make real friends here. Hospitality is second-nature to Filipinos, like breathing, and their warm welcome can easily be taken to mean acceptance and friendship. Clearly it doesn’t. No-one offers these things to a complete stranger. It’s a process, and I’ve found that gaining them here, particularly as a socially clumsy foreigner, feels definitely more like licking my elbow than breathing. I’ve discovered a few things that might explain this. Five hundred years of colonialism for a start. But what I think what I’m struggling with has even deeper roots than this. I discovered a new word the other day: Sakop.

Sakop is Waray-Waray for ‘tribe’ or ‘family’. Acceptance and friendship comes from being part of the sakop. Sakop extends into other social groups too, including churches and even Bible college dormitories. Ironically though, an idea which enshrines acceptance and friendship and the sense of family also alienates those who fall outside the line. Which language you speak (there are roughly150 different languages spoken in the Philippines), or what your surname is, or what religion/denomination you belong will influence where you can find ‘sakop’. In the Church, denominations tend to be inward-looking and outwardly indifferent or even hostile. Sects and cults flourish here, and maybe that’s because they appeal to and exploit the Filipino sense of sakop. All this makes fitting in very difficult for the white foreigner with poor language skills and few friends (yes, I’m feeling very sorry for myself at the moment). For me, sakop is a problem not a blessing. I just don’t fit in. I have no gang.

Feeling alone out here is very upsetting and I don’t know what to do about it. John the Baptist may have managed as a one-man crusade but I don’t fancy my chances alone in the mountains with the rebels. Apparently the government here doesn’t pay out for westerners held to ransom. I need to find a gang. I’ve been reading about this new gang called ‘revivalists’ in Bill Johnson’s book, The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind. Bill seems to be one of the figureheads of a group of people who want to see heaven invading earth. Miracles and signs and wonders breaking out everywhere. Revival. As I’m reading his book I’m realising that this is the gang I want to join. That’s what I’m here for. I know that’s what I should be doing. It’s very disappointing that I’m not and I don’t mind saying I might need a little help. I’ll find a gang of revivalists. If I can’t find one I’ll start one. Will it get anywhere? Will we see the kingdom come? Breathe for ‘yes’. Lick your elbow for ‘no’.

British Expeditionary Force

Last week I went on vacation. I visited the home of one of the students in a village on Daram, one of the smaller islands. I thought it would be a romantic excursion – you know – a tropical island bathed in sunshine with long beaches running down to cool, clear waters. Boats are the only way to get from one place to the next. Life is more traditional here. Jo-Jo’s family live in a house made of stitched palm leaves next to the village basketball court. I loved it. But a simple life is also tough one. The village’s only income is from fishing and fish doesn’t fetch a high price in a country surrounded by sea. Jo-Jo’s parents have to work hard. They have invested whatever they have to spare not in making their home more comfortable but in their children’s education. I stayed in the village for four days and, although it was romantic and we went swimming, drank from coconuts and took boat rides in the twilight, it was also a hard experience for me.

There was no electricity on the first night, although that’s not uncommon in the Philippines. It’s just gone off here now. The next day the village well ran dry. Apparently this happens a lot during the summer. It was incredibly hot and there was not a drop of rain for days. Water had to be bought privately from people who had drilled their own, deeper, wells. It was upsetting to see the family go to expense to provide for me. I had brought emergency money, which I wish I could have given them, but it was already gone. On the way there I’d taken a ferry to the wrong part of the island and had to hire a small boat to take me the rest of the way. I was conned and ripped-off by a shop owner who pretended to know the village and Jo-Jo’s family and found me a ‘relative’ who took me there and also took my money. It was upsetting enough at the time and more so now as I was wishing I could have given more money to this family and the church here.
I became ill, I think from the heat, drinking the water and eating the local diet of white rice and fish three times a day. I had expected to be able to buy fruit but the village had no greengrocer. Without fibre my digestion backs up and after a few days I get food poisoning. The family helped me out really well, finding some fruit and bottled water to help me recover.

While I was there I was reading a book on prayer by Paul Yonghi Cho. In it was a reference to Isaiah 50:10-11 :

Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

It goes on to say:

But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

Wow, strong language right? In this I felt God saying not to rely on my own resources, or even the resources of the family I was with – what little they were. There is a message in this prophecy for the people of this province (man, the whole world, right?) and I wanted to demonstrate it to them in my sickness. God could provide all their needs, both healing and provision, and they don’t need to – in fact they mustn’t – try to figure out a way themselves. They didn’t really get the message and it was difficult for me, as their guest, to turn down their efforts, so I had to compromise a little, but at least I had confidence to know that God would heal me even without medical help. Throughout the next day, Sunday, my health improved and by the evening I was feeling ok again. Oh, and it rained too.

I left the island feeling a bit perplexed. It had been a difficult time and I wondered if it had been the right decision to go there. But the church there is strong in spirit and has good leadership. God is looking for places to light revival fires, and I think the church at Casab-ahan will be one of them. Oh man, that means I’ll have to go back! No, I want to. There is a saying here “Bowas na man liwat!”. I learned it after playing someone at chess. Literally it means “tomorrow again!” It’s fighting talk. I went to Casab-ahan underestimating what I was walking into, and I left feeling like I’d been pulled out of the water at Dunkirk. Next time will be different. I will return to drink the water and eat the food, accept losses, but never accept defeat. Is it my pride? I just feel it’s what God wants me to do. “Mabalik ako” – that’s the local translation of the words of General MacArthur when he was forced to abandon the Philippines to the Japanese: “I will return”.

Tacloban, Tacloban

Friday: It didn’t stop raining. From Saturday afternoon until Wednesday there was no end to the constant stream of heavy and prolonged downpours. By Tuesday I was fed up with it. I did my washing and hung it out anyway, in a prophetic act of defiance. I took it in again about three times before I just gave up and left it to get wet. That night things got a whole lot worse. I woke in the middle of the night to a massive thunderstorm. It was kind of exciting at the time. I didn’t get up. I admit I was a bit scared. The dormitory has an aluminium roof and the walls and floors are concrete, reinforced with steel rods. This building is shouting, “Me, me! Here I am, strike me!” I excused myself from getting up to pray and stayed insulated in my wooden cot.

On Wednesday morning the power was out and the swamp had encroached right up to the walls of the dormitories and the temporary kitchen between them was flooded under two inches of water. Incredibly, someone had still managed to cook 30 breakfasts. There was much amusement as the students used chairs as stepping stones around the kitchen, but I couldn’t help but be heartbroken by what I was seeing. After my feeling of breakthrough last week, now I was despondent. I can see why people just accept the situation here. It’s just relentless.

Every day reinforces my view that this is a war zone. The environment here can be lush and beautiful, but also so, so hostile. Like some sort of guerrilla war, its attacks are random and relentless. Yesterday I was out when suddenly I felt a massive pain in my toe. Man, it felt like I was being stabbed. I looked down to see a tiny ant, no bigger than the smallest in England. Wow, don’t let anyone look down on you because you as small, little fella! Every day I examine the additions to my collection of insect bites and stings. I don’t worry anymore about what I might catch. The possibilities are endless and some of them incurable. As usual, with my vaccinations, first aid kit, travel insurance and money in the bank, I’m better off than most. To live here is to be constantly harassed and occasionally assaulted by the forces of nature.

I went walking last Saturday and cut my ankles on some ferns. Look, even the grass is barbed! One cut got infected and now, a week later, it’s still not healing. I showed it to the doctor at church earlier and now I’m taking a course of antibiotics. I was walking on the hill. Past the cross, there is a path to a higher peak. I’ve never been because it looks pretty overgrown and I’m scared of snakes and crazy people. That morning there were quite a few people on the hill (not crazy ones), so I decided to find some space and have a go at the higher one. I ran out of enthusiasm pretty quickly as it started to get quite treacherous. I found myself hacking at the spiky foliage hanging across the path with my umbrella. Haha, a proper Englishman abroad eh? Suddenly I was at the top and I came up to a clearing with an abandoned building surrounded by the universal indication of human activity – litter. (I despise litter. I have to restrain myself from giving people a clip round the ear when I see them dropping it.) It looked pretty spooky. My fear of the snakes was now dwarfed by my fear of meeting the crazy guy with a machete who probably lived here.

After standing around for a few minutes I did what every teacher does when they feel threatened; I walked around to demonstrate the extent of my authority and territory. Something like that. It seemed to work and after my brief tour of the property, I relaxed. From here I could see through the trees down to the Bible college, across to MacArthur Park and also much of Tacloban. I wanted to hear from God today. I wanted something new, something that would empower me to do all the things I want to see here. But after everything I knew to do there was no mountain-top experience today. I complained to God about that. Nada. I prayed for the city one last time. And then without warning there was the same feeling that I’d had almost every morning while I was in Manila. Here, looking over Tacloban, I finally understood it: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..”. I found the rest of the quote when I got home: “..but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”

That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? That’s where we’re at here. Yolanda was just the latest and biggest assault on a community constantly being robbed. God longs to be a shield to these people against the weather and all the dangers of life in a world at war. He is beside Himself with grief for these people and now He is ready to act decisively on their behalf. He is rallying His people, raising an army to fall in with Him, to bring these towns and cities back under His wing and even to stand against the wind and rain. I still feel crazy saying it, but this is how things are fitting together here. People are talking about a time now when Christians will take hold of the promises of God and extend the kingdom like never before. Maybe this is that.

Post Match Analysis

Sunday: It’s raining heavily now, as it did all afternoon and evening yesterday. But there’s no wind. Man, if there was then I would not be writing this! Last week I had the opportunity to chat with a native English speaker. It gave me a good opportunity for an in-depth chat. (I didn’t realise I was missing them!) In the course of the conversation, I discovered that he believed that Yolanda was a judgement sent from God. His conviction about this really made me think. My default view is that the world, and therefore the weather, is broken by sin. Therefore when bad things happen, usually it’s because of this. Clearly though, history contains many occasions when God has brought judgement and discipline in the form of disaster. Statistically then, it’s possible that this is one of them. But without revelation it’s impossible to know for certain. So I made my own enquiries and this is what I heard this week:

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no-one, He was appalled that there was no-one to intervene;
so His own arm worked salvation for Him, and his own righteousness sustained Him.
Isaiah 59:15-16

This is the first part of the passage from the Bible that inspired me to come here. Up until now I’ve been focussing on the part which says, “for He will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along” because it’s the best part; it’s about revival. I’d not spent so much time talking about the first part because, to be honest, I didn’t understand it very well. “He was appalled that there was no-one to intervene”. I didn’t get it. The world responded brilliantly. I was proud that Britain was the biggest giver – over $60million. Isn’t that intervention? I believe now that God was talking about a spiritual intervention, and not after the event but before it. Yolanda could have been stopped. I know, I’m crazy right? This was the most powerful storm in recorded history. Maybe I’ve been away too long. Jarrod, you’d better bring me home! But look, Jesus calmed a storm. He said we would do greater things. Tropical Storm Domeng was probably bigger than the storm the disciples experienced on Lake Galilee. Look at what happened. It’s not impossible, is it! Then in Ephesians, Paul says God is able to do immeasurably more than this, and that this power works in and through us. So it looks like I’m just as crazy as the people who wrote the Bible – and history. Haha, I think Jarrod will let me stay. This trip is doing me good!

There are a couple of sayings here in the Philippines: “Sapagkat kami ay tao lamang” – We are only humans. “Bahala na an Dios” – God will look after us. The spirit of these statements is this: “We are insignificant, so leave everything to God”. It needs to be challenged. When tragedy strikes, people often quote Job’s words: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” But “these words were uttered in absolute ignorance by a man who had no idea that God and Satan were using his body as a battleground” (Brother Andrew). He goes on to say that “we have become so success- and victory-oriented that we think we shame our Lord if we admit a defeat.” Is that analysis appropriate here?

Look at the language in Isaiah. God is displeased and appalled when no-one intervenes against the enemy. “Oh you of little faith!”. Jesus’ words after calming the storm were a loving but stern rebuke to His apprentices. Our faith is made complete by what we do. Faith not acted upon is dead.  Any repentance due here should include God’s people – those in the church as well as those outside it. We need to be honest and mature enough to recognise that we lost this battle. There are a couple of dozen tropical storms in the Philippines every year. What would happen to that number if the Christians here really got hold of what Jesus said, and when storms come they really call on God in faith and use the authority He has given them? Hey, He hasn’t given it to anyone else.

Domeng has armed me with the testimony I need to stir up some active faith. Wise football pundits don’t predict the entire season’s performance on the back of one match, but each win is the starting point for the next. ” I am speaking to the college students on Wednesday. I am gonna tell them that we are at war. The church stands at the front line of the kingdom of heaven forcefully advancing into a broken world. All of God’s power and authority is at the disposal of those who follow the command to stand up, go over the top and take the ground

The end of my passage in Isaiah 59 says “The Redeemer will come to Zion”. Aha, to Zion Bible College? Tukdaw Zion.

Jesus calms the tropical storm

Thursday: Today I bore the consequences of my open-window policy. Many other window frames in the building also have no glass and the wind blows liberally through the place unhindered. This is usually great. It’s hot here, and I love the cool breeze at night. Not so cool was the thunderstorm we had today. Fortunately I was in my room when the wind picked up. I was caught off-guard, and it was quite entertaining to chase around after my various belongings before they left through someone else’s window, but then the rain started. The only things which would suffer permanent damage are my books and computer. Most of these were already out of harm’s way, so with help from some other students I moved the other non water-resistant stuff to the high ground (top bunk) furthest from the window. This was the only place which stayed dry. The floor quickly filled with water. It was like being on the deck of a ship. Once I’d got everything sorted I went to the window to shout at the wind and rain. “Is that the best you can do?!” “No-one is like my God!”

A tropical storm called Domeng had been forecast for this week. It was to arrive over Mindanao (the island south of here) on Tuesday bringing sustained winds of 75-95 kph and large bands of heavy rain. Domeng was not a massive storm by Filipino standards, but I have no window, no door and a point to prove. So I prayed. I emailed my friends and asked them to pray. I asked the students to pray too. Tuesday came but Domeng was still in the South Philippine Sea. The latest report said that it had weakened and was “struggling to reorganise”. Wow, did God do that because we prayed? The meteorologists downgraded it to a Tropical Depression and their forecast was revised. They said Domeng would strengthen, regain Tropical Storm status and make landfall in the early hours of Friday – tomorrow – but now it would end up much nearer here. The arrow on the map was pointing almost straight at us! Ok, so the game was still on but I was encouraged. Today I checked the weather again. Domeng had not reorganised. It had weakened even further due to “unfavourable atmospheric conditions” and was now just a low pressure area. The storm was dead in the water.

He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for men.

Psalm 107:29,31

Shouting at the “storm” outside my window was my little victory cry. No damage was done. It had just been a shower. I did, however, rearrange the contents of my room! I was glad of the experience. If I had been out at the time it could have been a right mess. Cleaning up was pretty easy and once the concrete floor was mopped it dried very quickly, the beds too. What I’d experienced was nothing compared to what could have been if Domeng had continued unchecked. Moreover, even with no window and door, I have concrete walls and floors and a secure roof. I’m better protected here than a whole lot of people. Co-incidentally, twice today I found myself almost doubled-up in pain and running to the toilet. “Is that the best you can do? No one is like my God.” This time through gritted teeth, but I didn’t care. This fight was already over. We won.

A couple of students arrived back from Mindanao today. They had left to go home after Yolanda. Tonight we had a bonfire party to celebrate their return. It was a beautiful evening. We ate and sang and played children’s games under the peaceful and moonlit starry sky. I reflected on how it could have been. God only has good gifts for His children.

Tukdaw Zion.

By the way, I think I’ll keep my open-window policy, at least until they get round to fixing the rest of the building. I pray better when I have to, so it’s good to be a little vulnerable.

An encouraging day

Friday: I discovered that the mission teams from Manila were joining a medical mission today in Santa Fe, a town on the road from here to Ormoc, about half an hour by bus. I decided to pay a visit, as much out of curiosity than anything else, but on the bus I felt the Holy Spirit give me a heads-up about praying with some of the sick. So there on the bus I fixed bayonets and complained that I wasn’t ready for this. Arriving at the mission, the LZ was indeed hot. (Apologies for the military language. I’m not sorry, I’ve love it) The venue was the local Assemblies of God church and the team was a mix of people from the US and the Bible schools in Manila. The set-up was pretty good. A crowd of people sat and stood outside, sheltered from the baking heat by gazebos, waiting to be seen by the doctors and dentists inside. There weren’t enough tables, or even space for tables, so the dentists kept their instruments on paper plates laid on the plastic chairs. I was ushered over to a place where people were being counselled and prayed with and with the help of one of the church pastors who translated, I was able to pray with people. An old man with problems with his sight and pain in his shoulders said he was healed, as did a lady with toothache. This really encouraged me. Man I wanted to pray for everyone!

There was a cut-off in treatment for lunch. The room was rearranged and the people who had been waiting outside a ll morning were invited in for a show and lunch. There was enough room for about half of them. The rest stayed outside. There was singing and a gospel presentation. Not enough time was given for this ministry, in my opinion, but I’m the missionary, these are doctors and they’ve come here to do what they’re good at. Lunch followed and I was sure there were too many people. Where were they gonna get enough food? Buckets of take-away buckets of rice and chicken arrived and were distributed in an endless stream. There must have been at least 250 people there, but there was more than enough. In the afternoon, I prayed with some more people. A man came in with twisted hands. His fingers were bent inwards and he had been unable to move them for 12 years. We prayed and he said he felt the pain had gone, but his fingers were still bent crooked. I counselled and encouraged him, but I was disappointed. I’ve come here for more than this. Nonetheless, I was encouraged too.

From there I went to Tacloban, and met RJ, one of the Zion students, to go to a “revival prayer meeting”. It was at the People’s Center, which I’d seen before and which had looked pretty derelict. Now it was set up for church and the place was filling up. My free meal ticket said I was number 681. By the time the meeting started there were people lining the walls and overflowing out of the back of the hall. I reckoned there were about 2000 people. It turned out to be more of a rally than a prayer meeting. There were various dance and drama performances, presentations and videos, and pretty quickly I felt that this rally, in the truest sense of the word, is exactly what the Church here needed. Tukdaw Tacloban! A worship band got up, but halfway through the first song, the power cut out. The congregation didn’t miss a beat and the singing just carried on. There were so many people, and the room so large, that it was impossible for the worship leaders to be heard. I couldn’t hear even the drums. It was like singing at a football match!

They managed to get the power back on for the speakers, who included the mayor of Tacloban – a Christian. He spoke about his recent visit to Barungay 88, the worst-hit district in Tacloban, which I assume means it was completely wiped out. Speaking to the people there, he found them happy and smiling. When he asked them why, they had replied, “Prayer”. He talked like a preacher and I found myself forgetting I was listening to a politician. The main preacher was a guy called Daniel Kim from South Korea. Kim’s church alone has rebuilt over 50 churches. He focussed on personal preparation for revival. It was good to hear this sort of word going out to so many people. After the meeting take-away rice and chicken was handed out to the congregation, along with gifts of Korean shoes. You can imagine how long this took. Thankfully we’d bumped into Pastor Lapora and his wife, which was a bit of a miracle in such a huge crowd. This meant we had a lift home. The meeting had over-run and now it was nearly 7pm. Transport back to Palo peters out from about 6pm and I didn’t fancy my chances with 2000 other people trying to get home too. While I waited for them I passed the time by stacking the chairs. It’s funny, some things are universal.

The pastors invited us to their house for something to eat, and we enjoyed a very good meal. We talked about revival and they encouraged me with stories about the miracles they had seen God do in their ministry. It had become a late night, but it was a great end to a very encouraging day.

 

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