Sunday, June 28, 2015

Caraboa carrying a harvest of rice (we think)

Some of our favorite things on our mission: the privilege of coming to the Philippines, the beautiful flora; everybody has a green thumb here!  Of course, we love the missionaries and President and Sister Ferrin, but we love weekends.   Weekends because we are out of the mission office and we get to go to baptisms and visit wards and branches all over the place.
Members tidying up outside before meeting
We just returned from Lopez Jaena one of the few Churches we have not attended traveling North.  We left early with the plan to head South once again; we looked at each other and said “Nah”.  We have visited over 60 different sacrament meetings in the Mission during the past fifteen months!  And most places we go, we are a curiosity!  Today was no exception; we arrived for the 9:00 meeting at 8:30 am and the gate was locked.  The Bishop and his daughter “Twinkle” drove up on their motor scooter about 15 minutes later.  We helped put up all the plastic chairs for the classes.  Right before Sacrament Meeting the Bishop came up to George and me and said, “You will be our speakers today.”
Sister Elizabeth before baptism with the missionaries
During the week one of the Sister Missionary companionship's told us about a wonderful 79-year old sister who was going to be baptized.  She was a lawyer, school principal, and former Baptist Minister.  We just had to attend with a background like that.  She didn’t disappoint us—she was a wonderful woman; Sister Elizabeth.  She had the light of Christ already in her countenance.  She shared a sweet, tearful testimony about how blessed she was after all these years to find the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  She said the Lord had prepared her to receive the Gospel over her life.  She had heard of the Mormon Church before, but everything she heard was untrue and kept her from investigating further.  At first, she didn’t understand why she needed to be baptized, because she had already accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and had been baptized.  But she then learned that she needed to be baptized by someone holding the authority and she became convinced this was the case.
Tall grass being cut by our house by a 'ninja' worker
A couple of observations from this week: The rain has brought beautiful long green grass.  I watched a ninja dressed man cut the grass across the street with a “weed wacker”; helps keep the snakes at bay.  When he took a rest, he just squatted down on his haunches for awhile.  This is a most uncomfortable looking position, but common here.  I also noticed our neighbor’s cats love this place.  They leisurely lay on the roof on the front benches or just across the warm cement of the cottage.  Just don’t try to touch them!
Cat lazily lounging on the roof outside
Man enjoying the scenic position on the bus--and notice the pig in the trike in opposite lane

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Carabao plowing in the field

A delivery needed to be made in Ayungon; we left around 6:30 am to meet the branch president with the goods.  After the drop off we continued South and came to a cross road; the road sign said  Binalbagan 18 km one way or Isabela 12 km down another road.  George asked where I wanted to go.  I chose Isabela as several missionaries have told me how they love serving in this area.  We were not disappointed.  We headed inland and were in awe of the beauty.

Road to St. Augustine

The white steeple was visible long before we arrived at the small beautiful chapel and the 4 missionaries serving there were greeting people as they gathered for Church.  The Binalbagan Stake President was there, President Antonio.  Two of the Elders were preparing to go to a special sacrament meeting.  President Antonio had never been to the St. Augustine group and desired to go so we took the Elders and President on a journey never to be forgotten.  We turned off the main road and climbed a rocky road.  As the narrow road wound around we saw people working the rice fields with their carabao and mothers and children soaped up taking baths by the community water pumps.

Very narrow pathway in the middle of rice fields - steep drop on either side
Narrow pathway
Shoe full of mud after slipping off the "straight and narrow" path
When we came to the end of the road we were told there was a short walk.  We specifically asked the Elders if the walk could be made in our dress shoes and clothes.  They assured us that we would have no problem if we stayed on the path.  Turns out, this was easier said than done.  Okay so the short walk which took us about 15 minutes over slippery rocks on a narrow path with running water on both sides of the rice fields was a little challenging.  I did slip losing a shoe in deep mud to my ankles, but the Stake President dug for it and found it.  I was thankful to see the meeting place only to realize we had to climb about an 8 foot steep embankment.

Humble meeting place

We arrived to a humble home nestled on a beautiful hill.  Assembled were some 60 people for the Church service.  We were told there were 30 members and some 30 investigators who came because it was the only Church meeting in that area.  We both had the privilege of speaking along with the Stake President.  Our remarks were brief and slowly spoken so hopefully these people who speak little English could understand a few words.

View from behind meeting place

I actually prayed that George and I would be able to safely get back to the truck.  Our prayers were answered when the owner of the home where we had our meeting offered to take us back to the truck.  We walked through a lot of mud and water, but it was much easier than walking on the narrow pathway.  We asked the Elders why they hadn’t taken us on the easier path and they said because the other path was a “short cut”.

People drying their rice near St. Augustine
Carabao pulling a cart

Earlier this week George received a text from a friend.  He said his brother was in the hospital and they were hungry and had no relatives in Bacolod to bring food.  George asked if we could help and they said “Yes” and then added for “three people”.  We went to Jolibees a fast food place, and asked for their best selling Filipino meals and bought 3 with extra rice.  The hospital is the poor hospital (not where missionaries go).  Even with food in hand and the patient’s name, we were scrutinized and had to provide identification.  We were finally allowed to proceed after we gave up our plastic bag; no plastic bags allowed.  I put the bottled water in my purse.  We then walked through the maze of halls and rooms filled with old beds and sick people.  After being directed another way, a small older woman came up to us and told us she was Angelo’s mother.  Our friend’s mother found us.  It is always humbling to come to this place, but today as we ventured into the crowded men’s ward with at least 50 beds full of sick men along with their hovering families, I was overcome with emotion.  We were told the food is not provided in this part of the hospital.  George left pesos for future meals.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A handsome carabao standing by a tubo (sugar) field
We have had lots of rain today and I am writing in a brown out (no electricity). 

Elder and Sister Kasteler, our medical training batch mates, who now serve in the MRC (medical recovery center) in Manila are visiting the Ferrins.  We were invited to attend a regional conference for the Philippines that started at 10:30 am with the Ferrins and Kastelers.    
Kastelers, Ferrins and us outside Mission Home
We traveled to Bago, south of Bacolod to attend the special meeting arriving shortly before 10:00.  It was great to see the 16 missionaries serving in this area along with many people we have met in the past.  The warm chapel and cultural hall was filled, but a bench near the front was cleared for us.    

The ward choir from Pulupandan (with matching scarves) sang a compilation of hymns and the stake president gave a message leaving only a few minutes to spare before the broadcast began. . .

After about 45 minutes of trying to get the broadcast to play without success, it was decided to have the first ever stake conference sacrament meeting.  Bread and water were prepared for the sacrament.  The speakers: Elder Mower, Elder Kasteler and President Ferrin. 
It appears the rainy season is upon us--this is a downpour at the Mission Home
We later watched the broadcast at the mission home.  Elder Nelson (of the seventy) recalled and it is true, Filipinos are kind and helpful and often use the words, “I will be the one” to indicate their willingness to assist.  We also enjoyed homemade squash soup and crepes with fresh mangoes, bananas, pineapple and whipping cream.  It was a great day even if we left before 9 and didn’t get home until after 5.
Fire Engine at La Castellana
This week was Independence Day in the Philippines.  Thursday afternoon we went to La Castellana to take mattresses for the missionary apartments.  All of the La Carlota zone missionaries were invited to sing in the Independence Day celebration and spent the night with the missionaries from this area.  We went to the town square and waited for the final rehearsal to begin.  As we waited the town fire truck sprayed water to clean the area, while others swept (bent over) with their short brooms in one hand and their other arm behind their back.  Street vendors came up to us individually selling cooked corn, boiled quail eggs, and punch.     
Missionaries enjoying a Halo-halo treat before the rehearsal
The practice was scheduled to start at 2:00 pm and at 3:00 pm, we were told this was “Filipino time” and probably wouldn’t start until 4:00 or 5:00 pm.  Well it was great to see dancers with their royal blue, scarlet, white and gold (the color of the Philippine flag) banners and participants with their interesting instruments gathering, but only our missionaries were there to sing!   Oh well, we didn’t hear them practice, but we heard it was a successful event.   
A beautiful, picturesque ride between La Carlota and La Castellana
On Saturday, the La Castellana Chapel was dedicated.  The Mission is so blessed to have so many beautiful white chapels for the people to worship in.  They seem to dot the national highway and stand out as beautiful places to worship.
Carabao plowing the sugar cane field

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Carabaos lounging in a stream

I was standing outside a small church today, looking up at all the big mango trees with ripening fruit.  We were told one of the sisters, 86 years old, had attempted to climb one recently to get a few mangos.  Today dark clouds were gathering, but for now there was only a gentle breeze on a warm sultry day.  Members and investigators were slowly making their way to the chapel when I felt my phone vibrate.  It was my son and his family calling to wish me a happy birthday.  “Happy birthday, cha cha cha. .  . “ a new rendition I am not familiar with, but the unexpected call made my day.
Sweet ladies at the Ayungon Branch
President and Sister Ferrin invited George and me to travel south to pass out a couple of mission calls in the La Carlota District.  One calling was to Legaspi and the other one Quezon City; both missions are in the Philippines.  The newly called missionaries (in different branches) are excited to serve a mission and shared their testimonies.   In one branch when the call was announced, the branch members clapped.  Both branches are losing their piano player.
New missionary called to serve
Yesterday at a baptism, while waiting for the newly baptized to change clothing, the mission leader said, “Now is time to exercise our tonsillitis by singing hymns”.
Missionaries singing at Baptism
The big news of the week; 10 missionaries went home and 10 new Filipino missionaries arrived on Wednesday.  They could see each other and smile and wave through a glass wall in the terminal.  This is always a bittersweet time as we say good bye to seasoned missionaries whom we have grown to love.  Elder Nery, one of the departing missionaries, was looking forward to going to the Manila temple to be sealed to his family the following day.  He said many ward members would also be there.  The Lord has once again blessed the Bacolod Mission with missionaries who are excited to get started in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  One sister is from Iloilo (e-low e-low) and already speaks the language.  She can look out across the Sulu Sea and see the island where she calls home.
New arrivals pose with MassKara dancers
MassKara dancers welcoming new arrivals at airport
Lunch with Ina, Jane Anne, and Angelo