Over Spring Break in April, I was able to be part of a high school mission team that went to Boracay, Phillipines. Here are some of the notes we sent out while on that trip:
Day One: We made it!!!
Sixteen people left Taichung on a bus at 6:30 this morning, heading to the airport. At the airport we picked up another two, and headed to Manila, where we picked up our nineteenth team member.
The layover was pretty short in Manila, given that we had to clear immigration, get luggage, clear customs and change terminals, in Manila traffic, so we weren’t certain we’d make our connection. Thankfully, at the Taiwan airport, we were able to get boarding passes for both flights, and check our luggage through to the final airport. When we arrived in Manila, we got through immigration quickly, our luggage came out quickly, and customs directed us to take our luggage back to be transferred to our next flight, so we didn’t have to carry it with us. And, the ministry we are working, First Love International, had arranged for someone to be at the terminal we arrived at, with transportation. And they had also arranged to have another person at the second terminal, smoothing the way, so when we arrived, they were ready for us, and got us through the process with time to spare.
Have I mentioned that God has His fingerprints all over this? And that your prayers are really appreciated? Because both are true!
Once we got to Caticlan, on the second flight (a lovely little prop plane), we met up with Clod, and caught the ferry to Boracay. YAY!!!
We got settled in our rooms, and then went to the beach to watch the sunset. After a wonderful dinner, we had a little time as a team, went over expectations for our time here, and prepared for tomorrow’s work.
We are all tired from the long day, but excited to get to work!
Day Two: Wow! Today was a full day!
We started off with a great breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon. For lunch we had Chicken Adobe with rice. Our afternoon snack was fresh baked coconut bread. And dinner was spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, garlic bread and mango!
Oh, you probably want to know about the work too…
After that wonderful breakfast, we took the ferry over to Panay and started helping with the construction of (hopefully) four new classrooms for the Ati School. They currently have first through third grades, but when the new school year starts in June, they hope to have first through sixth grades. But first they need the classrooms, the approvals and the inspections. All before the first of June. Aiyo! Yes, they would appreciate your prayers that things fall in place!
So today we helped out by moving hollow bricks, sifting sand, mixing concrete, plastering walls, and cutting and twisting wire. A praise that we had no major injuries, just some blisters and little owies!
After lunch, we took a break and went down to the Stream, where the Ati kids go to play in the water. It is low season right now, so the wide and deep area is not so wide and not so deep, but we had fun getting wet, jumping in the water and swinging into the water. It was a nice break after the heavy work of the morning.
Then we split into two groups and went to feeding sites, after the yummy coconut bread. One group went to Soong and the other stayed at Carla, the village where we are doing construction. Both teams led the kids at the sites in singing, played games, told a Bible study (complete with actors), and provided some basic first aid care. To say our teams enjoyed the time with the kids would be an understatement. There was bubble blowing, hair braiding, balloon sword attacks, and lots of running and laughter.
Of course, plans change… That’s one reason flexibility is so important on these trips. Like the team thinking we were doing construction after lunch, but going to the Stream instead. Or the team getting ready to leave a feeding site, and an elderly man and his wife show up, because he heard we were doing first aid and he had a sore spot on his food (the team did a great job taking care of him). Both times we went with the flow, and it worked out well. The students on our team have been great at adapting as needed, you should be proud of them!
Day Three: Flexibility.
That really does describe today, starting at the Malay Agape Sunbeam Academy (the school we are helping expand). The team spent time today mixing concrete, passing concrete in a bucket brigade (including up a flight of stairs), mixing cement, building a hollow brick wall (and helping fill in the hollow parts), shoveling, moving wheel barrows, and other very physical work. Almost everyone had a hand at almost everything, as we kept rotating positions so no one would get too tired. It was great!
After lunch, we thought we’d be doing more construction, but the resources we needed weren’t available for the next bit of work we could do, so we had to go back to the Stream again today.
When we left there, we expected to go to two new (to us) feeding sites, but when one group arrived, we found that the church had a change of plans, and weren’t able to do the feeding. So we regrouped and decided to split into different groups and do a feeding, at the available site, and a sports ministry at the other site. The kids quickly separated into teams and figured out who would do what. Again, being the flexible young people they are, there were even a couple who volunteered to go either way, so we could have enough people on both teams to do what needed to be done. They are great!
The guys on the sports team played three-on-three, while the girls played volleyball. They also did some singing, as the worship team at the church was practicing for church tomorrow.
The feeding site team led songs and told the story of David being selected King, by including some of the local kids in a skit. Then they made balloon crowns for all of the kids who were there. While the kids were getting crowns and getting food, a couple of the team members set up a first aid station and helped with mostly small hurts, but one boy had a couple of nasty sores that they cleaned up and then bandaged.
Tonight, after dinner, we had Team Time, and then started preparing for tomorrow. We know there will be a skit, song and testimony at church, but we are also preparing for a possible second skit later in the day and possible feeding site program. The team is really starting to know how to prepare to be flexible, as well as demonstrating flexibility now!
Day Four: Today was the best day of this trip, so far….
We started off the morning at a worship service at Malay Gospel Church, one of the churches on Panay that works with First Love International in their sports ministry and feeding ministry. After introductions, part of the team sang the Revelation Song, then part of the team did the Mask skit (with Kelly giving the explanation), and Allen gave his testimony. Then, Pastor Peter gave a message on God’s Saving Grace. It was warm in the church (although they plugged in a couple of fans to help cool us off), but it was a wonderful time. And they provided a snack for us after service – Pancit, Sticky Rice and some Rice Cakes.
After food and fellowship, we changed clothes and climbed in a bus for an hour ride up the mountain, to Malindog Ati village. Today was not only Palm Sunday, but, in the Philippines, it was also Manny Pacquiao’s fight day, which means the whole nation stops and watches the fight – no traffic, no one on the streets, everyone is in front of a TV. So, we took a hike up the mountain from the village and had lunch at a waterfall.
After lunch (and some water play), we headed back down to the village for a basketball game and some play time with the village kids. The game was short, but pretty physical, and we had some minor injuries. Final score 19-16, unfortunately our boys were not on top. The most amazing thing was that, except for the young kids, everyone in the village was watching the game. Most of the houses in the village are constructed of light wood or bamboo, on stilts. However, in the middle of the village is a concrete court, complete with concrete backstops. This village loves basketball!
After the game, we did a feeding, with songs, a skit and a first aid station. The people of the village are incredibly friendly, helpful and giving. After the feeding, they gave each of us a coconut with a straw. When we finished drinking the coconut milk, one of the men took a machete and cut the coconut in half, after slicing off a piece of the shell to use as a spoon, so we could eat the meat. Most of us enjoyed that experience…
On the bus ride back to the ferry, the team was emotionally energized and physically tired. We made it back in time for a late dinner and Team Time. At team time, we decided to start half an hour later tomorrow, so we can all catch up with ourselves. Two days of hard labor, followed by climbing a mountain, with little downtime, means it is greater wisdom to take an extra bit of rest, to ensure we are strong throughout the week.
p.s. Manny won, in case you haven’t already heard.
Day Five: Today was a big construction day.
Part of the team plastered a wall, with nary a break the whole time – other team members brought them water so they could continue their work. On the second floor, the main structure of a wall between classes was completed. The team also moved large amounts of sand from the road, up a trail to the school – about 150-200 meters, on a steep angle – partly on their shoulders, where it was too steep for a wheel barrow, then into the wheel barrow for the final ascent. And through all this hard work, not a word of complaint from anyone.
Throughout the day, the kids in the village came to play and help. They spent part of their time riding down the trail in the wheelbarrows, then helped push the wheelbarrows back up. It was a great opportunity for the team to build relationships with some of the Ati kids.
After lunch, it started to rain a little, but not enough to hinder our work. However, on the ferry ride back to Boracay, it started really coming down. One person commented that they weren’t certain if we were moving forward or if we had turned around, because the rain made it hard to see.
The plan had been to take a sunset sail this evening, but the rain put a stop to that plan. So, being the flexible team we are, the kids took some down time, then interviewed Dan Beaver, to learn more about how he became a missionary, and what it has been like for him living and working in the Philippines.
After dinner, we went out for milkshakes, courtesy of one of the zones. Another zone provided bandannas the first work day, which has been a blessing in keeping sweat out of our eyes. The third zone baked cookies before heading down here, which provided a snack along the way and at our first Team Time. Today they also gave each of us a personalized bookmark. In addition to these encouraging acts, the team has hung envelopes, and are writing encouraging notes to each other throughout the week. It is an amazing team!
Day Six: Another day, another change in plans. Our motto: We ARE flexible!
We arrived at the school this morning and started filling sacks with sand, filling sacks with gravel, and generally getting ready to mix and pour concrete. The goal: finish the floor of the first floor classroom, then an early afternoon feeding the the upper Ati village, followed by sports and children’s ministry on the beach on Boracay.
The first part went as planned, we got the sand and gravel measured, and the mixer started up (earlier in the week, we were mixing by hand, because the mixer was being fixed, but it was working today). We set up a buck brigade, and boy did we move concrete! As fast as they could mix it, we put it into buckets and passed them down the line, until they were dumped on the new floor. One of the local workers then smoothed it out, while the empty bucket was passed back down another line, to be refilled and start over again. Periodically, we would rotate positions, so no one got overly tired. It was a thing of beauty to see the team at work. We got about half the floor poured, and it was time to break for lunch.
As we took our lunch break, the rain started, just a little. Then a lot. Then a downpour, the kind you only get in the tropics. Buckets, in minutes. Some of the local kids had been hanging around and playing with team members, so, when the rain got heavy, they joined us in the class room we use as a break room. Different team members entertained them with balloons and bubbles, and some leftovers from lunch.
As time passed, the rain didn’t let up, so the engineer heading up construction decided we weren’t going to be able to pour more concrete. And we found out the feedings were cancelled, due to rain. So we made the call to come back to Boracay, in hopes we could do the sports ministry.
Unfortunately, the rain kept coming, so we all got cleaned up, and the kids headed out to various adventures, mostly related to food and shopping. They came back before dinner and practiced some skits for the Beach Reach on Thursday, then we had dinner. After Team Time, they practiced again – they are getting very creative!
Now we are all settling in for a early evening, as we are starting early tomorrow to make up the lost time today.
The most amazing part of today is how great these teenagers have been when faced with changes and challenges. Not a grumpy face or whiny voice, not even a complaint. Just an attitude of “okay, we aren’t doing it the way we planned, let’s figure out how to do it the new way instead”. It feels a little like a repeat, but this team is great!
Day Seven: It was a long day, but oh so successful!
Today was our last day on construction, and we really wanted to finish the floor in the first floor classroom, so we headed out early. We arrived at 8:45 in the morning and got started moving buckets of concrete by bucket brigade. Yesterday, I was impressed with how much the team completed. Today, by 11:45, we had finished the floor – working even faster than yesterday!
After lunch, we went to a community center and put on a sports clinic for some of the Ati children. Our team split up into six teams, each teaching a skill in either basketball or volleyball. Since not all of our team are athletes, it was really good to see them all actively involved in teaching these children the skills needed to play ball, and enjoying it!
After the clinic, our girls played some Ati boys in basketball. Although the boys played well, the girls had several inches on them, and ended up winning. Then our boys played the First Love team – it was back and forth, up and down the court, and great fun to watch, and our boys ended up ahead at the finish. Then they played the second team for First Love and won that game also.
In case we hadn’t done enough for the day, we came back to Boracay, and hit the beach for some beach ministry with some local kids. They played soccer, and had some team competition that included throwing bean bags, running in diving flippers, shooting water guns, spinning hula hoops and lots of laughter.
We closed out the day with Team Time, talking about things we want to continue to pray about, then broke into small groups to share testimonies and pray together. Then the kids practiced skits again for the Beach Reach tomorrow afternoon.
So, a busy day, a fulfilling day. And, once again, I can only say this team is amazing.
Day Eight: Today dawned bright and sunny, for the first time in almost a week. And it just so happened that today is the day we were scheduled to go snorkeling, so it was a lovely trip.
After lunch, we all took a couple of hours of down time (translate that to shopping for most of us), and then started the Beach Reach.
I think it is safe to say that almost all of us were anxious when we reached the first stopping point and set up the portable sound system. The team performed two skits – Ameno and Knocking and, after each skit, one of the performers explained the skit. The first skit is about Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, the second is about temptation to turn to things other than Christ for our identity. Although the crowd was small, we had opportunities to talk to a few people, and one team member left her Bible with a new believer.
At the second stop, the team performed Imitation and Mask. Imitation is about trying to make Christ fit our mold, when we should be fitting His. Mask is about Christ’s death breaking the power of Satan. We had a larger crowd, and more opportunity to share the Gospel bracelets (which, by the way, are made by the Ati people).
Finally, at the third stop, we performed on a sand bar, just after the sun set, when all the crowds were turning around to head back to the strip. We started off with Mask again, which drew a lot of attention. Then the team performed Everything, which is about the temptations that take us from Christ, and how His death allows us to triumph over sin. This was the biggest crowd of the day, and several team members had a chance to talk to onlookers, and some prayed with them also.
After the last of the onlookers were gone, we headed back down the beach to a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, where we had our “Last Supper”. Then we came back to Vista House and had our last Team Time. It was a reflection of what we have been doing, and how it has affected us, as well as a look forward to when we get home. Then we took down the Encouragement Envelopes and passed them around, so each of us has the notes that have been written all week.
One of the best parts of Team Time was when several team members talked about how much they value the relationships that have been built this week and the opportunity to get to know each other better. They also talked about all of the ministries in which we were involved, and had several different highlights, as well as suggestions on things we can do differently next year.
Day Nine – Home Again
5 a.m. is an early hour for breakfast, especially on Spring Break. But the whole team was up, packed and ready to go at 5 this morning. We ate breakfast and were almost ready to walk out the door when a downpour started. So we took some time to say goodbye to the people we have been working with and who have been supporting us – they provided the resources there in Boracay/Panay that we needed to be able to do the work we did, made all our arrangements, got us where we were supposed to be, fed us wonderful and delicious food, and helped us rest and recover from the work we were doing – they are great!
After about 15 minutes, the rain let up and we headed out to catch a boat to the airport. With the delay, we were running late to check in, and they were making the last call to check in as we walked in to the airport. The good news is that the six people who were going to take a later flight were able to get on the earlier flight, so we flew together all the way home.
Well, sort of. At Manila, Karen left us to complete her gap year, working with Kids International Ministry.
Then we headed to the international terminal and checked in for the Taipei flight. We made it to the gate with an hour to spare, so the team had a chance to explore the airport and pick up a few snacks.
The flight to Taipei was uneventful (many of us slept at least part of the way), we had no problems with customs, and all our bags made it. To have made the entire trip with no travel glitches is pretty amazing. Normally there is a lost bag, a visa/passport issue, a missed connection, or some other problem, but God has gone before us every step of this trip, so not a single problem!
But then we had to say Goodbye to more of our team. Jonie, Natalie and Kelly headed to their homes in Taipei. And Angela and Stephanie took HSR to their homes in Kaohsuing. Then the remaining 13 of us: Vicky, Allen, Caitlyn, Kakeng, Geovanny, Chloe, Jessica, Nathan, Pauline, Josephine, Jacob, and Curtis were with me on the bus to Taichung.
I was, once again, impressed with our team because, as we rode the bus to Taichung, the students on the bus began giving positive feedback to each other. As we approached the school, they joined together in a final prayer, to close out the trip. There was a slight detour as we got off the freeway, but we made it back to school before 6 p.m.
We all know that we could not have made this trip, nor been as successful as we were, without your help, support and prayers. I know I speak for the team when I say THANK YOU!!!
Post Script: After the trip, the kids decided we should do a shoe drive, and send all the shoes we could gather down to the Ati kids (since they were all playing basketball in flip flops or bare foot). We also decided to collect some school supplies to help start the new 4th, 5th and 6th grades off right. The plan was to let people know we were collecting gently used athletic shoes, and collect them in my office. We ended up getting over 300 pairs of new shoes from a school parent who has a connection at a shoe company, plus another 300 or more pairs of gently used shoes. And three microscopes (with slides), three overhead projectors (with spare bulbs and transparencies), library books, workbooks, pencils, pens, paper, and more were also donated for the classrooms. After school ended here in late May, we shipped 10 boxes, and expect to send a few more.
All in all, an amazing experience! Thanks again for all your support!