It was dark already. I remember sitting on a hard bench and having to focus very hard just to understand bits and pieces of the man’s long rambling sentences. We had traveled for two days and were tired. It was night and I could see nothing but the singular glow of a light bulb hanging hap haphazardly by a wire from the roof of a house.
The man speaking was the chieftain of the Ati Tribe that we were staying with; he was introducing us to his place. His introduction included their marriage ceremony…something about fruit stacked on the girl’s head and being told to run. If the man caught her they were then married. Letting us in on tribal secret he told us that sometimes the women run very slow.
As far as religious beliefs he said something like this, “Well we used to pray to the elves at the bottoms of the trees.” (And with a vague wave of the hand and a slight point with the lips like only Filipinos can do he motioned over to what I assumed was a forestry area.)
|We stayed in the yellow tent to the right.|
“But now we know better. Now we pray to the saints.” (Another wave and point, but this time to a silhouette of a miniature wooden house that later I learned held the statues of the saintly.)
As he welcomed us he made another general wave of the hand to the CR (bathroom). The next day we would learn he had pointed at was the river, and NOT the shack we all assumed. The only electricity the small neighborhood had was a few random polls with sporadic wires sprouting out of and appearing to worm into the bamboo houses. No running water. Each family had one to two room houses.
It had been assumed that us girls would stay with a family and that the male in our group would sleep in the tent. The problem was soon realized that no one in the tribe had floor space to spare. We hitched the tent and us girls piled in. The singular male was left to sleep on the wooden bench right outside the cheiftain’s house.
|Ati Tribe in costume and at work at a cultural show.|
The next morning we awoke all wanting and needing baths. We asked around and found ourselves on the bank of a very muddy river. Now, see here is the deal. As the American of the group, I am the mostly likely to become worried about situations faster than my teammates. I usually quiet my thoughts. My fears. My screaming worries with the truths of God’s Word. (Verses concerning humility have become very dear to my heart these past two years.)
But, you see when my Filipino companions voice my fears it is a little harder to ignore my concerns.
We looked at each other. “For God’s glory?” We all laughed. And then we planned a route into the river that had the least mud and then went out past the mud to where the river was running. We giggled as we scrubbed at our hair and soaped up. We were all wondering how clean we could possibly be getting in this not so very clean river. We each made the personal decision to glorify God in our attitudes, actions, and ministry. You see, sometimes a small sacrifice of one’s desire (like wishing for a clean river) can lead to great things being done in God’s name.
|What's for supper? Getting the fire going.|
Thankfully we only had to bathe in the river once. We made a friend during our evangelism time, who had a friend with a water source. Running water? What a blessing!
After that every morning us girls would wake up and take the 10 minute walk to the outdoor faucet. Down the dirt path until we came upon the cement road. We would turn onto an always muddied path and weave our way in between the small houses. Through a pig pin. (That pig was huge.) Around to the back of the house and there it was. Water. Clean. Running. Out of a spigot. Water.
God provides. And in His provision friendships are often made. What a joy it is to serve God when His blessing are also open doors to sharing His gospel!
We had been there a little over a week when an opportunity for us to move into a church was offered to us. We talked about it. We prayed about. We would have water. Real shelter. (Our tent often flooded.) And a CR. The only downside is we would be a quite distance from the tribe and would have to commute daily. We made the decision together to stay in the tribe and not to leave. At the time of this decision we several Bible Studies but no real commitments. A few questions but no real hunger, we did not stay because we were encouraged to by any fruits of our labor. We remained in the village because of the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit.
So, we continued finding bushes for CRs. And went out each morning and afternoon for Bible studies in out neighbor’s houses. Each evening we had a study underneath the lonely flickering light of the chieftain’s house.
|VBS with the children of the Ati Tribe. Because most of them worked at the |
cultural shows they could not come...however the ice cream man thought
it was interesting enough to sit and stay all the way to the end!
One night in particular was hard because two men we had never seen before had come to visit and in the process of the visit almost every single man was DRUNK. AS. A. SKUNK.
We were discouraged. I remember my team leader looking at me with big worried eyes. We had become close; sisters in Christ and companions in ministry. She wanted me to tell her what to do. “Should we go ahead with the plan?” Our plan was an alter call. To give an opportunity to the people to accept Christ as savior and profess him as his lord.
I understood her worry. I had my own worries. How were we going to get those men to stop singing? Would anyone come? If the drunk men came what would happen…would anyone receive Christ? Would the drunk strangers become angry? I wanted to know what would happen! I wanted to give my friend Godly advice. In a perhaps rare moment of wisdom I told my sweet friend this. “I cannot be your Holy Spirit, you have to listen to him for yourself. You have to hear and obey him for yourself.”
In truth it was not easy for me to speak that to her. Before that I had been saying oh let’s do this verse. Or they seem to misunderstand this concept, let’s teach that. I was not in control and I was not the leader but my ideas (by God’s grace alone) had proved helpful.
Honestly I had no idea what she should do, but did have a very clear understanding of one thing. The Holy Spirit wants to speak and be heard by all of Christ’s followers. His spirit is not something that is given only to the preachers. The missionaries. Or the extra-special church members. It is a voice that we must teach younger believers to listen for and demonstrate to them how to obey it.
We knew that the Holy Spirit was at work because we had heard Nanay (mother) say earlier that morning to the younger girls, “Oh you are just ashamed because of the Bible study last night.” The alter call was given the drunk men continued singing. There were so many distractions. I remember praying and begging God to quiet satan’s noise.
The few that had not drunken themselves silly came. And in that number many of them made professions of faith. God did not answer my prayers that night. In fact, even after the Bible study as over and people had gone home the drunkened singing continued. I learned that night that God’s quiet still small voice has more power than any of satan’s attempt to make a ruckus.
The tribe said that we were different. I wondered at that, how could be any different or better?
They said, “You actually stayed with us. Most come for a day and give us things. You actually stayed, you know us.”
The truth was, we knew their wickedness. We were there after dark and heard the screaming. The yelling. We were there long enough to see their dirtiness. They knew that we knew just how bad they were, how poor their living conditions were, and how deteriorated their relationships with one another were. And we still offered our friendship. We still offered the holy cleansing redeeming friendship to them from God. We repeated ourselves (speaking the gospel) to be understood. We tread slowly through verses and patiently waited for understanding. And even when we had the opportunity to move to a better place we stayed with them.
God’s will is not that we perish but that we humble our wills, quiet our worries, and boldly proclaim His gospel. So that more might hear about the abundant everlasting relationship He so freely gives even to the most wicked of hearts.
That summer God showed me outward filthiness and reminded me what He saved me from and taught me that my temporary discomfort can impact someone’s eternity. It really is all (everything you/I do) for His glory.
The tribe mentioned in this post celebrated their first anniversary of their church in summer of 2012 just one year after Nehemiah Teams involvement in the area. Thankfully a local partner has continued working in this tribe. Praise God that His Word does not return void and where seeds are planted churches can (by the grace of God) grow.