Philippines 2017_Day 3
Fear & Faith
Our third day began with 6am devotions with the children followed by a hearty breakfast before we headed back into Dolores for our first prison visit, where we would provide ministry and medical clinics. For me personally, the prison visits were an important moment, as this was the part of the trip I was most anxious about. With a high rate of violent crime, widespread gun usage and President Duterte’s war on drugs, the Philippines can seem from afar as a dangerous place, so I felt very nervous about visiting and treating the inmates at the prisons. However, from the very first moment we entered the compound I felt those feelings drift away when we received a warm welcome from the prison guards. We were introduced to the inmates, who were relatively free to roam and mingle with us in the prison yard as we began to set up our clinical areas. The inmates instantly provided us with tables and chairs where required and were very keen to help us set up in these new surroundings. It very quickly became obvious that this was no ordinary prison, as the relationship between prison guards and inmates appeared mutually respectful and friendly; there was no sense of resentment or antagonism that might traditionally be expected between guard and prisoner. Previously, this prison had been considered quite a dangerous place, but now a real cohesion and sense of safety had developed.
Whilst the ministry team began their service to the inmates, the medics and dentists began to work their way through a long list of patients; virtually all inmates had a healthcare problem that they wanted attending to. In normal circumstances, if an inmate were to become ill, they require a court order to attend a doctor or dentist, a process which can take a month or longer for a decision to be made. Obviously waiting a month for medical or dental treatment must be incredibly distressing, and by the time they receive a court decision the problem may have gone away or worsened exponentially. Acute dental pain can be excruciating, so many of the inmates attempt to extract their own teeth rather than go through the court process. All of the patients we saw on the dental clinic had multiple instances of tooth decay or pain, so we had to prioritise the most urgent cases in order to maximise our time.
Dental decay and pain was so rampant we could have spent a couple of days in the prison extracting teeth, but we only had a few hours. Each patient was so thankful for the treatment they received, and keenly expressed their gratitude. Unfortunately due to time constraints at this first prison, we were not able to treat every patient (thankfully this was the only time this occurred during the trip!), so we were forced to leave some of the inmates disappointed. On the ministry side, the prisoners were fully engaged with the prayers, testimonies and worship songs.
One of the most incredible sights was seeing the inmates and guards worshipping and singing alongside each other; the barrier between guard and inmate felt fully broken down during these moments. As we were leaving, the prisoners sang two of their usual worship songs for us, which felt so incredibly humbling, and even more remarkable as many of them had had teeth removed and were still numb around the mouth!
The second prison, a higher security facility, was located a mere 30 second walk from the first and had fewer inmates. Only two or three inmates were allowed out of the prison cells at a time, so interaction was more minimal. Despite this, the level of worship and gratefulness for treatment was just as high as the first prison. Following the prison visits, we had a quick lunch of takeaway roasted chicken in Dolores before setting up in the church building again for afternoon ministry and clinics. For me this was quite a difficult clinic, as I came across one patient who very likely had mouth cancer. Rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and chewing tobacco products are high in the Philippines, all of which increase the risks of oral cancer significantly. There was no treatment we could provide to the patient, and a full diagnosis would only be possible via biopsy, so we strongly advised he visited the local hospital and seek treatment urgently. The prayer team spent time with the patient and he was clearly very grateful for the prayer and the time spent with him. Survival rates for mouth cancer can be quite low, and even following treatment quality of life can be very poor (difficulty eating and facial disfigurement for example). This experience was very difficult and demonstrates how blessed we are in the UK to have such immediate access to healthcare.
In the evening we took part in the children’s service in San Isidro in the church building. The children sang us a song that they wrote themselves about typhoon Ruby a few years previously. During the typhoon, the children from the orphanage took refuge and sang songs to pass the time; they decided to compose their own, and each of the children contributed a line to the song. This was a real joy to watch and listen to, and really demonstrated the resilience of the community of San Isidro. Throughout the trip it was evident that the children’s love for God gave them strength in everything they do, and this really shone through whilst they sang about their traumatic experience of the typhoon. Their bravery and courage was inspiring. We finished the evening with a dental hygiene talk aimed at helping the children to brush their teeth more regularly and to eat less food and drink with a high sugar content. The children really engaged with the interactive talk and hopefully took away some important messages. After a very tiring but rewarding day, the group reflected on how remarkable the Dolores and San Isidro communities were, from the prisons to the orphanage, and how God’s work is present in every moment of their lives. We took great encouragement from the strength of their faith and how they use this strength to fight against some of the most difficult of circumstances.
Getting up for 6am devotions was slightly more of a struggle this morning but we all managed to eventually get ourselves up and out of bed to start the day with sung worship and God's Word, which was led by Jason today. He shared from the Old Testament (Exodus 1: 8-22) about the fear of God vs the fear of man; the courage the Hebrew midwives had that enabled them to be obedient to God and how they could encourage one another amidst the crushing demands of the new Pharaoh. Although the Pharaoh was an extremely powerful figure back in the day, it was the names of the midwives and their mission that was remembered. A reminder of how fear and suffering could hinder us from being on God's mission but God is faithful and He honours those who are faithful to Him. Even from yesterday – the cutting off of the charm on the lady's belt; how she's now set free, and as a believer, she has new life and is a part of a community of believers. With this year's BLi team and those from ROLM - as a part of God's chosen people, filled with His Spirit, praise God that the whole team is working well together on mission for His glory.
After devotions we headed out to the prisons where we held dental and medical clinics, and Alice and Hui King preached. With my squeamish nature, I was in no position to help the dentists but instead volunteered to assist the doctors with the triage; taking stats like blood pressure, temperature and details of the patients. Paired with Abegail, who also helped with translation, we tried various methods to get the flow of patients seen as quickly as possible. The prisoners waited patiently and were quick to jump into action to help keep us dry when the clouds darkened and rain started pouring down; returning to their seats as soon as they were done.
The space wasn't particularly large and the triage wasn't far away, but the focus to get as many patients seen meant I didn't hear the sermons fully. However, I remember looking up one moment and hearing Hui King preach about the story of the prodigal son, and the next moment how this message had resonated in the hearts of many, so much so that they were all stood up and were at the front for prayer, many in tears for what they had heard as they were prayed for.
It's moments like this that reminds me the surpassing amount of grace God has for each of us – that no matter how far we go, there is always a point of return to His loving embrace; the father heart of God is like no other.
Before we went left to go to the second prison, we handed out small gifts to each of the prisoners. They gifted us with two songs in return. I have never heard "Give Thanks" sung with such heartfelt thanks and meaning – knowing it's not so much us they were thanking but actually the heart of praise to our Lord and Saviour. It brought me to a new level of understanding about God's Spirit touching our spirit when we worship.
After the second prison, we returned to the church in Delores for a quick lunch and prepared for the second round of medical and dental clinics, and seminars. This afternoon was mine and Yang's turn to preach. Following yesterday's unexpected high turnout, we were preparing for the similar numbers today. However, only a few patients waited in the church. Nonetheless, we gathered for worship and shared the messages we had prepared. Continuing from the kid's ministry session yesterday - 1 Peter 2:9 about being a chosen generation and royal priesthood; that despite our background and where we come from, as a follower Jesus, we have been chosen to become a part of His kingdom. Through Jesus, we can come before God at any time, at any place, and how we can communicate with the Lord in prayer. Yang shared about the goodness of God; challenging us with the question of 'is it a sin if we doubt God's goodness' whilst looking at Genesis 3, and his testimony. Whilst the last of the patients were being seen, Yang and I took the opportunity to round up the neighbouring kids and spent some time with them, making up some more crowns, and held another coronation ceremony.
The Youth and Children's service was held back at San Isidro church in the evening. We had a fun illustration of being the light in the world, which was a part of Henna's message, and possibly the only good use our smart phones had thus far in this remote village!
Rick's dental hygiene talk with the kids went well also and they happily received the toothbrushes and toothpastes. The kids shared an amazing song with us that they written themselves. They also gave testimonies, read out passages from the bible and recited scripture. Memorising scripture made me think back home to Timothy and Lighthouse cell groups. Haha... guys, if you're reading this – these kids have certainly set an example for us older believers and we should take note!!!
But seriously, the way that they worship here... their creative spirit... their joy … the delight they have in the Lord. Incredible! The teaching received in the morning about not fearing man and working together for God was certainly prevalent throughout the day. Already seeing and sensing the covering of prayer from those praying for us; I am so thankful the foundation and reason for all of what we're experiencing is Jesus and through the work of the Holy Spirit. The humbleness of the team to withdraw back to the Lord and seek Him and His ways in readiness of what is to come; may His will be done.