We loaded up a cart with medicine, massive cooking-pot and food, and hitched it to a Kalabaw (Water buffalo) for the bumpy trek through rivers and jungle. Kids ran and laughed, plunging through the rivers, swimming and splashing, running far ahead, knowing their way after all these years, and the adults settled in to deep conversations while we walked. We’ve grown to love this journey as well as our destination.
We have walked these trails hundreds of times over the past many years, often with a nursing baby tied to my chest, a toddler gripping our hands. We’ve changed, the ruts in the trail have gotten deeper, so much water has travelled and moved over these rocks and changed the landscape. The landscape of my heart and our lives has changed as well.
My (Leah) mind rewound back to my first hike into this village…
I was largely pregnant with Avea 11 years ago, when Francis and I got word from an older Mangyan man (who hiked for a few days to reach our home), that his daughter had been hit on the head with a falling coconut, and was taken to the provincial hospital three days ago.
We took him and immediately drove the 1.5 hours to the hospital in the capital city.
When we arrived, we saw an empty bed. The nurse barely looked up from her paperwork, “that patient died an hour ago- her family took her body back to their village.”
Francis asked for her chart. We saw that she had been brought in unconscious, but her GCS was relatively high, meaning that she was responsive, had a window of time to be treated for the massive head injury. She was placed in the Mangyan ward (A separate structure from the hospital, used only for Mangyan people. Dirty, crowded, where doctors and nurses rarely come and treat patients) and not one test was done, not one life-saving measure offered for over three days. She died to what was most likely internal bleeding.
She was my exact age, the mother to several children.
We wept. I locked myself in the car and shouted. White-hot anger flooded both of us. The injustice of how these people were treated overwhelmed us.
"How do we ever bring about change?!" We hugged each other and asked God to show us.
We drove quickly to the drop off point of the trail to their village. It was a day of torrential rain, blowing sideways in the strong wind. We parked the car and saw several men wrapping her body in banana leaves and making a stretcher of bamboo to carry her home.
We joined them, no words were spoken. Together we hoisted her body onto our shoulders, standing behind the men from her village. The rain soaked us, rivers of water cascading from the banana leaves that shrouded her. We walked through the river and down muddy banks, weaving our way through this jungle I’d never seen before. Tears poured down my cheeks. My eyes focused down on my swollen belly, my mud-caked feet, the mud and blood streaked t-shirt of the man in front of me.Their bare feet were sure-footed and knew every inch of this path, even as darkness moved in. I slipped and sloshed and was no help at all. But I wanted to be present.
When we arrived, they set her body under a grass-roofed shelter and her husband and children came and gathered around her. A one year old poked her face, wondering why his mama would not open her eyes.
I prayed ardently for Jesus to raise the dead that day, as I had seen Him do before. Hours based and He did not.
But He began a process of raising the dead in me. Of letting my bruised heart glimpse and taste His heart for His people and giving me a love for them that came closer.
Fast forward 11 years, my muddy feet and muddy children know this path by heart, and more than that, we know the people that fill this village. We’ve walked beside them through births and deaths, illness and healing, and watched them grow in their love for Jesus and confidence in their identity. We share bowls of food, we share head-lice, and we laugh together.
When we walked into the village this time, into a church filled with families and sick patients, we were home.
We sat with a beautiful woman named Lennie, who lost her mom a few months ago. She cannot walk, and is depressed and overwhelmed. We sat and listened, hugged her, prayed with her and treated her body, Her heart became light and she said Hope came in again. She smiled and laughed, sharing that no one had talked to her or listened to her. She could now feel Jesus' love.
72 patients crowded into the small church for checkups, medicine and food.
Jesus always highlights the one, focuses on the one. His love is personal and intimate.
A young mother named Mary Jane brought her child to us to treat her for parasites.
I felt the heaviness in her heart. As we sat with her, and Holy Spirit led our hearts to take her aside and invite her to share more deeply what was burdening her. She began to sob into her hands.
She had lost her 1.5 year old son last year, after he had diarrhea for one day. One day. She wrestles with guilt and self-blame daily. She doesn’t sleep. She decided to kill herself.
We held her and wept with her, grieved with her. Shared the hope and comfort of Jesus. By the end of the day, she said that she chooses to live, that her heart is lighter and she now knows it was not her fault that her baby died.
These people are now our friends, our family; they trust us with their stories and their hearts. They know that Jesus loves them, and that we love them. The honor and gravity of that is not lost on me. It is a gift I carry gently.
As we packed up and began the hike out of Ambang, tired but overflowing and full, I lagged behind, watching. I watched my children ride off on the back of the Kalabaw cart, laughing and singing, our team of incredible men and women, my husband walking with two Mangyan friends the entire way out of the jungle, just to talk.
Their hands were animated, their laughter rang through the jungle. Tears filled my eyes.
These men look at Francis, not as a doctor, but a friend. A loved brother. He walks the trails with them, gets his feet and hands dirty beside them, and gently and humbly models how to walk with Jesus on the right path. These trails are now Jesus’ trails.
Jesus brings life into dead places, light into dark spaces. He is raising the dead here.
Francis has been beautifully partnering with the Mangyan church leaders and helping many of them go deeper into the truth of God’s word, and to come out of, renounce and break off demonic spiritual practices that are ingrained in their culture. These practices and spirits continue to have a hold on them and are also still pervasive within the church.
Pray for protection, discernment and leading of The Holy Spirit as we walk with them and help them walk in freedom through Jesus. God's love is transforming many dark and broken places- we're so honored that we can join Him.
We are grateful for you, the ones who hold onto us, pray for us, and give. We need you.
We can keep going, in slow and steady steps of faithfulness, because you have been faithful.
We’re so thankful for you!
Please consider giving towards the following arms of this ministry:
*Sacks of rice for poor families
*Food and medicines for local pastor’s families (most of them are impoverished)
*Medicines for Mangyan tribal village outreach
*Financial help towards labs, tests, and medicine for Mangyans who are hospitalized
Please also continue to pray for the right land and finances that God has for us as we move forward in the vision of building a maternity center and wholeness center.
Thank you for partnering with us!
Blessings, Grace and Peace as you walk Jesus' trail,
Francis, Leah, Julia, Avea, and Justice Daytec