Friday, October 16, 2009

A Rescue!

When I (Lizzy) embarked upon a grocery shopping trip today, I had no idea that I would protect someone from serious bodily harm. As larger shopping complexes come up here, a relatively new people moving feature is the escalator. They remind us of the many conveniences in our former world, but they seem to incite fear in the hearts of locals as people carefully place a foot onto the moving stairs. When Nay and I were standing by the escalator at the grocery store while P.J. was paying nearby, this older couple prepared to enter the escalator. The husband stepped on without any hitches and reminded his wife that all would be okay if she just stepped forward. Unfortunately, escalators don't work that way, and you do actually have to put your foot on a step.

Right when the woman boldly set her foot down on a step, I noticed that she stepped on the crack between two. As the front stair lifted, everything went into slow motion, and this poor lady started falling backwards. That turned into an awful spectacle of falling, crawling, squealing, and struggling grab anything as the machine continued to move. Of course, it was really only a few seconds, but it seemed like forever! Since I grew up with escalators, I knew I had to push an emergency button to stop it. Thankfully, locating it took just a second, and I pushed my way in front of other rescuers to stop the escalator. Poor Nay was screaming hysterically, but the move allowed the woman's husband to pick her up. Amazingly enough, she stood up with grace (and even a smile on her face!) and proceeded to climb the staircase to the next floor as though nothing had happened.

While the rescue seemed dramatic, the funniest part was watching the locals try to figure out how to get those stairs moving again. They repeatedly pushed the emergency button, telling each other, "You have to push that, it's the 'On' button." When I couldn't stand it anymore, I told them in the local language, "You need a key." And then, everyone reassured their neighbor, "Yes, you need a key." Only here... : )

Friday, October 2, 2009

#1 The Adventure Begins

My friend asked me to join him on a 10-day trip to visit different villages and spend some time teaching and encouraging our brothers and sisters in those villages. His sales pitch was lacking appeal: he told me there would be long days of travel, long hours of walking, nights sleeping on the floor, and meal after meal of the exact same food. Despite all those luxuries it was still a very difficult decision. I would have to leave my wife and beautiful baby girl for 10 days. In the end, we decided as a family it was right for me to go for a multitude of reasons.

So last Monday my friend and I loaded up at 6:00am for a long road trip. 11 hours and one flat tire later, we arrived at our destination where we met our local companions that would be traveling with us. Day two was eventful but not very newsworthy. We visited a young congregation, and I spoke to them in the morning. In the afternoon we had a small leadership retreat. Day three we were on the road again, heading into the mountains, and luckily we had no flat tires or any other problems. We arrived at our destination around dusk. We could go no further by vehicle since there was a river with no bridge separating us from the village we planned to reach. In the dry season they build a floating pontoon bridge, but we are in the tail end of monsoon season so no hope there. We had a short 30 min walk to the place we would sleep for the night, which was situated on a little peninsula jutting into the river that was connected to the mainland by two suspended walking bridges.

The “hotel” consisted of a ground floor eating area with kitchen and an upstairs open room with five single beds. We put our packs down and headed down for dinner. All the kids were excited to see two giant white people in their little town and were asking us to tell them a story. We were excited to tell them a story from the Truth, but before we finished our food, the electricity came on and all thoughts of a story went out the window with the switching on of the television. The television, oddly enough, was located in our room. So after dinner we joined the entire village already seated in our room for a little entertainment. Not long after we sat down a little boy put a new DVD in which turned out to be the absolute strangest movie I have ever seen in my life.

The plot started out simple enough. A rich family in the capital city has their only son kidnapped on his way to school by a group of jungle hooligans who all seem to operate on an I.Q. in the single digits. The kidnapper demands a steep ransom, but before they can make the exchange, the little boy escapes into the jungle. The scene ends with the little boy running into the jungle, and the very next scene opens up with the little boy sitting in a jungle tree-house with a beautiful woman from the city and a fawn. By fawn, I don’t mean a young deer, that wouldn’t be that odd, but rather there was a half man half goat just like in Narnia sitting in the tree house with the little boy. Where this fawn comes from, or for that matter the woman from the city, we never know. How did they meet up with the boy? That’s never explained either. Those are only minor details in the story I guess.

The movie proceeds without a plot of any kind for the next 30 minutes as the fawn, gets himself into funny situations after the woman from the city takes both the fawn and the little boy home to her mansion in the capital. The fawn tries to eat plastic fruit, shoots the T.V. with an arrow after a lion came on screen, eats an entire tube of toothpaste, and inadvertently sees the girl naked in the bathroom. All the typical things fawns do when faced with civilization. Then they take a trip to the zoo, and while at the zoo, they are spotted by the jungle hooligans who recapture the little boy and the woman with the fawn in hot pursuit. Ah, back on plot.

The movie ends with the boy’s family showing up to pay the ransom, but they never have to pay it because it turns out the woman from the city and the fawn seem to have black belts in Taekwando so they defeat the 10 kidnappers with ease. The father gives his heartfelt thanks to the fawn, and then the beautiful woman, who seems to have fallen in love with the fawn, says a tearful goodbye as he swings up into the vines and off into the jungle. Maybe she realized the city was no place for a fawn. It was a really touching moment. The T.V. was switched off, the village left us to sleep, and moments later I was laying in my bed thinking, “What in the world did I just watch?”

#2 Head in the Clouds

3:30 the next morning I was being shaken awake and told it was time to leave. I sat up not knowing what time it was and saw my buddy glaring at me from across the room. In the fogginess of my brain I thought “I must of said something bad about his mother in my sleep.” He came over to me and said joking, “Just so you know this is all your fault.” I was confused. Thankfully he added “You do know it’s 3:30, don’t you?” I didn’t, but then it all came back. The night before we were told we couldn’t get on the bus since it was a main holiday and every last inch of space was already reserved. So we would have to walk 10 hours to the village, and it was suggested that we leave between 6-7. They turned to me and asked if that was O.K., and I said “It doesn’t matter to me, we can leave at 4:00am.” It was a joke, but it was not taken as a joke.
So off we began our “10-hour” walk at four o’clock in the morning. It was still dark and very foggy, and we began to climb. 90% of our walking turned out to be uphill, and when the sun came up we were already above the clouds and would stay above or inside the clouds the rest of the day. We started off with purpose, mentally prepared for a long 10-hour trek. The scenery was, as it always is here, beautiful, and we were in high spirits despite our early departure.

At 10:00am we had been walking for 6 hours and hoped we had reached the halfway point. We asked some locals how far it was to the village. They looked us up and down and said “You’ll never make it.” Wow, that’s encouraging. An hour later we asked someone else. They again sized us up and replied, “You’ll never make it.” Our guide told us it might take five or six hours more. By this point we had been walking for seven hours, and the thought of five or six more hours was just deflating. Amazingly enough it was our local companions who were lagging behind and slowing down the foreigners. We trudged on up the hill. Around 5:00pm, 13 hours after we started walking, it began raining. I was already soaked with sweat, although it was only about 60 degrees, so I wasn’t worried about getting wet. The rain brought two problems, slippery trails and leeches. So there we were walking in the dark, slipping and sliding up and down the hills with our feet and ankles covered in leeches. At that point we didn’t care if we made it, we just wanted to stop.

At 8:00pm we proved everyone wrong. We made it! 16 hours after we set out from the river town, we arrived at our destination, a village situated on a ridge. We had covered 50-60 miles that day, by foot. I took off my socks and shoes and left a pool of blood on the ground from pulling off leeches. I didn’t care, I was sitting down, and there was no more walking to be done. That night I was reminded of the Scripture, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” Mine may not have looked beautiful on the outside, but what we brought with us was.

#3 Bathing in Concrete

The day after our 16-hour trek, day 5, I taught in the morning on “washing” in preparation for the “dunking” of 20 people. Then we headed downhill to a small river to accomplish the task at hand. Easy enough, right? Well, not on this trip. After walking 45 minutes downhill with the sound of the river growing louder and louder, I was dismayed at the sight of our selected body of water. The water was gray from all the rock and sediment that had been washed down from the mountains. To make matters worse, it was really fast moving, and the terrain was very dangerous. In our company we had a range of ages from 1½ years old all the way up to a few ladies in their 70s. So we headed upstream to find a smaller creek that was supposed to be cleaner and fed into the grey river. It was cleaner, for about 3 minutes before it began to rain. Not just a sprinkle, but an all out torrential downpour. So our clean river was now muddy brown, and the little pool we had selected was quickly filling with gravel and mud.

The main river on the other hand had turned to the consistency of concrete. The force of the concrete was so strong that it was throwing boulders the size of T.V.s down the river. I had taught just two hours before about the symbolic death to self, but this river would make the symbolism very real. So now our company of 40 or so people began walking downstream to yet another creek. 45 slow-moving, treacherous minutes later, we reached a crystal clear creek and found a place to build a small damn. All in all the day turned out to be a wonderful celebration of new life. Now we just had to make the hour walk back up the hill on very sore legs!

#4 My First Time in an Ambulance

The next day we walked four hours over to another village to spend some time with a different group of people. We had a wonderful time there that day as my friend talked about the cost of following Him. We had a great response, but by the afternoon, we were very tired from the past couple days and very happy that we had decided to stay in that village for the night. We were showered with hospitality and enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing and visiting with the people there. After a good night's sleep, we woke up to hear that a vehicle had been found for us to travel back to the other village so we could save our strength for the next two full days of teaching. So what was the vehicle? That’s ambulance!

My thoughts were along these lines: "This should be good. An ambulance driver should be a safe driver used to carrying delicate cargo. There should be no safer way to drive around winding mountain roads than in a 4x4 ambulance right?" Wrong! About 10 seconds after the last door was closed, the clutch was popped, and the neck breaking adventure began. Keep in mind this is a dirt road that is heavily rutted from tires and the monsoon rains. There were several stream crossings, several large boulders in the road, and hundreds of chickens, goats, and people along the way. None of these things slowed down our driver. His cargo, that would be us, was tossed around like rag dolls in the back. I thought I would have whiplash for sure. My friend sat in the front seat and said that on one sharp turn we hit 32 mph. Next time you are driving, take a 90 degree turn at 32 mph, and then picture yourself on a dirt road with a 500 foot drop awaiting you if you slip off the road. Let’s just say I was preparing my soul for eternity. We arrived, but I don’t know if safely would be the word. We just arrived. Hopefully that will be my last time in an ambulance, but if nothing else at least my last time in an ambulance on a dirt road in the mountains!

#5 Home Sweet Home

We had two great full days of meetings. Each day held for us over 12 hours of work, and we definitely felt poured at the end. It was time to go home, and we were both excited to get there. We knew we had two long days of travel ahead of us, but we were ready to endure them to reach our families. Instead of our 16-hour trek, we took a 7-hour bus ride crammed into a space far too small for two 6’3” guys. Uncomfortable as it was, it was much easier on the legs than 16 hours of walking. We arrived back at the river town, made the 30-minute walk back to the car, and drove five hours back to our local friends' house. After a long day of traveling, we collapsed on our beds to recharge for our drive home the next morning. Once again at six o’clock, we set out on the road. We did kill one chicken on the way, but other than that our trip was uneventful. We even shaved three hours of our time off from 9 days earlier thanks to the empty roads!

As we were approaching the city, we finally crested the hill that overlooked the valley. The city had never looked so wonderful and welcoming before. Our trip was over, and we were nearing our wives and children. We thanked our Father for such a wonderful trip. Despite all the hardships, the work that was accomplished was very rewarding and very, very fruitful. Lives were changed, and that’s why we are here. I can’t wait to do it all again, minus as much of the danger as possible, and hopefully next time with my little girl and beautiful wife by my side.