Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Life (06/15/06)
TITLE: Memories of Mansilingan
By April Bailey
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We were heading to Bacolod City in Mansilingan on the island of Negros, a breathtaking half-hour flight from Manila. The entire trip took three planes and, with layovers, nearly 24 hours. Our mission: to help rebuild a Christian school destroyed by a typhoon.
The culture of the lovely land greeted us with heat and scurrying lizards, amidst enormous jackfruit that hung from plentiful trees. Our humble hosts lavished us with coconut meat and sticky rice at every meal, while providing a spacious, windowless jeepney with driver to transport our 12-member team.
The warning about the children went out the window on the first day. Moving cinder blocks, bending rebar and mixing mortar in ninety degree weather was an unexpected adventure, considering it was January. Taking a break at the nearby rock pile, we juggled and sat amidst the stones. That’s when they came. As if called by a heavenly horn, scores of children emerged from the woods near our build site. A pantless, diaperless toddler claimed my husband’s lap as his throne, the boy’s scant attire the Filipino equivalent of potty training. The children gathered around our group of diverse strangers, unafraid. Black holes in their teeth, evidence of too much sugar cane and inadequate dental care, didn’t impede the sea of smiles that flashed for us with every word, every tickle, every playful toss of a stone. It seemed Jesus himself stepped from the woods with these little ones, pieces of our hearts stolen by every pair of black eyes.
We met Eric, an orphan who lived at the church that hosted our mission group, later that day. An eight-year-old whose brown skin was barely visible beneath layers of lesions and discolorations, Eric quietly captivated our team. We knew God couldn’t create such a beautiful boy with restrictions for sharing affection. The certainty of His protection overcame fear and we hugged Eric freely, the healing power of touch in his eyes.
It was a trip that changed our hearts and our lives, and for more than a few moments, my husband and I considered staying there forever. Somehow, in spite of living conditions that seemed like destitution by American standards, hospitality and generosity thrived in the makeup of these people. One afternoon, we took our jeepney driver to McDonalds, a treat so rare for Filipinos that he saved most of his french fries to take home for his family. Unlike most Americans, theirs was not a life of abundance. Genuine poverty in paradise. Despite this, these were the richest people I’d ever met. They wouldn’t take the trinkets we offered, content to share experiences with us and cherish the memories of friendship instead. What they gave us was far more beneficial than the work we did with our backs.
The people, who welcomed us into their homes and schools, became teachers, quizzing us on Ilongo phrases they’d taught us earlier. In more than words, this amazing group of believers in the Philippines also taught us how to say thank you. Salamat gid.
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