Chapter 25: Our Second Trip to Abra, Part 2

While I was at Bitwen fighting with the no-seeums, Chuck was out on the trail to Tineg searching for people to carry our cargo. Chuck talked with some people, and they agreed to carry cargo from Bitwen to Bacag for 40 centavos per kilo. (Bacag is a barrio of Lacub, about halfway from Bitwen to Tineg.) That seemed to be a potential help since people from each place would only have to go one day from home. It also necessitated a price adjustment since we couldn’t pay 40 centavos per kilo for the first half, and only 20 centavos per kilo for the second half. The first half included crossing a river, so warranted a somewhat higher rate. We raised the second half to 25 centavos per kilo, and the cargadors then carrying said that was fair, and they would return to Bacag later and carry more cargo at that rate.

Chuck and some of the men went on to Agsimao the next day, and he paid the men at the new rate of 65 centavos per kilo, which was from Bitwen to Agsimao. The interpreter told him the cargadors were dissatisfied. Chuck told him they were already receiving 5 centavos more than they had agreed to carry for. He said, “Yes, but that was when they were standing there looking at the cartons. Carrying them on the trail is a different matter.” Having just walked over that trail with them part of the time, Chuck knew he was right. Also, Chuck decided to operate always by this principle: We must live with these people for fifteen years. Whatever else we can or cannot afford, we certainly cannot afford their ill will or resentment. Chuck asked him what they wanted. They wanted 5 centavos per kilo more plus 50 centavos for food allowance. He paid them that additional.

When we had gotten about a third of our cargo into Lacub, we decided that I should move and stay with the cargo there. We made the home of the Vice Mayor of Lacub, Juanito Molina, who lived there, our terminal, warehouse, and restaurant. They served meals to thirty-two cargadors at P1.50 each. We went to Lacub the same way as before. The trail went up one relatively low mountain, and part of the way there were rice paddies to cross. This meant balancing ourselves on the ridges of the paddies as we went, which was difficult for one who has never done it before. We did it, though, and then got to a long, steep part of the mountain. We stopped along the way to rest from time to time even though we were in pretty good shape due to having been in Jungle Training Camp a few months before coming to the Philippines. However, after we got to the top, the trail went down along the side of the mountain, and it was very lovely there with lots of shade and little streams that entered into the valley along the way.

That afternoon we got to the Centro of Lacub which was fairly large. The Catholic Church there was a beautiful cement building. It was a major task to bring in all the cement that was used for this edifice, but they had lots of workers and apparently, enough money for the task. We talked to the priest, and he was very interested in what we planned on doing for the Addassen Tinguian people in translating the New Testament for them in their own language. We stayed for the second time at the home of the mayor of Lacub over night, and we were well taken care of.

The next day, on the trail to Bacag, we had a guide take us along the trail because of the difficulty of crossing a particularly sheer cliff along the Binongan River, the same part that was difficult the first time we went that way. Without our guide, we would never have known where to put our hands and feet to cross that area. With the guide to help us, we made it all right. A little farther on, we crossed the river on a hanging bridge. The bridge was made of two lengths of cables which were about three feet apart. Ropes went down from the cables to boards that we actually stepped on as we walked across the bridge holding on to the cables as we walked. These boards weren’t too stable, so it was quite a trick to cross it, but our guide went across very quickly, so we knew it was doable.

When we got across the river, we had to climb up to a trail that was quite a bit higher than the river itself, and that was when I thought of Isaiah 40:31 which says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

At long last, we reached the barrio of Bacag. This barrio was on the side of the mountain and was set up so the houses were on flat areas, one above the other, about four or five levels altogether. The one where we were to stay was on the third level, and we couldn’t see the river from our house, but it was fairly close by. It wasn’t far to go to the river to take a bath. To get there, I walked down a fairly straight path that led along the side of the mountain, and bathed in a stream that was coming down the mountain at that point. What a blessing this was, though it was something I didn’t get to enjoy often because when I did, I couldn’t count on people staying out of the house and getting into our cargo.

Since I was at Bacag for four weeks while Chuck was out trying to find more people to carry our cargo, I found myself alone much of the time in the room where we kept our cargo. The house was built on stilts, and the floor was made of wood that was kept quite clean and shiny with a buffer made of a coconut husk. I could see through the cracks to the ground below. The family I stayed with fed me meals every mealtime, which was mainly rice and long green beans. They served salt with it, which helped immensely to make it more tasty. One day when I went downstairs to go to the privy, I saw a huge grapefruit on the ground near the house, so I picked it up and ate it. It was delicious.

It had some ants coming out of one end, because it had been lying on the ground. But I wanted that grapefruit so badly, I didn’t care about the ants. I got a terrible case of “the trots” and was sick with that for at least three days. However, it tasted so good I think if I had it to do over again, I’d do the same thing. The people around there knew I was having problems, I’m sure, and later on, they laughed with me about it, though it wasn’t all that funny at the time.

What do you do when you are stuck in a room for four weeks? Well, I read a lot of scripture and I sang a lot of choruses and songs that I thought I had forgotten years ago. The people heard me singing, and remembered that I like to sing. The words just seemed to come back to me. I wrote a lot of letters, too. Also, I did a lot of praying for Chuck to get people to carry our cargo on up to Tineg, but those prayers didn’t get answered the way I thought they would. God knows best, though, so it all worked out in the best way.

Other things happened while I was staying there. One day I saw almost all the villagers in the barrio heading out towards Tineg. They were all in a line on the trail, one behind another. Later, when they came back, there were four men who were carrying two sheets with something in them. This is the way they carried someone to a hospital if he got sick; we had seen this before. However, this time, it turned out they were the bodies of two men who had been killed by the NPA, (New People’s Army, a Maoist group). One had lived in Bacag, and the other lived in a more lowland area. The group had gone to retrieve the bodies from the mountains of Tineg, and now they were bringing them back for burial. The reason they had all the people go was to keep the NPA from trying to kill them as they went.

This was cause for an occasion, for there are certain things the people do in having a funeral, and they were doing this now. The women made rice candy, the men made a kind of fermented drink, and when I went to the house where they were doing this, the men tried to get me to drink some of their drink. I refused, but they insisted that I take at least a little sip, which I finally did. It was a most bitter drink, and I spit it out immediately, which caused a big laugh all around. It had accomplished its intended purpose. They were not angry with me, but thought it was hilarious that I couldn’t take it.

That night, I was told I was to sing for the group at the home of the deceased. They had heard me singing while I was waiting for Chuck to come back to Bacag, and they insisted I come and sing for them. So I went to the occasion that night. We had a meal first, and then everyone sat or stood around talking. Then they began to play the gongs and sing. They sang stories of the man’s life that was now deceased. Sometimes instead of singing, they would tell their stories, but most of the time, they sang them. Also, before a person would sing, he would do a dance with the lady who was sort of directing the affairs. I watched all of this with great interest.

Eventually, the lady came to me and threw her kerchief at me. She was telling me it was my turn to stand and join in the celebration. So, I stood up and danced with her as she showed me to do, and then they wanted me to sing a *story. Well, I didn’t know the man at all, but I did know “The Lord’s Prayer,” so I sang that for them. Of course, I was very shy about it, not having ever done such a thing in such a group before, but they all seemed to appreciate that I had made an effort. They clapped for me, and then I took the kerchief and threw it at someone else who hadn’t been involved yet. It was really an interesting occasion, but I was soon tired of being there, and when I could, I told the host that I was leaving.

At long last, on Tuesday, October 1, Chuck left Tineg and came to Bacag to discuss a problem with me. The problem was this: We realized that we had never thrown out the fleece about going to Tineg. Instead, we had relied solely on the burden we felt for the people as evidence that we should go there. We prayed, and this was our fleece: We would raise the price to 50 centavos per kilo and set the deadline of Sunday, October 6. If enough men came to move all of our cargo to Tineg, we would go; if not, we would conclude that God did not want us there. We also prayed that either all of it would be carried or none of it. “Please don’t make it be most of the cargo and leave us hanging in uncertainty.”

On the day before that, as Chuck was trying to get from Agsimao to Bacag, he got lost, so it took him a long time to finally find his way and get to Bacag. Fortunately for him, the moon was full that night, so he was able to see almost as well as if it had been daylight when he finally found the trail again. He wrote a story about this at the time which was quite exciting.

In order to notify people again that we would like them to carry our cargo to Agsimao, Chuck went to the barrios within close walking distance and sent notes to those back in Agsimao. Except for 65 kilos carried by the students who happen to go in the same direction, NOBODY came. The Philippine Constabulary (PC), halfway between a national guard and a regular army, sent a couple of hundred men into the area “to liquidate the NPA,” but their presence didn’t stop anyone. The men weren’t coming anyway; they were working in their vegetable gardens in areas that had been burned out of the forest.

On October 6th Chuck returned to Bangued and then went on to Manila to talk with an official in the Marcopper Mining Company about using their helicopter to fly our stuff out. The man indicated they would if they could, which was not a clear cut promise, but enough to lead Chuck to prepare for it. This included a round trip by plane to Manila at a cost of about P300 besides a week’s hike back into the mountains to be sure the landing sites would be ready and the cargo there. When the helicopter came on October 30, another official was on it, and he said flatly, “No.” We’d have been much better off if the first guy had told us that in the first place.

In our discussion with the official who declined to let us use the helicopter, and with a PC captain, we learned enough to understand why he didn’t want his helicopter flying in there. On other occasions they have used their helicopter to fly PC men into areas where an NPA member might take a shot at it. With the political unrest in the area, the provincial commander of the PC said that it would be dangerous for the Marcopper helicopter to fly in there, and the Marcopper official agreed.

When Chuck returned from Manila, having obtained the consent of Marcopper’s vice president to use their helicopter, he went to the Philippine Bible Seminary in Vigan, Ilocos Norte, and got the consent of the president for one of their students to come with him to ‘cargo-sit.’ I was with the cargo in Bacag for four weeks. Twice I left it for a short while, and each time when I returned, I found the cartons had been opened and one or more items taken. One of these short trips was to a stream for a bath. I fell and broke a toe. We felt we couldn’t leave our cargo. We could not leave anyone from there to guard it because they would simply not be able to say “No” to any of their barrio mates who might come in and want to open our cartons and take something. It had to be an outsider who would not have to continue to live among them after we were gone.

We felt that Philip, the seminary student, who volunteered to be our guard, would also be in a better position to witness to them than we would, since he spoke both Binongan and Ilocano. Due to the time helping us, Philip missed two weeks of school, plus a week of vacation. We hoped we could get him out in time to get back to school the next week, and we did. He stayed with the cargo while Chuck and I went to the Cagayan Valley to see if we could and should go to work with the Itawes after we got our stuff out of the mountains. We threw out a fleece on that, and the answer came back that we should.

In an operation of this sort, it is possible to identify a number of things which, if they had been different, the whole course of subsequent events would have been different. But suffice it to say, that God allowed these things to happen just this way in order to prevent us from going there where, for some reason, He did not want us to go. Plus, from our human point of view, our decision was based on them not accepting us, and so we didn’t want to go there, either. We could have done this with a lowland group, where we could use public transportation for our personal and supply-moving needs. But in Tineg, we were completely dependent upon the people to move our things, and we were simply physically unable to establish our residence there. We probably could have boarded with the Vice Mayor and eaten his food indefinitely. However, we felt we didn’t want to do that. We each lost about 25 pounds in one month living that way as guests in their homes in Bacag and Tineg. Later, we could have depended on the SIL plane— if the people had built the airstrip. But if they refused to carry our cargo, they could have refused to do that, too. Chuck told them we had decided not to go because hiking there had shown us we were getting too old to live in the mountains. And that was true, as long as we could not depend on them to help us.

Since we had decided that Abra was not the place for us, Chuck went to a barrio near Bitwen where some other missionaries had gone in the past, where a church had been established. He told them of our problems in getting our cargo out of Bacag, and they were willing to come and carry it out for us.

We had decided to sell as much of our groceries as we could for the going price of things. The people were glad to take advantage of that and bought everything we had gotten up to Agsimao. We left the chest of drawers with Vice Mayor Molina as our payment for rent for our stay in Bacag and for what they had fed to the cargadors. It was only then we left to go back to Cagayan.

We appreciated the Marcopper Company for all they had done for us in letting us stay at their facility in Bangued from time to time and for storing some of our cargo there. We also appreciated Philip, the student from Philippine Bible Seminary, for the help he gave us in staying with our cargo so I could go with Chuck to the Itawes region to investigate that area.

Everything seemed to turn out very nicely after that, and we praised the Lord for helping us to make this decision so we could get on with our lives, and I realized once again the once oppressive heat in the Cagayan Valley was not as bad as I had originally thought, and we all lived happily ever after.

So it appears our whole trip(s) to Abra was for naught. But actually, I am glad we went to Abra and went through that experience. It was an exciting time in my life, even though it was difficult in several different ways. I appreciate having had those experiences, especially those that I considered quite harrowing. They all helped me to appreciate the Philippines and our lives there. I feel I am a better person because I was there and experienced it for myself. I appreciate the people there in a way I never did before, because I saw many things that make life difficult for them. Maybe they don’t think of what they are going through as being difficult, no doubt it’s just their normal way of life. When I met some of those same people a few years later at a convention in Manila where they came because they were now Christians, we were excited to see each other again. We laughed about some of the things that had happened when I was in their barrio, and I was happy they remembered me. I don’t know if what I did or said to them at that time had any bearing on their being Christians now, but it was neat to get to see and talk with them again.

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