Archive for the ‘Philippines’ Category

I’ve been here in the Philippines since last Friday.  It’s an amazing place in sundry ways, but with all of its charm and interest, one element of life here especially impressed me. 

The driving is a genuine wonder.  It has the quality of an unfolding act from the Cirque de Soleil festooning the country as a ribbon from one end to the other. The most thoroughly useless use of paint in all the world has to be the white line down the middle of the road.  Formally, you drive on the right side of the road in this country.  But in fact it would be more accurate to say that it is the habit of most to choose the right-most of the various openings which might be available at any given moment, but that being on the right is very low on the list of factors which would affect that choice. Drivers approaching a vehicle well into the left lane routinely and – for all one can tell – happily swerve to the shoulder, then to the edge of the road, and perhaps to the sidewalk in order to make room.


The assortment of vehicles is really rather stunning. The chief source of transportation for the locals is either a bicycle or small motorcycle with a little cage attached to it designed to hold a paying passenger – or cargo or animals or produce or whatever.  Those little vehicles, some pedal driven and others powered by motors chugging and coughing in protest, weave in and out of traffic, dodging cars and trucks and busses with amazing aplomb, using which ever side of the street seems most propitious, and stopping wherever and whenever either the driver or the passenger feels the urge. 

The local busses are long, low vehicles garishly appointed, and they too make their way with no regard whatever for any apparent rules or even protocols.  Passengers are hanging precariously from various apertures, and they hop on and off with reckless disregard for OSHA standards.  

If something special is happening which the locals would like travelers to stop and visit, or if the municipality intends for you to slow for a school zone (though the traffic seldom gets over about 25 – 30 mph by my estimate) a set of metal sawhorses are placed alternately in the road half way across the opposite lanes so that the traffic has to weave through the maze in both directions. The streets are also deep with motorcycles and scooters, and most of them are carrying passengers as well as the driver – sometimes 4 or 5 passengers. Very often a little child in diapers (that is, diaper age – I didn’t look that close) will straddle the bike in front of the driver and ride along with wide infant eyes watching life roll up at him over  the top of a set of handlebars. 

Plus, there may be a couple of people behind the driver, one of them perhaps carrying a child in her arms.  My friend, Steve, calls the motor scooter the Filipino mini-van. The larger vehicles – full size busses, cars, vans, trucks of every size, move along in a really dazzling but un-choreographed dance that is honestly rather fun to watch. The notion that it would be unwise to try to pass unless you can be confident that you can return to your own lane (such as it is) before encountering oncoming traffic simply has no place in the Filipino psyche. 


In short, there is a real sense of fraternity permeating the drama of driving here; if everyone were not willing to slow down or speed up or back up or move over or take to the sidewalk (such as it is) when necessary to save that other guy’s hide, the system simply wouldn’t work.  I am told that Filipinos find it very difficult to learn to drive in the States – everyone staying in his lane, but nobody looking out for the other guy.  Given that, I’m not sure we have anything to teach the Filipinos about driving!

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Well, actually home by way of Japan. As I type, I’m sitting at the airport in Manila, PH, waiting for a flight to Osaka, Japan.  It’s Friday afternoon. I’ll only be in Japan till Monday – one-day conference on Saturday, then preaching on Sunday. 


The ministry that made it possible for me to be here is White Fields (www.whitefields.org), a mission agency whose focus is almost as unusual as it is noble. The commitment of the agency is to help national church planters with temporary and progressively reduced financial support as those men work at getting a church going.  Thus, theirs is a difficult endeavor because there is an element of anonymity very much involved.  The agency works very hard to raise support for men who will almost certainly never stand before their benefactors.  That leaves the agency with an even greater stewardship than most mission organizations, and they take that stewardship very seriously.  White Fields recruits only those men who have proven themselves qualified and able to do the work of a church planter; they maintain an apparatus in each country and/or region that meaningfully oversees the distribution of funds and the integrity of the ministry of those who receive those funds; they continually and aggressively provide surgically designed training for the pastors (thus this trip); and they demand and post regular reports which honestly and meaningfully chronicle the fruit and the failures and the frustrations experienced by each of those receiving support. White Fields was birthed in 1953, and so there are many “alumni” still involved with the ministry mentoring those men still receiving support.


White Fields was born when Bert Poole, missionary to Japan, was challenged almost playfully by a national pastor with whom he was working, “Send me your salary, and I’ll raise up a handful of national pastors!”  He was gripped by the reality that national pastors could certainly be at the work more quickly and more effectively than a missionary coming from another culture and language, and he began to develop a ministry to do just what that Japanese pastor had challenged him to do, tongue-in-cheek or no!  For what it’s worth, I was very impressed that the strategy he developed and which has been fine-tuned over the years – without ever compromising the initial animating construct – is remarkably efficient and effective.  If the idea makes sense to you, check out their website. Steve Wheeler, the Director, would love to talk to you about the agency.


This week we had 60 pastors at a very nice Christian camp/conference ground east of Manila called Rizal Re-Creation Center.  The week demanded a great deal of the men, as English is not the first language of any of them, and it is fairly foreign to many of them.  They worked hard, and I don’t know when I have had a more receptive or reactive audience.  I will use this quiet forum to express my thanks to my friend Steve Wheeler, the Director of the mission, for a really special ministry opportunity, to Pastor Leo, the field director in the Philippines, and his wife for caring for me and for the seminar with such care, and to 60 new friends whose commitment to the ministry of reaching people and starting churches has been a challenge to me all week and will be all the days of my life.

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