Ministry Moments – November, 2019

Ministry is Not Easy, But it is Worth it and Exciting Too

I have recently been blessed, a very dear friend and co-worker of mine wrote a book. It is called Stepping Off The Edge; Faith and Fiasco in a Philippine Mission by Deborah Tuhy Simmons.

I worked with Debbie at Lutheran Hour, she was one of my Team Members in the Response Center. Her husband and also my friend is a Pastor now retired. From 1986-1992 Art and Debbie served Our Lord and the people of remote villages in the Philippines. It was not an easy time for these two Americans and yet they did it. There were tears, joys, horrible living conditions. I knew they were both strong, but I had no idea how many trials they would have to endure and trust God to get them through.  They truly are AMAZING people and love and trust the Lord and HIS people with all their hearts.

I would like to share some of what Debbie and Art went through and if you are interested, I have a couple copies of her book for you to borrow. For me, it put my life and so called “struggles” in perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I still get frustrated, and discouraged at times, but it has helped me see that God will go with us anywhere. He was with Art and Debbie in the Philippines and He is with us here in San Leandro and Hayward, California. He loves the people of the Philippines and He loves the people here too.

They started talking about being Missionaries in the early 1980’s. After 6 years of thinking, praying, planning and training they finally packed up and went off to the Southern parts of the Philippines. They knew they would be ministering to people that could not read or write or figure numbers. The people lived in bamboo huts with straw roofs and that the children would die young. For their water for drinking, wash in and butcher their animals they turned to the river. The people had witch doctors for the health care. When Debbie and Art would come out of the mountains to trade they would often get cheated. The people’ beliefs they would be ministering to were in spirits that were indifferent or evil and that was just the way life was. The temperature was 93 degrees as a low and there was always rain.

Debbie and Art spent 2 years here in the United States studying the language they would begin using in the Mission. Once they got there they spent another 2 years studying other dialects, some of which weren’t even recorded. They spent time getting to know their culture by living in and with the people. Listening to what their needs were. They lived in cities, and remote out posts in those same bamboo huts, with no running water, or indoor plumbing. With cock-roaches 4” long, infestation of mice, rats and many other critters I would not want to meet with a sledge hammer, much less than with a “flip flop”.  As they traveled to remote villages they found the roads were non-existent and often there were life-threatening mud slides. They soon recognized it was not going to be easy. There was a tribe that had never seen or been reached by “civilization”. They knew it would be more difficult than they imagined, “But we won’t be alone! We are  confident that God will go with us as we begin our work among the Tagakaulo Tribe”.

They were right, it was difficult, they were often robbed, homes broken into, the “workers” they hired to help them build their home and reach the people would be given money to purchase materials and they would not receive the materials and the money would be pocketed by the workers. There were always people begging for money and food. Oh and the food was what the culture was used to. Rice with every meal, even hamburgers in the cities had rice in them. Many times they would be ready to prepare their meals and the rice was infested with ants, they would have to soak the rice till the ants would float and then sift them off prior to cooking. They would have to cross rivers swollen from the torrential rains. Most of the time they had no electricity, gas or running water. Water had to be brought in by buckets and they needed to catch rain water for drinking because the wells were filled with foul water.

Art began learning and teaching Debbie the Kaulo language. They needed to use their Cebuano to learn the tribal dialect. An 11 year old named Migo started helping Art to learn the language. That would prove to be culturally interesting as one glottal stop turned the word “boss-man” into “monkey”. They would move from village to village learning about the tribes, but as Debbie said “I’m sure that for a long time we’ll learn more about them than they learn from us. It’s a different and fascinating culture, and the more we learn, the more successful of mission will be.”

After three years of “getting to know some of the people, Art and another missionary went on a trip to the mountains to check on the house that was slowly (and I mean slowly) being built, they returned home encouraged, it was an excellent trip this time. They were being welcomed everywhere. They were plied with coffee, and urged to hang around and chat. Debbie remembered a time when all the people would run into their house and hide when they would come through the villages. Progress!

They listened to their needs and their desires. They learned their customs and their culture. They learned that what these people needed and wanted most was literacy. They started a small Sunday school, the children came to hear the stories and were glued to their benches waiting to hear what they had to say. They started with a hand full of children and wound up with so many they couldn’t squeeze them into the one class room and had to build another room. Art started by offering a literacy class and was expecting to have to go out and beat the bushes to find people who would want to come to class. As it turns out they wound up with more than 200 people wanting to come and had to have a ”wait list” for a second class.

Art and Debbie are and will always be heroes to me because they never gave up. They may have felt discouraged, frustrated, and at times even angry with the people of the villages because they would be taken advantage of, but they were patient, and they ate stuff I would never want to eat, endured illnesses including having  amoeba.  Cock roaches, mice, rats and no flushing toilet or sinks (Debbie bathed in a bucket for I have no idea how long) in their home (sorry folks I need a flushing bathroom and a shower). They reached many people with literacy and the Gospel of our Lord. They gave up a lot and they gained so many for the Kingdom. I look forward to meeting some of these people in Heaven because God gave us Art and Debbie. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

In HIS service,       

 Debbie Oatman