God sent us to the Philippines to share the love of Jesus with the Ati. We also believe He will use our family to help improve the lives of the Ati and give them a future. Decades of study on outreach to the poor have blessed this generation of missional workers with new information about what works and what doesn’t. Not surprisingly, the research indicates the best modes of long-term positive change within any community happen when the community itself is involved in the vision casting, decision-making and implementation processes.
In other words, people will embrace a new idea, way or method, more quickly if they are involved in the process.
We feel that it’s hard to help someone’s future, if you don’t know their past. When we first heard of an abandon Ati village in the mountains, we were curious. When we were invited to hike into the mountains to see, we had to say YES!
I don’t think the Ati were expecting that I would make the trek. As we discussed how far it was (how long does the hike take?) there were giggles and repeated questions,
“You will go,Mom?”
“Mom, the path is narrow on the mountain. Ok?”
Boy did I answer without thinking…. but not really. I knew that this would likely be a huge physical challenge for me. I’m middle-aged, out of shape and was never “athletic.”
I don’t even really like hiking…. But I love the Ati…
A heifer calf grazes on a dormant rice field
So off we go…. Out across the rice field, up through some houses, onto the paved road, up the hill, onto the dirt road, into the mountain. The first 15 mins or so was a steady incline, but not terrible. But then the road took a steep turn upward, and the path was covered with fallen leaves and rocks beneath. That was the first challenge. The sweat was pouring pretty good til I reached my family who were resting on the grassy area at the top of that incline. They wanted to jump up and keep going as soon as I reached them. “Come on guys, that’s not fair!”
The next section of the mountain was not as steep, it crossed the side face of the mountain and between the trees we could catch glimpses of the white beaches and crystal blue waters of Boracay, the first home of the Ati people. The gentle slope and good footing was a nice break. But it was not to last, another incline was just around the bend. And the next bend and the next….
Five more steep inclines, tempered by gradually less and less moderate slopes in between. At one point, fairly late in the hike (read: Are we there yet???) we walked down a steep ravine, just to walk back out on the other side! All the while our patient guide is encouraging me, “We are near now” and telling us stories of the days when the Ati lived here.
The 20 or so families that lived in Carong left it because they had no way to support their families there and the walk was too far to the lowland to find jobs. It was easy to appreciate this as we passed the one hour mark on the all uphill hike.
When we finally crested the last incline to reach the village, we were met with a few simple remains of a village. The foundation and side walls of what once was a church, still stand, a typhoon having stolen the roof and the rest of the walls. Surprisingly the community’s day care building still stands with its good metal roof and solid concrete walls. Charcoal graffiti indicates that this is a much visited spot by the Ati young people, who historically spend their days in the mountains enjoying the freedom of youth and the free pleasures of nature.
Paused for a “groufie” while resting and enjoying green mangos and pan de sal in Carong
The simple nipa homes that once dotted the hillside are long since gone, and the mountain has reclaimed their former homesites with thick vegetation. Our guides point out where houses once sat and remininse about the cool breezes, the open yard for the children to play, and the sweet mountain water that supplied the little village with life-giving water. The large concrete water tank still stands high above the village and the remains of a once progressive solar panel pump indicate the connection the community made between the old ways and the new ones.
As we listen to the Ati share what they see as needs for their people, the old stories of Carong come to life. It was a good life on that mountain, if only they could make a way to sustain themselves. While we rested in the village, a group of children came bounding up the mountain from a favorite waterfall situated below Carong and above their current homes. Now our group had swelled to about 30 and the children played tag in the daycare with the Russell kids, while the men hiked to see the water source and the women harvested wild vegetables from the mountain.
The Russell kids wanted to see the falls and of course the Ati kids were ready to show them. After some discussion about
This picture does not do the steep incline of these steps justice!
whether Matthew and Kristin could make the trip, it was decided that we would all go. The young and adventuresome took off first, followed by the cautious and middle-aged. Down across the inclines, across the mountain we trekked, passing the foundation of the old home of a respected elderly couple who now live closer to the lowland. I thought about them as a young couple, raising their growing family in that little hut deep in the mountains.
Then the path made a turn that I had not anticipated, a near sheer incline down into the falls. Rusty estimates it to be a near 200 ft drop, with rough cut “stairs” made from bamboo poles pounded into the loose rocky dirt with wooden pegs. At this point, one of our guides took off his flip-flops and put Matthew on his back. He disappeared down the slope with amazingly agile and quick movements.
My knees and ankles ached. The trees towered above us, the huge rocky base of the river below. There was no turning back. Rusty helped me awkwardly maneuver down the “stairs.” I wonder how badly we would both be hurt if I’d lose my balance and fall into him. His feet are carefully placed on each step ahead of me, he’s walking down sideways, in order to help me as I try not to lose my balance. I’m thankful for a strong and loving husband and the sturdy walking stick that was cut for me as traveled across the mountain.
Resting at the top of the falls, before the climb down in
I secretly feared going up again, even more than going down. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a steep incline and I know that my now tired legs will never carry me back out. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem, the rest of the walk back to the village was through the huge rocks along and in the small river, dry from the limited rain from dry season.
Traversing the rocks was not easy, but a different kind of challenge, a constant awareness of footing and new options. The path was somewhat marked by the wet spots on the rocks as we approached them, from the gang of young people who were a good bit ahead of us. Matthew was still being carried through the huge boulders, but enjoyed chatting with and playing with the Ati kids in the shallow river water, finding crabs and frogs and chasing tiny fish.
All the while, our guide is sharing her heart for her people. They want to have a future, they want to continue to live as a tribal community yet find ways to be independent from the outside world. They want their children to grow up in the mountains, much like they did, learning to live off the land and manage the creation God has given them. They want there to be unity among their people, and our guide, who is already a follower of Jesus, wants to see the rest of the Ati people love Jesus and each other.
Almost four hours after our journey started, we are back at our home. Hungry, exhausted and sore… but our hearts are full. What a privilege to step out of our comfort zones and into their world! What a treasure to hear the heart of the people; their hopes, their dreams, their prayers! Personally I have the reward of knowing that I made it! Emotionally I am blessed with the knowledge that today I pushed my body to express what my heart and mind are always saying,
“I love you, and I care about you– your past, your present, your future! I am for you!”
It’s only because of Jesus that any of these things happen. His Love for us is far beyond a four-hour hike in the mountains. My love for the Ati is imperfect, but His is constant, abiding and true.
1 John 4:19; “We love because He first loved us.”
Jon swimming in the water at the base of the falls
My prayer for you, my readers, is that you will be inspired to show someone Jesus’ love in an “out of your comfort zone” kind of way. May we all be brave and bold for Christ, whereever He has sent us!