A Gospel-Instructional cum Medical Mission by PCC & EPC
 to Cagayan de Oro City, Mindanao, Philippines

12th –16th March 2011

a report by bro Hong Wen (mission scribe); edited by Ps JJ Lim; photographs by bro Wee Tat and sis Eunice


Cagayan de Oro is located at the northern coastline of Mindanao, the main island in the south of Philippines. The city boasts a population of about 640,000, 87% of whom profess to be Roman Catholics, though many are superstitious and ignorant rather than devout.

The most common language spoken by the populace is Cebuano. Though English is taught in the schools, many, especially among the poor, cannot communicate effectively in English.


Purpose of the Mission

The stated purpose of this missionary endeavour is to support the evangelistic ministry of Jireh Reformed Church (JRC) led by Pastor Remegio Lapiz. We hoped to do so by biblical preaching and teaching, as well as by providing free medical treatment to the locals as a demonstration of the love and compassion of Christ. Although visits to government hospitals are free, the poor are unable to get help due to the distance.  Moreover, there was no guarantee that they would get to see the doctor even if they managed to make the journey to the local hospital.

The plan was for the JRC to open an invitation for 300 individuals in a slum area that they minister in to come to the church premises to receive medical treatment as well as to hear the preaching of the Gospel. The idea was for 150 persons to come together at the beginning of each of the two days to hear the preaching of the Gospel before the medical clinic opens. And then while waiting to receive treatment, to enjoy an evangelistic children’s programme or to attend biblical instruction based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The catechism was chosen largely for the sake of several pastors associated with Pastor Lapiz. These had received instruction on the first half of the catechism in 2004 when Pastor JJ first visited Cagayan. It was thought that perhaps the questions already covered in 2004 could be recapped by having them taught in the hearing of those waiting their turn for medical treatment.

The whole operation would be directed by bro Caleb, with dn Kee Yew as the treasurer and Raymond as assistant treasurer.

Pastor (Dr) David Torlach (of EPC Winnaleah) and elder (Dr) Gideon Ng would head the medical team comprising Mrs Mary Greatbatch (of EPC Brisbane); Andrew Lau, Raymond, Kee Yew, Linus, Chee Yean, Beng Wan, Eunice, Joel, Wei Han and Jared.

Brothers Bernard and Linus would oversee the children’s programme with the assistance of Poh Sue, Pauline, Winnie, John, Vanna, Josiah, Chloe, Claudia, Leah, Wei Lyn, Lois, Joan and Joy (all of whom would also help out at the medical station whenever they could).

Ps JJ, Ps Torlach and bro Linus would preach and teach the adults and children according to a planned schedule.

Altogether 31 of us from PCC & EPC would make the trip, though we were, no doubt, supported by the entire body of PCC, EPC and JRC logistically and prayerfully.

Months of prayer, planning, preparation, co-ordination, briefings, training, purchases and acquisition (of medical supplies and equipment) laid the ground for the mission.

Finally, on 12 March 2011 (Saturday) at 8.30 am, thirty of us set off for Cagayan upon the wings of prayer and the singing of Psalm 67 together with a small send-off party. Linus would join us on 14th March (Monday).


Arrival at Cagayan  (12 Mar 2011)

We arrived at Cagayan de Oro’s Mabuhay Airport at 6.15 pm. It was already dark. But the gloom was quickly driven away by the warmly smiling faces of the brethren of Jireh Reformed Church (JRC) who was there to welcome us at the airport. It seems that at least half the congregation was there. They even had a colourful welcome banner! 

We arrived at the JRC premises after approximately 15 minutes’ ride in the church vehicles. There, we were again welcomed with a Filipino song and individually garlanded before being refreshed with a sumptuous dinner of fried chickens, noodles as well as large, sweet mangoes! 

After dinner, we were driven directly to Mulberry Suites’ Hotel, which was about 10 minutes’ drive from the church.  Providentially, the hotel is located near a shopping mall, which served as a convenient point for us to stock up mineral water for the next few days. All praise to the Lord for His bountiful provision!


Sabbath Day (13 March)

The Morning Worship Service began at 9.30 am. Pastor Lapiz began with a welcome note for the visitors, before handing over the time to Pastor JJ.

Pastor JJ conveyed fraternal greetings from PCC and EPC before leading the congregation to worship the Lord. He preached from Romans 12:1-2 on the theme “Transformed by the renewing of our minds”.  The service was not interpreted, as most of the members of the congregation could apparently understand English. 

After the morning service, Ps Torlach taught the Adult’s Sabbath class while Ps JJ took the children in the basement. Ps Torlach elaborated on Matthew 24 on the signs of the end times.

Lunch was held in the basement. The sisters in the congregation had apparently turned up at 4 am in the morning to cook for us. It does take a lot of effort and time to cook over wood fire, and they did not want to miss the service. We enjoyed another delicious meal.

After lunch, Pastor Torlach swapped places with Pastor JJ to take the afternoon service.  Pastor Torlach preached from Genesis 11:27-12:9 to encourage the congregation to walk by faith, and not by sight. 

The adults Sabbath class after the service was led by Pastor JJ. He exhorted the congregation from 1 Timothy 1:15-20 and warned against making shipwreck of the faith by casting aside their conscience.


First Working Day (14 March, Monday)

We began the day with breakfast at 6 am in the hotel restaurant! After breakfast, the group left in two separate details from 7.15 am.

We had expected to start the morning exercise at 8.30 am, but it was no easy task to gather 150 individuals who hardly, if ever, come to church! Pastor Lapiz waited until almost 9 am when the hall was almost full before beginning addressing the locals in the Cebuano language. When he was almost done giving the necessary instructions, the final busload of participants arrived, and he had to repeat everything again!

The service began with Pastor Torlach preaching the first of a series of Gospel messages with Pastor George Engkong of Bacolod interpreting into Cebuano. As far as we could tell, many were listening attentively. 

Almost as soon as the morning exercise had concluded, Pastor JJ took over the pulpit with Pastor Anotonio Decena of Surigao serving as his interpreter. Pastor JJ would teach and preach evangelistically through the first half of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 1-38) on this first day. Most of the lessons ran for an hour and a half with 15 minutes breaks in between apart from the hour-long break for lunch.

Although these sessions could be very trying for the local folks who are used to a less hectic lifestyle, quite a number from the slums and the neighbourhood (including a pastor of a church nearby which is not associated with the JRC) persevered in listening. It was heartening to see them making an effort to learn. Indeed, we were told by several pastors sitting in the hall that some who heard the lessons and sermons were moved to tears.

Downstairs at the basement, the children’s programme also kicked off with Bernard Ong and Linus at the helm. They were assisted by Poh Sue, Pauline, Winnie, John, Vanna, Josiah, Chloe, Claudia, Leah, Wei Lyn, Lois, Joan and Joy. Sister Mercy of JRC served as the main interpreter. Three sessions were held throughout this first day, with about 60 children averaging 8 years old in attendance.

Linus taught the lessons and the Psalms while Bernard led the children in craft-work and also instructed them in memorizing the catechisms. It proved to be an uphill task as the children did not understand English.  Amazingly though, when the children were tested later, a few of the girls scored full marks!

Concurrent with the Gospel-instruction and children’s programme, the medical clinic also opened as soon as the morning exercise concluded. Each of the patients had already been given a queue number, and the first 5 were led to the waiting area outside. These would return to the hall for Gospel lectures or to the basement for the children’s programme as soon as they had seen the doctors and collected their medication. Then the next person on the queue would be called for registration at the triage.

The triage comprised a long table and five chairs.  Once the triage team arrived in JRC early in the morning, they immediately began unloading medical supplies: gloves, chits, alcohol swaps, digital equipment, weighing machine, thermometers, antiseptic wash etc. Andrew is the triage IC. His team was responsible for initial screening of the patients. That would involve getting information like their age, weight, temperature, blood pressure, nature of ailment etc, and writing them on a card before sending them to our very able triage nurse, Mrs Mary Greatbatch for further data gathering, initial assessment and even diagnosis in some cases. We truly thank God for Mary, for what she did in the triage greatly speeded up the diagnosis process. It was largely through her contribution that our doctors were able to see so many patients on each day.

Andrew and Raymond were assisted by two local interpreters, JC and Janeth. Mary Greatbatch was assisted by local interpreter Bong. Questions would be posed in English to the patient. The interpreter would translate them into the Cebuano language. The patient would reply in the Cebuano tongue and then the interpreter would translate the reply to us in the English language.  Thank God for the interpreters!  Without them, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to extend medical help to the locals who had little or no knowledge of English.

The medical cards, duly filled, were then transferred to the doctor’s consultation rooms by our faithful runners, a.k.a. ‘hospital amahs’, Joel, Wei Han and Jared.

The consultation rooms were located on both sides of the entrance of the worship hall. Whoever designed the worship hall probably never thought that the entrance area would ever be used as medical consultation and treatment rooms. However, by the providence of our Lord, they seemed almost designed for this purpose! There was even a toilet attached to each room for the patient to use!

The medical team had brought all the supplies they needed — face masks, bandages, syringes, torches, dressing sets, compressor nebulizer, tongue depressors, sterile gauge swaps, hospital tapes, surgical gloves, cotton balls etc. Some of these were contributed by Elder (Dr) Gideon’s boss at Acumed Medical Clinic. Others were on loan through the arrangement of our brother, Dr Josiah Chai.

Dr Gideon was assisted by sister Jessa of JRC who served as his local interpreter. In the room opposite, Dr David Torlach was assisted by sister Loise.

Consultation time varied according to the needs of each patient. A patient with gastric and back pain, for example, took about 10 minutes with Dr Gideon. Those who needed surgery were given appointments to come to clinic after 6 pm when the clinic closed. Our doctors had to be careful whenever they prescribed medication, especially for the children, as many of them are under-nourished and therefore are physically much smaller than their actual age. Prescribing according to age could result in an overdose!

Whenever possible, the doctors would remind the patients of their need for Christ. “We cannot heal at all. It is the Lord who heals. We can only do damage control. Neither is the pastor a healer. It is the Lord who must quicken and heal,” reminds Pastor Torlach.

After seeing the doctor, the patients then proceeded to the Dispensary with their prescription chit on hand.

Due to a small hiccup, the medicine that our doctors had ordered earlier did not all arrive until 3.30 pm. Upon its arrival, Linus and Eunice unpacked the boxes and filled up the prescription for the patients who had already seen the doctor.  Chee Yean distributed the vitamins and de-worming medication to the patients. This process would continue throughout the day as more prescriptions flowed in, with Beng Wan and the girls coming in to help whenever they could. The dispensing of medication ended at 6.30 pm.

The clinic, on the other hand, had to close at about 6 pm as it was getting dark by then and the lighting in the tentage that was erected was not sufficiently bright. However, the work was not done for our doctors. After dinner, Dr Gideon performed a minor (or should we say, not so minor) surgery on the scalp of one of the patients. Dr David, on the other hand, took the role of Pastor Torlach to give lectures on Ecclessiology to the pastors and church members present. When he was done, he returned to the clinic to help Dr Gideon to stitch up the patient! We thank God for how the Lord used the talents of our brother from Winnaleah so aptly.


Second Working Day (15 March, Tuesday)

A sunny morning greeted both helpers and patients alike. Although we arrived later at JRC today compared to the previous day, we were able to start the morning exercise earlier as the last batch of patients from the slums arrived by 8.45 am.

We were not expecting any children to turn up on this day, but more than 30 did, many of whom were considerably younger than those who attended the programme the previous day. Pastor Lapiz decided to channel them down to the basement. The children’s programme team, having been forewarned to prepare for contingencies, were ready for them with a catechism memory programme, a video programme as well as some colouring booklets donated by Old Paths. It was incredible how much was done over only two days! All the helpers were exhausted but happy to see many children instructed in the gospel truths.

In the meantime, upstairs, after Pastor Lapiz’s introductory words, bro Linus took over the pulpit and the morning exercise with another Gospel sermon. Pastor George was his interpreter. This was followed, as per yesterday, by Pastor JJ’s lessons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Towards lunch time, however, it became clear that it was much more difficult to teach the second half of the catechism evangelically while making sure that the pastors present were adequately instructed. It was decided then that since the children’s programme would run only for the morning, the pastors would move down to the basement for intensive theological instruction, while the rest of the poor would have the gospel preached to them by bro Linus. They would hear two sermons from Linus that afternoon.

Downstairs, it became clear that it was much more profitable for the pastors to have a separate session. Not only could pastor JJ go into much greater depth on some subjects, the pastors could also openly ask all the questions they wanted to. The lessons became much more interactive and satisfying for the pastors.

While all that was going on, the church compound outside the worship hall was buzzing with activity. It was extremely busy at the Triage. Patients came in droves, probably due to what they have heard about the team’s work the previous day. The waiting area was crowded.  The bench as well as all the chairs were filled. Mineral water and biscuits were distributed to the patients as well as helpers. 

At the Dispensary, pre-packing, labelling and dispensing the medication became the order of the day. Unlike the previous day, patients were able to receive their medication immediately after seeing the doctor. Most of the time, the dispensary was overcrowded with many hands as all the ladies and girls participated enthusiastically in their duties. 

The Triage closed at 6 pm, and the Dispensary followed at 6.30 pm. By this time, it was already dark and both teams had endured a hard day’s work. In all, the medical team saw almost 300 patients, including the visiting pastors and church members.

It was heartbreaking to know how great the need is among the poor and how little we could do. We trust that in the hand of the Lord the labour of love which was extended in His name would bear good fruit for the glory of His name.

We have many stories to tell, but we were particularly moved by the plight of a 7 year old boy named Teres Rainpoll.  He weighed only 17 kg and his right foot had a deep gangrenous gash oozing pus. He had apparently fallen off a bike two weeks ago and was sent to the hospital.  The hospital’s doctor simply prescribed antibiotics.

Pastor Torlach, assisted by interpreter Kaye  Lapiz, treated Teres.  He cleaned the wound, put on a dressing and prescribed some antibiotics.  However, it was clear that that was not enough. Teres needed immediate hospitalisation. The infection has reached a joint. He needed intravenous antibiotics and an operation to clean out the wound. If that was not carried out, he would likely lose his foot or even his life through septicaemia.

After consulting Dr Gideon, Dr David wrote a letter to the hospital’s doctor for follow up. Tere’s grandmother, however, was reluctant to send him for treatment. They could not afford to go to a private hospital and the public hospital would put him on a long queue regardless of the urgency of the situation. The team was at their wit’s end. We did not want to set a precedence and unrealistic expectation upon JRC by intervening to help, for there are many more in the slums that were equally, if not, more needy. In the end we decided to give a contribution and left it to Pastor Lapiz to administer it in the way he deemed fit.

That night, while most of the team members were again able to retire back to the hotel after dinner, Dr Gideon had to perform surgery while Pastor Torlach continued with his lectures on Ecclessiology to the pastors and church members. Thank God for this doubly-gifted servant of His.


Final Mission Day (16 March, Wednesday)

The team packed their luggage and checked out of the hotel.  We arrived at JRC for the morning exercise led by Pastor JJ.  Apart from the team, 34 members of the JRC and 6 pastors were present. Pastor JJ preached on the Lord’s Parable of the Talents to exhort all to serve the Lord faithfully according to the talents or opportunities and abilities that the Lord has given us.

There would be two more sessions of catechetical instruction for the local pastors while the rest of us left the church premises in two vehicles to shop for presents to bring home to loved ones, as well as to visit a slum in which some of the patients live.

The visit to the slums was an eye-opener. The people live in makeshift wooden squatter houses erected along rough roads. Basic water supplies as well as proper sanitary facilities are absent in many of the houses! Our hearts go out to the many children who are living in this sad condition, but all we could do to alleviate their plight then was to distribute sweets and lollipops purchased earlier. Oh may we ever remember to pray for them upon every remembrance of their yearning faces.


Conclusion

The team returned to JRC before leaving for the airport at 3.30 pm. We arrived in Singapore at around 11.30 pm. Most of us were quite exhausted, but the joy of the Lord filled our hearts as we revel in the sweet memories of what the Lord has done through us and in us.

“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9:37-38).

May the Lord of the harvest stir in our heart a desire to participate in another trip of a similar nature, whether to Cagayan to another needy locale where the Lord will lead us to. Amen. Ω