Arrival in the Philippines
On March 2, 2020, a mission team from the Anglican Province of America (APA) consisting of the Right Rev. David Haines (Missionary Bishop for Global Partnerships and Rector of All Saints Parish, Wilmington, North Carolina) and the Rev. Paul Rivard (Rector of St. George the Martyr Church, Simpsonville, South Carolina) started on their journey to the Missionary District of the Philippines. After meeting up at Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C., they departed for Manila traveling via the Narita Airport (Tokyo) in Japan. After traveling for twenty-three hours they arrived safely in Manila, arriving just before midnight on Tuesday March 3.
After passing uneventfully through immigration and customs and the quarantine station, the team was greeted by the Rev. Joel Arellano (Priest-in-charge of the Missionary District) and loaded their bags and themselves into a truck to begin the nearly five-hour journey to the Batangas Port in the south of Luzon.
After a brief stop for a snack of Cheez-Whiz, white bread, and coffee, all thoughtfully provided and prepared beforehand by Father Arellano, the team arrived at the port just before five in the morning and were the first in line to board the ferry to Abra De Ilog situated on Occidental Mindoro, part of a large island just south and west of the Island of Luzon. Once aboard the ferry, the team was able to get out of the truck and walk around the ship during the four-hour journey.
After disembarking from the ferry, just after nine in the morning, the team then drove for an hour to the town of Mamburao where they checked into a local hotel (Maru’s Beachfront Rooms) where after a much-needed shower, and a late breakfast the team was able to rest for most of the day. At the hotel in Mamburao, the team met up with the Rev. Alex Abraham and Mr. Ryan Egipto, who is a local school teacher, and who together with Father Abraham and a local benefactor, Mrs. Emeth Regis, have helped establish St. Andrew the Apostle Church just north of the town of Paluan. Following an early dinner, cooked by Ryan and Fr. Abraham, and Evening Prayer with the group, the team retired for some much-needed rest.
On Thursday, March 5, 2020, the group enjoyed an early breakfast and read Morning Prayer together and then set out just after eight in the morning. The first stop was at the Mumbarao Central School for a visit with the Principal, Mrs. Nancy Monding, to thank her for allowing Ryan to take two days off work to assist the team with their visit to Mindoro. At the conclusion of the brief visit, the group headed out to Paluan where they visited the local Roman Catholic Priest, Father Mario Corona, who is the Pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church. He has openly welcomed the Anglican presence in his vast area and is most grateful for the outreach being made to the local Mangyan people in Tubili which is just north of the town. Following a time of conversation and the obligatory refreshments, and a tour of the church, the team said its goodbyes and headed to Tubili to meet the members of the Mangyan clan and the donors of the land, Mrs. Regis and her sister Mrs. Riza Insigne.
When the group arrived, they were greeted by the local chieftain, and around two hundred members of the local clan. There are five different clans in this region and the people are mostly traditional animists in their beliefs, so the establishment of a Christian church in this region is a form of primary evangelism. The APA outreach is exclusively to this clan at present. The people are very poor, even by Filipino standards.
After exchanging greetings, the team unloaded the parcels of two hundred flipflops (what the Filipinos call “slippers”) in an assortment of sizes, for distribution to the members of the clan. Food packages, which had been cooked and prepared earlier in the morning by Emeth Regis and some of her friends were also distributed to each of the families. After a blessing by the Bishop, the footwear was distributed and as most of the tribe members are not able to write, the adult members acknowledged receipt of the “slippers” by signing with their thumbprints next to their names.
Once all the clan members had received their food and slippers the group, together with Mrs. Regis, her sister Mrs. Insigne, and some of their friends, sat down in the shade of the mango trees to enjoy a meal together and discuss the plans for the church and the education of the local Mangyan people. It is hoped that a church together with several classrooms could be constructed on the donated land, and that Mrs. Regis, upon her retirement from the Mamburao Central School in 2022, together with other volunteers from the city, will be able to provide a basic education for many of the Mangyan children. She is currently already teaching certain of the children during the times that she is not working at the school.
Following the lunch and meeting, the group headed to the parcel of land that has been donated for the church. The property is less than half a mile from where the group met and had lunch. The land is all part of the farm that the Regis family has owned for many years and which the sisters inherited from their father. Bishop Haines then blessed the land and read the first part of the service for the Founding of a Church and proceeded to break the ground at the location where the altar will be situated. Bp. Haines was shaded during the service by an umbrella which was provided and held by Fr. Abraham.
After the groundbreaking ceremony, the group set off back to Mamburao, where they said farewell to Mr. Egipto, Mrs. Regis, and Mrs. Insigne, and started back towards Abra De Ilog to board the ferry back to the Batangas Port and the Island of Luzon.
The team boarded the ferry at two in the afternoon, but this time they were able to get on the fast ferry which took only three hours. The team disembarked from the ferry at five in the afternoon and began what was to be a long overnight journey to Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. The team expected to arrive at Bayombong around one in the morning but due to a number of accidents, traffic congestion, and road construction, the team did not arrive until five-thirty on the morning of March 6. During the twelve-hour journey the team stopped for a snack of Cheez-Whiz, white bread and coffee and also ate a quick dinner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the highway just outside Manila.
After arriving in Bayombong, the team checked into the Lotus Garden Hotel and Café and, after a shower and breakfast at the hotel and short rest period, the team headed out to St. Joseph the Worker Anglican Church in the Barangay of Masoc. The land for the church was donated by a familiar friend to the Anglican Mission in this area, Ms. Amie Wayas. After discussions some years ago with Fr. Arellano and Fr. Abraham, Ms. Wayas agreed to subdivide her land and donate a parcel of that land for the construction of a church. Thanks to some generous donors in the APA in the United States the church has now been completed and serves the local population in this Barangay.
After a light lunch, a tour of the church, and a brief meeting with Amie, Bp. Haines had the clergy (Fr. Arellano, Fr. Abraham, and Deacon Seth Galpo) sign oaths of conformity to the Constitution and Canons of the APA and he explained the procedures and ceremonies for the service of the Dedication and Consecration of a Church, which would be celebrated the following day.
Later in the afternoon the group were joined by Mrs. Minerva Mayo, her husband Clarence, and his eighty-two-year old mother who had traveled more than eight hours from Bauang, La Union by bus to participate in the service scheduled for Saturday morning. Mrs. Mayo and her family have donated land for another APA church, St. James the Apostle Anglican Church, in Bauang.
During the course of the afternoon, the pig, which was specially raised for the festivities planned for the next morning, was slaughtered and the wood for the fires to be used for cooking was brought into the compound. Following Evening Prayer in the church, the group had dinner at the home of Ms. Wayas, and then the team returned to their hotel for some much-needed rest before the morning.
The team arrived back at the home of Ms. Wayas just after seven in the morning of March 7, where they ate a light breakfast and inspected the pig that was roasting on the bamboo spit before heading over to the church to prepare for the service. During this time, Fr. Abraham was busy putting the finishing touches to the flowers and other arrangements that he and others had prepared to beautify the church. Although the service was scheduled to begin at nine in the morning, the festivities were delayed in order to allow sufficient time for some of the seventy-five church members and guests to arrive via Jeepney, motorized tricycles, and other means of public transport.
Once most of the congregation had assembled, the altar party, consisting of Bp. Haines, Father Rivard, Bishop, Fr Paul, Fr. Arellano, Fr. Abraham, Deacon Galpo, and two acolytes, John-Mark and Boyo, vested in the sacristy and then processed outside the church to the closed outer doors. The service began just after 9:30 a.m. with the service for the Opening of a Church, with Bp. Haines knocking on the closed door three times with the foot of his crozier. The Senior Warden, Ms. Wayas, then opened the doors of the church, and after Bp. Haines had marked the threshold of the church with the sign of the cross, again using the foot of his pastoral staff, the clergy processed into the church for the Dedication, which culminated in the blessing of the altar. The altar was then vested by the other clergy, while Fr. Rivard read the Benedictus es, Domine. When the altar was vested, Bp. Haines continued with the service for the Consecration of a Church. During this part of the service, Bp. Haines consecrated the chalices and patens and blessed the tabernacle, as well as a ciborium and other vessels that were to be used on the altar. Bp. Haines celebrated the Holy Communion and preached. Deacon Galpo read the Gospel, while Fr. Arellano and Fr. Abraham distributed communion.
At the conclusion of the service, Fr. Arellano addressed the congregation in their native language, Tagalog, thanking Ms. Wayas for the donation of the land, as well as the APA for their financial support to complete the building, and for visiting during the difficult time with the coronavirus epidemic looming in the background. He then asked Bp. Haines to bless the food and invited people to stay for photographs with the clergy.
After a lengthy photo session, the team was able to remove their vestments, and mix with the people while enjoying the banquet of roast pork, together with other Filipino pork dishes, rice, noodles, vegetables, and a series of desserts. This was an incredibly special day in this community where the previous attempt to established an Anglican church nearby had failed because of corrupt leadership several years before.
At around one in the afternoon at the conclusion of the festivities, it was time for the group, together with the Mayo family, Ms. Wayas, and four others (making a total of thirteen people), together with bags, food, and the audio and computer equipment, to squeeze into the truck for the eight hour journey to Bauang, La Union, where services were scheduled to be held on Sunday afternoon at St. James the Apostle Anglican Church.
Just after nine in the evening, after several stops to stretch some very cramped legs and to have tea, coffee, and some other roadside snacks, the truck with all its occupants arrived safely at their hotel, the Bella Vista Resort, in Bauang. After unloading the truck and moving all the luggage to the rooms, the group enjoyed a late dinner with some of the food from the celebration earlier in the day. Then, after saying farewell to the Mayo family (who live just outside the city), the remainder of the group settled down for the night.
On Sunday, March 8, following Morning Prayer, the group enjoyed breakfast together at the hotel. Then the group repacked their bags and moved from the rooms that were just provided for the night into a more comfortable family bungalow type accommodation, with separate sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and a large common dining and living area.
Just before noon, the group was joined by two priests and a monk who had been driven by a kind fellow monk from the Clark International Airport north of Manila after they had traveled from Cebu City. The clergy are part of the Missionary Society of Saints Peter and Paul, a monastic order affiliated with the Holy Catholic Church International. This church body separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s. The Missionary Society is interested in joining the APA to help with the work in the Philippines.
After enjoying lunch together, the group, together with their newly arrived visitors, headed to the church of St. James the Apostle, outside of Bauang, for the service planned for 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. The church is located in an area where a large number of families reside but where there is no other church nearby. The church, which is situated on land donated by the Mayo family, is partially built. The main structure, including the roof has been completed, but the finishing of the building, including installation of windows, doors, ceiling and electricity, still needs to be completed once funds become available.
When the group arrived, they were welcomed by the Mayo family and other parishioners who were busy setting up the church for the service. The group assisted with setting up chairs, tables, and audio equipment, and the newly arrived visitors began rehearsing with the choir for the service. One of the priests, Father John Luke Vianney, is an accomplished pianist and keyboard player and was quick to step in and help with the music.
The altar party for the service included Bp. Haines, Frs. Rivard, Arellano, and Abraham, and Dcn. Galpo. Upon the arrival of all the confirmands, their families, and church members, the service commenced, with approximately 170 people in attendance. The service began with the baptism of two of the confirmands by Fr. Rivard and Fr. Arellano celebrated the Holy Communion in Tagalog. Dcn. Galpo read the Gospel and Bp. Haines preached. Bp. Haines confirmed forty-three young adults from the community. Fr. Arellano and Fr. Abraham communicated the congregation.
At the conclusion of the service, Fr. Arellano once again addressed the congregation in Tagalog, thanking the Mayo family for the donation of the land, and saying that he hoped the APA would be able to assist with financial support to complete the building. He also outlined the plans and timetable for completing the building. Bp. Haines once again blessed the food, and the people were invited to come forward for blessings and for photographs.
Once the photo session was done, the group was able to mingle with the people and enjoy another meal of roasted pork and other Filipino foods which had been prepared by members of the congregation. During the meal, three more priests arrived from the Clark Airport after they had traveled from Cebu City. They are part of the same group that had arrived earlier in the afternoon and work as part of the same medical and healing ministry on the island of Cebu
As the festivities began to slow down, the team, together with the visiting clergy, said their farewells and headed back to the hotel for the night. At the hotel the clergy continued with their conversations and discussions and eventually retired shortly after ten in the evening.
On Monday March 9, after breakfast at the hotel, the Bishop and Fr. Paul interviewed each of the clergy and the monk individually and reviewed their completed applications. The group then enjoyed lunch together and were able to relax and chat for the rest of the afternoon. Around two in the afternoon, Fr. Arellano, Bp. Hianes, and a few of the clergy returned to the church in Bauang to settle up the accounts for the previous days food and leave some more money, that had been sent by the APA, for the completion of the roof, .
Later that day, the group ate their last dinner together and then settled in for an early night before the long days of travel which lay ahead. During the evening the concern for many turned to the worsening situation regarding the coronavirus epidemic and the threat of restrictions being imposed in the next few days by the Filipino government and other governments around the world.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
The following morning, March 10, 2020 the group had breakfast together and posed for one last photograph before saying farewell to the five members of St. Joseph the Worker Church, who had traveled from Masoc on Saturday afternoon. After the members of St. Joseph’s Church left the hotel, the clergy loaded up the truck and began what would be a twelve-hour journey to return all of the people to their points of connection for their journeys home.
In Bagio City, the group first dropped off Dcn. Galpo, who was on his way to attend one of his ongoing seminary classes in a nearby town. The group then stopped in Bagio at the home of Fr. Arellano where the group enjoyed a wonderful lunch cooked by Fr. Abraham and Fr. Jerome (one of the visiting priests). Following the lunch, the group resumed their journey and dropped off Fr. Abraham and Brother Vincent (the visiting monk) at the bus station so they could catch the bus to Nueva Vizcaya. Brother Vincent was to stay with Fr. Abraham for three weeks as part of his training and preparation for Holy Orders.
From Bagio City the trip continued to the Clark International Airport in Angeles City, north of Manila, where the group arrived at six in the evening. The team then said farewell to the four priests from Cebu City who were scheduled to fly back to the Island of Cebu at around nine that night.
The remaining four passengers, Fr. Arellano, Bp. Haines, Fr. Rivard, and Fr. Nestor (one of the visitors who is currently living in Antipolo City near Manila) continued their journey towards the Manila International Airport. Due to the threatened crack down because of the coronavirus pandemic, traffic was lighter than expected which allowed enough time for the group to stop at a JollyBee Restaurant on the outskirts of Manila for a last meal together.
The group arrived at the Manila International Airport just after nine in the evening almost exactly twelve hours since the start of the journey that morning. After Bishop David and Fr. Paul said their farewells to Fr. Joel and Fr. Nestor, they put on their surgical masks, and headed into the airport to await their flight to Narita Airport (Tokyo) which was scheduled to leave just before one in the morning on March 11, 2020.
The return flights went without incident and the APA team arrived back in the United States at Dulles International Airport just after ten in the morning on the same day after twenty-one hours of flying and lay overs. Bp. Haines and Fr. Rivard enjoyed a meal (without rice) at the Smash Burger Restaurant at the Dulles Airport before separating and heading back on separate flights to their home towns.
The plans for this mission trip to the Philippines were finalized in late January just as the Covid-19 crisis was beginning. As the dates for our departure grew closer the situation around the world, especially in Asia was worsening. Many well intentioned people pleaded with us to consider postponing our visit until conditions improved.
For three weeks prior to our departure, Fr. Paul Rivard and I committed ourselves to pray daily for God to give us a clear sign that we should change our plans. There was talk of enforced quarantine on arrival in the Philippines, the possibility of canceled return flights, and many other issues. During that time there were no clear signals that we should not go. We also checked with the US State Department, the Philippine Consulate, CDC Travel Recommendations, and the airlines each day and were told each time that there were no restrictions. On the Friday before our departure date, after encouragement from Bishop Walter Grundorf our Presiding Bishop, we made the decision that we would still go.
During this trip we were protected by Almighty God, showered by His grace, and given covering by all of your prayers. Initially, we had complained bitterly over the toughness of the schedule and especially the number of hours that we would be confined to the inside of a truck on the dangerous highways of the Philippines. We came to realize that this confinement afforded us protection from exposure to the virus and kept us and those we visited safe during our time there.
God clearly directed us through this narrow window of opportunity, enabling us to bring blessing and hope to the wonderful people of the APA Missionary District of the Philippines, and bringing us safely home again. Within a week after our return the Ferry Ports in the Philippines were closed, parts of Metro Manila were closed down, and a shelter in place order was issued across the Philippines.
Fr. Paul and I would like to thank you all for your prayers and your generous contributions that make all of this work and our travel possible. Please continue to pray for the ongoing work in the Philippines and for all of our Global Partnerships across the world and please remember the many needs that exist in all these places.
May God richly bless you all during this very difficult time.