* Christmas Eve Service in Batasan Hills (SK)

We went to church on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day this year. Pastor Andres (Batasan Hills) requested that we do a service for him today. So Daniel prepared a Christmas message from Luke 2 -- the angels appearing to the shepherds. We picked up Rev. Smit and the three oldest, then Jeff and Katie, and then Brother Dick and another man. So we had 7 adults and 3 kids in our vehicle. We were still about 3 people short of Philipino style though. :-)

Worshipping in the Christian Faith Ministry in Batasan Hills

We had a merienda (snack) after the Christmas service. It was a noodle dish with garlic, shrimp, and squid in it. We had graham crackers and then a delicious dessert. I asked Mrs. Andres what was in it. Graham crackers with fruit cocktail on top and then a mixture with condensed milk poured over everything.

We really enjoyed the people and we had such a nice time. I tried out a few words of the language. I’ll have to keep trying. There are a lot of children in that group and they are all adorable. Two little brothers sang "The Lord unto His Christ hath said..." for Daniel. He got it on video.

A group of kids was next to the car when we left, giving us a send off - about a dozen of them.

The Farewell At Our Car Window

It took us an hour to get to Batasan Hills and an hour and a half to get home. The distance? 35 miles round trip! We figured it out and our average speed was 14 miles an hour. Only in the Philippines! :-)

* Move Into Our House in Antipolo (SK)

Our New House

Here is another update from my journal - written on December 23, 2009

We are in our house! Monday morning we left the guest house about 10 to go to the house. We couldn't go earlier because Monday is our restricted driving day. We picked up Katie Baatenburg on the way, since she had offered to help clean.  We got all the walls washed (as far up as we could reach), the cupboards cleaned, mopped the floors, and I cleaned the sink and toilet in our bathroom. So that leaves the other two bathrooms, the tops of the walls, etc. We had pandesal for lunch and then went shopping for some household stuff.

When we got back it was time for supper so I called and ordered a pizza. Yay! What an accomplishment! First of all I struggled to understand them on the phone, and they me. And as part of that, I was trying to supply all kinds of information - how many people will be eating, name, address, landmarks by our house, color of our gate, if we will need change, etc, etc. Then I had to try to answer questions about whether we wanted any of all the other items on the menu. Well, I managed all that. But then, soon after I got off the phone, we realized it wouldn’t come in time for us to leave to meet the mover (we had to go to move the used furniture we had purchased). So call Pizza Hut back to cancel. But I couldn’t understand the lady this time and my phone kept cutting out. Let's just say I got rather frustrated and Daniel ended up doing it. So much for my accomplishment. :-)

We got to the house where our stuff was and loaded the small stuff into our car. The mover (Henry CO - we never did figure out if Co was his last name or if it stood for "company") was about 40 minutes late, but found it eventually. An interesting note about that. Daniel texted the mover while we were waiting for him asking if he could find it. He texted back, "Almost there. Just have to ask a few more people."

They came with a small truck and I had my doubts they would fit it all in but they did. I was sitting in the car behind the truck and turning the headlights on and off to help them see what they were doing, so I had a front row view.  Henry (the boss) later said that he wasn't able to get his normal helpers, so the two helpers he had hadn't done it before.  Thus Henry had to give rather specific directions - such as the fact that the fans couldn't ride standing on top of the table.  They used cardboard as padding.  Henry sure knew how to pack the truck, though, so that it all fit. They got it all in and the two guys rode in the back with the stuff to keep it in place.

We figured it out that they came all the way from downtown Manila (an hour drive or more). They loaded up the stuff, drove another 15 minutes, unloaded it all and drove all the way home. Then they have to pay three guys. And the cost for us? The equivalent of $42. Wow!  How can they even do it for that? Daniel gave them a little extra.

Our boxes from Manila forwarders came earlier in the day and we also collected our stuff that we had stored at the Smits. So we have all of our stuff now and it’s pretty much all in place. The only things not unpacked and sorted are Daniel’s books and office stuff. Next week maybe.

What else have we accomplished this week? We bought a washing machine and got that hooked up, bought an lp gas tank for the stove, purchased lots of little household stuff that you always need, and some groceries. We bought a printer, voltage regulators for the appliances, got the car pass for the subdivision, filled the waterbed (more about that later), sorted out all the keys for the gates and doors of the house, and did more shopping. I think we were in the mall every day this week. And it was busy (last minute Christmas shoppers)!!! By the time this is done, we will have had enough shopping to last us a while.

I should write about purchasing our washing machine. In the whole process of buying one we probably had a dozen different people involved. By the time you count the two or three people giving the sales spiel, the 2 or 3 guys to box it up, the guy proving it worked by plugging it in and running the spin cycle, the cashier, the guys to wheel it to the car, and the security guard in the store to sign the receipt, well you’re probably past a dozen. Interesting. Things here are very customer service intensive.

At one point in the selling process, I asked the sales girl a question and she very carefully explained the whole thing to me... in Tagalog. :-)  I didn't understand a word, but just nodded and smiled. I don’t know if it even occurred to her at that point that I didn’t understand. Then there was a little discussion between her and the other sales clerk, about who should explain things. Maybe they are a little intimidated with using their English, but they do a good job. Better than I would do in Tagalog, for sure.  Oh, and here's an interesting thought. Our washing machine has an anti-rat tray underneath to keep the rats out. :-)

The waterbed is going to be a no go it seems. We thought it was baffled, but it's not. Every time one of us moves the other one goes sailing on the high seas. So we went today to Uratex to look at foam mattresses. We told them the size we wanted and they are going to get back to us with the price. So it could be a couple weeks or more before we get our bed, I think.

We have kids singing outside our gate right now. They beat sticks on tin cans or containers and sing some sort of Christmas song. The only words we can understand are "merry christmas."  They want us to come and give them some money or candy (kind of like Halloween in the States, I guess).  We haven’t done it, because that encourages them to come back.  I think Henry (the mover) gave them some on Monday though. They’ve come maybe10 times tonight, and every time the neighbor's dog joins in the chorus.

Now a concert is starting with someone announcing on the loudspeaker (Monday night they were going till 4AM).  And there have been fireworks off and on.  Tis the season!  Most of these things are holiday things. Filipinos don't mind noise and enjoy celebrating.

* Our First Sunday in the Philippines (DK)

Artwork Presented by Berean PRCP

It's Monday morning.  I woke at 3:30. Not complaining, though, as we went to bed early (9:00ish), so I did get a good six hours of sleep. The jetlag hasn't been too bad, it seems. It was worse when we came in October. Sharon's still on one ear - I think she inherited the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time of day (or night), for any length of time she might wish! :-) The roosters are crowing already. I also hear plenty traffic noise. Also occasional fireworks.

We've been warned more than once about the fireworks. Apparently it's bad over the holidays, especially new year's - just constant noise. One young man at church yesterday said the noise shouldn't be as bad where we'll be living, and that we would actually get a good view of all the fireworks from there (he suggested setting up my camera on a tripod). He did add that we should expect the smoke and smog caused by it to come our way after a while.

We had a good day in church yesterday - our first Sunday with the Berean PRC. Rev. Smit and I each preached once. He also preached on Saturday in Gabaldon (5 hours away). This coming week we'll both be preaching twice - I on Thursday and once on Sunday, and he twice on Sunday (though once in another church, the First Bulacan Reformed church).

Between the services yesterday the Bereans had what they call an "extended merienda" - i.e., a fairly substantial snack. We were served pansit (a prominent Filipino noodle dish), various other snacks (peanuts, cookies, etc.), and a cake.

The Berean's also officially welcomed us. This included presenting us with a wall hanging. The Smits recieved one as well. The picture will give you an idea of what this was. One of the men in the congregation does the artwork. The elders did the presentation and made some nice comments. They mentioned how significant this day was in the history of the Berean PRC with two missionaries being now in place. They also mentioned (and I didn't realize this) that Rev. Smit and I were the two men who had been here the most on delegation visits. They also expressed their gratitude to the PRCA for its willingness to send two men here, especially at a time when there are so many vacancies.

Riding our Carabao

Today we hope to move into our house. The renovation/addition was finished on time and looks very nice. We plan to do a little cleaning, then to move in what we have (our luggage from the October visit, and from this trip). Our boxes haven't arrived yet, but we know they're on the port in Manila. We were told they might be there a while, as the shipping company has a ton of extra work right now because of the holidays. We've arranged for a mover to come at 6:00 this evening to move to our house some used furniture we bought. That will be our fridge, stove, dining table and chairs, bed, water cooler, dishes, and a few other smaller things. Might be sleeping on the floor for a night, as we have a waterbed and won't be able to sleep in that right away. That's what we did our last night in the States, so should be fine.

We're somewhat restricted in traveling today, as Monday is our no-drive day with our vehicle. Every car has one day of the week that it has to stay off the roads in Manila. If you don't, you'll get a ticket. License plates that end in 1 and 2 are off on Monday, 3 and 4 are off on Tuesday, etc. It's a small effort in trying to curb the amount of vehicles on the road. Doesn't seem to make much difference, although traffic is definitely worse on Saturdays, when there are no restrictions. It's a bear to get around then. On our no-drive day, we are still allowed to be on the road between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, and then again after 7:00 pm.

* Our First Few Days in the Philippines (SK)

We arrived in the Philippines at 8:40 p.m. on Wednesday, December 16, 2009.  Received a warm welcome at the aiport and then headed to the guesthouse where we stayed for a few days.  Here's an excerpt from my journal that covers our first few days here. Hopefully it's not too long.

December 19, 2009

Nice quiet morning this morning. We didn’t sign up for breakfast and didn’t have to be anywhere, so it was nice to lounge around and take our time getting ready. We eventually took a walk to get some pandesal (delicious Philipino bread hot from the brick oven) for breakfast. We got 2 rolls of that and 2 empanadas (or something like that) for 31P, which is about 65cents. Pretty cheap breakfast wouldn’t you say? The empanadas were shaped like a cinnamon roll, but were pretty much like the pandesal bread with butter and sugar on the top. We are meeting Jeff and Katie for lunch, but won’t have to leave till 10:30 or later for that. After lunch we hope to go to the mall and get Daniel’s cell phone set up. We stopped there yesterday and they said they would need a day to do research on it and get the info they needed. We already paid 1/2 of the fee for them to fix it, so hopefully it will actually work now.

Well we are back, after doing what I just wrote about. We left here about 10:45 so that we could get to Jeff and Katie’s by 11:30. Made it in plenty of time. Katie is looking great. And Jeff has dropped some pounds. He seems to be thriving here. We went for lunch to Tokyo/Tokyo, which is Jeff’s favorite place to eat. I got the chicken and rice. I should have gone with Jeff’s suggestion on the beef bowl. Daniel did. My chicken was deep fried with lots of batter and rather greasy. We got a Dairy Queen blizzard after lunch for dessert. After lunch we took them to see our house. They were impressed. Katie offered to help clean on Monday.

After dropping Jeff and Katie off again, we left for the mall to get Daniel’s cell phone set up. We got that done and bought a few cleaning supplies and looked at some other stuff we might need for the house.

We headed back for home and because it was a pain to do a U-turn on Felix Ave we ended up taking Ortigas back instead of Marcos. Wow, the traffic was unbelievable. It’s hard to describe. The jeepneys think they are the king of the road and everyone else better just get out of their way. The buses too. They just come over and you better watch out. The traffic was two lanes, then at one point spread out to five, and then suddenly came back to two after maybe a half a mile at the most. You wonder why this is done - didn't seem to help traffic flow, at least not as far as we could see. Also there is no slow merge back down to two, (like from 5 to 4 to 3 etc.) but just all of a sudden the three left lanes have to swing right.  I tried to get a few pictures, but I don’t know if they really show it either. Daniel did really well with the driving.

I sure was glad I wasn’t behind the wheel. You have to constantly be watching in every direction when you drive. The motorcycles will suddenly come sneaking up next to you when you are turning, everyone is constantly changing lanes, traffic merges when you aren’t expecting it, and like I said before, the jeepneys and buses just come over, regardless if you’re there or not. I think if I ever drive there will have to be two conditions. One, I will never go on Ortigas Ave. Two, if anyone is with me, they will not be allowed to talk (unless it’s to give directions) or do anything else to distract me. :-)

Taking Ortigas Daniel wasn’t as sure of himself on directions back to the guest house, so I got thrown into map reading - not my forte. One thing about it, you have plenty of time to figure out the map since traffic is moving (or not!) so slowly. So between the two of us, we managed to get safely back. I would really like to know the distance we went, because I doubt it was even 10 miles, but it took us an hour and a half.

Anyway, that was our fun for the day. And I haven’t even written about yesterday yet.

We left shortly after breakfast yesterday morning. We didn’t have our car yet at that point, so we took a taxi to the train. We had to stand quite a while and wait for a taxi outside the subdivision here. It’s supposed to be the cooler season, but I soon had drips of sweat running down my back. The train rides (two different ones with a half mile walk between them) took us about an hour and then we had less than a mile walk to the Christian Missionary Service Office. Our business with Catherine (turning in originals of all the documents we had emailed to her earlier) took less than fifteen minutes, but we spent at least another 15 to 20 minutes (at the start) chatting.  That's a very important part of business here.

We were out of there by a little after 10.  Daniel tried to make contact with the guy about insurance for the car, but he wasn’t in the office.  So we decided to just take the train back and decide from there what to do. We ended up taking a taxi to Brookside to pick up our car from the Johnstons. We were there a little early, so we lunched on some snacks we had along and took a walk in the neighborhood. The roads and sidewalks are rough, although the houses seemed nice enough. By the time we got back, their helper was waiting for us (they are in the states for a wedding). We went inside, showed her the bill of sale, checked out some of the other things we had bought from them (we will have a mover pick them up Monday evening), and left with our wheels! A red Toyota Revo. Boy did we feel quite the big cheese. No more taxis, which will be convenient.  But we will miss the conversations with the drivers.

The driver that brought us to Brookside was really chatty. He loved it when we said a few things in Tagalog, and loved it even more when Daniel said he could teach us. When we said we were here to do mission work, he said it was wonderful that we would be teaching people. We were quite surprised at that because in the states and here sometimes too when we would say we are moving to do mission work, they ask what we are going to be doing. I think they expect that we will say some sort of social work project with orphans or unwed mothers or whatever.

With our own wheels we drove to meet our landlady at the house and she showed us around and gave us the keys. The remodeling is finished! And the rooms are huge now! They actually added 6 feet, I think, not three. It looks great. We headed to the bank and got our ATM cards and then to the mall where we did some looking at printers and washing machines and a few other things. We had a rest for a while from all the walking in Kenny Roger’s Chicken and had some bottled water. We eventually ate supper at Greenwich Pizza (good!) and then headed back to the guest house. A long day, but we got a lot accomplished.

I have to write a bit about the malls. The number of people and the level of noise are unbelievable. Daniel and I could often not walk next to each other, just because there were too many people. It is worse now because of Christmas, but they are always a lot busier than we are used to. Then, besides the noise that number of people make, Christmas Carols were playing, TV's were loud in electronics stores, and added to all of that is a stage set up in the mall with some program or presentation going on over loudspeakers. It’s deafening at times.  Seems Filipinos love their noise and love to be with people.  So with the added benefit of getting out of the heat, the malls are a great place for them to go.

There is a racket outside right now too. This time of year is a time for fireworks. So every weekend and then the holidays you hear (and see) them all over the place. And there is a party going on up the street somewhere.  I doube this is the place to come to for peace and quiet. :-)

* Departure from USA (DK)

We were scheduled to depart Grand Rapids, Michigan at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 15, 2009. We turned up at the airport plenty early and checked in our luggage. All of them came in under the 50 pound limit each. We figured it's probably a good thing they didn't weigh our hand luggage!

Sharon at 6:00 am -- not bad, hey?!

Many turned up to bid their final farewells. It was a big send-off, and a moment we'll remember and cherish.

Someone even came in a wheelchair to say his good-byes. What a valiant effort! We appreciate it! :-)

And so finally, after six months of preparation for the work of missions in the Philippines (which included missions courses, reading in missions, and beginning to learn Tagalog), we were on our way to our new home in the Philippines.