After a long and rocky boat ride, I and seven Gospel Outreach workers arrived on Balut Island, the southernmost point of land in the Philippines, early on March 9—my 71st birthday. After worshipping with some of the 100 church members there and witnessing a dance of the B’laan tribe, the main ethnic group on the island, we boarded three small “bangka” boats to head to the nearby village of Patilwaso.
A bangka, sometimes called a pump boat, is a canoe with outriggers and an engine. Rey Dolotalles and I were assigned to the smallest of the three boats. We pushed off into deeper water where the seaweed would not wrap around the propeller.
Soon our boat began nosing into each wave, causing water to splash on us. As I am much larger than most Filipinos, I was the cause of the imbalance, and the driver had to stop the boat to shift some of the weight. We forged ahead but had to stop again when there was no improvement. As we were sitting dead in the water awaiting transfer to another boat, a wave set the bangka on edge. Rey and I were pitched into the water. He was able to grab a small rope attached to the boat, and I caught hold of the outrigger.
The water-resistant cloth protecting my cell phone and camera wound around my hand as I plunged into the water, making it difficult to swim. When the other boats reached us, I tried to climb into the larger one, but, waterlogged, I could not pull myself up into the boat.
My legs could not reach the deck. Someone jumped in and pushed my leg up so that I was able to drag my sodden body into the larger bangka.
Once in the bottom of the canoe, I sat as low as possible as we returned to Mavias, where I scrambled out of the canoe to assess the damage—ruined phone and camera, bent eyeglasses, and sopping wet clothes and wallet.
After a dipper bath, I dried off. It felt good to be clean and dry; in fact, it felt good to be alive!
Edgar Itable has been on the island for seven years as a Gospel Outreach worker. The churches are revived, and Edgar intends to reach out to another area of the island to establish a church. He plans to ultimately establish eight churches on the island and the neighboring island of Saragani. Then the mission can station a district pastor there to supervise the work.
The work in Southern Mindanao Mission is going very well. The seven Gospel Outreach workers there have been blessed with more than 1,000 baptisms in the past year.
There is still much to do, but it is moving rapidly. And this experience here in South Mindanao Mission will stand out in my mind as a birthday to remember.