I half-expected the weather to be cold, because after all, I was in Baguio on a Febuary morning. I was chilling, nothing unusual if you’d ask me. Blame my body fat or lack of it. But it wasn’t as cold as I expected, and if truth be told, I think it was the warmth inside our hearts ready to explore an unspoiled land and serve with gladness that defeated the cold. We were ten bodies burning with passion to share the Great Love, in a fashion befitting the grandest of love stories: Through valleys and mountains, come hell or high water. Yes, we were going to reach Dalipey in Benguet no matter what, and we were going to reach it for Christ.
Words fail me when I try to describe how difficult and physically stretching the climb was. We did not lack reminder that it was going to be a “major climb”. Having conquered many mountains already, and King Apo very recently, I thought I already had this in the bag. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The trek to Dalipey is perhaps the hardest I’ve had so far in terms of distance traveled, peaks crossed, and time trekked. In fact, as night creeped in and we were still trekking, the only thing that made me go on was will. My legs and feet were sore like never before. They were shaking and in so much pain, and Julie, our American mountaineer friend beautifully put it, “I don’t know why I keep going.” But I guess it was divine will. We had to get there. People were expecting us to be there, and there wasn’t going to be any recourse except to arrive at the appointed time.
And as we ardously trekked through the majestic, breathtaking mountains of Kibungan, I felt little. They were grand mountains unlike anything I’ve ever seen, perhaps only in movies like Lord of the rings. The valleys and hills and mountains extended as far as the eye could see. There were Pine trees that stretched for miles and provided us cool winds amidst the blistering noonday heat. And God granted us the pleasure of enjoying the magnificent views until the fog rolled back in. Even the fog was beautiful in that it kept us mystified as to what lies ahead. And at that moment all I could think of was Psalm 8:4 which says, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Because while He created these majestic mountains, He also created the people that would inhabit them —people He loves with an everlasting love.
By the time we reached Dalipey, 8 hours later since we started trekking, I was ready to collapse. I heard singing from a distance and could tell that they were praise songs. I didn’t see them until the next day but I thought, “could those songs be heaven’s way of welcoming us?” When we started our program for the community the next day, everything just felt right at home for me.
Kids were excitedly waiting for us to come out. They were wearing shy smiles, but smiles that tell you they were anticipating good things. And good things did happen. Each student was given a set of school supplies because in this part of the world, pencils and ballpens don’t come easily. Things we take for granted are treasures to them. And as they each held out their hand to receive these blessings, they had a genuine smile on them with a heartfelt, “thank you ma’am.” In reply, we said, “bendisyon ni Apo Dios da kayo” which means God bless you.
The team prepared a short program which was well received by the community. Dalipey locals are very shy and we did our best to liven up the atmosphere and get them interacting. We prepared songs to cheer them up, dances to get them moving, and games to entertain them. But above all, we prepared the message of God. Bibles were given to local church leaders, and a high school girl took the courage to approach Sir Ace and tell him that one day, she would be a missionary.
A short story on David and Goliath helped put some perspective for the locals. Here was David, a small, insignificant boy against the tallest of the Philistines. But he had one thing Goliath did not have: his God behind him. Sir Ace encouraged the locals to find hope in God, that no matter what their stature is in life, how far they are, or how little they may think of themselves, God loves them and has them in His sights. They are never beyond His reach.
If anything, the distance and effort it took for us to reach Dalipey was more than telling of God’s great love and effort of reaching out to us. What we went through to get to Dalipey, enduring the long stretch of uphill and downhill climbs, the threats of dead nails and injured knees, the cold and then the sudden heat, will not compare to what God did to reach us, sending His only son Jesus to die on the cross for us. He was beaten, treated harshly, mocked, ridiculed, and nailed for our sins. All because He loved us so much He would rather suffer in our place. That truth can get lost sometimes. And that is and has always been the greatest love story.
And so as I write this a day before Valentines, I am happy. I am happy because the truth has always been that we are only able to love because He first Loved us. And the 6-day mission climb was a good representation of what love should be for me. If we give it our all to people we do not know, how much more to people we do know and love? But God gives His all to everyone. His love is that consuming.