By Pastor Bernabe Dahunan and Sulad Crisofel M. Abayan as told to Russ Dawis
Malinawon SULADS mission school has been in operation for about 8 years now. With the help of Pastor Lagunday and his youth group of Gingoog District, a church was built in this village. But due to the villagers’ strong adherence to tribal beliefs, their intellectual limitations, and the religious abyss between them and us, most of the older folks have left it to their children to embrace Adventist Christianity while they continue to hold on to their old animists beliefs and practices.
But SULADS missionaries do not content themselves of teaching God’s truth to children only. In the first quarter of 2009, a SULADS evangelistic crusade was held and 23 souls were baptized. Forty percent of them were adult. The pair of missionaries who took over last June continued the evangelistic thrust for adults by visiting homes and conducting Bible studies. After some months the missionaries reported that 4 adults have been readied for baptism.
This is where our story begins….
Excited of the report that four more adults have understood the truth and have decided to be baptized, I immediately arranged for an ordained pastor to travel with SULADS missionaries to Malinawon village. Pastor Bernabe M. Dahunan, the pastor of Butuan City SDA church, was even more excited to do this rare baptismal rite. You see the brethren of Butuan City Church, in their deep sympathy for the work of SULADS, has just officially adopted one SULADS village – Malinawon. This means that, among other focuses, they will take charge of the financial burden of sending one SULADS missionary to this village every year.
So on January 29, 2010, a Friday, Pastor Dahunan, Sulad Crisofel Abayan and Esperanza District Leader Neon Pacumbaba, set out at 3:00 dawn for Malinawon. The trip going there was uneventful and the group reached the village at 3:00 in the afternoon, a rather early arrival. Their last leg of the trip which is the walk through thick jungles with two river crossings took them only three and a half hours instead of the usual four to five hours. A SULADS pace indeed!
When Sabbath morning came, the three guests were awestricken by the overflowing attendance of the church services where both Adventist and non-adventist villagers thronged. Pastor Dahunan did not use his sermon outlines but asked God to guide him to topics that would be most relevant.
Most of the time, his talks were a product of the villagers’ inquiries on spiritual matters – especially their very own spiritual concerns. Thus the Holy Spirit was able to transmit to these innocent souls the precious truths they so much needed in their literally and spiritually dark jungle home. Their chatter in Higaonon after each clarifying endeavors of Pastor Dahunan clearly revealed that they understand well and that they like the answers.
The morning services ended rather late. Stomachs may have been empty but souls were undoubtedly full. I believe many souls in the past evangelistic endeavors were brought to the brink of accepting Adventism but continued to be withheld by doubts and fears. God used Pastor Dahunan to cast away those doubts and fears especially the fear of misfortunes that their spirit gods will send to them if they entertain other teachings.
Thus when lunch was over and the Malinawon missionaries gathered the baptismal candidates in the church for a doctrinal review before the baptism that afternoon, the four candidates became nineteen! Only six were children or youth. The rest were adults!
How happy everyone was that afternoon for the triumph of God’s kingdom among the Higaonons who had been clinging to Satan’s lies thinking all the while that their ancestors couldn’t be wrong in spiritual matters.
After the baptism, the guests immediately prepared to leave. But rain has started to fall. Some young villagers escorted the guests and carried their bags. The trail became more muddy and slippery, but what could make the trek dangerous would be the swelling of Ohot River three hours ahead. The drenched group prayed for the rain to stop so that Ohot would just be safe to cross when they got there, but the downpour was incessant. Sure enough, after three hours of splattering through the jungle floor, the horrific, swollen Ohot came to view.
“How could we possibly cross?” Pastor Dahunan started to check for any bolo so that they could start cutting indigenous materials for a temporary shelter as weathering out Ohot and the night seemed to be the only probability at the moment. Darkness was coming fast; no single hut could be found nearby; a retreat to Malinawon is not only impractical but also impossible due to the absence of flashlights in the group.
But as they took one more scrutiny at the possibility of crossing Ohot, they saw at the opposite bank a man oblivious of his surroundings, standing, his gaze nailed on something. To the excitement of the local young people escorting the guests, they recognized him as their relative who is known for his extraordinary skills and strength in crossing rivers even during flood. They shouted for help and sure enough he willingly assisted the group, one by one, in crossing Ohot. On their own, the trekkers’ feet easily got swept by the strong midstream current. Good enough, the native knows how to stick his feet on the riverbed and the guests, with feet barely touching the riverbed, just clung to their rescuer and made it to the other side safely.
When everyone was safe across, they learned from the native that he was supposed to go home already. But a monkey was making interesting exhibitions on a tree catching his attention and detaining him long enough for the SULADS group to catch up with him.
Don’t monkeys do business for God, too?
Pastor Dahunan is the Church Pastor of Butuan Tamarind SDA Church
Sulad Crisofel M. Abayan is a Sulad Missionary
Russ Dawis is the Coordinator of the NeMM-SULADS