Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Found God in the Mountains

I have been baptized by the Holy Spirit
My grandfather spent seven years in the seminary; my father, four. In my case, I tried seminary life for a week but I got my admission letter from UP so I had to say goodbye to priesthood. Studying Applied Physics for 3 years, I was drawn away from my Christian faith. I got farther away when I took Philosophy courses for two years. But my search for the Divine and the meaning of life went on. I attended different religious communities including Jehovah's Witnesses, Iglesia Ni Cristo, and Victory Christian Fellowship. I even paid a visit to The Theosophical Society in the Philippines in Quezon City where I got Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine (of Esoteric Buddhism). But none of them seemed to satisfy my thirst for knowledge of the Divine more than my professors in Metaphysics, Medieval Philosophy, and Philosophy of Religion. So for the longest time, I lived the life of a believer in the unfathomable Divine and the mysteries of the mountains but not of a believer of a God that can actually relate to us.

Then I trekked Benguet for ninety days from May to August in 2015 and there, I found God!

THE TOUGHEST OBSTACLE

At the outset of my journey, in Tublay (the second town in my 13-town journey), I was faced with a challenge that would make many travelers give up their quest. "O, pinaalis ka na nga sa bahay, nandito ka na naman?!" was the barangay captain's greeting when I logged in at the barangay hall after I made a courtesy call at his house where only his wife gave me audience. I can't blame him for thinking I had come with an evil agenda. After all, why would a man travel to Brgy Ambongdolan when no one even knows Tublay, or Benguet for that matter? Why would one go there and not visit the DOT-developed caves of Ambongdolan? I was a fool to believe that the barangay captain could grasp the idea of traveling beyond tourism. But no one can blame me for having a burning distaste for that barangay captain's attitude and for resolving to just end my journey and write about how badly I was treated, and make sure that no one ever goes to Ambongdolan. But fortunately, I gave Benguet the benefit of the doubt. So I went on. In the heat of the noon sun I climbed a steep mountain pass just so I could get myself out of that cursed place. Then I reached Barangay Gaswiling in Kapangan (the third town). But just like Tublay, Kapangan is also a town inhabited by Ibalois--a people I found to be fond of wordplay. They'd answer your question with another question. The Ibalois would strike many travelers as the most skeptical of all peoples. But I learned later on that that's just the way they are--unwelcoming, but once you've earned their trust, they are the most hospitable and accommodating of all! So in Barangay Gaswiling, I was again  swallowed in an immense sea of doubt and distrust. All, except one family, believed I had come with an evil plan. Only Oliver Valdez's family saw me as a weary traveler in need of a place to rest. In the evening, the tanods and some barangay officials put me on the hot seat. Oliver was continually trying to pacify the distressed barangay officials, most of whom were his relatives. But when you've got nothing to hide, all you need to do is tell the truth and all will be well.

And so I thought the 'pagpupulong' was over. More tanods and kagawads came to where I was being housed earlier than I had woken up the following morning. 

In the evening before we went to sleep, I asked Oliver "Why do you trust me? What if the village people are right?! What if you wake up tomorrow and I'm gone with the heads of your two kids?" And his answer was the most meaningful homily I had heard in my life! "Life is a decision, my friend" he started. "I have already decided to take you in. And now I am to decide whether to trust you or doubt you. And I am to consider two possibilities of who you are--you could be the phantom that all my neighbors fear or you could be just the weary traveler that I believe you are. If I choose to trust you, I win in your two possible personas. If I choose to be skeptical about you, I lose in both. If I doubted you and you were indeed a bad guy, that wouldn't change anything. You would still be a bad guy and I would be a bad host. I wouldn't be able to sleep in peace and I would be constantly admonishing myself for sheltering you in the first place. I lose in this scenario. If I doubted you and you were a good man, you'd definitely feel my uneasiness and you would leave this place with animosity towards me and a bad memory my home. I lose again. If, on the other hand, I trusted you and you were a bad guy, my goodwill might sway you from executing your evil plan. I win in this case. And if I trusted you and you were a good man, this companionship we are having might go a long way. I win again."

This is Oliver Valdez, the key guy to my successful trek around Benguet. He is a devout member of Keys of the Kingdom Ministries. On a typical day, he'd be repairing and selling mobile phones in Centermall in Baguio. He's not really some big personage but he sure taught me a lot about goodwill, trust and redemption. This photo was taken a few days after the completion of my 13-town trek. He paid for the food I ate. And it made me change the way I look at overcharging salespeople. The extra money could just go to a treat to a friend. And that friend could be you!

In the same evening, Oliver spoke further about my bad experience with the barangay captain in Ambongdolan. He said that it would be unwise of me to speak ill of the barangay chief based on that singular event in his life. He said, if I defamed him, there would be the two of us victims of doubt. I wouldn't be any different from the man I loathed. The barangay captain treated me bad because of some unfounded doubt about me. And I would be writing ill thoughts about him because of my doubt that he is a malicious man just because we got off on the wrong foot. Oliver said, the barangay chief wouldn't have been elected to his position if he were utterly evil. He might have just been having a bad day. And that's how the word 'redemption' made sense to me. I never really understood the idea of Jesus dying on the cross to redeem the world until I learned it from a personal experience in Gaswiling. I have already forgiven the barangay captain and with a calm heart and mind, I saw more reasons not to defame him in writing. Oliver sure taught me a lot about trust, redemption and goodwill. I, who was educated in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy of UP, was humbled by the wisdom of this man who never even finished sixth grade. All his wisdom sprang from his devotion to the Word of God. Perhaps Plato's greatest contribution to mankind--the academic system--is not enough to guide us in the way we lead our lives and the way we formulate our world view.


COINCIDENCE or THE WORKINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?

And so my journey continued. I kept trekking. But when you're trekking alone and with minimal gear, you are at the mercy of the trails. Sometimes they bifurcate and will lead you to the wrong destination. I had already lost my GPS device to The North Face 100 trail race in 2013 so I had to deal with a live topographic map--the mountains themselves. But I was just bewildered by the many times that I would meet a local who would point me to the right direction a few meters before I reached the bifurcation of a trail...and the two instances where I would come across a waiting shed with a water source (Can you believe that?!) just before rain started to pour during the rainy months of June and July. But yeah, you're right. That could be just a coincidence.

The waiting shed with a water source beside it right before rain poured in Bakun. God indeed provides!


But what I don't quite get is the neat linkage of the people I encountered on my trek. The biggest challenge for me in my 90-day journey was to introduce myself and gain the trust of the locals. This linkage made it easy for me to be counted in as family. I used to sponsor a certain Josiah Ballagan in his trail races. Helen (who I call Mama Helen now), the woman who adopted me in La Trinidad and Bakun,  happens to be Josiah's aunt. She has a niece, Ella, who happened to be engaged to Popot. Popot happens to be the nephew of Marzan (who I call Daddy Marzan now), the barangay kagawad who took me in when I came upon his house in Buguias. And Daddy Marzan got fond of me that he didn't want me to leave his house in Buguias. He said he saw Apostle Paul in me and when I asked why, he said there were many things he wanted to tell me but he didn't trust the capacity of his brain to contain all his thoughts. So he took me to a fellowship and he introduced me to Rev. Allen Dante.

Daddy Marzan using his Holy Bible app and taking down notes while the pastor speaks

I wanted the conversation to be brief because I already had my own world view founded on logic and empiricism and I believed no pastor could shake that. So I opened up with the challenge 'Could you prove to me the existence of God without using a verse in the Bible?'. The pastor said he couldn't because the Bible is his truth. Game over! But somehow, something (probably the Holy Spirit) softened my heart and so I reworded my question. "How can you convince me that The Bible is not just another Marvel comic book?" The conversation that ensued was the most enlightening I had had.

Pastor Allen Dante answering all my questions about God and His creations

me speaking in front of a gathering of married men during the Men's Fellowship of the Assembly of God in Buguias

Then from Buguias, I went on to Atok and Kabayan. When I reached Bokod, I saw a girl tending a carabao. She happened to be Josiah's classmate back in BSU. That made it easy for me to be introduced to her father who gave me lodgings for 3 days.

You do have a choice to think of all these as just a network of coincidences. But if you really think of it more deeply, you are actually acknowledging the reality of Coincidence as if it were an absolute existence...as if Coincidence were a sentient Being controlling the universe. If you really are a skeptic then you'd see that the idea of Coincidence is just as contingent and superstitious as the idea of a living God. I see no reason why you'd think of the idea of God ludicrous and the idea of Coincidence logical.

As for me, I'd rather believe that it was the Holy Spirit that put all these people at the right place at the right time for me. It was the Holy Spirit who put the biggest obstacle in my journey at the beginning so that I would survive all the other minor challenges that lay ahead. It was the Holy Spirit speaking through Oliver's mouth as well as the pastor's in order to introduce me to the Kingdom of God.


THE WONDERS OF HIS CREATIONS

And it is hard not to believe that God was with me on my journey across the land blessed with His wonders. There was one time, I was trekking in Kapangan and I got so exhausted and running out of water that I had to sit down under the shade of a boulder. And when I sat down, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the panorama in front of me. The view was nothing like I had ever seen before! And I said to myself, only a Supreme Being can create this natural beauty and harmony. The wind chilled my face and before I knew it I was already humming "As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee. You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worship Thee" Strong emotions still well up every time I sing this song even in my mind, probably because of that personal experience with the Divine. But yeah, you could say it was just a hallucination due to exhaustion and desperation.

This is just an insult to the beauty of the actual scenery that took my exhaustion away

You will always shun the idea of a Supreme Force if you have not felt it. You will never understand the euphoria and overwhelming power of the wonders of His creations if you have never traveled and laid eyes on the greatness of this universe. I have seen the faces of my companions as they froze speechless with their mouths agape, mesmerized by the grandeur of the places I took them to.

Who wouldn't stop and stare at this grandeur?!
I have had enough of trying to reject the reality of a personal God. This time, the universe evidently affirms His reality. Now I understand how mortals necessitate themselves to bow down or kneel in front of Greatness. I, too, have felt the urge to show my humility and adoration to the Great One through gestures.

And so I started the journey a man with an unshakable world view and a complete set of standards for Right and Wrong, Proper and Distasteful. After three hundred fifty kilometers and ninety days on the trails of Benguet, I came out a reborn man, baptized in The Holy Spirit with a world view where God is the center and the scope of everything!

And just like Santiago in The Alchemist, I think I could never have found God in the seminary. So don't confine yourself in books and ideas or in the repetitive interaction with the same set of individuals and environment. Travel and keep learning for it is in the different interactions with humans and in witnessing the wonders of God's creations where He reveals Himself and where we learn more and grow as a person.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths



6 comments:

  1. I was touched at how God kept you throughout the journey.. and I was reminded about the amazing things He can do in one's life. Praise God for meeting you from where you are. I honor you bro for heeding His call.

    A verse now in my head -- Philippians 1:6 :)

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  2. The pilgrimage of the heart. You have touched base and it is a wonderful journey like Miyamoto Musashi had done before us. Keep the path open.

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  3. Awesome experience brother!!! I also didn't believe in the existence of GOD before until somebody (one of my childhood friends) was used by GOD as an instrument to introduce His Son Jesus Christ to me 7 yrs ago. Soon enough, I had a personal encounter with Him and eventually discovered the reality of His grace through the things that was made or in His creation —the mountains and the people whom I shared His greatness and Power. Keep the fire burning bro! Your life is indeed a testimony of how GOD works in ways that we cannot even comprehend. GOD BLESS!

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  4. good for you sir... sana matagpuan ko na rin si God

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