Last night we went out to a place called May’s Organic Garden. It was a beautiful private property, about 15 acres in size, located right in the middle of town. Throughout the property were different gardens, ponds, swimming pools, picnic areas, and other covered open-air structures used for weddings/receptions. The people who own/operate this property also have an interest in educating farmers in organic farming. They provide both classroom and hands-on training, which even includes a working foundry and machine shop to build/repair farm equipment. They gave us a tour, showed us a couple videos of their operation, and provided a light meal. We got home a bit late so last night’s blog was a struggle.
This morning came early and today will be a busy one. Simon led devotions and chose to talk about the call of Moses recorded in Exodus. Moses lived a privileged life his first 40 years, in the house of royalty and was educate in the customs of Egypt. God called him out of that life to serve Him. The transition wasn’t easy, required a time of personal exile, and even then Moses resisted this call, feeling inadequate for the position God had chosen him to fill. He became a mighty leader, delivering God’s chosen people from the hands of oppressive Pharaoh and leading them to (but not into) the Promised Land. We need to listen to God’s voice and be obedient to his leading regardless of whether or not we fill up to the task.
This morning was busy as everyone was finishing last minute tasks before the class demonstration. The larger banquet hall was used as this will be a rather formal ceremony. We were told Chief Superintendent Leonard R. Banago, a one-star general and the second-highest ranking officer in the almost 21,000 member BFP, would be present and we expected the media as well.
The presentations kicked off at 0830 and all three teams performed exceptionally well. The Auto Extrication team removed a door and the top of a car, the Swift Water team performed with precision a throw-bag operation rescuing a ‘victim’ floating down a simulated river on our wheeled cart, and the Wildland team came marching in demonstrating both discipline and teamwork. It was one of the best demonstrations considering the restrictions of a hotel parking lot. Unfortunately, the media showed up after the demonstrations were complete, so our teams were asked to jump into action again and performed for the media. John gave an interview to the TV news reporter explaining the history of FFC and our involvement here. Following the demo our group spruced up a bit and transitioned from the yard to banquet hall.
The ceremony was rather formal. The stage had several dignitaries, John White being one of them. There was an invocation, National Anthem, and opening remarks from Superintendent Fred L. Trajeras, Jr., the Officer in Charge of Negros Island Region. His speech was very charismatic, with many accolades to FFC, and numerous bible verses inserted throughout his speech. That was followed by a slide show that Simon had put together documenting the activities throughout the week. Then, the video of Cheyanne’s testimony after his near-death experience, and finally John spoke and delivered a gospel message. Its was obvious that many hearts were touched as literally everyone (including those on the stage) stood at the end, indicating that they had prayed to receive Jesus. We know that some of these were already believers, having indicating to us earlier their faith in Christ, but also trust that many were new decisions for Christ…only God knows for sure. But the message was preached and all responded.
The ceremony continued with the awarding of certificates. Each student came forward to receive their certificate and walked the line shaking hands or giving hugs to those on the staged and down the long line of instructors leading from the stage back to the floor. Colonel Kwan Tiu was at the end of our congratulatory line handing out FFC New Testaments to everyone who came through. Firefighters For Christ is not only allowed to be here, but thoroughly encouraged to teach, train, and share our faith to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. This was followed by a few more speeches. One of the speakers was also a student our first day of instruction and learned about Auto Extrication using the high-lift jack. The following day he responded to a traffic accident and brought a similar jack of his own. He was able to extricate one patient with a broken arm and another patient with a compound fracture to his knee. We’ve seen practical fruit of this training already. The ceremony concluded with gifts both given and received, we turned over the equipment we donated to the BFP, then came lunch.
Lunch was followed by many more handshakes, hugs, congratulations, the giving of more gifts, and signing of their New Testaments. Some really good conversations ensued and many of the students are hoping for us to come to their island next time. Its been really great working with our brothers and sisters in FFC Philippines and getting to know them a little better. We need to keep them in prayer as they continue to labor for the Lord of the harvest.
“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! “And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” John 4:35-38
A couple of our BFP students joined us for devotions this morning. They are believers and heard we had an early morning devotion before class and asked if they could join us. Luis led and started off with a bit of his testimony. He explained how he had become a Christian in 2011 while part of our Relief Team to Japan. He read through several scriptures that have been impactful to him, leading him to the Lord and as a new Christian growing in his faith, closing with 1 Peter 4:8, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”
Jim addressed the class with Titus 3:3-8 and began by saying that oftentimes we hear bad news, but there’s good news to follow. In Titus 3:3-8 we read of Paul reminding Titus that we were once foolish, disobedient, deceived and selfish, but the love and mercy of God saved us. We have been renewed by the Holy Spirit, justified by His grace, and have become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We split up again in three groups and went off to teach our respective disciplines. We had another good day of training. By the third day of instruction we have streamlined things a bit and the day seems to go smoother. Each set of instructors ends up selecting a group from their students today who will be involved in the demonstration tomorrow.
Physically, our team seems to be doing well other than some minor aches and pains. There was only one minor injury to a student today in Auto-X, no stitches required and he finished out the day. The weather has been very good. We look forward to see what God puts together tomorrow.
I didn’t intend to spend so much time talking about food, but Filipinos really take their food and social time seriously. There is a restaurant in our hotel’s lobby, but is seems we have dinner plans elsewhere each night. Last night was no exception. We drove to a place called Vikings, an amazing place that claims to be the Philippines largest buffet. I thought that impossible having been to Dad’s World Buffet on previous trips, but I guess Vikings has more overall stores. At any rate this place had an amazing selection of very good food. Luis again had a birthday song to celebrate this special day but at this place they even provided a Viking helmet for him to wear.
We got back to the hotel a bit late and were met at our room by one of the hotel staff. Jim had sent some clothes in for laundry and apparently his FFC travel shirt didn’t like a hot iron…it melted. This young man, Glen, was really apologetic offering to go into town, find a tailor, and have the whole sleeve replaced. He was willing to spend his only day off, and probably a couple days pay to have this repaired. Of course he was quickly forgiven and the conversation swung to why we were here in the first place…to share Christ. We did and he listened intently. He accepted our offer to pray for him, took some reading material, and thanked us for sharing, saying it was the first time anyone ever told him this before. He is a very kind-hearted man we would love to see make a decision for Jesus before we leave.
Now, on to this morning. Bob led devotions referencing Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He spoke of Jesus’ passionate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had asked that this cup of suffering be taken away, knowing full well that His Father would do anything He asked, yet He prayed not my will, but Yours be done. Phil 2:8 reads, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Beginning yesterday, we started the classroom training off with a short morning devotion with the students. This is not at all awkward or unusual, as prayer and a belief in God seems built in to the culture of the BFP. Dave had a short devotion with the class yesterday and focused on Matthew 16:15, where Jesus spoke to his disciples asking, “But who do you say that I am?” Tom had devotions with the class today and brought more questions to consider. He referenced a teaching we heard from Ravi Zacharias the last time we were here. They dealt with creation itself, why we were here in the first place, and what’s in store for me in the future?
Training then started with the different groups rotating to the next of the three focused disciplines. It was a full day and all went well.
We were supposed to have dinner with the Governor tonight. He made reservations for us at a nice restaurant but was unable to attend. He had some staff sit in for him and a lot of the students were invited to join us. Of course, it was another fine meal. Enough said.
Joe started the day off this morning reading from Acts 28:17-31. He prefaced it by saying that he had been reading through Acts several times the past few weeks and is amazed at what took place in the early church after being filled with the Holy Spirit. The text in Acts tells how Paul was in Rome and reaching out to the Jewish leaders there, persuading them toward faith in Jesus using the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some believed, others not, then Paul let them have it, quoting from Isaiah saying basically, “The heart of these people have grown dull…therefore, let it be known to you that the salvation of God had been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” Joe ended by saying, “We are Acts 29” implying we are still part of Isaiah’s prophetic word of reaching the Gentiles with the gospel.
Today was the first full day of training, focusing on the three disciplines of Auto Extrication, Wildland Operations, and Swift Water Rescue. The class was divided into three groups and sent of to their respective instructors. We have roughly 30 students per group, so we are now at about 90 students total. The first day usually has a couple logistical bumps in the road, but from my perspective, and from input from others, today went well. The Auto-X guys are training in the parking lot of the hotel under a nice big tree so they are enjoying a bit of shade. The Swift Water and Wildland guys use a classroom in the morning at the hotel and have a short drive to the outside training site. There were only a couple very minor injuries and the weather has been very nice. We’re enjoying out time, getting to know our students, and looking forward to what God is going to do.
Today’s devotion came from Jude, who read from Psalms 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly….” He explained that verse 3 contains God’s desire for our lives, that they shall “…brings forth its fruit in its season, …and whatever he does shall prosper.” He pointed to verses 1 and 2 as the requirements of this fruitful and prosperous life. He also read from Galatians 5:22-23 which speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” He ended with some thoughts about bearing fruit. This often requires careful pruning, and in the spiritual sense can mean trials, or the cutting away of things that would rob us from our relationship with the Lord.
We attended a flag raising ceremony at the main fire station in Bacolod. This is a rather formal event and occurs the first Monday of each month. It seems that all personnel attend and line up in formation as the flag is raised. But more than that, the event starts out with prayer, they sing the firefighter’s anthem, they all raise their right hands and recite their oath of office, and they close the ceremony by praying the firefighter’s prayer. Today was extra special as there were a couple promotions, speeches, and special recognitions. We were one of those recognized and seated up front in a place of honor. Following this ceremony we participated in a bit of Filipino tradition – a Boodle-fight. Food is served without plates in a pile down the center of a long table and everyone eats without silverware, using their hands. Apparently all uniformed personnel (Military, Fire, and Police) participate in this tradition and it is usually done following promotions or special events. I believe the intent is to remove division and promote team unity, regardless, the food was good and the experience unique.
We then took a short drive to the Provincial Capital Building for our opening ceremony. There were speeches given by government and BFP officials, John spoke, our staff was introduced, and all the students stood as the region they represented was announced. Colonel Kwan Tiu, the previous commander of this island, gave a heartfelt speech. He attended our training in Quezon City last year and was the driving force for us to come ‘his island’ this year. He has recently been promoted and transferred to Metro Manila, where he now commands 3,321 BFP personnel, but returned to Negros Occidental to welcome us to his old post. In his speech he mentioned that there had been other instructors from China and the U.S. who had provided various training for the BFP, but implored our students to pay attention. He said, “These men will not only teach you how to be better firefighters, they will teach you how to be real Christians”.
After the opening ceremony, we were escorted to the governor’s office and were introduced to the governor, Alfredo G. Maranon, Jr. He is obviously a very busy man, but invited us in and we spent some time at his conference table talking with him. He is very interested in what we are doing and appreciative of the training and equipment we are providing to his island’s firefighters. He arranged space on his calendar to have dinner with us later this week.
Finally, back at the hotel we began our training in one of the conference halls. We passed out a rescue strap and carabiner to each student, our gift to them, and John began his teaching segment. Our class size is now about 86-90 persons, which is a bit large for one group. John led this instruction, inserting many fire stories from his 45 years on the LAFD, and others assisted as needed. His instruction began with the water-knot and ended with a drop-bag operation using a coiled-hose technique. This is quite a span of instruction for a half-day’s session. While this was going on, other team members finished purchasing brush tools, building our swift water rescue cart, and taking care of other last minute needs for the three topics of instruction tomorrow.
A trip to the Philippines takes a couple days to adjust. After a 14-hour flight from LAX, a 4-hour layover in Manila, and a final 1-hour flight to Bacolod, you end up in a time-zone 16 hours ahead of where you left. In short, that means your first day is a long one and when dinner rolls around about 6:00 pm it feels like it’s 3:00 am. We slept well the first night but 0600 for breakfast comes up rather early.
Our mission trips always begin with a morning devotion and John’s message this morning was about Jesus leading the way. He began with, “Jesus speaks to us primarily through His word, but also speaks to some through dreams, visions, or in person if necessary. He used many stories from scripture, stories from his mentor Hubert Mitchell, or that he had experienced throughout his years of ministry. He emphasized the importance of prayer, that it’s the intercessors who prepare the way before we even arrive, and that Jesus WILL accomplish his work, with or without us. He just chooses to use us and our part is to proclaim the gospel to the lost. He also noted that on his last trip to the Philippines, Jane, a fervent intercessor in prayer, sent him off with the words, “John, it’s already done, just go.”
We attended Bacolod City Alliance Church this morning. It was a great experience. Their Mission Statement simply read: “Loving God. Reaching Families. Changing Lives.” They also had posters throughout the building stating the importance of prayer and fasting, such as: “To accomplish more, PRAY.” This church partners with Compassion International and assists in the health care and spiritual nurturing of 259 kids and their families. Many have come to a saving faith in Jesus through this program. We met some of these adorable kids. The church service began with some worship songs that took me back in time. Although they had a band on stage, and a great worship leader, this was not a performance. Worship was simple and upward, and everyone participated. The message came from one of the elders who spoke from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and stressed the importance of discipling our children. The greatest and most important responsibility of any parent it to teach their children the ways of the Lord. They also had a ceremony acknowledging new church leadership, prayed for one another, and celebrated communion.
We were taken to a place called Campuestohan Highland Resort for lunch. It was a very unique theme-park type family recreational facility. It was sort of like a miniature Disneyland with movie-themed caricatures throughout the property, but with a waterpark, outdoor adventure park, restaurants, and variety of overnight accommodations from teepees, cabins, or hotel rooms. It was entirely family oriented and the place was packed. Lt. Colonel Candido met us there, introduced us to the owner of the park, and we had lunch and explored a bit afterward. After picking up some supplies on the way home we had a meeting with the new BFP Commander of the Negros Region, Colonel Fred Trajeras Jr. who is in charge of about 534 BFP personnel on this Island. He was very welcoming and enthusiastic for us to be here. We finished the day with dinner at the hotel and last minute preparations for training tomorrow.
On 2/2/17, an eleven-member FFC Training Team departed for a short-term mission trip to Bacolod, Philippines, located in the Province of Negros Occidental. Nine of the Southern Californian members met up with another at LAX who flew in from Reno. At their layover in Manila the eleventh member from England joined the team for the final flight to Bacolod. Although we left on 2/2/17, we didn’t arrive until 2/4/17 since we crossed the International Date Line while flying over the Pacific. The eleven of us, along with our 1,000 pounds of training equipment all arrived without a hitch. Our training team consists of: Joe Lindaman, John White, Pat Stilson, Dan Rodriguez, Bob Ameche, Luis Carlos, Dave Kromka, Tom Nichols, Jim Haney, Corey Lovers, and Simon Hewitt. We were met at the airport by Jude Delos Reyes, Ellen Melodi, Jojo Aldeguer, and Honeylyn Vilan. They are our Filipino FFC Liaison Team who have done so much to coordinate this trip. We loaded up our gear into a few hotel vans and went out to lunch.
We were quickly reminded of the great emphasis that Filipinos place on social time and dining. Jude chose a local favorite called the MCC Seafood Restaurant in Silay City, located on the road from the airport toward Bacolod. Wanting to simplify things, we asked if Jude would just order for us all, thinking he would order the same simple plate for everyone. When the food started coming, we remembered…Filipinos really like to eat, and so we did. Fries and dip (for appetizers), rice, calamari, soup, grilled fish, sautéed mushrooms, shrimp, prawns, scallops, crab, and fried pork (for the non-seafood eaters). It was all very good and just kept coming. After this we went off to The Grand Regal Hotel in Bacolod where we will be staying and conducting some of our training classes.
The afternoon was spent driving to a couple potential training sites for the hands-on portion of Swift Water Rescue and Wildland Operations. The Swift Water guys prefer to use an actual river for this rather than improvise, but the waterways within the city are quite polluted and lack some of the features needed to conduct a training class. They drove us a to a river with clean water that would provide a good practical scenario but it was about a 45-minute drive outside of town. The Wildland team was taken to a field just minutes from the hotel that would provide plenty of open space with vegetation for them to cut line. It’s rather green, and probably won’t burn this time of year, but it will suffice for their hands-on scenario. This site is in an isolated industrial part of the city with very wide streets with almost no traffic. We will probably also use one of these vacant streets to simulate a river and conduct dry-land training using a wheeled cart as a means of ‘floating’ our victim down river. This is not ideal, but has worked well on previous training trips.
After scouting out our training sites we had dinner with Superintendent Pam Candido, from the Bureau of Fire Protection. She is holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and is second in command of the Negros Island Region. She was very hospitable and appreciative of us coming to her region to conduct this training. This region was originally selected because of her previous commander, Colonel Kwan Tiu, had attended our training last year in Quezon City and had asked if we could come to his region on our next trip to the Philippines. Shortly after planning this trip he was promoted and transferred to Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines. We had a nice dinner with Superintendent Candido and ended our day with a team briefing back at the hotel. Tomorrow we plan on attending church in town and finalizing our plans for the week of training.
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