Dear Ones,

February 7th was one of the most spectacular days and at the end, one of the saddest.  I probably shot more film on this day than any other, but for some reason, when I got back to the house that night, no films on the camera.   They were there throughout the day so something happened, most likely operator error, but I am still sick about it.   The people I met this day, and the projects we saw were really special and I hate that I lost most of it visually.  But I do have it in my mind and heart and will try to give you what I can that way.

On February 7th we arose early, that was about every day, and we headed to Upi, Maguindanao a long municipality outside of Cotabato City.   As we got out onto the street to take the two of us and the car to our drivers house, the truck stopped, in the middle of the busy streets I have shown you, but the Bishop got it going and soon we were on our way.  The truck tried to continue to die during the day, but in the end, we made it through a long day!

First stop was St. Francis School, Upi.  This municipality is where the largest concentration of Episcopalians reside in the Southern Philippines.  An American soldier from Boston, Captain Irving Bryant Edwards, an Episcopalian, planted churches all over this area.  He is well known and revered.  His statue and name you will find in many places.   There are about 40 churches in all, served right now by ONE priest.  There are a few more at St. Francis.  There are only 26 priests in this whole diocese!

St. Francis School has the full 10 grades, with about 600 students.  Like most of the schools here the students are predominantly Muslim. Due to the truck problem we were late for the flag ceremony where we were supposed to join, but the principal brought the kids out again and I addressed them for a short time, taking questions afterward.  The first one of which was “How old are you?”  I asked the young man back, “how old do you think I am”  After looking at me for a while, he said, 57!   That will teach me to ask!

We had a good time there and then moved to see several tree planting projects and meeting the families and farmers along the way.  Eventually we made our way back to St. Francis for a tour of the Rice Dryer and the site right behind it for the proposed Rubber Tree Nursery, which we, Olympia, hope to have a major part of.  The Rice Dryer is very successful and ERD was a major player in this.  It now employs 7 people and it offers a much less expensive alternative to farmers in the area.  It is sustainable as well, and well run.   Bong, the outreach and development coordinator on Bishop Bustamante’s staff was instrumental in this and will be in the nursery as well.  I interviewed him the next day about this, after the Flip was working again, and that movie is below, about 5 minutes long.

After a great lunch, with several town’s people, a council woman, the chair of the board, we moved on to yet more projects, and then to Upi Agricultural College.  This is where many students from the area get higher education, and there is a high school here as well.  Students pay 10 pesos to attend, which is less than a US quarter.  The school struggles because of that, but the faculty was amazing, very qualified, and the work they are doing to protect the environment is remarkable.  We visited their nurseries, their bio-fertilizer plant, and their worm farm.   We ended a very hot and humid walk with fresh coconut juice/water in front of the school, and then I asked to break them open, which we did so we could eat the meat of the coconut! ( This is one of my favorite things in the world and I have now done it in El Salvador and the Philippines!)

Upi Agricultural School was started by Captain Edwards.  His statue is prominent in front of the school.  One of his granddaughters works at the school and I met her, and on the way back to Cotabato that evening, I met the one daughter still living in Upi.

Captain Edward’s daughter

We left that school and went into the town center to meet with the Mayor of North Upi, Mayor Ramon Piang, Sr. a Roman Catholic, mayor since 2001, and a very progressive person.  Upi is remarkably peaceful at the moment, and much of this is from the good work of local officials who wish to make peace the way of being.  They also have a deep commitment to environmental concerns.

When we left the mayor’s office we traveled to a bio-fertilizer operation, jointly run by the municipality, and other partners.   This is made with bat guano, and carbonized rice husks.  It is very rich and has come more and more in favor with local farmers.

The mayor presented me with the tribal Upi hat, which I proudly have in my office and as was the case on many visits, a version of the Hawaiian lei, but usually with fabric, and a centerpiece of a flower, or something.  The mayor presented us with one with the colors of Upi and a small version of the hat.  Also in my office.  Come see it sometime.  The mayor, and everyone else, was so hospitable.

I know I will see this one again someday!

On the way back, we stopped in Cotabato City at St. John’s Mission and School.  Bishop James, the immediate past Bishop of the Southern Philippines has put a lot into this place and he was there waiting for us when we arrived, an hour late.  The children, mostly Jr. High age, had waited for that time, and adjusted one day since I had hoped to go there the next day, and there they were! When I pulled up there was a drum core, with two majorettes, and they played for 10 minutes, showing off their great skills and moves!

There was a huge sign that read “Welcome Bishop Rickel and Company.”  As the principal said later, “They all wanted to stay around to see the Americano!”  Some of these kids are of the age that they have never seen one; this being a torn place, where the State Department advises not traveling and all.   I again was given the privilege of speaking to the student body, and afterward nearly every one wanted a blessing, and pictures, and autographs.  It was a bit overwhelming.   We were fed once again!! And then we moved on to the Bishop’s Residence, where we had a feast!  The staff, Bishop James and his wife, and clergy met with us there.  It was my last night in the Southern Philippines.  I could not believe it had gone so fast, and yet so very full too.

On February 8th, I awoke, had some final meetings with the staff, visited the Cathedral next door, and the new diocesan office, conference center, that is under construction but almost ready!

Bishop Danilo Bustamante in the new diocesan offices

Then off to lunch down the street, the first real time I had been out in the town, for a very nice lunch, and then to the airport.   Bishop Danilo got me to the airport and up to security.  We said our goodbye’s and I waited for Philippine Airlines to take me to Manila.  Earlier Bishop Danilo had told me that PAL (Philippine Airlines) stands for “Plane Always Late.”  But on this day it was right on time, leaving even about 5 minutes early.   I arrived in Manila, got to my hotel, and awaited the arrival of Floyd Lawlet of the National Philippine Church office and Peter Eng from our 815 office who was in Manila as our Presiding Bishop was arriving there the day after I left.

We had a very good dinner and Peter asked that Olympia host the Philippine Joint Committee in November of this year, which I happily agreed to do.  After a good dinner, a wonderful night’s rest, and no need to get up early the next morning, which I did anyway, to workout, eat, and then head to the airport for my 10 hour flight to Honolulu, a three hour layover, and then a 5 hour flight on to Seattle.  I left Manila at 7:50 pm. February 9th and arrived in Seattle at 10:00 p.m. February 9th.  I wish it really were a three hour flight!

So, that was my trip.  I welcome questions, and my next post will be about what our plans are now the trip has occurred and the covenant has been signed.

Blessings,

+Greg