Chapter Twelve: Backsliding In The Chicken Pen
Later that afternoon I told our superintendent, D G, about little Maria’s death. Disinterested, he responded coldly, “Oh well, its one less mouth to feed”. I could not believe what I had heard him say. Too polite to ask him, I wondered how he would feel if it were one of his four daughters.
D, a tall Saskatchewan farm guy, was stereotypically Fundamentalist. His distinguishing Fundamentalist characteristic, and one that explained much about him, was that he came from a Mennonite family. Being Mennonite and Fundamentalist at the same time made you Fundamentalist to the 2nd or 3rd power. Generally, Mennonites were more religious and strict than average citizens. But D had gone beyond all others in his scrupulous avoidance of the evil world. He spoke out against other team members who went to movies and he even considered going to restaurants to be sinful. “It wastes money on atmosphere”, he told us. D’s God did not like eating out.
One day, the hostess in Davao, a single lady, told D about a conference of Christian pastors that she wanted very much to attend. D decided to go and the hostess asked if she could catch a ride with him. But he refused to take her, arguing that he wanted to avoid the appearance of evil. He was a married man and she was single.
She was stunned by his refusal, especially since she had invited him to attend in the first place.
Later, when D returned from the conference, with his Evangelical smile at full stretch, he told the lady that she should have come as it was a very good meeting and God had blessed them. She was hurt that he would so cruelly rub it in after refusing to take her. And she wanted to wipe that smirk off his face. She knew that it had nothing to do with Evangelical joy. It was just plain mean-spirited.
Then a few weeks later a single lady missionary needed a ride to another home. D offered to take her on the back of his motorcycle where there would be close physical contact. She had nice boobies, buns, and gams and was more attractive than the hostess who wanted to go to the conference.
I suspect there was a bit of lust influencing D’s conflicting decisions over giving rides to the different ladies even though he tried to hide it behind loyalty to God and holiness. Other team members noticed D’s hypocrisy and with raised eyebrows commented on his favoring the more attractive lady.
All of us experience similar moments of weakness. But what makes it more revolting in some people is their self-righteous public condemnation and endeavor to punish others who suffer the same weakness. It was like Jimmy Swaggart sleeping with prostitutes. That was all the more contradictory because of his public raging against the supposed immorality of other people, like fellow televangelist Jimmy Bakker.
D G was a true Christian believer and for me he epitomized the dehumanizing influence of religion. He stiffened my resolution to leave Evangelicalism.
Clashing With The Powerholders
As I moved further away from Fundamentalist beliefs and practices I consequently started to enter into increasing conflict with D. Other team members had told me, “Don’t tell D about the things that you disagree with as he will only get upset”. But I felt that if he could speak out about his views why couldn’t the rest of us speak out as freely about our views? That seemed to be only fair and democratic, but a wrong thing to advocate for an Evangelical organization.
The clashes with D continued over a variety of things. Once, he made a special trip out to Kamansi to visit me. We made small talk through the day but then in the evening just before retiring D unexpectedly said, “I have something I must ask you to do. I feel that you have been insubordinate and disobeyed God. When we first did survey in this area I asked you to consider locating in another village right beside Kamansi. You never did what I asked you to do. I now want you to confess your sin and repent”. Stunned, I took a few moments to recover and organize my thoughts. Then quite bluntly I refused his pressure to repent, replying, “I’ve done nothing wrong. I had to work in this area and I felt Kamansi was the best place to live. It was my decision to make as I was the one who had to live in the area”.
D, as the team superintendent, felt that he must have complete control of everything and be the final decision-maker. His choices for us were God’s will. In order to be obedient to God we had to be obedient to him. Many Christian leaders feel this is the correct and divine order of things.
I faced the same pressure from our other superintendent, D F. F was short, balding, and moustached, with a thin upper body. But he had the well-developed legs of a mountain climber (or bike rider) that gave him the overall body shape of a thin pear.
F and his wife originally made the living arrangements for all of us team members in Davao. But several years into my second term I decided to move downtown to live with a family in their house. F became quite upset that I was not staying with the other single missionaries in the large mission home. He felt that I was undermining the unity of the team. He wanted to keep tight control over the team and everything that we did.
When a fellow missionary in Davao heard about F’s effort to oppose my moving out of the mission home, she commented, “That’s crazy. Back home, we choose for ourselves where we want to live. If we want to move out into an apartment it is no big deal”. But that was back in the world where people had real freedom. OMF was a Fundamentalist community where the religious bosses interfered in everything and tried to rule with absolute authority.
F’s attempted to extend his control to every area of our lives. At a lunch one day a lady missionary named R told us that as the note-taker in a meeting she had been responsible to type up the minutes. F later took the minutes from her and made changes and additions in order to restate things in his own way. She was quite upset with him for overriding her responsibility and changing what she had written. But that was typical of F’s petty interference and attempts to control others.
At the same lunch table another lady, R S, piped up and agreed, “Yes, that F. He asked us about where we wanted to live and he pretended to listen and agree when we told him of our choice, but then he went out and made the decision himself. And he picked a different house from the one we chose”.
Are these just petty complaints of little account? Perhaps, but loss of control has notably detrimental effects on those who suffer from it. Research has shown that loss of control is not only mentally and emotionally damaging but is also physically destructive (see, for instance, Ellen Langer’s ‘The Psychology of Control’). We have evolved as beings who must have personal control over our lives (self-determining) or we suffer all sorts of pathologies.
F even asked for our monthly prayer letters (updates for supporters) and then made changes before sending them off home. He would do that without even telling us. His nitpicky interference with such private things was annoying. He once told me after the fact that in one of my letters he had changed my use of the word ‘classic’ to ‘classical’, which he thought was the correct version. It wasn’t. After that I refused to give him any more of my letters. F once again said that I was becoming insubordinate and ruining team unity.
F had often talked about us being a family and working as a team of equals. But we were confused because he continued to make decisions for us; even ones that we felt were very personal.
But his interfering control finally blew up in his own face. It eventually happens to all dictators, even the little ones.
F was scheduled to leave for a break and we needed to choose a new team superintendent. The team, taking him at his word that we should make decisions as a team, started discussing whom we should pick from our team to be our next superintendent.
Then quite unexpectedly and without prior notification to the team, F picked and appointed a superintendent from another team in the Northern Philippines. The Davao team members were stunned. He had not discussed his decision with any of us nor informed anyone ahead of time. The team felt that he had betrayed us, and even worse, that he did not trust anyone on our team.
Well, we were royally pissed off. Several team members called him into the office and let him know how sleazy they felt he was. One of them, after reminding him of his promise to conduct decisions as a team, then called him a liar to his face.
It shook F up profoundly. He had been getting away with that sort of thing for years and felt that he was accountable to no one.
My sister Barb told me later, “When he came out of that meeting he was white in the face and looked stunned”. Well, wake up F and join the human race. For several millennia now humanity has been moving away from domination and dictatorship and toward the freedom and equality of true democracy.
Many workers were not too happy with the mission leadership in general. Leaders repeatedly referred to the membership as a family or a team. But then they would regularly secret themselves away to make very personal decisions for everyone without allowing any input or control from the membership. It was very dictatorial. As J L once said, “They really treat us like children in this mission”.
The problem with such topdown decision making is that it is dehumanizing. It destroys morale and it ultimately proves to be a very inefficient approach because lower strata people will resist and undermine coercive decisions handed down to them from the top of hierarchies.
David Kipnis in his excellent little book “The Powerholders” notes that coercion from leaders always and inevitably produces a counter-coercion reaction from followers. That bottomup resistance to control and domination eventually undermines the programs of leadership. All the communist regimes fell because of coercion and counter-coercion. They forgot one of the fundamental characteristics of human nature; “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”.
On the other hand, people will more fully support decisions that they feel are their own; decisions that they have had input into and control over. Sure, it is true that by use of threat you can scare people into doing things over the short term, but this approach will create a resentful reaction that will eventually blow up in your face. Remember D F as an example of tragic failure in this regard.
Another example of bottom-up resistance occurred in another organization where I worked. A directive was sent to a number of us involved as casual workers. Without prior consultation we were told that we would be using an entirely different operating procedure from that time on. That directive came with insulting warnings of punishment for those who would not comply. Quite spontaneously, those of us involved in the programs resisted the new procedure and after a few weeks it died simply from neglect.
A few weeks later a new memo arrived from head office. This time the language was much more humble and conciliatory. The memo requested input from those of us involved in the process as to what we would like to see implemented in the operating procedure. We chose to continue the old procedure which was working just fine.
Head office could have saved time, money, and a lot of wasted goodwill by simply coming in the first place to those of us involved and requesting our input instead of trying to threaten and coerce us. That only backfired as it inevitably will and produced intense resistance.
It was a vivid example of the inefficiency of hierarchical domination and control. C’mon people, its time to wake up and realize that humanity is moving inexorably toward democracy, freedom of individual choice, and equality.
F also had an annoying habit of pretending to listen to people. He had taken a leadership course and learned that leaders were supposed to listen to their workers. But he never got the part straight about treating people as equal human beings- accepting diverse views and sharing the power of decision-making responsibility.
His dictatorial viewpoint was often expressed in conversation with team members. He would listen for a while then dismissively respond to other’s views with, “Well, we don’t want to take an extreme position, do we?” He saw his own views and choices as balanced, centrist, and right for others. Those who disagreed with him were extreme or off. And his decision would be the correct one and the final one, straight from God. Oh, he loved being the boss. And like D G, F could also manipulate those under his authority while beaming with Evangelical joy. Saintly smiling while controlling another human being is all the more a disgusting thing.
As is true of every human being D F was a complex, multi-faceted human person. At times he could be genuinely friendly, cheerful, and given to cautious Evangelical joking though never anything ribald or off color. But as is also true of many Evangelicals he was loyal to an ideology that demanded devotion to the one truth of God and the condemnation of disagreeing others as wrong. D F unfortunately saw himself and his positions as representing that one truth of God. And as leader he had the power to pressure others to submit to his positions as the final truth.
And More Death
In the villages the dying continued. I had the only transportation in the area aside from the public jeepneys that passed two or three times a day. One morning a lowland man came running over to my house and asked me if I could take his younger brother to the hospital (I had moved down beside the Libuganon River near Upper Florida). The younger brother had been working in a rice paddy with a carabao. He had bent over to adjust something on the carabao’s harness and in annoyance it had swung its head and gored him in the temple. Carabaos, though often appearing to be very placid animals, can become nasty when overheated and they have powerful neck muscles.
I met them at the edge of the rice paddy where several neighbors helped the man carry his brother’s limp body up to the bike. The young man was unconscious and his skin looked pale and bluish. They sat him behind me and then his brother got on the back to hold him upright between us. Both of us got wet from his bloody shirt. On the way to Kapalong I could feel his body trembling and jerking involuntarily. He died shortly after we reached the clinic. The carabao horn had gored his brain. The older brother later apologized for my shirt getting bloodied. I told him not to mind. His brother was more important than a shirt.
Several months later I gathered a change of clothes late in the afternoon after having worked all day on a field project. I was quite dirty and decided to bathe at a neighboring village which was located beside the Libuganon River.
Just as I arrived at the river a long dugout canoe pulled up to the opposite bank. Something appeared wrong as there was a man lying in the bottom of the canoe with his head cradled in a woman’s lap. I crossed the river to see what had happened.
The man had been shot in the chest during a quarrel in an upriver village. He looked the sickly pale color of a blood-drained person but he was still conscious. As I was discussing with his wife what we should do the last jeepney of the day drove up. I asked the driver to take the man to the hospital at Kapalong but he looked at me and saw dollars then said that he would do so but for an exorbitant price. Disgusted with his greed and opportunism I turned away muttering that I would go to Kapalong myself and find some other transport.
When I arrived and inquired at the clinic in Kapalong they responded that they had an emergency vehicle and agreed to go pick up the shot man. However, soon after leaving Kapalong they met the jeepney driver who had changed his mind and decided to bring the wounded man in.
Back at the clinic the doctor realized that the patient was wounded too seriously for them to handle so he told us that we would have to take him on to the larger hospital at Tagum. He asked me to accompany the man to the hospital and help admit him there. I followed along behind the emergency vehicle through the banana plantations choking on billowing clouds of dust all the way to Tagum.
I was wearing bluejeans that were filthy from working in a field all day. My T-shirt was also dirty from perspiration and dirt and now brown with dust from the road. To top it off I was wearing flip flops. They are fine for village life but Americanos are expected to be neat, well dressed, and they are expected to wear nice shoes when in a city.
We brought the man to the hospital emergency room where a young intern immediately started struggling to push a draining tube into the side of his chest in order to allow blood in the lung cavity to drain out. I stood to the side and watched. A few moments later a nurse in a clean white uniform entered and stood in the doorway. She looked over at me, frowning as her eyes moved from my dust-covered hair to my filthy T-shirt then down to my filthy pants and finally to my dirty flip flopped feet. And they were an old ratty looking pair of work flip flops.
I was tired and responded in a less than nice manner. I stared back at her, looking her up and down in the same manner that she had looked at me. She then turned away; her nose in the air. It was one of those precious little moments in life when two people connect with each other in a special way.
As I did what I could to alleviate some of the physical suffering in our area I would often think of how we respond to medical emergencies in the West. A little girl falls down a well in Texas and an entire nation stops to anxiously watch while emergency crews and equipment are mobilized to rescue her. We spare no expense to save life and to protect human well being. But in so many less fortunate places there is almost a stance of resignation in the face of accident, disease, and suffering. There is little if any money for medicines which are priced at Western levels. Often the financial resources of sick people would be depleted just getting a fluid drip hooked up. Few people had enough money for antibiotics and other critical medicines.
Also, few rural areas had the emergency equipment necessary to respond properly to emergencies. I was returning to Davao along a country road one afternoon and had just rounded a corner when I saw a logging truck lying on its side in the middle of the road, its wheels still spinning. I drove around to the front and found the driver lying in the grass at the side of the road. There was no seatbelt or door on the truck and when it had flipped over the driver had fallen out and been crushed across his pelvis by the cab roof. I could see in his drained face and scared eyes that he was dying. I told him to wait and I would go get a jeepney. He nodded weakly. Someone else had already found one and they soon arrived to take him to the hospital. He died on the way.
I drove on to Davao wondering about his wife and children. How would they feel that night when they found out that their father was dead?
Transporting sick people out to hospitals was an ongoing problem. One lady had contracted shistosomiasis, which is a tiny worm that enters through the skin and then multiplies in the body, eventually destroying the liver. During her sickness she had sat immobile at home for several months which resulted in her legs becoming locked in a bent position similar to way that women politely sit on the floor with their feet behind them close to their buttocks. With the tendons behind her knees now shortened (disuse atrophy) she could not straighten her legs.
The only means I had to transport her to the hospital was my Honda motorcycle. She could straddle the seat but she needed something to keep her feet suspended up by her buttocks. I found some old surgical tubing and tied her feet firmly.
However, after bouncing along a potholed road for awhile the tubing stretched and her feet started to sag painfully. I stopped and rehoisted her feet, tightening and retying the tubing.
We continued on. But there were more potholes, more bouncing, and the tubing stretched again. I stopped again and retied her feet. That process of travel a little, bounce, sag, stop, rehoist, and retie, continued all the way to the hospital. I did not know that surgical tubing stretched so much.
B had a similar motorcycle transport experience. He had brought a sick man to the Kapalong clinic where the man subsequently died. Public transport drivers refused to return the dead body on their jeeps because they viewed that as bad luck. There were no other means for transporting the body back to his home village. So B had to place the body of the dead man on his motorcycle, sitting upright behind him with the wife seated at the back holding the body in place.
After that incident B proudly announced to me that he was finally taking people to the hospital. This was near the end of his 10 years of work in the Philippines. He had long struggled with getting involved in what he called ‘social work’. Such involvement made him feel that he was being drawn away from preaching the gospel and potentially backsliding in the chicken pen. B had been converted into a Fundamentalist church where true believers sneered at liberals who neglected teaching the gospel to do what they called ‘social work’.
I never had the nerve to tell B that if he could spend countless hours working in his gardens and washing his pet snake pens (activities permitted by Fundamentalism) then surely he could help sick people which was something more important and actually took little time away from all the other nonessential activity.
But Fundamentalist ideas of God’s will and work were hard to escape. It could mean hell if you did something that they considered to be outside of God’s will. So I don’t fault B for his hesitancy to become involved in medical assistance. He was trapped by the same inhumane Fundamentalist demands that the rest of us were struggling with. These demands often hindered us from expressing normal human compassion or decency.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
The conflict between what we taught and the way that Manobo lived bothered me more as the years passed. We were urging people to trust in God and all would be well. Just be faithful to God we preached and everything else would work for good. But we did not have to live as they did without social safety nets. We were asking them to do things that we would never do ourselves.
For instance, we had tried to live on a Manobo diet and found that it was insufficient to maintain health. So we brought in supplemental food in order to maintain a proper diet. And when we became sick we went directly to Davao to get the best medical treatment and medicine. We never lived as Manobo did without insured health. Our trust in God was supplemented with the latest medical expertise. Manobo did not have access to such benefits.
We also urged Manobo not to get involved in the communist rebellion but to resist communist recruitment efforts. However, they had to live permanently in the villages without military protection and resistance could mean death. It was easier to advocate something when you did not have to experience it as an inescapable reality.
Tribal life for us was more like a big camping adventure and if we did not like something then we could run to the safety of another home in the city anytime.
It was a disturbing thing to watch the church groups that we established take on the characteristics of Western Fundamentalism. Our converts developed a distinct ‘us versus them’ attitude where church members set themselves in opposition to other villagers who had not yet become church attenders. We had introduced an entirely new division into Manobo society; a division that was more severe than any other that Manobo had ever experienced.
Converts to our churches refused to share benefits with those who were not members of our religion. One day Inoy, a church leader, came to see me about free clothing that was being distributed in the village. “Wendell”, he asked with stingy reluctance, “Do we have to give clothing to those who have not yet joined us?”
In response, I tried to emphasize more the need for forgiveness, acceptance, and generous love but it did not seem to alleviate the growing intolerance and tendency to separate from others. I was not sure if we were entirely responsible for introducing the new divisions and harsh intolerance into Manobo society or was our nasty religion just providing a convenient vehicle for old tribal prejudices and animosities? It was probably some of both.
We introduced religious rituals that further undermined any remaining spirit of acceptance or toleration. For instance, we regularly conducted a Christian ritual called the Lord’s Supper which includes drinking some juice that supposedly represents the blood of Jesus and eating wafers that represent the body of Jesus (of course we used grape juice in order to prevent people from sliding down the slippery slope toward drinking alcohol). The Lord’s Supper is a ritual that was originally intended to signify the free sharing in Christ’s life. But a tradition has emerged in Christianity which demands that only properly converted and baptized people should be allowed to partake in the banquet.
Consequently, the sharing of a meal that once represented forgiveness and inclusion has now come to signify exclusion, separation, and intolerance.
I tried to argue with team members that it did not matter whether children or other visitors also drank the juice and ate the wafers. After all, it was too foreign to the community-oriented tribal culture to introduce such easily misunderstood divisions. To exclude people from a meal in such a culture would only humiliate them and they would not understand the reasons we gave for excluding them. But N and J, in particular, were adamant that the holy ritual must be practiced as it was in the West, no matter who was offended or embarrassed by the exclusion of non-believers.
The growing intolerance from believers erupted into a nasty scenario when the village of Kamansi moved down from the ridge top to locate beside the Libuganon River below. I had purchased a new village site there in order to make it easier for Kamansi people to connect with local transportation routes. Several lowland families had been living at the site for some time but the Kamansi Christians wanted them expelled when they moved in. I argued that they should be accepted as neighbors but N, the South African missionary, sided with the Christians in arguing for their expulsion. They won. I had thought from his experience as a persecuted minority in South Africa that he would have learned tolerance toward others but suffering does not always enhance people’s humanity.
Questioning My Religion
As my second term progressed I continued to question my religion. I questioned the very reason that I was there. Was this really what God or Jesus intended- the establishment of Fundamentalist churches? Was this really the will of God? Once relatively happy villagers were taking on a burden that I had never been able to bear- that of serving a harsh, intolerant, and punishing God.
My growing shame at being religious also continued unabated. It peaked at times when I had to fill out forms which asked for my occupation. There it was in stark print- Missionary. I was a religious person, not a normal human being. I was something like a priest or nun. Yecchhh.
I was also gradually feeling more like an outsider to the Evangelical movement and consequently to the OMF. I found myself moving irreversibly away from Christianity and basic Christian beliefs. But I did not feel that this was backsliding which is how Christians describe people who begin to move away from their belief system. Rather, I felt that I was moving forward toward becoming more fully human and toward rejoining the human race. I was moving toward freedom and a more humane view of God and life. Contrary to conventional Christian views on heresy and backsliding, I felt that I was engaged in something positive or good, not negative or bad. But while it was liberating, it was also an extremely conflicting transition.
Our superintendent, D G, did not like what he was seeing and hearing. I was starting to express my views more and they sounded like heresy to D. Heresy is the archaic term used by Christians to condemn and demonize anyone who expresses disagreement with traditional Christian beliefs and practices. It is an effort to threaten and scare people back into line. Freedom, exploration, and diversification of thought are not tolerated in Fundamentalist Christianity.
At the same time that I was expressing divergent opinions in small bits and pieces, here and there, I was also restraining myself from saying too much because I did not want D to have the satisfaction of claiming, “Ahaa. There you go, that position is clearly heresy”. Evangelicals are experts at demonizing those who disagree with them. Then they do not have to face the issues that others raise because views that differ from Evangelical orthodoxy are from the Devil. You simply need to condemn them and then turn away. They are not worthy of serious engagement or discussion.
I did not want to give D that easy out. So, as an old Toronto mayor once said, “I denied his allegations and I defied the alligators”. I tried to introduce ideas in ways that would provoke thought and discussion. Others on the team responded thoughtfully and we had open and engaging conversations. But not with D.
One evening D A, D G, and I were sitting on the porch of a tribal house chatting about this and that. At one point in the flow of conversation I mentioned the argument of Neal Punt (from his book Unconditional Good News) that all of humanity will ultimately be saved. But this good news is bad news to Fundamentalists who believe that all those who disagree with them are damned and only the rare few that submit to their system will be saved. In response to the heretical generosity that Punt advocated, D winced painfully and looked down at his feet. It was the Evangelical wince at hearing heresy or error. The wince was a way of showing disapproval and it was used to try to frighten heretics from slipping too far down the slippery slope of error. D A, who had warned me not to upset D G, blanched and remained silent even though he had told me privately that he agreed with my views. He was hesitant to speak out because he feared the condemnation of the bosses.
D also continued to harass the team members about movies, restaurants, and he even castigated the men for growing what he called “worldly beards”. He had been over there too long. Then to everyone’s consternation, just before he left for furlough he grew a beard himself. We were all left shaking our heads in confusion. Damn Mennonites.
During the second term we had decided that a preventative approach to the needs of the area would be the best investment of time and effort. Consequently, we started regional programs to train barrio health workers. We gathered selected people from the surrounding villages and invited lowland doctors and nurses in to train those local people in basic healthcare, emergency treatment, sanitation, and nutrition. They were taught the germ theory of disease.
It was particularly important to recognize the fact that 50% of child deaths in developing countries were from water borne diseases. Clean drinking water can go a long way to solving such health problems. So we started village water supply projects. Such preventative efforts had a much wider impact than driving every sick child to some far away clinic. Bigger bang for the buck.
I applied to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funds to install wells. After receiving the money I found a lowland man in Kapalong who could drill holes and install the pumps for the 5-6 villages in our area. He came up to Kamansi one day with his wife and sons to visit me. After telling me that his oldest son was getting married soon and they had no money, he asked if I could forward him all the money. He promised up and down and all around, even swearing on God, that the pumps would be installed in a week or so. I believed him and gave him the money.
Over the next few weeks he did work on a few and installed some. But then he quit and returned to Kapalong. During the next month I went numerous times to his house to ask him how things were going. He would reply, “I just have this little thing I need to clear up”, or, “I just have that little thing to do and I will get right to it”. He never did.
The months passed and village kids in our area started to die again from cholera and other diseases. People up river would get sick and defecate in the river and that would spread to the villages downriver, killing people there in the following days and weeks. I was pissed off royally.
In subsequent months when I returned to his place I could no longer find him at home. Sometimes, I would find him drunk and wasting his money at a local gambling house. At other times he would be away working on the other side of the island where gold had been discovered. Obviously, he was not going to finish the pumps.
I was tempted to tell the Communist New People’s Army (NPA) about him. They knew how to motivate people. Once a local schoolteacher in Florida had started touching tribal girls inappropriately. The NPA were told and they sent that teacher a note, warning him to stop. He was being ‘abusado’ (abusive) which was a crime worthy of death. It was understood everywhere that after the one warning the next step was a bullet in the head. He stopped touching the girls immediately. NPA justice was very effective.
Instead, I went to the local police station and told them about the lazy well-driller. They called him in and told him that he should finish the wells. He was also asked to produce some missing pump parts that he had stolen and he did. But I had humiliated him publicly and I did not feel too comfortable about it afterwards. However, I had to answer to CIDA and the villagers about the implementation of the project. The lives of village children depended on clean water.
The pumps were eventually finished some two years after the project started and most of them worked for a while. Then gaskets started to fail. They were cheap and easily replaceable parts but no one in the villages would take responsibility to buy them and fix the pumps. That was discouraging. The pumps sat in basically good shape, but were inoperable.
I read somewhere in a rural development book that, “The Third World is covered with the rusting hulks of well-intentioned First World projects”.
Our OMF team discussed and evaluated a wide variety of issues related to rural development projects. Were the projects replicable? Did local people have the technology and expertise to reproduce similar projects after we were gone? Also, could the projects be maintained when outside funding ended? According to these guidelines, gravity feed water systems would have been better than pumps with moving and breakable parts. But gravity systems required a clean source of water near a village and a larger initial investment.
In all of the projects that we started we tried to avoid the use of technology that would not be appropriate in a developing situation. We Westerners have an insatiable drive for the latest spiffy technology, but such technology is sometimes not maintainable in developing situations.
Critical to any program or project is the issue of empowering local people; granting them full control and responsibility. From the very start local people must be involved in discerning their own needs, planning solutions, and then taking full responsibility for implementation and maintenance. The success of any development process depends ultimately on local people taking control of their own destiny. It is all too common for outsiders to see something as a need and then go ahead and resolve the problem without fully consulting or cooperating with local people. Such projects often fail as soon as outside expertise and funding are removed. Personal control and personal responsibility are essential to proper human development and well being as well as to long term success in economic development. Also, critical to successful development is the fact that only where people personally own a piece of property are they then willing to properly care for that property.
For one project I requested CIDA to fund a pig improvement plan. An agriculturist from Bangladesh had told me the appropriate ratio of imported hybrid pig to local sway bellies that would provide the most disease resistant, yet improved weight version. I then went to a local pig breeder and picked out a nice sized hybrid boar; around 200 pounds. That boar would love the 18 sows that we were going to match him with throughout our area. Imagine having 18 wives to service.
I was envisioning hundreds of healthy little piglets running around and providing families with a new source of income and food resources.
But a small hitch in the project delayed it for a few months. When I finally went to pick up the boar I discovered that he had grown a lot. In fact, he was now huge; about 400 pounds. I had him delivered to the central village of Florida to the stall where he would do his servicing work.
Then instead of changing from growing mash (a food to keep pigs growing) and switching to a weight maintaining food, I negligently decided to keep using the growing mash. The boar continued to grow rapidly. He would soon grow to 600 plus pounds. He was a monster.
We started bringing in the sows and giving them cholera injections (80% of pig deaths were from cholera) and readying them for their date with big daddy. I offered to help do the first few. But the sows were too small and simply collapsed under the boar. The lady caring for the boar (her name was Inday) said, “We will have to help him”. So each of us went to an opposite side of the boar and squatted with one of our legs close to his side just behind his front legs. This enabled him to rest his front legs on our thighs when he mounted the sows. This way we could bear part of his weight and he would not crush the sows. And by the way- the collapsing sows reminded me of the Evangelical song, “Shackled by a heavy burden, neath a load of sin and shame….”
Now, a horny boar likes to claw at the back of a sow with his front legs- to enhance position or just out of excitement, I guess. But he clawed at our thighs instead. And horny boars froth at the mouth and twist their heads sideways, back and forth. Their mouths are full of large ugly teeth. So, while we kept our legs pressed against his side we had to lean our upper bodies away from the boar in order to avoid his ugly snout. It was messy and a little frightening at times. Also, horny boars are not good at inserting their dicks into the right hole. So Inday had to help guide him into the holy of holies. In the midst of all the sweating and twisting and grunting and squealing we looked across the boar’s back at each other and laughed ourselves silly.
Artificial insemination would have been a whole lot easier.
In the previous term we had also become involved in agroforestry projects. Agroforestry is a farming technique where trees are planted closely together in contour rows across slopes in order to prevent erosion. The tree trunks block soil from washing down slopes. Instead, the soil piles up against the tree trunks and eventually forms terraces. A variety of crops such as bananas, corn, root crops, pineapple, coffee, cacao, and others are grown in between the rows of trees. The row trees are a fast growing nitrogen fixing variety (e.g. Leucaena leucocephala). The branches and leaves of these trees are chopped regularly and provide a natural fertilizer when spread on the ground between rows. Agroforestry appears to be a useful development concept for upland farmers.
In their lower population density past, Manobo had sufficient land for their traditional swidden (slash and burn) agriculture. A successful swidden system requires a certain minimum number of hectares per person (about 20 hectares?). That minimum land base allows previous fields to return to forest (fallow) while new fields are cut and used.
But with the entrance of logging roads and the influx of lowlanders into tribal areas there is no longer sufficient land for swidden agriculture. Also, the Philippine government has intensified the squeeze on swidden by introducing a law requiring all upland farmers to limit themselves to only 3 hectares of land each.
It is impossible to do traditional swidden farming on such small areas of land so Manobo are being pushed to switch to lowland farming techniques and crops; an unavoidable transition. Many now plant corn in their fields as it is a crop that provides ready cash. But it also depletes nitrogen rapidly and does little to prevent erosion.
Almost all Manobo land is on steep slopes. Some fields were so steep that we slid down-slope when we walked across the hillsides. After the fields were cut and burned in the spring the heavy May rainstorms came. During the nights we heard repeatedly, “Whooump….. whoooump”. The following mornings we saw the oval shaped arcs where huge sections of soil had slumped out of place. The rivers ran reddish brown with the eroding soil.
The erosion and slumping motivated us to help farmers to adopt agroforestry in an effort to save their soil. It was their life source. As a farmer in India had once said, “A small pail of soil can provide a person one meal a year for hundreds of years”.
To encourage agroforestry I bought 7 hectares of land down by the central village of Florida for a demonstration project. For the next 4 months I got up before dawn while it was still cooler to cut brush, measure contour rows across the kilometer wide slope, dig planting space for the trees, plant trees, weed trees, and thin them as needed. With just a few helpers I sweated through the morning and afternoon. I would become so drenched with perspiration that my thoroughly soaked blue jeans would drip off the bottom cuff. We took breaks at noon and a local boy from Florida would bring in long thin bags of sweetened ice. I ate up to twenty bags at a time in order to replace lost fluids. My urine often slowed to a burning trickle.
After the project was done and the little Leucaena trees were some 10 inches tall we were hit with the 1982-83 El Nino. In normal weather, rain floods into rat burrows and the rats catch colds and die. But in long dry spells there is no water to kill the rats and the rat populations explode.
Now rats have fast growing front teeth and need to continually chew on something in order to wear down their fast growing teeth. If they don’t then their bottom teeth will grow up into their skulls. They chose to chew on our rows of trees. We would go out in the morning and find five, ten, and twenty foot sections of trees all chewed and lying on the ground. I was beginning to understand that the life of an upland farmer is very hard. We had to replant the chewed out sections again and again.
Eventually the drought ended and the trees grew some more. Then a little mite blew in on a typhoon from Japan. At least that was the theory of mite origins presented by a Filipino friend, Eddie Lapis, years later when he was doing his doctorate in insectology (or bugology or whatever it is called) at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Later, he worked at the world famous crop research institute at Los Banos near Manila.
Well, the little buggers loved to eat the very tips of the Leucaena trees that we were using in our projects. That stopped the trees from growing. The lesson is that it is never wise to put all your eggs in one basket by depending too much on any one variety of plantlife. Remember the hazards of monoculture. Bugs can travel uninterrupted from plant to plant or tree to tree if the trees or plants are all the same and standing side by side. In complex natural systems plants of one variety are often separated by other varieties of plants and trees. Bugs that eat one variety can not easily get to other similar plants if they are separated as they often are in bio-diverse systems. Free movement is especially difficult if the varieties of plants in between don’t taste good to the bugs.
The Philippine Bureau of Forestry eventually took over my project and put it on the front cover of their national magazine. That was flattering especially because Dave Ginther always resisted the projects that I started.
As I became more involved in projects I began to neglect the traditional missionary obsession with Bible teaching and witnessing. In LE’s estimation I was now backsliding in the chicken pen. I was sliding down the slippery slope and going to hell in a hand-basket. But I never enjoyed myself more. I felt so normal and human.
My engagement in basic needs projects gave me the feeling that I was doing something useful. And anyway, I was now thoroughly disillusioned with religious work- converting people and establishing Evangelical churches. I no longer believed this was the will of God. In fact, I was beginning to view it all as a huge mistake. Why were we trying to convert people who held the same basic myths that we held?
And why were we telling them how to live and love when they already did a better job than we did? In general traditional Manobo had displayed more acceptance and inclusion than we intolerant Fundamentalists. They also shared a lot more than us stingy missionaries ever did. We were more examples of selfishness and hoarding. So instead of us teaching them they should have been teaching us how to live as truly humane persons.
I remember, for instance, the time that I was hiking through the rainforest with an illiterate nonChristian tribal man. We stopped for a snack break and I offered him a bag of dried mangoes. I then greedily attacked my own bag, finishing it in a minute or so. The man opened his bag and took only one small piece out for himself. He then closed the bag and carefully tucked it in his pack. I did not understand what he was doing and urged him, “C’mon. Go ahead and eat it all”. “No, no”, he replied. “I will take it home for my children and other family members. We don’t often get treats like this”. Perplexed, I thought to myself: “But if you just eat it all, then they will never know and you would not have to tell them”. Through the fog of my selfishness I could not comprehend the love and concern for others that was expressed by that tribal man.
The Giver/Receiver Relationship- The Curse Of Giving
In an inequitable world, giving by better off people is often critical to the survival of many poorer people. But in doing projects and giving things to people who are poor there is always the danger of creating dehumanizing relationships of domination and control.
Giving often creates a superior/inferior relationship between the giver and the receiver. The giver is the dominant powerholder who controls a resource to be donated to another person who has less or none of that resource. The giver consequently, in varying degrees, controls the receiver’s destiny. The receiver may, for instance, feel obligated to behave in a manner that will gain the favor of the giver in order to attract the needed resources that the giver controls. It is a demeaning and humiliating position for the receivers to be placed within.
The sometimes cruel humiliation of such relationships may be why Jesus urged anonymity in giving. He urged that we not let our right hand know what our left hand was doing (Matthew 6). He wanted us to give and then forget what we had done and let no one else know about it. Our presence as givers grants us power over others, even though we may feel that our giving is done from benevolent motives.
The domination that may emerge in a giver/receiver relationship can undermine the freedom of the receiver. While such relationships may make the giver feel great, especially if their act of giving is publicly known, it can create bitterness, shame, frustration, anger, and an enslaving sense of obligation on the part of the receivers. The receivers suffer the humiliation of not being personally responsible to properly care for themselves. It is a dehumanizing and destructive sense of loss of control and personal choice. Receivers are also subject to often inaccurate stereotypes of receivers as being lazy, inadequate, and less useful or intelligent members of society.
The giver/receiver relationship illustrates what the author Leviatan meant when he said that those higher up in hierarchical status have more opportunities for satisfying important needs and therefore have higher levels of well-being, while those lower in hierarchical status suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically due to lack of opportunities for need fulfillment (Uriel Leviatan, 1992. “Hierarchical Differentiation and Alienation” in Alienation, Community and Work).
Also regarding the giver/receiver relationship, it must be remembered that it is not possible to love up or down to others. All unequal relationships destroy any possibility for genuine expressions of love.
We can alleviate the superior/inferior orientation engendered by the giving/receiving relationship by granting people more equal access to and genuine control over the basic resources that are necessary for their livelihood and well being.
By empowering people to control the resources that they need for their basic livelihood we enable them to become personally responsible for their own lives. We then grant them the freedom to become genuine equals. This is true love. Anything less is destructive to love and undermines proper human development. Certainly, continued giving such as through state institutions and other charity organizations is a practice that is destructive to true love and does not contribute to the long term development of people.
In thinking further of the destructiveness of the giver/receiver relationship I am reminded of the story about the priest and the nun who had spent their lives giving to the poor through a charity institution. On his dying bed the priest told the nun, “Sister, we must ask God to help them (those they had given to) to forgive us”. This seems contrary to the gratitude that one would expect from receivers. But the priest understood well the humiliating bitterness engendered by being a powerless and subservient receiver.
This is what is so degrading and dehumanizing about poverty- the loss of personal control. People in poverty are unable to care for themselves and their families and are instead at the often fickle mercy of others. Charity or giving simply can not assuage the deep feelings of loss of humanity and human dignity that only personal control can grant.
Powerlessness and dependency are destructive to the well being and development of human beings.
However, despite the pitfalls noted here let me affirm that giving has always been part of normal human interaction and has promoted positive outcomes between people.
Great White Saviors
As givers among the Manobo we often received excessive praise for saving lives and helping people. Admittedly, it always felt good to have local people stand up and say, “If it had not been for you coming in here and helping us then we would have all died”. But in doing this they often placed us in the uncomfortable position of being viewed as some sort of mythologized savior or lord. It was not healthy for any of us involved. In response, and as part of an effort to present a healthier perspective, I would try to explain to people that the outside funds that I had introduced were not from me personally but were from generous people in other countries. I was just the conduit from those givers.
I had always admired Jesus’ refusal to accept people’s accolades or their pressure to make him a lord over them; to be in authority over them. More than any other historical person he always sought to remain in relationships of true equality with others.
But once a leading convert of ours, Manggimindo, in a gush of good feeling over my contribution to tribal welfare, blurted to me, “Wendell, you should be the President of the Philippines”. And I thought, well… yes. Of course. That’s one vote.
Some people, in reaction to an often brutal history of patronizing domination by Westerners, have challenged the validity of aid and development endeavors in other countries. Some have even argued that Westerners should cease and desist from such work. And in some situations that may be the best solution. But there is still a valuable contribution that foreigners can make across cultural divides. People from different areas can contribute information, skills, training, and other resources to people who need such. Certainly, this transfer of knowledge and resources needs to be done with caution, humility, and a sense of respect for the people who are being helped. Benefactors need to present their information and resources and sometimes leave local people to employ these as they see best. Local people may need the freedom to make their own unique adaptations. It comes down to treating others with genuine freedom and equality. Truly humane relationships must be genuinely horizontal relationships of freely cooperating equals.
Also, in terms of our influence on other cultures, it is useful to remember that all cultures are dynamic and in the process of evolving. All cultures borrow ideas, technology, and customs from one another. They have always done so. There are no good old days of the past that need to be rigidly preserved. I remember a group of lowland Filipinos who wanted the Manobo to maintain their traditional style of houses. Some Manobo had been replacing their grass roofs with tin sheets. Well, you only have to spend a few nights in a cockroach infested grass roof house that wears thin in a few months and then leaks water like a sieve in order to understand why Manobo want tin roofs. And anyway, many of the features of so-called traditional Manobo housing were borrowed from Islamic culture. And who knows where they in turn copied it from.
These arguments for an absolute preservation often became sidetracked in ways that lacked common sense. It was like asking an American farmer to continue using a horse plow because it was his traditional culture. Rather than bemoan the loss of traditional physical attributes of any culture it may be more useful to encourage the ongoing use of such things as language, traditional legends, music styles, and other things that provide cultural identity and diversity.
In regard to language, it was interesting to note that the adults in Kamansi still used Manobo in their conversation with each other in the village but they encouraged their children to use the lowland dialect of Cebuano. I argued with the adults that they should encourage their children to speak Manobo in the village in order that they would not lose their language. But they responded, “No. Out parents made a mistake in not making us learn Cebuano properly. We now regret that we don’t know it better”. They felt too much shame from their difference and perceived alienation from the surrounding dominant culture.
But in abandoning their language we were watching the death of a culture with the young Cebuano-speaking generation coming up. A people’s language embodies and carries their culture in profound ways.
Diverse languages and cultural practices are important for humanity as a whole. Diversity in general is essential for the creative advance of life. Any system (biological or social) with complex diversity has more options for survival and more options for progress. Also, we remember that the basic trend of life in the universe is toward increasing complexity and diversity not homogeneity or conformity. The order that arises with the emergence of life is not an order of uniformity and control but rather an order that tries to move life in as many diverse directions as possible.