Sunday, December 02, 2007

To strengthen the weary and the broken

Had a very enriching weekend with Hangad in Culion, Palawan. Didn't have much pictures (or at least not much with people) because I was so engrossed in the scenery and the excitement of the activities. I'm sure the next few days will bring more pics from Hangad to show the fun times.

More than the laughs, the sea adventures and the steep stairways (I am sooo out of shape!), what I remember most about this trip is the true meaning of seeing God in the goodness of others, and what is so extraordinary about it is how such goodness springs from the history of Culion's people.

Culion was, for the longest time, a leper colony reservation. FIlipinos afflicted with leprosy from all over the archipelago were transported to this Palawan island as mandated by the Segregation Law on Leprosy in 1906. To be sent to Culion then would be like a death sentence; never to return to one's family, doomed to rot in the menacing hands of the disease with no hope for recovery or even a graceful restoration of physical beauty.

Yet it was this seemingly hopeless condition that cultivated the purity of heart of Culion's inhabitants. No one was discriminated against or left alone to starve; resources were shared with neighbors, and everyone was treated like family. Culion became more haven than prison, a self-sustaining community thrived, and it slowly blossomed like a delicate lily in a murky pond when it was finally declared leprosy-free in the early 1980s.

The island has electricity for only 12 hours (or less if a brownout occurs), and water is rationed once a day. No clubs, fancy restos, or a Starbucks -- the closest thing we got were sari-sari stores that sold 3-in-1 coffee, Hansel crackers and a bottle of Bailey's. Townsfolk are tucked in their beds by 8pm, and the crime rate is close to zero. It has none of the luxuries of city life as we know it; and it clearly pointed out to me how unimportant those luxuries are for one to live a simple yet fulfilling life. It seems as though no one is pitiful in Culion; perhaps it was learned from past generations that one's worth or happiness is not measured by what is seen.

What they offered us would be modest against our standards, but it humbled me so to realize that they gave all they could unselfishly with neither pride nor shame.

Hangad shared its music to Culion to impart the message of God's salvation and love, yet I realize that we learned more from Culion about God's saving grace by surviving its dark past, and the outpouring of unconditional love manifested in the warmth of its people. They evangelized us with their honest, happy everyday lives, which reflected the presence of Jesus without having to say (or sing) a word of scripture. And that is something I hope we all take to heart.

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