The Two Philippines

When Sherry and I first came to the Philippines in 1969 it was definitely a “third world” country. How do I know? There were no MacDonald’s here Smile  In fact there were no hamburgers or french fries nor were there many high rise buildings. The economy was mostly agricultural. The president would soon establish his dictatorship through declaring martial law and then being overthrown in the People Power Revolution, the Yellow Revolution, precipitated by the assassination of by Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Jr. who was returning to the country. Since then the Philippines has become an international20160504_072439 hub of commerce and the explosion of evangelical belief came at the same time. The economic divide continues with very low class workers sweeping leaves from the lawns of richer folk but at least he has a job and can help his family.

20160503_171814The cows grazing under the huge power line is one picture of the new overtaking the old. GN Power, the company Dan Chalmers began, built a huge power plant near Mariveles, where the Bataan death march began. Because GNP refused to work with the existing electric group and sold power at a lower and fairer price, electric prices in the whole country are more just. Because he bypassed the limitations20160508_112419 which kept limited and therefore controlled electric, GNP has allowed greater expansion of production capacity. GNP pours a lot of money back into the local communities. The multi-purpose building where I preached today was erected for the use of a small community.

20160503_091200GNP power plants are amazingly clean emitting virtually no nitrous oxide or other stack gasses. The particulates are scrubbed from the smoke and sold to a cement company to make highest quality concrete in both high rise buildings and donated for community schools. If you look closely at this picture you’ll see that construction techniques still utilize inexpensive labor which gives good jobs to squatters who otherwise would have no income other than selling individual cigarettes on street corners. It’s impossible to track the impact that GNP’s integrity and quality has, but one measure is that the mayor of the province is running unopposed. He is getting lots of credit for improving the community because he works with GNP.

Work on the new power plant has begun. Earth movers will reshape 20160506_081508the contours of whole areas of land to lower the ground level by perhaps 100 feet to prepare the pad for the new 700 megawatt plants. I am astounded to hear the stories of the extreme care GNP is investing to be sure it all is done at highest quality.

20160508_181249Even more fun is that their new project is a small plant powered by bio mass. This half mega watt is a proto type of plants that will transform small isolated communities which have never had reliable electric power. It is all eco friendly and completely sustainable.

First Philippines Teaching: Mariveles, Bataan

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I will quickly admit that flying business class on 13 hour international flights is more than nice! Breakfast, my second meal began with fresh coffee, with real cups, silver, glass glasses, a big slice of banana bread, and a yummy fruit plate followed by a super adobo 20160502_130658breakfast with more of that wonderful coffee. I did wonder what they were having back in economy where I have always flown until Dan so generously upgraded my life so I can arrive in the Philippines ready to do a three full days of teaching beginning the next day.

20160502_131735There were many other things that made me wonder. I understand why Muslim folk need to know the direction to Mecca. But don’t Baptists need to know the direction to Louisville or Nashville? My seat mate was a CEO of calling centers with major operations in the Philippines where he lives full time. Turns out he was a Jesus follower and went to churches I work with so we had lots to talk about until I laid my chair back to full recline and slept solidly for 6 hours (yes, pure luxury!) until I pulled my PC out and worked on paper grading, an unfinished task that would occupy every free moment for the next three days.

20160503_070423After my 5:30 am arrival (and being first to passport control and my bag was first to appear on the carousel – yes miracles do happen!) Bishop Cesar Punzalan, Nonon, picked me up, took me to Starbucks where he got some breakfast and we got some coffee before we went to meet Dan Chalmers at the headquarters of the power plant company he started. More that in a later post.

After a quick tour we were off to View from my RoomMariveles, where the Bataan death march began. We arrived at Brother’s Keeper Inn and I was shown to my room. As soon as I saw the view from the window of my second floor room, I knew this was going to be a marvelous trip! I enjoyed Tiffany and Jasmine adopted children of one of the guests. The setting is simply marvelous.

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My room is second floor left side. Meals are in the sala between the two sides of the building. The Mariveles power plant is in the background. The food is outstanding, the company engaging and the service unbelievable as Tiffany and Jazzy’s looks show.

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Pastor Nonon began the class with songs and some details and off we went for 3 1/2 days of wrestling with all sorts of things from 1 Peter. With a projector to get Bible in front of them and some of my famous (infamous?) ambiguous questions, we were off. It took them most of a day to get warmed up to my style and then they really got into it with extremely personal things and lots of wrestling the hard pastoral issues.

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There is the inevitable class picture after class on Friday the next to the last day of the class. Several had to leave for a long journey to their churches. 20160507_114640

The class ended with me praying for them and then them praying for me. There were lots of pictures, hugs, laughter, and blessings.

Final Post Surgery Update

20160423_071659I went to see Dr. Wilson, the ENT surgeon and then Dr. Martin, the dermatologist. I am glad to say that both were unimpressed. Dr. Wilson did a great job on the surgery so the scars have mostly disappeared to the casual glance. The missing parotid nerve means I still have the weird ear which feels like a leaf on the side of my head when I put my hood up in the rain and makes it necessary for me to sleep with my hand around my ear when I am on Austin-Healy-Sprite-MK-II-Sidecurtainsmy left side.

Dr. Martin did a very thorough skin examination, finding nothing new. She decided to remove a small brown spot from my right forehead just to be sure. Pathology determined it was just sun damage, probably from courting Sherry in my little Austin Healy Sprite with the top down!

I will see both doctors from time to time and there will be a CT scan this fall sometime, but so far a we know there is no cancer in my body which is for praise!

May means teaching pastors in the Philippines. Sadly Sherry will not be going along. Her rehab after the Aortic valve replacement is going very well but her energy levels are yet up to the ambitious pace of the trip.

One Month Post Surgery

It was just a month ago that I was headed into surgery to remove the rest of the lymph nodes in my neck in order to contain the melanoma that made its micro-presence in the sentinel lymph node under my jaw described in the previous posts. The hematoma under the incision disappeared in just hours leaving me wonder where the blood went. The swelling is mostly gone. I am now able to raise my arm out horizontally and bounce it to full extension. No more narcotics, I am glad to say. I still do a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen a couple of times a day to control pain as I go to sleep and in the early morning. I still try to force myself to sleep longer. But I still find sleep pretty boring. Sherry did laugh at me last night when I fell asleep on the couch just after 7:00.

I met Rob Karch at last year’s World Venture Renewal Conference and we quickly established a theological and missional friendship which went into a different dimension when he discovered enlarged lymph nodes in his neck just as I was having my first surgery. He had surgery to remove lymph nodes in his neck the day before my second surgery to do the same thing. We met face to face at this year’s Renewal Conference to connect and pray. His biopsies lead to a diagnosis of “T-Cell/Histiocyte-Rich B-Cell Lymphoma” with a nasty regimen of chemo that will keep him from extending his mission work from Quebec to France. His story is here.

I spoke at Corban University’s chapel, reflecting on Jesus’ command, “do not worry.” I exposited my thesis that He wants us to worry like a bird – don’t worry about if God will make seeds or what climate change means all the trees die, but do seek after (a nice worry word) seeds so you don’t starve and about cats! I ended with a reflection on my melanoma journey, concluding with four points:

  • Go to the past looking for lessons, not regrets.
  • Go toward the future with a plan built from what you know.
  • Satan lives in the “what if’s”. Reject his temptation to live there with him.
  • Jesus lives in the present. Look for the glimmers of His grace in dark places.

Sherry Atkins, the other half of the Sherry twins, had hip replacement surgery yesterday. Since she was betrayed by her husband and her children do not live near, she is alone in a very difficult time. My Sherry took her to the hospital, met with the doctor for the post-surgery consultation. She will live with us for the six weeks or so while she can’t drive. What does “do not worry” look like for her?

gerry-breshears GCC If you look closely at this picture you will see the little mole on the left side of my forehead that had the melanoma in it. Of course it’s gone now as well as all the lymph nodes downstream from it. In Friday’s follow up visit with Dr. Wilson, I reported the pain in my collar bone area and inability to raise my arm straight out from my body, all of which was something he had warned me might happen. I’ll be doing some physical therapy to help with this and be sure the shoulder does not freeze. The new thing is the hematoma alongside the incision. It’s quite a lump. Hopefully it will be absorbed. If not he’ll do some procedure to drain it. There will likely be a follow up with Dr. Da Graca but there’s no indicated actions other than watch for moles or lumps.

I have been doing a lot of extra sleeping and resting to invest in healing. Other things like classes at Western, two workshops at Missions Connexion and two Perspectives classes in Spokane Monday and Tuesday nights continue to make life fun.

Sherry’s healing continues alongside mine. Today is her first day for her sprained ankle delayed cardiac rehab. She reports that they are very nice people and aren’t pushing her . . . yet!

This Sunday I will preach at Grace on Generous with our Time from Psalm 90. Lots to ponder since melanoma gave new reality to “ponder your mortality.” In doing research, I found Joey and Rory, first rank country singers. She is dying of cervical cancer, which Rory blogs about in his January 15 entry at “This Life I Live.” They did their song “When I Am Gone” back in 2012 before any illness. Click on the link. Read the blog post. It is super powerful.

Surgery Followup

I started my Monday with a two hour class (so fun!) and then went home to take a two hour nap. Fair play wins. Then I went to see Dr. El Rassi to the dratted drain out. I asked him if his name was Lebanese. It was and he was amazed that I knew. We had good talk about Lebanon memories while he was checking me out. The biggest concern is that I can hardly lift my left arm at all. It is super painful. Dr. Wilson had told me the nerve might get tweaked but there was no post-surgical sign of that on Thursday or Friday. It started Friday evening and has stabilized. He agreed that it might be a combination of surgery and the anatomical change from my badly broken collar bone way back in 1987 which they did surgery on to see if fusion might help my moving clavicle in 1988. He thinks it will go away in a couple of months.

As we did all that, he took out the drain — it feels weird and painful when he pulled that long tube out of my neck, but absolutely wonderful to have it gone! After some follow up conversation on a physical therapy consult, he sent me on my way.

As I was pulling onto I-205, my phone rang. There is no caller id when it comes through the system in my van so I answered wondering who might be might be calling.  “This is Dr. El Rassi. I want to tell you that your pathology report arrived and it’s all clear.”

Needless to say, it made my day! Now I can say what I expected to say, “There is no known cancer in my body.”

I celebrated by going home and taking a nap and then teaching my evening class to a great group of students. So fun!

I will see Dr. Wilson, the surgeon, on Friday and ask specifically what to watch for. Dr. Martin, the dermatologist, will get to be intimately acquainted every square millimeter of my skin!

Final surgery?

Yesterday’s surgery to remove the other lymph nodes in the left side of my neck went very well. Dr. Wilson told Sherry that they all looked fine. That means there’s probably no active cancer but does not rule out the presence of some cells as there was on the sentinel node which was removed back in November. He kept me overnight as a precaution (I like cautious doctors!). Surprisingly I slept well in the hospital. They only woke me once to do vitals and it was time for a potty trip anyway. After a very good breakfast, I was discharged at 9:00 this morning. Home is a good place to be! I’ve been laying low today with a long afternoon nap as the biggest event of the day. Pain is minimal but I have major meds if it kicks up. No hero spirit in me. No responsibilities for the weekend by design. Then classes start Monday with getting the drain out of my neck as the most anticipated event of that day!

I am praying for a clean pathology report in my Friday post-op with Dr. Wilson. Then I will be able to say, “there is no know cancer in my body.” Regular observation will follow of course.

Sherry and I deeply appreciate the huge number of people who are praying and supporting in many ways/.

Melanoma

The mole on the side of my forehead had been there a long time. Back in August, I had Dr. Ben take a look. He sent me to Dr. Martin who removed it in a quick office visit at the end of September, just before Sherry’s aortic valve replacement surgery on October 9. Of course she sent it to pathology and they found melanoma. It was just a hair thicker than they liked so she sent me to Dr. Wilson, an ENT physician for surgery to remove more tissue around the spot where the mole was and to take out a lymph node and the parotid gland (no, I don’t know what that’s good for) on November 11. I went back to see him after 10 days and the preliminary pathology report was clear. Though he was a bit frustrated that the final was not in yet, he was not concerned. “I’ll give you a call if anything shows up.” The call came about 10 days later: there is a “micro-presence” which is to say they found a microscopic focus of tumor on the capsule of the node. But with melanoma, zero is the only right answer. So I will have another surgery on January 7 to remove the other lymph nodes in my neck. This is preventive, for local control of the cancer.

Dr. Da Graca, my oncologist comes highly recommended from friends who are oncology nurses, so I have a lot of confidence in him. Because it moved from the original location, I have stage 3 melanoma. But it is low risk since there was no enlargement of the lymph node and only a focused cluster of cells.

For researchers who want to help out: The possibilities are participation in a clinical trial, observation or interferon. Ipilimumab was recently approved clinical trial for high risk stage 3 melanoma. He notes that both interferon and ipilimumab are relatively difficult to tolerate and don’t help with survivability. He did recommend checking on pembrolizumab, the “Jimmy Carter” drug. It is a very new medication which is a good option. The “problem” is mine is not “high risk” so I wouldn’t qualify for a clinical trial. There will be another assessment after the January 7 surgery.

Last week I had five classes. In all of them there was focused prayer for healing which I deeply appreciate. In one, Evan Wickham had a prophetic picture of one of the lymph nodes sucking up all the cancer cells just before the January 7 removal. I found myself speaking strong rejection of cancer in the name of Jesus.

At this point I am completely symptom free so life goes on pretty normally.

The hard part has been telling people who love me and seeing the shock. All my responsibility and helper stuff kicks in, of course. The hardest is Sherry who is recovering from her heart surgery nicely. She’s a trooper and super supportive as we journey through this place with the prayers of friends all over the world.

Honolulu

Really early Saturday morning Sherry, Cyndee and I headed for the airport. I chose the 6:30 departure to maximize our time. As we waited for the call to board the flight to Oakland, we heard our names called. As we approached the podium, the lady smiled, “I have bad news and good news.” Our flight was on a mechanical hold and we’d miss our connection (bad!) so they were putting us on the direct flight (REALLY good).

2015-08-08 12.11.23As we boarded the flight, the fellow on the row ahead of us recognized me. Turned out he was there with his son and daughter and their two children on a “Make a Wish” flight. Their three year old daughter had severe neurological disorders and they were going to the Disney resort. We ended up joining them, spending an extended prayer time, all sitting on the floor in a crowded “lounge” since their room was not ready.

20150808_141549After a delightful lunch by the pool with them, we headed to the airport only to discover that the flight change had confused our bags and they still had not found their way to Honolulu. We checked into the condo and ended up finding a K-Mart to purchase necessary items. The bags finally arrived around midnight and we picked them up on Sunday.

11822536_10152918240622096_9054927879743193804_nThe condo was nice and the view of Waikiki wonderful but the sand was really coarse. Turns out the beach is eroding so they pumped in sand from further out and it’s not be refined by the waves.

Sunday was Pearl Harbor. I felt a deep connection since my uncle Truman would have been stationed there had he not contracted rheumatic fever. I have done a lot of study of the whole attack so experiencing the place live was all the more ponder material. The presentation is of the infamy of the Japanese and the heroic sacrifice of the soldiers and the return to 2015-08-09 15.30.36victory. But as we toured the Bowfin submarine with its torpedo rooms, the Arizona Memorial, and the Missouri with its huge guns, I felt the tragedy of war keenly. There was no triumphant “we won,” only a sadness for all the disrupted lives and ruined civilizations. I was glad to stand on the deck of the Missouri where the peace treaty was signed and remember that General Marshall, a deeply Christian man, lead the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, both of which are now close allies.

2015-08-09 18.17.39Sunday evening was the beach front Luau presented with much pageantry and celebration of the Hawaiian culture. I was particularly pleased that the hostess spoke the three greatest things, faith, hope and  love, and sang a classic Hawaiian blessing song “E Kolu mea Nui” originally written for the congregational church in Maui. Her Christian heart spoke powerfully.

2015-08-10 07.17.10Monday found Cyndee and me taking the beautiful hike up Diamond Head. The morning was relatively cool so there was not much sweat. Donn laughed at my Alaska hat in Hawaii! Then Sherry joined us for the trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It has a very produced feel to it but there is no other place where Sherry and I will renew our wedding vows as part of watching a Tahitian wedding ceremony. After the very pagan ceremony, the host had us stand and answer the question: “will you ever leave?” with the “No” spoken in Tahitian.

ENTI ClassTuesday through Friday had me teaching 25 top notch young campus workers at Every Nation Training Institute. Sherry and Cyndee did things like visiting the Dole Plantation, the Arboretum, doing some shopping and such. I think I had more fun!

Second week in Iloilo

IMG_6186Things are quite familiar as the days continue. When I go down for breakfast, the ladies at the front desk greet me warmly and hand me my order form with names filled in already. The lady in front of the seafood restaurant across the street now greets us insteadIMG_6185 of trying to persuade us to take a copy of the menu. That’s a benefit of being one of the very few anglo faces in this town that’s off the tourist trail. The stand just down the street where we get our mango shakes just ask if we want our favorites. The ladies tell us stories and give us suggestions on places to go. If you click on the lower picture, you’ll see why their menu makes us smile!

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On Wednesday evening we made the 2015-05-27 17.55.04trek to the Cafe Panay. It meant walking through the center of the old city which reminded us of how our section of Manila looked when we lived there in 1969-1972. Lots of crowds and “down home” shops and street dealers selling all sorts of useful things. Our table was in front of a fuzzy picture which becomes quite a marvelous2015-05-27 18.10.20 picture of old Panay in a photograph. The Cafe specializes in local items and foods, so we asked the server who told us what would be best. And indeed she was right. Instead of calamunsi, she suggested Red Taho iced tea. Just enough zing to 2015-05-27 18.31.20make it interesting. I chose chorizo Ilonggo with purple rice (yes, purple!), Itlog na Maalat (a pickled flower) and salted egg all on a traditional banana leaf. Super tasty, especially when followed up with Cafe Panay Turon in Muscuvado Carmel Sauce (and Tablea Dip)2015-05-27 18.34.56 which being translated means banana in lumpia wrap with caramel and chocolate. Yum!! I loved hearing traditional Filipino folk music in the background as we ate. The owner showed us around the shop while telling us stories of the history of Panay and the items for sale in the shelves of the shop. We took a different route home and were soon in the area of the middle class folk with large malls and noisy music.

IMG_6170We treated the students to lunch in the hotel restaurant. It was not lunch, but a feast!The food just kept coming including century eggs and drunken shrimp and Crab Morcon and Sharksfin Guisado and a whole fish in sweet and sour sauce as well as a great soupIMG_6166 and a beef brisket hot pot all ending up with Filipino fruit cocktail. Even the students couldn’t identify some of the dishes. The servers (a whole crowd of them) were glad to explain. IMG_6172Fortunately the discussions during my afternoon class were active enough to ward off the spirit of drowsiness which threatened to attack the students with all that marvelous food in them.