Building Bridges

Bridges across canyons or rivers provide safe transport of goods and people. Bridges connect places that once were separated by difficult-to-traverse terrain. There are two villages here with daily interaction, separated by a river that becomes treacherous during the rainy season, which is most of the year. Without a bridge, one can only cross in places where a rope is securely tied to trees on either side. Even that requires great strength to withstand the current that tries to tear one away from the lifeline.

About 15 years ago, Anthony Groft, a civil engineer, hearing of our situation, designed and built the first-ever footbridge over the Tamlang River, effectively providing thousands of safe crossings. Twelve years ago, his brother, Elias, came as a student missionary teaching in the high school. He built bridges with people through friendship.

After a typhoon-strength storm tore through this area over one year ago, the bridge was totally destroyed. But with careful re-stringing of cable and rope, students crossed in shoeless, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other fashion, holding on to hand ropes for balance. Fortunately, there were only near mishaps, not actual disasters. Carrying patients on stretchers or in hammocks over these treacherous trails is dangerous at best. But with only one narrow cable to get a foothold on, the river becomes nearly impossible to traverse while carrying a patient in a hammock.

Thankfully, the Groft brothers arrived, having raised all the needed funds. They had pre-planned to the last detail and pre-ordered all they would need to build a suspension bridge across the Tamlang River. This footbridge is much higher than the previous one and also longer. The design is similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But this bridge, a neutral grey, still stands out as the best-built (if not the only) footbridge over the Tamlang and perhaps in all of the province of Palawan. Anthony and Elias (now a physical therapy technician) were such a blessing to us. Hardworking and cheerful, they did whatever it took to make the bridge a reality within three weeks.
As if that wasn’t a big enough task, they also designed and installed a steel ladder that Kent welded while they built the bridge in Kamantian. This ladder scales a massive 24-foot-high rock obstruction that one must traverse to reach the Marmá project. Before installing the ladder, people had to swim around this huge impediment in swift currents while managing 75-pound packs of tree resin (almaciga) while on their way to the lowlands to sell them, or in reverse, carrying 50-pound sacks of rice and other supplies for the school and missionaries living deep in the rainforest.

Building bridges connects people to needed resources. Just as this bridge connects villages, we Christians are called to become bridges, connecting others to Jesus Christ as we come into contact with them. May we effectively improve their lives through our influence.

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