A churning mass of brown water and large tree stumps sweep past me as the water at my feet rises to my ankles. I step back, wondering how high the water will rise as the jungle foliage is a mere two feet behind me, and I do not yet know what lies beneath the tangled vines.
The hike up to Mermá, the location of the newest AFM project in Palawan, is quite an adventure! It is typically a five- to six-hour hike that starts with about four hours of crisscrossing a river (no bridges exist en route) and then ends with an hour or two of uphill hiking (and I do mean straight up).
We began the hike around noon, and we stopped once or twice to eat and swim but kept up a decent pace. However, soon the river began to swell. It was raining higher up in the mountains. Worried looks began appearing on the faces of the locals, and they eventually asked that we missionaries cross one at a time — if we crossed together and got caught up in the flow, they would not know who to catch first.
I am a lifeguard and consider myself a pretty strong swimmer, so at first, I felt confident that I could handle the river and impress everyone. However, one rapid later, I was lying sideways, helpless, pressed against the legs of a fellow student missionary and knocking him over while regaining my footing. After that, I figured I would admit I needed the help of those stronger and more experienced than I am.
We continued on until suddenly, a mass of water and debris began to rapidly swell the river, causing half of our group to become stranded on one side of the river with the other half having already crossed over. All we could do was wait for the rain in the mountains to subside. It took roughly 45 minutes before it slowed enough for the men to cut a vine from the jungle and, with individuals waist deep in the water holding it taut on either side of the river, have us all cross while holding tightly to that vine. Had we let go, we would have been swept downriver, where a churning mass of white water and jutting rocks awaited us.
We got into Mermá at about eight that night, exhausted but happy. I arrived with a new respect for the locals who would put themselves in harm’s way for a group of overconfident student missionaries who did not even think they needed help. I also arrived with a renewed sense of dependency on a God who has the whole world in the palm of His hand, yet whom I often do not trust with the most basic of problems.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).