Last year I was dispatched to a mission area in Mindanao for one month as a Jesuit novice. The Jesuit Filipino Province has two mission areas in Mindanao. They are Zamboanga and Bukidnon regions. Missionaries work to evangelize indigenous people in these areas, who are isolated from civilization. I was sent to Cabanglasan village, which is in Bukidnon. Cabanglasan is two hours away, by car, from Malaybalay, the state capital of Bukidnon. The road to the village is not paved. Fr. Mat, a Jesuit assigned to Guadalupe Parish of the village, goes around the villages of indigenous people by motorcycle and foot. He lives and works in Cablangasan. The indigenous people of this area belong to the Umayam tribe. I could visit the villages of Umayam with Fr. Mat. Here I want to introduce a mission trip to a remote village in the mountains and my experiences in Mindanao.
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Cabanglasan, the village where I stayed, stands on the border between areas of immigrant people and indigenous people. At the East Side of the village runs a large river called Pulangi; there is a hanging bridge across the river. Only human beings and motorcycles can cross it. Crossing the bridge we enter the world of indigenous people. There is no electricity. Riding on the rear seat of the motorcycle I arrived at Calacapan, a small village composed by about 15 houses.
At that time Fr. Mat had a plan to visit Minsaruay, a 12 hour-walk in the jungle from this village. The occasion for this trip was a message sent by the chieftain (Datu in their language) of Minsaruay to Fr. Mat to ask for help. It was very lucky for me that I could join that trip to the deep mountains, which was the third time even for Fr. Mat himself. The basic work of Fr. Mat is teaching languages and providing clothes to the indigenous people as they request them from him. He has, under his command, 10 young men, chosen from the indigenous people, who had studied at the school in Cabanglasan. They are living in the villages by groups and teach languages to the indigenous people. Fr. Mat visits them from time to time.

In Calacapan we organized a party of 12, composed of Fr. Mat's staff and porters whom he employed at this time. The first day we walked for 2 hours and arrived at Catablalan village. We spent one night there. In the night I saw a very mysterious view. A big tree was shining like a Christmas tree with thousands of fireflies surrounding it.
Looking back from now, we had a peaceful night there. Early morning we left Catablaran and began to walk. For a while we had a relatively good road, but after that we had to walk a very narrow path that goes down to the bottom of the valley. The path down the slope was very muddy and steep. Furthermore we found thorny bushes on both sides of the path. It meant that if we slipped once we were going to be cut by hundreds of thorns. Actually it was quite difficult to go down the path without slipping. The thorns injured me many times.
After a one-hour walk in those thorny bushes we could finally arrive at the bottom of the valley. There we found the Catablaran River. When I saw the river and was told that we would follow the river to our destination, I was relieved because I expected the path along the river would be easy. That was my big mistake, the river was just the starting point of the real danger.

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I noticed my mistake right after we began to walk in the river. There are a lot of big slippery rocks on the bottom of the river. I could walk only by being supported by porters, but there were many falls and deep parts in the river. Of course, we couldn't walk in such places. So we, often, had to climb up the cliffs beside the river to avoid danger. The river ran at the bottom of a valley. Climbing rocks and walking on the very narrow and slippery paths on the cliff were really dangerous. If we had slipped down from the narrow path on the cliff, we would have fallen down on jaggy rocks or into the torrent. Before the trip, I heard about an accident a missionary had recently. He had slipped from a rock and injured his spine terribly. So I walked cautiously. But once I slipped down from the rock and got a light concussion. If I had broken my leg that time, I would not be writing this report now..
Such a situation continued for 3 hours and, finally, we found a flat place and had lunch there. Then, Fr. Mat told me, We have already passed the most dangerous part of the trip.

Take it easy!" But later on, it turned out that he had said so just to encourage me. The same dangerous situation continued 3 hours more. I was very relieved when we, finally, found a dry riverbed.
After a two-hour-walk on the dry riverbed we arrived to our destination. The village was beside the merging point of the Magaton River into the Umayam. The tribe people of the area are called Umayan, from the name of the Umayam River. The villagers welcomed us with music.
The village is really primitive. Villagers served us with wild hog and frogs. The next day there was a service to give thanks to the Spirits for the rice harvest, and also a rite of sacrifice. After this service Fr. Mat said the first mass in the village. It was a great experience for me that I could spend a few days in a place without electricity and toilets, staying on a high-floor style house.

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You might think that it is out of date to do this kind of "Mission" in today's world. Of course, we should look for the meaning of the evangelization of the indigenou people, who worship the spirits. But as far as I saw, Fr. Mat was doing his mission in very natural ways answering the requests of indigenous people, who want to become modernized. Many, among them, accept Christianity as a religion that explains their God of animism.
Of course, it is sure that there are some problems with the mission. For example, a girl of Umayam, whom I met and with whom I am still corresponding, hopes to continue her studies in a big city to become a doctor. This might be quite difficult considering she is the daughter of the chieftain. Now she is studying, but sooner or later she would have to go back to her primitive village to become the wife of a tribesman.
Some of the indigenous people do not like Christianity. They may feel that it defiles their ancestor's religion. Even during our mission trip there was a rumor that such people were going to kidnap us. Though there are a lot of problems, I guess that Fr. Mat is still walking around the deep mountains in Mindanao. We better remember that there are missionaries like him, even in this modern age.

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