We are looking forward to a cold winter next year because as of yet we have not felt the temperature under about 85°. This has been a beautiful winter with no typhoons so far. Usually by the end of December we have between 15 to 20. We have however had a few tropical depressions. They are close to a typhoon. We think they could be considered twins in our report of storm warnings. In the past 24 hours we have had a constant rain and everything is water soaked and flooded. Our hard working neighbor (rice farmer) is out trying to save his belongings trudging through hip deep water. We have been watching him all morning striving to get control of his earthly belongings with the pounding rain. He walks into his home which has no door to keep out the rain (not that a door would stop it). He must have at least two feet of water or more in his home. It seems the Filipino people get treated very harshly by Mother Nature!
We have had the opportunity of attending two District conferences within three weeks and after each conference we have had the chance to travel to the neighboring city and seeing a new chapel being dedicated by one of the area authorities. These are historic moments to the locals. First, we saw Gubat and then Tiwi. We were able to witness the excitement and see how proud and thrilled the saints are to have their own chapel to attend church in. These buildings are a true testimony of strength and conviction of the Filipino saints toward the gospel.
On the 5th of December we traveled to Manila to attend a Welfare Conference with all our leaders and associate missionaries from all of the Philippines. We were excited to see and visit with missionaries from several different islands and areas here on the island of Luzon. They had about 50 people in attendance (including but not limited to 16 ERC offices). We had the chance to get reacquainted with some friends that we hadn't seen for a year and also enjoy the company of many new friends. We especially enjoyed the company of Elder and Sister Starks serving as PEF missionaries in Bacolod which is the mission where Brian (our son) served.
We all stayed in the same Hotel/Motel so we had the chance to ride, talk, laugh and learn together. We started each day with a short devotional and breakfast at the church. It was a wonderful experience and helped us see how well organized the church is to deal with Welfare matters. Welfare includes Employment Resources, Humanitarian Services, PEF and Emergency relief. It is a testimony of the divinely inspired organization of the church to help people to become self-reliant. One point was well made by Elder Misalucha and Area President Edwards-"welfare is not the answer; it is a bridge to self-reliance". The ultimate goal would be not to have to have welfare services as each member becomes self-reliant.
We were fortunate enough to get approval to take a day and go to Corregidor just off the coast in Manila Bay. It was an eye opening experience to see how this small island was such a key part of the defense of Manila for hundreds of years-even playing a key role in WWII for both the US and Japanese forces. It was the last area surrendered when the Japanese took over the Philippines. The history is also tied to the infamous Bataan Death March which followed.
When we returned to Legazpi on Friday, we were able to attend the ACE graduation of 33 people who were trained on how to start small businesses here in the Albay area. They have a 60%+ success rate in graduates actually getting a business started within one year of graduation. We were instrumental in getting the ACE organization to come to Legazpi to do this one week training.
We have begun to have our string of last's here in Bicol. We had our last home and visit teaching appointments. It is extremely hard to visit with these sweet people for the last time. It took me several minutes before I could say the words, "This is my last visit to you as your visiting teacher." They have loved the visits almost as much as I did! Elder Cooley's families felt the same way, that of losing a friend and saying good bye to a loved one.
On the 27th and 28th we had our last Career Workshop with the missionaries going home from the Naga mission. We had three Elders and three Sisters who were all returning home to the Philippines except Sister Schaap who was from Orange County. We love these devoted missionaries and wish you could feel of their spirit and strength. They are the future leaders of the church in this country. How happy we are to have known and had the opportunity to spend a couple days with them. We value our time that is spent teaching the representatives of the Lord here in the Naga mission, "best in all the Land".
We also had our last Christmas here with friends and family that we have come to love so dearly. Our Christmas was very busy. We started with a 10 o'clock wedding in the neighboring city of Camalig. We were witnesses and also asked to give a message to the newlyweds-just before the wedding started. Then we were off to lunch with Hermie and Arlene Bartolome (our landlords) and their family. They have treated us like one of the family always including us in their family dinners and celebrations. We have become such wonderful friends even though they are not of our faith. Lucky for us they will be coming to the states often for visits.
Speaking of "lasts", we just got our last report for placements and enrollments for 2010 and we have now over 367 for the year with only 10 months of reporting. As we look back on this experience it is a miracle that so much has happened in just the 16 months we have been working here. The Lord has blessed us and he has blessed the people with programs that help the local leaders help their people become self-reliant.
We are ending the year with another adventure. It has been raining here for a few days, sometimes very heavy rain but it would usually stop before any real damage was done. Today, however, was a little different. It stated raining about 8:30 am and never stopped. It just kept coming faster and harder every hour. We were interested in watching the people behind us trying to rescue all the things floating across their rice fields. They were collecting bottles and buckets and anything else that looked useful. They often would stop and bail the water out of the boat. It seemed like the rain was so heavy that they couldn't keep up. Finally we realized that the water was rising very fast. Lee hurried down and found that he had to wade in 14 inches of water to get to the truck. He drove up the road to check and see if we could get out, by the time he got back, the water was so high that we were afraid that it would get in the engine and we would be stalled out on the road somewhere. The truck would be ruined for sure. We decided to bring the truck up into the driveway and close the gate. This was only temporary because by the time he had it parked and the gate locked, the water was six inches up the tires. It would be minutes before it started into our house. Within just a few minutes we were in a quandary, Lee phoned Jomel (our friend and person responsible for us in Manila) to tell him we couldn't save the truck and we can't get out. I was trying to get food and water upstairs, trying to get the curtains up off the floor, unplugging the electrical cords, moving rugs up the stairs, making sure before Lee waded into the house he picked up some water bottles outside so we can shower and flush the toilets. He then called Hermie (our landlord) and told him we can't keep it out of the house and it is two inches from coming under the door. He just told us to be safe and not to worry about the house, what a relief.
The FM group then sent a man over to try and drive the truck out. He wasn't so sure, but off he drove and we don't know if he made it or not. The water is now almost waist deep on the road. They didn't want us wading in the water. We found out they have poisonous snakes and screw worms, either one could kill you plus the water itself is toxic. Jomel told us do not go into the water, STAY OUT OF THE WATER! This warning came just after Lee had to wade twice in the filthy water over his knees. Jomel then instructed him to go take a shower immediately.
Thank goodness for the neighbors, they kept us entertained for a while. They were paddling around in a boat and rescuing people, but their pig they tried to save was not cooperating at all. They tried but couldn't get him into the boat, then he bolted into the house, but he got stuck half way trying to get in the closed door, you have never heard such squealing and carrying on in your life. Then the men just took the rope and pulled him out into the water and they swam to a safe place. We now know that pigs can swim.
About 4 o'clock the rain slowed and the water began to recede it never came into the house, but left mud all over the drive way and walk. YUCK! We are not over the danger yet as it is suppose to rain for two more days.
Our neighbor was not so lucky. Lee chatted with them as they waded through the thigh high water with clothes in a bag slung over his shoulder. They were on the way to his mothers, she has a two story home, because they had 2 feet of water in their home and couldn't stay with the danger that lurks in the water. Besides who knows if the rain will return tonight while we sleep.
We had a dry morning the next day but can you believe after having thousands of gallons of water cover Legazpi we have no city water today. They are going to flush the system so our home is still in shambles. Yuck, mud from the street to the house and no water to wash it off the cememt so the floor into the house is also mud and wet. We had to cancel the house help because we couldn't wash clothes, bathrooms or floors. It is hard living without the necessities of life, kind of like camping out. Certainly makes us appreciate our life in the US.
We hope the next two days of rain show us more mercy and less action!
We have found that there is never a dull moment here in BICOL. Now we know why it is so lush with grasses and trees everywhere and so, so green-a true Garden of Eden.
We are excited to see all of you our family and friends. Our hearts are torn with so many good-byes to people that we love and are so attached to. They have blessed our lives in ways they will never know; they will be remembered through-out the rest of our lives.
Happy New Year!
We love all of you & will see you in 20 days,
Elder and Sister Cooley