Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Trip

The Philippines is a tropical land of the 
freshest fruit imaginable, houses built alongside steep hills, and Christian Science Groups hidden deep in the mountains. These are communities of rice farmers who have been living Christian Science for the last 60 years. Many live with no electricity or contact with the CS movement outside their own village. I, Marina Byquist, recently visited four of these CS Groups, along with the one Society, together with my brother, Dana Byquist, and I'm here to share our story and what I found to be the most inspiring experience of my life.

Christian Science landed in the mountains of the Philippines through a practitioner's healing work as she traveled through rural mountain communities. Many were illiterate and continued to learn about Christian Science through word of mouth. There are currently 15 CS Groups in the mountains, and one Society. To reach these communities, you hike for hours on end, for days. Along the way there are clearings of villages hidden much past trails where one would never expect people, or CS groups, to live. They make enough rice to eat and are completely self sufficient. Their homes are huts or a combination of wood and sheets of scrap metal carried miles from the nearest town. Their yards consist of fruits, vegetables and potato farms.

Arriving at the first village, panting and out of breath, I’m told I just walked the distance the kids go each day for school. Most have no electricity. The majority of the elders have little or no teeth, and sitting outside you are joined by chickens, roosters and dogs at your feet. And, it is beautiful. The hiking trails are alongside the mountain, so you have views the whole way. But, the incredible part: in this setting, there are about two hundred Christian Scientists. They’ve built churches. We stayed in their homes, ate with their families, and talked about the importance of education and Christian Science. It was life changing.

Arriving to these communities with our tour guide, a wonderful Principia alumni from the 80s, we saw many faces peering around tree trunks. We wave and say hello, hear a child’s shriek, and laugh as the child runs away from us at top speed. Apparently, Dana and I are quite scary. Slowly they warm up to us, and we realized what a big deal it is to have visitors, and foreigners at that! With each group, we met in the church and listened to the local history of Christian Science and of their healings. There are so many amazing healings, but I’ll just share this one: The last group we visited, Badeo, is literally situated on top of a mountain. The group has existed for about 50 years, though is the smallest group, consisting of about three families, and they have built a church.

When we asked how CS came to the area, the grandfather of one family told us this story: There was a member of the community who had an accident and could not walk. A visitor was passing through and told them of Christian Science, and how a CS Group existed a few mountains away. People carried this woman who could not walk up and down the mountains in search of healing, and she came back walking. Although in pure Kankana-ey, the local Filipino dialect, he was speaking with a sense of nostalgia, remembering the sight of this woman returning to the village, walking.  This brought Christian Science and it stands today as practiced by these three familes. All the groups talked about a practitioner (never Journal listed) who lived in the mountains and was healing so readily that all these groups sprang up. She has now passed on, and it seems much is unknown of who she was. But, point being, healing was brought to these farming villages and the effects of this are present today.

We LOVED being with the groups. We truly felt equals. We loved being in their homes, had a sense of adventure with sleeping on a wooden bed, showering with a bucket of cold water (cold!) and eating the same meal of rice and a butchered chicken to honor us three times a day. It all felt very natural and I really felt a connection with many of the people we met. The children were incredible. The highlight with the kids was showing them my camera. These kids have never used a camera before, and once Dana let one try taking a picture, we were famous. We had a group of about 20 kids huddled around the camera, taking photos of Dana and I making funny faces. Each time we heard the click, followed by a paused second, and then once the image appeared on the screen, the kids started shrieking with joy at what they saw. This went on for quite a long time.  

Then we returned to Baguio City, which really is a magical place. It is a “city” located in the mountains. Colorful houses are built up into the mountain, letting it keep the natural charm and ruggedness of a mountain village made city. There is a wonderful church with a very bonded youth. Being summer vacation, they created a three-day “youth camp” where all the Sunday School students slept at the church and participated in different activities. One of these activities was a presentation on Principia College to be sure the youth are aware of a college for Christian Scientists available to them.  After this we spent a few hours talking with members in the Reading Room, and it was wonderful to hear of the progress and movement happening in this church. For example, the RR Librarian made book covers for every book in the church, so the hymnals are bright colors. It was a riot. They also created a weekly event called “Hello Monday” where Monday mornings people can come and discuss spiritual ideas before beginning their week. They are also building a new church.

The following day we returned to meet with more church members and then spent the afternoon (get this…) going from house to house, seeing where different church members live. This was very humbling and such an amazing opportunity. And, the best part: to fit all the youth in a vehicle for this traveling party, they rented a Jeepney! A what you ask? The greatest vehicle invention in the world! After WWII, the G.I.s left Jeeps, and this has resulted in jeep-style vans painted crazy colors with Christian references spray-painted all over, with neon stickers and of course an open back with the air blowing through, people jumping on and off and being honest about the amount to pay, and this is the usual form of transportation with these Jeepneys lining the streets. I know, I know, makes no sense…. Photo below! We played games in the car and the youth had FUN going from house to house, having snacks and taking photos all along the way.

There is an energy and spirit and love in the Baguio Church and we truly had FUN with the church members. We were constantly laughing with them and I feel as though I made real friends. We also met with the beautiful 1st Church, Manila and members of the nearby Pateros Church. Most of all, it was inspiring to see just how thriving Christian Science is the country. They love God. They love church. Many of the Sunday School teachers in both Baguio and Manila are in their 30s. Many children are writing Sentinel Articles. In the Philippines, church is family.