About mid-morning, our sub-team loaded our mission vehicle with 12 pieces of plywood to be delivered to Barrio Bakikis. This was a village in the Municipality of Kapatagan, Lanao del Sur but still part of the Parish of San Isidro Labrador in Balabagan. From the Parish Church, the Barrio was about 8 kilometers with a shallow but wide river to cross.
It was raining the night before but when we have reached the river, it was still shallow and the water was clear, enough for us to see the sand below. We have to cross the river again, we did it many times before this. Yet, ahead of us was a big truck loaded with sacks of cement already stuck and buried in the sand.
I wanted to take the risk. To make sure of it, I asked Darwin, our local-youth mission volunteer to check the level of the water. The water was below the knee. It was very shallow. So, I took the risk and took the right side of the already-stuck-and-buried truck. I was confident then, our mission vehicle is a four-wheel drive. I engaged the gear and drove.
To my horror, our mission vehicle began to slow down once it was fully in the river. I felt the sand below was soft but deep. It was like mud. My confidence fell down and I knew at that moment, there will be two vehicles stuck in the sand of that river. No matter how I stepped on the gas, the tires got more buried in the sand. I had to stop then, and prepared to get wet.
It was sunny and the heat was scorching. It was still mid-morning and the rain would usually come late in the afternoon. Yet, I noticed, the longer I stood in the sand, my feet were slowly buried. I realized, the tires of our mission vehicle as well as of that big truck, were slowly being buried into the sand.
I was very worried and blamed myself for being so confident. People along the river watched us but no one dared to help us, at least not yet at that moment.
A Christian who recognized me as the new priest, crossed the river with his motorcycle. He volunteered to get help from Barrio Bakikis. He noticed that there were strong and well-built men along the river, but expressed his dismay that they will not be able to help us. They were Mëranaw, an Islamized Indigenous group of people in Mindanao. It was their Holy Ramadhan and they must have been fasting. They could not help us and not willing to help us this time. “They do not have the strength,” he said. This was understandable. I can only blame myself. The man went with Jenel, our postulant to call for a rescue.
Yet, it was almost an hour, no rescue arrived. The tires were slowly buried in the sand. I became more worried and anxious. Several small and four-wheeled cars have crossed the river already and offered us no help.
However, something inspiring happened. It began with a young man, he was a Mëranaw, who tried to cross the river with his motorcycle from our side but got stuck too in the middle.
Immediately, Mimi and Pearllyn, our lady-youth mission volunteers offered help to him. The three of them pushed the motorcycle. But to the disappointment of the man, who did not understand Cebuano, his motor got more buried in the sand. I came and help them too. The only way to rescue it, was by carrying it. And so we carried the motor with all our strength. It was not that big but it was really heavy. Finally, he was able to cross the river.
To my surprise, he did not go ahead to his destination. He left his motorcycle in dry land and secured it and went back to us. By that time, few men arrived from Barrio Bakikis to help us but they were not enough. The young Mëranaw joined with us and lo and behold, other Mëranaw who were merely watching earlier joined us in the river. The young Mëranaw personally tied the rope and led in pulling our vehicle. Another Mëranaw man volunteered to maneuver our car. Others were at the back to help in pushing and others also were lining up with the rope to pull.
Simultaneously, the car engine kicked then together we pushed and pulled. We did that in three attempts until we have secured the mission car out of the river. There were more than 20 men who pushed and pulled our mission vehicle, both Muslim-Mëranaws and Christians. Everybody was delighted and everyone shared a victorious smile.
(Once our vehicle was secured, we also tried to do the same to that big truck. Yet, it was just too heavy and our number was not enough. We tried the same process for a few times, but no luck at all. All we could do was contact a bigger truck to pull it back into the dry land. Later, I was informed that the heavy truck was rescued late-afternoon just before it rained again.)
I realized, it was indeed, a wonderful sight. Not just because our mission car was rescued finally but I saw a rare event where kindness was overflowing like the river at that moment.
From this moving and inspiring experience while being stuck in the river, there are two invitations that we can always remember.
First. Be kind to everyone even to strangers. To be able to express our kindness to a person in need of help reveals our innate goodness. This makes us more human.
Second. Let our kindness flow and see how it inspires others and brings changes into our heart and mind. Kindness is not a calculated act of charity and does not even count the cost. It does not expect anything in return because kindness is an expression of a truly generous and happy person.