Reflection: Psalm 121; Psalm 91.
On 13 May 1988 at 11.30pm, we were awakened from our sleep by loud voices and someone banging on our wooden wall. We peeked through a closed window slat and saw, to our horror, the attap roof of the house five meters opposite us on fire. As we looked further, several houses were on fire too. We quickly changed and ran out of the house to be with our neighbours. Men and women were trying desperately to put out the flames. We were months into the dry season and the roofs were tinder dry. Thankfully, it was a rare night without any breeze; otherwise the embers would have spread like wildfire throughout the village. God is so merciful as he sheltered us with his wings.
As we stood in the open listening to the chatter, a ‘voice’ spoke, “Go to the dark side of your house!” I have always considered my head quite well screwed on; it’s 12 am and pitch dark on a moonless night, ignoring it. A minute later, the same ‘voice’ prompted again, “Go to the dark side of your house, now!” The emphatic ‘NOW’ got my attention. (God does not often ‘audibly’ speak to me unless the matter was critical. Most of the time, spiritually sensitive matters are perceived through my intuition). I turned on my torch, feeling quite silly leaving the group, and went behind our home not knowing what to expect. I was certainly looking out for snakes, as they were commonly sighted crawling under houses at night, on occasions into homes, for a warm snooze. Looking around, I came across a long wooden pole with a piece of cloth wrapped around one end, lying next to our wall. I picked it up and caught a sniff of kerosene. I stood there in shock for a few seconds, before rejoining the group with the pole in hand. One of the young men from our village quickly took it from me, and ran off with it.
Our home was targeted! My heart froze. Why? Was it random? We were foreigners and non-combatants. Now, I recalled being awakened by our barking stray dog (whom we fed each night) earlier that evening, which went on for a few minutes on that side of the house. Puppy must have chanced on someone trying to set our roof alight and chased him away. At the time, we thought he was just being a nuisance, but God had meant him to be there to serve His purpose! How thankful we were to God: It is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper that stalks in darkness. The opposing group of insurgents had crept into the perimeter of the village and torched several homes, but with no loss of life. (On 23 November 2009, this same group ambushed and murdered 58 people – journalists, lawyers, aides, two sisters and wife of a local political rival, who were on their way to register for the local election – known as the Ampatuan Massacre).
Ten minutes on, the village headman arrived with his bodyguards. He assured us that we should be safe, as he would immediately post guards outside our home every evening till daybreak. On subsequent evenings, we were introduced to those guards, each with their shiny new M16 and grenades strung across their shoulders. After the initial few nights, when our subconscious played tricks with every little sound, we got back into our routine.
The friendship and concern of the villagers were heartwarming: several of them would visit late afternoons, chit-chatting at our porch till dusk. My language helper’s sister-in-law introduced us to her extended family, and they offered to assist us with any future emergencies. Months later, one of the village carpenters, whom we treated for an infected ankle, confessed that during those evenings, he would hang around outside our home at nightfall until the assigned guards arrived. He would also wake at midnight to check-in on us. The village remained our home for the next five years.
We are thankful that our God is the “I am who I am,” a God who does not change. Hence, we can still say to the Lord today,
My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day.
Great is our God and great is his name!
Credit: Zheluo Cai