When left to our own devices, we always head back to our comfort zone. That’s the natural predisposition of man. We are wired like that.

On the other hand, man also has the tendency to seek thrill and adventures, explore uncharted territories, the desire and longing for something new.

That’s why when friends and their friends signed up for the outreach project in Camiguin Norte Island, it is a huge deal to me. As the organizer, it gives me a great sense of affirmation regardless of their motivations, expectations, and goals.

Located northeast of mainland Luzon, Camiguin Norte can be reached aboard a lampitaw (local term for boat) on a five to six hours of journey. Before that, one has to endure a back-breaking 13-hour bus ride from Manila to Aparri.

The island is separated by Babuyan Channel, which on any given day can spoil any travel plans if it decided to flex its raw power. Or it can also lull any voyagers when it magically turns itself to a giant, serene pool.

The birthing of Bless Camiguin North Project

Although the vision was cast in 2011, it took a while for it to be birthed. In 2016, it had a humble beginning. I and my 2016 Holy Week Camiguin Norte Expedition Team were able to raise funds and materials for the school supplies donated to the schoolchildren in Camiguin, particularly those residing in Balatubat.

By November 2016, an even bigger project began to gather steam. Pledges of financial and material support and professional expertise started to pour in. From April 8 to 15, 2017, a 21-strong team composed of medical doctors, dentists, trainers, and volunteers became vessels of blessings to the people of Camiguin.

As we were winding down the Bless Camiguin Norte Project 1.0, I mentioned to the team that there might be another outreach in 2018. Naturally, I wanted to replicate the project and duplicate its modest success and raise the standard. But at that juncture, the immediate need then was to return to mainland Luzon and let it gather a groundswell.

The next project would be held a little under a year later anyway. A lot will happen in the intervening months. And it sure did.

Filling the gap

There was a plan to hold a medical and dental mission somewhere in Quezon or Zambales during the last quarter of 2017. It would be over the weekend only. It did not push through in the absence of personal financial wherewithal to foot such undertaking or at least to share my counterpart. Some wells have begun to dry down and I have to dig up new ones.

Also, I shunned financially overburdening the sponsors of BCNP1.0. Their help will be needed to the more important project: BCNP2.0. Thankfully, they responded positively.

Facing uncertainties and dilemmas

Unbeknownst to me, there would a huge twist in the BCNP2.0. A complete departure from the trailblazing path set in BCNP1.0.

First, Dr. Bobot and Dr. Fe would not be available; so I asked other medical doctors if their busy schedule could accommodate the outreach. There is also another medical team that I have been longing to bring to Camiguin. But the travel severely restricts them. If only I have a fleet of H225!

Meanwhile, the original dental team cannot commit. All but one of them had prior engagement and cannot extricate themselves out. So, I asked other groups if they can go with us instead. Still, to no avail.

Even the VBS team had not been excused from being pruned down. There should have been at least ten teachers. My designated director had to beg off to attend a different camp.

And the softball camp was scrapped, too!

The hits were coming from all sides and I had to take it with stride. The reasons it happened were beyond my grasp at the onset. But I had since understood it. Not those were bad things though. As the cliche goes: it happened for a reason.

With the scheduled outreach fast approaching, I was facing with a stream of dilemma and struggle. This was not I was expecting and hoping for. It was such a depressing scenario. Or so I thought and felt.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 KJV

And off we go regardless

There have been times in previous trips to the island when the schedules I set were changed on the fly. Strong winds stirring sea disturbances thereby creating huge waves threw off my travel plans most of the times. This was not an exception.

Having gotten a word that we could not sail the day we should have, I immediately reset our departure. Then as soon as we arrived in Aparri Delta on Holy Monday, we still could not cross the Babuyan Channel because there were no boats going back to Camiguin!

Normally, I would be frantically searching from out of nowhere a backup plan. A déjà vu, I knew what to do next. So, I explained to the team the situation and whisked them away to a hotel so they could eat, rest, and freshen up.

Meanwhile, that extra day in Aparri would have afforded my friend and her companions to catch up and join us. Sadly however, she was unable to due to pressing matters.

With that, I have given up to the cold reality that there would only be five of us who would be going to Camiguin, a far cry and disappointing regression from BCNP1.0.

As M/B Nina slowly leaving Aparri Delta, we were already encountering turbulent waters. Initially, I thought it was because of the freshwater of Cagayan River blending with the saltwater of Babuyan Channel. It was not!

The voyage became unexpectedly longer. It should have been four hours or less; ultimately, it became six! Meanwhile, one of the participants began to vomit due to seasickness. I took heart and with great confidence and firm resolve in trusting the Almighty God that He will bring us to the island safe and sound regardless of the waves that drenched us for hours and put us to a roller coaster ride.

Finally, land! We stepped on the shores of Camiguin Norte at around 2:30PM. What a relief, to be honest.

Jerusalem: Back to the Holy Land

For second year in a row, we used the Vacation Bible School curriculum produced by the Church Strengthening Ministry.

The life, teachings, miracles performed and the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem was presented in a simple manner to be easily understood by the children.

Photo by Edge Ramirez Canoza

Joanna, one of the four participants, showed her exceptional skill and gift in the ministry. Then I learned she has been into VBS many summers ago.

Ishy, Carmina and Edge also had their moments during the abbreviated VBS.

In between the afternoon sessions, the children were treated with sorbetes. It was just too gratifying and overwhelming to see the joy and glow in their eyes as they queued up and had their filling.

Photo by Peewee Reyes

Had the schedule not been affected by delays, I would have preferred a longer VBS. Inasmuch as I like that the timeless and eternal theme of the Bible be discussed a little longer and more thorough, I have to recognize the limitations and more importantly our minuscule roles in the overall scheme of things.

FWIW, it definitely was

Outreach projects in distant islands will always be a huge challenge. And in an archipelago like the Philippines, it may not change the harsh reality soon.

Specifically for this outreach project, crossing the Babuyan Channel can be a daunting challenge. Although I already have heard several horror and tragic stories, those are not huge deterrents, to be honest. But in the low moments of my journeys, in the solitude of my adventures, I often struggled with unanswerable questions about my motivation why I do what I do.

In the end, the answer would be encapsulated by the value system embedded in my DNA.

Fun times, light moments

With only four ladies, it was rather easy to attend to their needs. Of course, if I was able to bring in a bigger team, it would have necessitated a bigger workload which I knew I was up to task. I have a reliable support group though.

With no reliable internet connection in Camiguin and exacerbated by the on/off cell site, one of the things that we kept ourselves busy with was playing an improvised version of Rummikub. Instead of tiles, we had two decks of cards. The fun, the stress, the pressure were nevertheless the same, I supposed.

We also had great and joyous times in Tapao Falls, Magas-asok Beach, Pinon Island, Nagpulbusan, and Naguilian. Because the island is teeming with coconut trees, we had a steady supply of buko juice. The locals gifted us some; but sometimes, I had to force them to take a payment. Our picnic time in Naguilian was surprisingly pleasant and rejuvenating. Personally, it was a welcome and pleasurable respite.

So, where do we go from here?

Will there be a Bless Camiguin Norte Project 3.0? It is a big question that has a resounding and ready answer. I expect that there will be. And quite possibly, some the participants will be coming back. They already have sounded of their interest to return.

As the organizer, I would have to ensure that the planned activities will be implemented. Multiple backup plans would be devised. Logistics-wise, I may need to prepare several months before the actual date. Even right now, I have set a few things in my action plan. And I should get the commitment of someone to be the Director so that a far better and bigger VBS will be achieved.

Invites will be extended to people I want to be part of this ambitious project, regardless of spiritual beliefs, religious affiliations, and political leanings but who nevertheless will share the vision and burden.

Meanwhile, there are unfinished businesses as a result of the shortcomings occurred in BCNP2.0. For the rest of 2018, I will be doing a few more trips to Camiguin Norte to continue the works. Yes, be assured that it never ended when we left the island on April 2. Because there is a vision that is being pursued and it should not be sidetracked.

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21 NLT

The team

Ishy joined our first ever group tour (May 2009 Coron Tour). We became good friends since then. We are also fans of tennis superstar Novak Djokovic. Ishy joined two more group tours since then (Ilocos and Anawangin). Then, she signified her interest to join the Bless Camiguin Norte Project 2.0 and I am glad and blessed that she came to be part of this outreach activity.

Peewee and I come a long way. She used to be part of Victory Christian Fellowship in Pioneer. My family and I still attend the services there though. She was also among the participants of our first Ilocos Group Tour in May 2010. Peewee toured with us in Sagada and Ifugao, Nagsasa Cove/Anawangin Cove, Roxas/Gigantes/Iloilo/Guimaras/Bacolod, and CDO/Camiguin/Iligan.

Edge was the first to confirm her participation to the BCNP2.0. She was invited by our mutual friend Ishy. I am thankful and blessed for her participation, spirit of volunteerism and down-to-earth attitude.

Joanna belatedly learned about the BCNP1.0. But she promised to join the second. And she did! She was such a huge blessing to the outreach. Praise God for her and her testimony.

Paying tribute

I am deeply humbled by the gestures of willingness to help by several people whose financial contribution helped foot the outreach and the upcoming activities. They are Alona and Carol Sagay, Carl and Jennifer Delos Santos, Cliff Valenton, Joel Tagabuhin, Alvin Baroga, Nelson Ragandap, Dom Rocabo, Mat Piamonte, Ladi Guno, Dexter Co, and Donna Mestiola.

I also appreciate and am thankful for the four women (Peewee, Ishy, Edge, and Joanna) who joined the outreach. It was far from being perfect and ideal and convenient. I hope I compensated their sacrifices.

To the Llopis family who welcomed me into their home, they are part of the bigger reasons why I love going back to Camiguin Norte.

To my prayer team: Japs and June Sy, Eva Fesalbon, Ming Martillan, Cathy Contrevida, Keith and Eunice Yague, Beda Apostol, Ninong Arnold and Lira Dimayuga. Thanks for standing with me in prayer and in faith.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:8-9 ESV)

Cover photo by Edge.

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