DINAGAT DIARY, Day 6: Leaving Dinagat

January 7, 2022

‘The worst time is the best time to serve,’ Bishop Raul Dael emphatically said during his last message to us in the island.

This pretty summed up my experience here in Dinagat. Seeing the devastation all around, I feel so little and insignificant but exactly in my littleness and insignificance I feel I am doing the works of God.

I may not be able to change anything materially but at least there are people whom we made temporarily forget their misery and have a good laugh for a while. There is no price to putting smiles back on the faces of the people but the internal reward is invaluable.

I am leaving now with a heavy heart knowing that there are still thousands of families whose homes have no roofs. Those in the coastal areas, whose fishing vessels were destroyed apart from their homes, would suffer more for the next three months due to their seasonal livelihood. Students would have no classes either online or on face-to-face basis. Food will remain scarce the moment donations would stop.

We were already done with our ‘Duyog-Ambit’ but there remains the uncertainties of the lives of the people. Yet I also have a parish to serve back home. I continue to suffer then because I know I can only do as much.

God has allowed me to see so much suffering, not to be threatened by them, but in order to understand how much love can endure. That’s what exactly He did on the cross. With so much violence and hatred, He prevailed to love.

There are indeed discouraging instances in this special journey: the limited funds, the poor communication, the undependable vehicle, the tedious processing of papers, the long wait at the barge, etc. Yet, it never crossed my mind to cease to serve for I knew that every step that I do is an expression of love if I wanted it to.

But exactly there is no meaning in doing this all if not for love.

Bishop Dael talked also this morning that when we love amidst suffering, our hearts would expand. And it is the only enlargement of the heart that is healthy because our hearts mirrors the Heart of Jesus. I believe that this is the essence of our humanity, when we don’t exist only for ourselves but for and with others.

During the exit conference last night, we were asked what is our ‘take away’ out of the overall experiences? For me, it is the response to the call to love amidst the suffering like the beautiful music produced by the fiddler on the roof. In times of calamities, we may lose heart and blame others or sulk at the corner. But I thank God for giving me the courage to love. I decided to continue loving even if at times does not warrant to.

Just last year, I went through hell because of the red-tagging by the military to me and even to my family. This is mainly because I chose to love the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) and their struggle for self-determination. However, I did not allow them to stop me to continue loving. And when I persisted to do so, I started to see many acts of love poured down upon me too.

In this journey, I relied on the goodness of people who wanted to help. I’ve been facilitated surprisingly by many people whom I never met before and yet extended their help because they believe in what I’m doing. Love begets love.

Back to the mainland

Its already night when we arrived Surigao City which still remains in the dark (as power has yet to be restored). I still have few goods with me which I intend to give to my relatives in the city. I missed the chance to give to them when I passed by last time because I was lost due to the new scenery.

I took time to slow down for I don’t want to miss them again. It took me two U-turns and asked two people in order to find them. Although I have visited them once only but I never went out the car, only my father because they were cousins. Yet this time, I went down and visited them at their house. I met my second cousins then for the first time. I asked them to help me unload the goods. I can’t forget the gratitude and joy written all over their faces. My uncle told me that nobody came to help them yet from my province-side of relatives. I explained that we were victims too.

He was so happy not only because of what I brought but because they were remembered. When we care, we always remember. Reciprocally then, he extended his warmest regards to the rest of my paternal relatives.

When we decide to help, we should never allow obstacles to hinder us. We struggle in order to help.

Finally, my two companions and I arrived in Butuan at exactly 10 p.m. Sr. Len and Sr. Amihan went immediately to their respective rooms after showing me their guest room.

We were all tired but meaningfully fulfilled. When we love we don’t get tired easily because the enlargement of the heart allows us to be fully alive.

Thank you so much Lord for this privilege! Thank you for sending people to help me! Thank you for allowing me to experience how to love in the midst of suffering.

TOMORROW: Postcript: Back to my Jack

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray heads the Ecology Desk of the Diocese of Tandag. He is a graduate of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University, a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and a founding member of Caraga Watch, an environmental watchdog. He is part of the think tank of the Bishop of Tandag on IP Apostolate, formation on Environment and the Historical Commission. This diary was first published on his FB page. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this.)