Joni Allen, a junior Bible major, and the other five men on the mission team tramped along the densely vegetated mountain trail behind their native Filipino guides. He had seen their next stop—one of the numerous mountain villages—across from the ridge, but that had been hours ago. Joni was drenched in sweat, thirsty and tired of wearing stockings over his legs and spandex over his arms.
Here on the Philippine island of Palawan, the stockings and spandex weren’t a fashion statement; they were protection from leeches. Joni knew to check for the bloodsuckers after each stream they crossed, but he wasn’t prepared for the terrestrial leeches—the ones that lurked in the bushes and jumped onto unsuspecting people passing by. He, like everyone else in the party, carried a cigarette lighter to burn off the inch-long worms that attached to his skin.
But their leech adventures were almost done for now. The rhythmic whack of the guides’ machetes against the undergrowth gradually gave way to rustling as the foliage thinned, and soon the team emptied into a clearing. Men and women—dirt-smudged and dressed in threadbare clothing—bustled in and out of grass huts going about their work, a few of them stopping to give the small band of visitors curious looks.
Few lowlanders from the towns of Palawan, and even fewer outsiders, journeyed this far into the mountains. The villagers wouldn’t travel down the mountain unless their clothes wore out and they needed to barter their crops for more clothing.
They lived their lives almost completely cut off from the rest of humanity and, more tragically, from the Word of God. But that was about to change.