North of Manila to University of Pampanga:
Time doesn’t allow me to tell about the rest of our adventures in Manila – nor would you want to read all the details. But you would like see the Jeepnees, tricycle taxis and the rice paddies as we drove north early in the morning into the province of Pampanga. We went at the request of Archbishop Apo Cito. He is delightful, inspired, humorous bishop and the one of the most accessible bishops I’ve ever met. He is very small, only about 98 pounds, but he is a stick of dynamite.

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In Pampanga I spoke to the University of the Assumption. I found out later that people had driven in from other provinces over 3 hours away. Many had waited in the heat for 3 hours to hear an American tell why he converted from Baptist to Catholic. There were about 1,000 students along with as many adults. They cheered and clapped as I told my conversion story and challenged them to study their faith and defend it. It was HOT in the stadium and by the time I was done my face was dripping and my clothes wet.

Dinner and talk at Important Lady's house:
We also met with a very important lady in the Philippines and she was delightful. Because she values privacy, I do not add her name. She had about 80 people invited for a magnificent outdoor dinner and to hear my story.  I now have a standing invitation whenever I am in the Philippines.

Flight to the Island of Mindanao:
But then we left on Cebu Pacific Airlines and flew to the southern tip of the southern island of Mindanao to Davao City. It is cleaner and less congested than Manila and we liked it very much. It too was very hot. Americans know Mindanao mainly because of Islamic problems and the kidnapping of Americans. However, we were not worried and found the large island to be very friendly and safe. There is a lot of dialog going on between the Catholics and Muslims. It is only a few rebels in outlying areas that cause the problems.

Archbishop of Davao:
When we arrived we met with the Archbishop Capalla  — the President of the Filipino Bishop’s Conference — who had sent a special invitation for me to speak. He sent out a circular letter inviting everyone to the first ever Catholic Evangelization Conference in Davao. I was told there would be “speakers” but when I asked who the other speakers were they said, “You!”.  I was already exhausted from Manila without hardly a moment to rest. But I could not turn down the gentle and inviting archbishop so I tightened my belt and dove in. After we looked at his library we ate at the Filipino grill nearby.

Selling Crossing the Tiber:
In Manila they sold about 1,000 copies of Crossing the Tiber at reduced prices. They received special permission from Ignatius Press to make a Filipino edition. All the proceeds went to the Defensores Fidei Foundation (DDF). In Davao they sold another 1,000. The sales helped cover the costs of the conference. Even though I was offered money by some of the sponsors, I refused and donated the money to the DFF.

Yeti and the Lim Family:

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Yeti was our sponsor and he picked us up at the airport. I found out Yeti is a nickname for Lafayette Lim. His family owns large department stores and the largest (and newest) mall in Davao. They also own other businesses including a resort on a beautiful island. We will go there next time. Based on our e-mails, I expected someone older and more intense. We were delighted to find a very relaxed and passionate young man. He is married with a new baby and runs part of the family businesses. His father died about 10 years ago and his mother Helen runs all the various family businesses with the help of her children.

We met two of her daughters Gaye and Ivy. Janet and I were amazed at how humble, excited, friendly and helpful they all were. The family obviously has money and influence, but unlike most wealthy people, they were all shining examples of Christian love, humility, generosity, and service. Janet and I enjoyed their company very much. We cannot thank them enough for their friendship and hospitality. They were truly kindred spirits. Yeti worked very hard to put the Davao conference together and I bet, like me, he will sleep for a week after all the energy he exerted. Here is his website.

For more pictures from Davao, click here.

Our First Evening and Day in Davao:
After we left the archbishop and had a quick dinner, we were whisked away to a radio station to be interviewed by a group of great young guys named the Faith Defenders. They are studying theology and apologetics and are really “street fighters” for the Gospel and the Catholic Church. I was proud to be with them. We had fun on the radio show.

The first thing in the morning we left early to speak at the Catholic School of which Yeti is an alumni. I spoke to almost two hundred 12th graders in their uniforms. They were enthusiastic, polite, and they even laughed at all my jokes. But I think many of them were also moved by my conversion story and my challenge to love Jesus and his Church. There are about 3,000 students in the school and many younger ones swarmed around me for pictures. Beautiful place, beautiful people.

The Conference:
Because there had been a change in venue from Cebu to Davao, Yeti only had two weeks to prepare but they still had around 1,000 people attend on Friday night and about the same numbers on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday I “preached” my conversion story with great enthusiasm weaving in a history of the Bible and exposing the false teaching of sola Scriptura.  They laughed and cried and said they were very encouraged. I signed books until my fingers were cramped.

On Saturday we began early with my talk on “Born Again and Faith Alone”. I showed them the falsehood of Protestant teaching and the truth of Catholicism. In the afternoon I talked on Mary and the Eucharist and again answered many questions and signed books for about two hours. There is no doubt in my mind that Crossing the Tiber was the best selling book in the Philippines this week.

A brilliant and quick-minded young man from Manila came to Davao with us. He spoke on tradition. He is an attorney and I cannot reveal his name. Some of the groups are violent and since he confronts the cults and sects with such fervor he has taken up an alias. He honored me by taking the name Esteban (Stephen) RAYmundo. He is very slight statured but really packs quite a punch when preaching. In a matter of moments he has his Catholic audience roaring with laughter and thundering with applause. I am glad the Philippines has such an outstanding attorney and upcoming apologist and preacher. I was honored to work with him in Davao.

Sunday started with Mass and then I spoke on Peter and the Pope. I came back after lunch to answer questions from the stage for 3 hours. I found out I answered 160 questions.  People from the audience “texted” their questions over their cell phones to the moderator (Yeti) who then read them aloud. Esteban Raymundo and Brother Al (very good theologian) joined me in answering the questions. After an early dinner we crashed into bed.
But the dinner was given to us by a widow enthusiastic for the faith. She owns the Hanana complex of restaurants and invited us for a feast. Her restaurants are so popular they are mentioned in tour books.

Stinky Fruit:

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Have you ever eaten durian? It is a fruit found in Mindanao. It smells SO bad that it is not allowed in hotels, restaurants and even the attendants on the plane did a search to make sure no one was carrying it on the plane. It smells so bad it is almost nauseating but it is one of their favorite foods. They say it smells like hell but tastes like heaven. About the size of a small soccer ball it is covered with spines. It looks like a big blowfish. They asked us if we would like to go outside the restaurant to eat some durian.

As soon as the durian was being carried to the table we smelled it from a distance. It was strong – kind of like a skunk walking under your table. They cut a big chunk off for Janet and another for me. They all starting indulging in thier favorite fruit. Janet and I didn’t know what to do. On our travels we have eaten snake, boiled pig’s blood, cow stomach and pig’s ears, baby chickens inside the egg, squid ink and many other things, but this was different because the smell was SO bad. But we are brave and we each took a big bite and actually it tasted quite good. We ate our fair share but it would take some getting used to for me. Maybe I am too old now to learn to like something that smells so repulsive.

I was burping up the smell of durian all night long. I won’t eat it again any time soon.

Pink Sisters:

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Before leaving back for Manila, we had one of our favorite times in the Philippines. We visited the “Pink Sisters” outside the city upwards on a mountain. They are cloistered sisters in a beautiful area with a magnificent chapel where they observe perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They are dressed in pink and white habits and you never saw such happy faces – angels. Our Lord must really love these humble, loving, simple sisters as they pray and adore the Lord 24 hours a day. And you should have heard them sing! I could have sat and listened for hours.

They invited me to share a few things. I sat with a microphone and immediately we were friends.  Then they asked Janet to share and she did a great job – funny, warm and engaging; they laughed and clapped. It was hard to break away from these lovely brides of Christ.

Sister Mary Clare, the Mother Superior, gave us their fax number so we could fax them prayer requests! – WOW! What a deal! They said they would pray for us EVERY day and be delighted to take our special prayer requests. They are watching our Footprints of God DVDs and said they would pray every day for our project. What a gift!

After lunch in the mountains we went right to the airport to return to Manila. Under the stars we had dinner of rice with squid’s ink, seafood soup, shrimp pasta, crab in the shell, “chocolate soup” (pigs blood with pieces of the pigs head!), and cooked baby chickens still in the shell. There were also salads, mango desserts and much more.

The End of the Race and I’m Still Alive:

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We have joked that the title of our service in the Philippines was the “They’re Trying to Kill Me Tour.” My new bumper sticker should be “I survived the DFF.” When we returned to Manila, we met with the Defensores Fidei Foundation: Rommie and Melanie Chan, Alex Tan, Henry Siy, Jerry Castro, Edgar de Vera, Tom Borromeo, Digoy, Chit, and the new members Carlos and Esteban Raymundo. Dicky Boncan was unable to attend. Words cannot express our appreciation to these great folks. I want to especially thank Rommie and Melanie Chan for their hospitality and generosity. They are model Christians. Henry Siy? His friendship and attentive care cannot be described. Thanks also to Alex for all his help and for driving us around.

We planned our next trip – January 2006 since the sooner we plan our next mission trip the better. I have never spoken to 375,000 people at one time before. I wonder what that will be like.

I’m writing this on the plane high over the Atlantic. Can’t wait to get home.