The story of five teens, a mission trip, an island... and a disaster.
|Where they had been going on that fateful day, they will never forget.
The group had been on their way to the more... poverty-stricken side of the Philippines, right in the middle of hurricane season. They knew it was.... unwise, possibly foolish, but they were there for a good reason: to spread the good word of God.
Parker Maddson, whom I will add is Australian, Brodie and Natalie Pickett, Sarah Wesley, and Oliver Mende were part of a Christian youth group that had been saving up for the charity mission for the entire year.... and now they were finally doing it.
"Parker, Sarah, would you go and spread the good news?" Mrs. Winch asked brightly.
They were holding a soup kitchen in the big warehouse, giving a meal and a ministry to all those who entered, to quote what Mrs. Winch said exactly.
Sarah, a perky strawberry-blonde with a knack for socializing, gave an excited smile and was dragging Parker outside before he could utter a word. Not that he objected. Everyone felt great about what they were doing, and loved doing it. There was something about giving to the poor that set someone's heart racing with glee.
"Ow, ow, you can let go," Parker muttered as he stumbled behind Sarah by the sleeve of his jacket.
She let go abruptly and yanked the hood of her own jacket up, motioning for Parker to do the same. A light drizzle fell from the sky, but that didn't minimize the humidity at all. "Where should we start first?" She wondered aloud.
Parker shrugged. "Well, there's always the salvage yard. We can walk that far and then come back. Catch whoever we missed."
Sarah shot him a wary look as they headed for the north side of the island. "You say that like we're searching for fugitives," She mumbled, prompting Parker to grin.
It was rather sad, gazing around at the soggy wreckage of the used-to-be town. Piles of plywood sat off to the side of the road, and if you weren't careful, you would trip over a loose chain that a dog had left behind in the mud. A few rusty steel pots sat collecting the gentle rain with a soft, rhythmic plinking as the drops tumbled in.
Parker and Sarah were about to walk right past in when a small, bony figure scrambled out and across the street, narrowly missing collision with the two American teenagers. Well, one American, one Australian. "Crikey!" Parker blurted in surprise. His exclamation scared the child (yes, it was a child, they now realized) even further, and he ducked under a lightly billowing tarp.
"We won't hurt you!" Sarah said kindly. "We just wanted to let everyone know that we're serving a free meal at the big warehouse. Would you like to come?"
Parker knew that the child should be wary of how friendly she was being.... any reasonable person would. But it was obvious that this kid was starving. A moment later, those big brown eyes peeked out from under the tarp to gaze at Sarah. Then those eyes flickered to look at Parker, who smiled.
Then he realized that this child probably didn't understand English. The only hint of them not being dangerous would be the sound of their voices... not their words. "Sarah, he doesn't understand," Parker whispered.
A frown darkened Sarah's face, frightening the child into scurrying backward. "Oh, it's okay!" She chattered. Then she hesitated for a moment. "Um.... food?"
The little boy's eyes widened. "Pagkain?" He whispered in awe.
Parker whipped out his cell phone to pull up Google Translate.... as it turned out, "pagkain" meant "food". Next he looked up how to say yes in Filipino. "Oo, pagkain," He said once he got the translation, nodding and smiling although his words were a little messed up by his accent. "Uh.... malaki bodega."
The child's eyes stretched even wider, like he'd just been told where to find three million dollars. "Totoo ito?"
Sarah looked to Parker, who had already typed the words in. Again, he smiled and said, "Oo."
With that, the little boy shot out from underneath the tarp, darting up the street.... away from the warehouse. He was screaming one thing over and over again. "Pagkain! Walang gastos! Malaki bodega!"
Sarah and Parker watched in awe as dozens, maybe even hundreds of dark, thin figures appeared from under piles of rubble and tarps, behind dilapidated structures and from trees. "Well," Parker chuckled as the child ran further and further up the street, still screaming. "I think our little messenger boy can take it from here."
When Parker and Sarah returned to the warehouse, it was filled with small families huddled in corners, children lining up at the table to have their meal served to them, and youth group members getting attacked by Filipino toddlers. Mrs. Winch was waving for them to come help behind the table. They quickly traded in their jackets for dorky looking aprons and took their places behind different pots and pans, ready to serve.
Everyone knew how to ask their part in Filipino. Parker would ask ,"Gusto mo patatas?" And if the person answered yes, he'd serve them with a ladle full of steaming mashed potatoes. Sarah took charge of the baked beans, Oliver the green beans, and basically everyone knew their place and did their part. There wasn't much time for freelancing, or someone would get cranky for not getting their food.
Natalie Pickett, who was by far the most gutsy of them all, accidentally drove away a few adults that couldn't deal with her attitude. Don't take it the wrong way... she was truly a nice person, once you got to know her. The attitude was just a thing that happened whenever she got a little frustrated.
Her brother, Brodie, had to remind her many times to lower the "tude" level.
"Relax," She muttered. "It was only three people."
"Three hungry people," Sarah pointed out, causing several youth members to smirk. She frowned at them all. "It's not funny! This is a chance for a solid, nutritious meal that shouldn't be destroyed by some sassy teenagers attitude. So quit it, Nat. Nothing personal, but I'd like to help the needy, not drive them away."
"Whoa," Parker said with a laugh, his hands in the air to protect himself. "Easy, tiger!"
The humor of the moment faded as Mrs. Winch clanged a loud, annoying bell to silence the entire building. All conversation ended abruptly. "Paumanhin sa abala sa iyo, ngunit may ay isang storm warning, sinabi na maging isang posibleng bagyo. Umaasa kami na ikaw ay sumang-ayon upang manatili dito para sa shelter ... ang bagyo ay nagsimula, ngunit ito ay hindi masyadong masama pa. May tanong?"
None of the hundred youth members understood a single word she was saying, until the translator... well, translated. It was a storm warning. A big one, possibly a hurricane, and she had been instructing everyone to stay inside the warehouse.
The storm had almost started, and they hadn't even noticed.
Suddenly at least five different people began ranting in Filipino at Mrs. Winch, and they seemed terrified.
"Are they... begging for something?" Oliver wondered, fingering the hem of the table cloth.
Parker shrugged. "No idea."
Mrs. Winch struggled to quiet them, but when she finally did, she let out an anxious huff and jogged over to the table as conversation returned to at least three fourths of the building. Before they knew it, Parker, Oliver, and Brodie were being urgently summoned over to a corner. After exchanging curious glances, they took off their aprons and hurried over to Mrs. Winch.
"What's up?" Parker wondered.
"We've got a problem," Mrs. Winch sighed. "Those people that started yelling? They've still got kids and family out there, without shelter." She eyed each of them by turn, seeming uncertain of something. "I need some people to go out and retrieve them, otherwise they'll refuse to stay here. I can't risk letting them leave."
"And you want us to go?" Brodie puffed incredulously, raking a hand through his hair. "I mean, I'll do it, but we have no idea where to find them!"
"Just drive all around, up to the city gates and back," Mrs. Winch begged. There was a flare in her eyes that told them this was important to her... almost part of her job. The chatter of the makeshift-cafeteria seemed to die down as she whispered to them one more time before hustling them out the door. "Pick up anyone you can."
Parker took the wheel, not because he wanted to, but because everyone knew he was experienced with the roughest terrain. And those mud-slippery roads were not easy to drive on by far, especially in the rain, which had picked up enough to be coming down in torrents. Anyone who stepped outside would be soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes.
"We can't see anything in this rain!" Oliver heaved an edgy sigh. "You know what, I don't care about getting wet any more." And with that, he rolled down his window and stuck his head out to search, letting the wind carry it's own flood of water inside the van....
.... just as Parker slammed on the brakes.
They went sliding in the watery mud. A moment later, the car was no longer facing the road, with a wheel stuck in a rut.
"What was that for?" Brodie shouted over the noise of the wind.
"There's some drongo standing in the middle of the road!" Parker hollered back before shoving the door open and leaping out of the van into the downpour of rain. Brodie heard him yell something at the stranger before he hopped out as well, but it was all Australian slang.
It was a man. Not just a man, but obviously he had his three young children with him. All of them were hunched over with garbage can lids over their heads in attempt to protect themselves from the rain. The father was shouting something in Filipino. "Somebody get Google Translate or something!" Parer bellowed over the wind.
Oliver shook his head. "Won't work!" He yelled, jerking his hood lower over his head to keep the rain from whipping into his face. It didn't help much. "There's no signal in this storm!"
Parker slammed the hood of the van in anger. "Well, we're not going anywhere with this!" He sighed loudly. "How are we supposed to find the rest of them?"
"All I know is, if you keep acting so mad, you'll scare them off!" Brodie yelled from the other side of the car. He was stooped over with his hands stuffed in his pockets. "Come on, Parker, the wind's picking up pretty bad. Look at the ground!"
For the first time, Parker they all looked down and realized that they were up to their ankles in floodwater, which was rushing toward the city border.
The border. Something clicked in Oliver's head, and suddenly he leaped up to grab the gear out of the car. "We'll go to the city!" He cried out, shoving the backpacks at his friends. "There's plenty of shelter there."
"They don't let the poverts in there!" Parker hollered, but took the backpack anyway. "At least we can try, and call the Winch to tell her we're in a bingle."
No one knew what that meant, but they didn't bother to ask. They took some time to convince the little family that they were trying to help, which was difficult, considering the language difference. But they accomplished it. Pretty soon, they were running through the flooded streets toward the city, the stony prickles of fear rising steadily in their chests.
"This is so not cool," Natalie huffed. Needless to say, she was a nervous wreck, raking her hand through her shoulder-length hair over and over again, pacing and muttering, shouting something at someone occasionally. "Why on earth did you send my brother out in a hurricane to fend for himself?!"
"He's not alone!" Mrs. Winch countered, although she wasn't too sure of herself either. "Parker and Oliver are with him, and Oliver's learned self-defense before."
"That doesn't help in a hurricane!"
"Well, Parker's from Australia, he's used to the harsh tongue of nature," Mrs. Winch murmured, lowering her head.
Becca, who was a good friend of Sarah's, plopped herself onto a crate and crossed her ankles in a way that told everyone she was just as idea-less as anyone else. "That's just what everyone says," She sighed. "In reality, Australia usually has a lot of good weather. At least in the part that he's from. So he's good with a mountain bike and a five inch wide ridge to ride on.... it's not going to do much good in -"
"Alright, enough pessimism!" Sarah blurted.
The entire warehouse, including those shuddering Filipinos, fell silent and suddenly she felt as if she was in the center of attention. The only sound they could hear was the distant sirens of the city, muffled by the constant downpour of rain.
"How much farther?" Parker bellowed. The wind was yanking at their jackets now, whipping them in every direction so violently it was impossible to keep their hoods up without holding on to them tightly with both hands. Rain pelted them in the face. Floodwater pushed them from the knees down. Every once in a while a loose board wood float down and whack one of them from behind... or even worse, a drowned animal.
"I can see the lights!" Oliver yelled. An old book whisked past his face, the pages spewing out of their cover to float down the floodwater river. The cover, on the other hand, landed on a dead chicken, which had probably gotten stuck in its shack and drowned.
"Poor chook," Parker muttered under his breath. No one heard him. The wind had picked up so that even when they shouted, they could barely be heard.
Suddenly he seemed to get shoved to the ground! "Crikey!" He yelped, stumbling to catch himself. "Somebody grab me!"
Then his hand was seized by the Filipino man's. The next thing they knew, they were all holding hands, the Filipino children in the middle, Parker in front. Oliver stayed in back.
All Brodie could think of was Natalie, worrying away back at the warehouse.
Let's hope we all make it to the city in one piece, He thought with a shudder....
..... just as Parker dropped, disappearing into the water.
"Parker!" Brodie cried. Oliver didn't notice the problem at first. The man that had been holding Parker's hand splashed through the water after him frantically.
"Ang iyong kaibigan ay nasaktan! Tulungan mo ako!"
"What's wrong?" Oliver practically screamed.
"Parker!" Brodie screamed back. He dove halfway into the water. Nothing. Now Oliver was searching, his eyes wide and panicked. Water tore at them as they hollered and swam, grabbing at anything that resembled a human.
Suddenly the man jerked a soaking wet object out of the flood.