InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – Cebu in partnership with OM (Operations Mobilization) conducted a mission-exposure last August 23-24, in Gilutongan. It is a 15-hectare island located a few kilometers off Cordova in Cebu. During that weekend, we were given the opportunity to share the gospel to hundreds of kids and some households in the area. I was also invited to speak during the Sunday service in a small local church. It was not only my first time to deliver a sermon, but it was also my first time to deliver a public address in straight Cebuano.
You would probably associate the small island of Gilutongan with the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary, a popular tourist destination in Cebu. Images of big fishes feeding on bread crumbs from your bare hand, white bangkas (motorized boats) against the blue Visayas sea, and the faint outline of mainland Cebu on the horizon amidst a blue tropical sky – easily come to mind upon the mere mention of the place.
But the real Gilutongan is far from the picturesque island-hopping stopover we may know about. Consider the following: only 13 out of the 250 homes have toilets; the island does not have potable water supply, a sewage system or electricity; gambling is rampant because it is tolerated by the local officials; and the saddest part of all is that most, if not all, of the children we met during that weekend were malnourished, dirty and uncared for.
Indeed, poverty finds itself in every square foot of sand in Gilutongan.
But I know the Lord has not forgotten this small island. The small church I mentioned is continually praying for the land where they will be building a bigger church structure and a community hospital. A Korean church is supporting them in this endeavor.
We left with the hope that God is not yet done with the island.
I know this because of what happened happened during our return trip. Just a few minutes into the open sea, the waves started to became unruly. There was a big wave that rocked hard our small and overloaded bangka. I imagine that anything larger than that would have have capsized our boat. I could not exactly put into words what we felt during that time. We were all afraid at the possibility of being thrown overboard. But the Lord is sovereign and is still in control. Our return trip took us a bit longer than the usual as our bangka carefully and slowly negotiated its way through the raging sea. Until now, I am still in awe at how the Lord used that impossible circumstance to demonstrate His glory.
More than our near accident experience, the real stories of the hundreds of children and families of Gilutongan must be told. The residents have to be pulled out of the quagmire of poverty. The local government cannot go on brazenly inviting more and more tourists to enjoy the marine sanctuary without truly looking after the welfare of the people in the island. Their problems must be addressed through sustainable and practical ways if only to end this vicious cycle.
If you happen to stop over the marine sanctuary in your future island hopping escapades, pray that the Php 50.00 entrance fee that you pay would translate into meaningful and tangible opportunities for the residents in Gilutongan. Visit the island when you can. Because there is more to the see than the tropical fishes, the crystal clear sea, and the blue summer sky.