For most Americans, water safety means not getting into the pool after a full meal. For a group of dedicated Filipinos who work in the remote islands of the Sulu Sea, water safety means life and death.
For their organization,* these workers travel to remote SW Philippine islands where they help improve living conditions by providing basic sanitation education and creating simple infrastructure projects such as rainwater catchment and storage. But their true passion is introducing people to the Lord and discipleship on a one-to-one basis, all without formal support or structure. They work in an area where sharing God’s Word is prohibited and face death if they are found out.
They face another life-threatening danger. To reach the remote areas where they work, they must travel for hours on the treacherous waters of the Sulu Sea in boats of questionable seaworthiness. They all know the dangers involved in their travel and fear the potential consequences of a boat disaster that would leave them tossed into the sea.
To address these very real dangers, their organization requested that a JAARS water safety team conduct a training session for them in the Philippines. In October, the team—Maritime Services Director Tim McIntosh, Stacie McIntosh, Glen Adams and volunteer Brandon Styers— traveled to Davao, Philippines, to conduct this important training. Stacie, Tim’s wife, played an important role, ensuring cultural sensitivities were respected for the conservative Filipino women undergoing the training.
JAARS Maritime Services conducts many water safety and survival courses around the States and worldwide. This one was different. The usual course takes half a day and has 5-10 students. This one took two full days plus lead-in training, and over 40 people participated. Several of the Filipinos did not know how to swim and had never been in the water. Others were fearful of open water or lacked confidence in standard survival equipment. One student asked, “How long will the life vest keep me afloat?”
Tim and his team started with basic training in a community pool, encouraging the non-swimmers to put their heads underwater and demonstrating some basic swimming strokes. The next day the entire group of 42 transitioned to a beach where they could practice using the various tools in the “ditch bag” in water depths that progressed from shallow to over-their- heads. After that, the group boarded a boat where they could gain experience and build confidence surviving in open water over 1,000-feet deep.
“The course was a great success from a number of standpoints,” summarized McIntosh. “The students had fun, gained confidence, learned basic survival techniques and team building methods. From our standpoint, it was satisfying to have their undistracted attention for two full days. They were fully engaged at all times and were clearly motivated to learn the lessons and techniques we were teaching.”
The recipients of the training were equally pleased. The leader of the group sent the following email to Tim upon his return, “We praise God for your time with us. All the workers had a great time with all of you, and they have learned so many things.”
Danger will be ever present in the lives of these dedicated workers as they strive to share the Word of the Lord in a hostile environment. Glen Adams, one of the JAARS team members, had this takeaway from the trip: “I came away feeling guilty that my life as a believer is so easy in comparison to the constant challenges these servants of the Lord face!” Now at least these dedicated disciples can worry less about the dangers of their overwater travel, thanks to the team from JAARS.
*Name omitted for security purposes.