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This excerpt is from The Prince of Sumba, Husband to Many Wives.
Copyright 1998 Don Milton All Rights Reserved.
All Copyright Laws Apply - Thou Shalt Not Steal

Chapters: [Prologue] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]  [19]  [20]  [21]  [22]  [23]  [24]  [25]  [26]

Chapter 9 - John's Place

  John led us to a structure at the side of his compound that was overlooking the road we'd just come up. He'd converted the deck of an old ship into a gazebo of sorts, complete with masts, wheel, and navigational instruments. John, his family and the others sat down to take in the view as I took the helm. Turning the wheel this way and that, I wondered if this ship had ever been at sea or if it was just a novelty where a man could dream. To fly from one jungle mountain peak to another; suspended on the wings of his own imagination. When I stopped playing with the wheel, Asina shouted.
   "Don't stop, Ish, You've been fanning all of us with your day dreams. Dream on!"
   Were they all laughing at me or at Asina's quick wit. Sam felt obliged to intercede.
   "Don't be embarrassed, Ish. John had me fanning his whole family for nearly half an hour before I realized the wheel was attached to these fans."
   Sam pointed to the fans above the seating.
   "I'd sailed this ship to that mountain top across the canyon before I woke from my day dream. How far did you get, Ish?"
   Distracted from my day dream, I protested.
   "Hey, no visitors allowed. You interrupted a perfectly good day dream."
   "So what were you dreaming of, Ish?" Suni asked.
   Asina couldn't resist.
   "He was dreaming of you, Suni! Just don't forget you were only playing his wife at the Bible study."
   "Uhhhhhh." The other girls lifted their voices to tease Suni.
   I wondered now if Suni had noticed my leering at her as she sashayed about her Sari-Sari store on the day we'd arrived. If so, she certainly had reason to believe that I found her attractive. It was surprising that such a feminine charmer had not been seriously courted. Then I remembered how few single Christian men there were in Sam's church. It was only yesterday that I'd attended my first after service coffee but now it seemed so distant. So much had happened in just one day. I prayed in my thoughts that Suni would soon find the right man. Why should she have to settle for less than she deserved.
   Suni was silent in response to the teasing, resigned to the fact that they'd never stop. Even my wife Mary believed that Suni had a crush on me. She said it wasn't unusual and that Suni wouldn't be the last Christian girl on Mindanao to have eyes for me. Pastors were the ultimate catch. She told me it was one of the hazards of the job but this was one hazard the mission board hadn't told me about.
   John graciously interrupted the teasing.
   "We'll be eating within a few minutes and I'd like to give you a chance to see more of our place before lunch." He walked up the steps to his palatial home and nodded in the direction of Lake Lanao. "The city that you see there in the distance is the Islamic City of Marawi, probably ten miles as the crow flies. Those dots you see on the lake are rather large fishing boats. We've got some binoculars around here somewhere and you can have a look after we eat. The trees that you see growing on our mountain are redwoods. Ish, you know them as Philippine Mahogany. Probably not like the jungle you'd imagined, huh? We're at an elevation of just over 4000 feet and fairly safe from the storms on this side of the mountain since they blow in from the east. We hope you'll be able to stay for the night. It will give you a chance to see our mountain sunset."
   Sam answered for us, "Ish, Mary, this is the beginning of the adventure we promised. I hope you'll enjoy it."
   Mary gushed in response to John's invitation, "It's wondrous. What a beautiful place you and your family have. Of course we'll stay."
   One of John's wives now spoke, or was it one of his older daughters? I wasn't sure.
   "Thank you Mary. Our home is your home."
   John gave me and Sam a private tour while Mary and Sarisa went off with the rest of the family.
   John took me and Sam to his armory first. He had an impressive array of knives and guns. I'd seen some like them at gun shows; well out of my price range. Then he took us to a room at the center of his armory. I wondered if the contents of the boxes he'd brought from the market lay beyond the door. Instead, the door opened to reveal a huge library. His collection included an enviable assortment of antique books. He had many of the major works of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, written in German, Spanish, English, and Dutch.
   "They were a gift to me." John said.
   "Some gift! The giver was very generous. Paradise Lost, Pilgrims Progress in all these languages? You've got most of Shakespeare's works in both German and English. And tracts? You've got something here written by John Milton bearing a print date of 1662. That's during his lifetime!"
   "I did well then. Go ahead, page through them. They won't break." John assured me.
   While I was going through John's library, he and Sam were enjoying coffee and cookies and a leisurely conversation. I was too enlivened by my new discovery to take part. Just then I found something I could scarcely believe.
   "John!" I caught myself shouting then whispered, "Do you realize that these eight books alone are worth well over a quarter million dollars?" I showed him the eight identical issues of John Milton's Paradise Lost with a print date of 1667.
   "$327,672 the last time I priced them. You'll find they're in mint condition, Ish. Printed by Simmons."
   "Sorry John, I guess in my excitement, I forgot the obvious. What collector of such books wouldn't know the value?"
   "Don't feel bad, Ish. It's hard to believe that such books could be found on a jungle mountain top either, but here they are. Haven't you noticed how dry the air is in my library?"
   "The air does feel a bit dry." I answered.
   "I have the humidity controlled. These books are literally immortal."
   "In more ways than one." I replied.
   The smell of paper and ink filled my nostrils. More so, my head was filled with wonderings. I wondered what occasioned the Lord to choose one man over another. Why choose Martin Luther to open up the gospel to the common man in the 16th century? Why use John Milton in the 17th century to reveal through epic prose the glory of God's free gift of salvation? Why use the Wesleys with their preaching and song to lay the way for the great revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries and what lesson was the Lord revealing to us in the decline of 20th century morality? Yes, I wondered and I pondered. Would the 21st century bring someone new? Was yesterday's revival part of some new plan the Lord had begun? Oh that I could be blessed by the Lord to open the path for a new awakening. There was my ego again or was it the Lord's destiny calling me. I prayed in silence that whatever it was, I would trust in the LORD with all my heart; and lean not unto my own understanding.1
   "I'm sure lunch is ready." John said as he led us to the door.
   As soon as we stepped outside, the extraordinary aromas from the kitchen wiped out any memory of the smell of old books, paper, and ink. I could have easily found the food with my eyes shut but pretended ignorance as John led us inside.
   His dining hall had among many other furnishings, a banquet sized table whose top was made of a single cut of narra. It had intricate designs along the edges, inlaid mother of pearl, and a glasslike finish. It was the only table of its kind I'd ever seen. It finally dawned on me that John was a very rich man.
   John and his entire family were now seated around the table with me, Sam, Sarisa, Mary, and the girls. My appetite by this time had grown and not just for food. I wanted to hear what must be an incredible tale of adventure and faith. Few men had John's riches and fewer still, a family such as this.
   "Sam, will you lead us in prayer?" John asked.
   "Heavenly Father I ask that You bless this food and this household. I ask that You bless Ish and Mary as well as the other guests. Guide our hearts as each new truth you reveal. I especially ask, Lord, that you will guide me and Ish and John as we are the heads of our wives. Guide our wives also as they submit to us in the Lord. In the precious Name of Our Lord & Savior Jesus, Who is Messiah, Amen."
   "Amen." We all agreed.
   Nearly forty of us now sat around John's banquet table. His wives kept busy moving plates of food between us. Even a Hollywood set designer couldn't have produced a more spectacular presentation. At each end of the table was a small litson baka, that is to say a caramel brown roasted cow. There must have been a dozen roasted manok Bisaya. That's what they call their free-range chickens. Some were basted with coconut milk and cloves, others with chopped tomato and onion sauce and of course all had plenty of garlic used skillfully to enhance the flavor. There was Orange Chicken, Chinese style and every type of fresh vegetable you could imagine prepared in all manner of ways and fruits with names I couldn't pronounce.
   "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Sam opened the conversation, "It looks like all of John's wives took that route. Wouldn't you agree, Ish?"
   "A well worn path indeed!" I couldn't believe what I'd just said but everyone laughed, especially John.
   Now that the ice was broken, the members of John's family went straight to making conversation with whoever sat nearest them. They were wonderfully hospitable and the food was bountiful.
   The beautiful young woman who'd earlier told us their house was our home came over to me.
   "I'm sorry, Pastor Ish, I didn't introduce myself earlier. I'm Ruth, John's eldest daughter."
   "Nice to meet you Ruth. Please, call me Ish. This is a wonderful dinner you all have prepared for us."
   "Thank you, Ish. I brought a tray that has everything we've cooked so that you can decide what you like best."
   "That was kind of you." I replied.
   I thought she was simply going to put the tray on the table between me and Mary but instead she pulled up a chair and inserted it between the two of us and sat down. Before I had a chance to consider what she was doing she lifted a piece of something to my mouth, feeding me.
   "Snow peas and bamboo shoots in tamarind sauce. You like it?"
   My mouth was full so I just nodded. It was tart and tangy without a hint of hot. The bamboo shoots and snow pea pods crunched lightly in the creamy sauce. Maybe if I'd had this as a boy I would have been able to finish my vegetables. As if reading my mind, Ruth said.
   "The children love it. It's not too spicy."
   She was about to stuff my mouth again so I covered it and asked, "So, how many children are there?" I let down my guard long enough for Ruth to scoop in another mouthful as she said,
   "Stuffing made of ground beef, eggs, lemon, green peppers, crumbs from our native bread and a portion of love."
   I could taste the love. She continued.
   "My father has twenty eight children. I'm the only daughter of marriageable age."
   Suni, who had been sitting on the other side of me, now picked up something from the platter and much less delicately than Ruth shoved a piece into my mouth.
   "Our native fruit, langka, sweet to the taste and soft to the touch with a double portion of love." Suni recited this local proverb as if wanting to make sure I knew she could pamper me every bit as much as Ruth.
   I placed my hand on Suni's to convey that I understood. It was enough. She went back to the conversation she'd been having with another of John's family as if Ruth and I didn't exist. Mary was quietly shaking her head in disbelief over my encounter with Ruth and peering at me sideways. She smiled and nodded as if to signal that she understood that she dared not interfere with anything that might be local custom, then she returned to her conversation with one of John's wives. Ah, local custom, sometimes a pain but today, a one of a kind experience. Well, not to leave Suni out, I should say, two of a kind.
   Ruth continued feeding me, telling me about each dish they had prepared and making sure that I knew which of them was her own contribution.
   In the middle of the table was a huge kettle of kalabaw stew, Bisaya for water buffalo. I had not cared much for this when I'd tried it in the city but Ruth assured me that I would like it.
   "This one was made from a young and fat kalabaw, fed only on rice." She said, spoon feeding me.
   "Mmm." I hummed.
   I recognized only a few of the fruits that Ruth had adorning her platter. Some had simply been peeled. Others were in a sweet sauce that accentuated the taste.
   "We call this the forbidden fruit." Ruth said. "You must not eat too much of it."
   She held it to my lips first then placed it in my mouth. It reminded me of the flavor of a candy that I'd had as a child.
   "So... why shouldn't I eat too much of it, Ruth?"
   "A single lady with honor cannot discuss such things. Have Mary ask Sarisa about it later. I'm sure she knows." Ruth answered shyly.
   I wondered what it could be, a love potient? And it was being fed to me by John's beautiful young, and, in her words, marriageable daughter? What could be next?
   I could see now that Ruth was doing all she could to keep from laughing out loud.
   "Silly," she said, "It's an apple."
   She batted her eyes in jest, then elbowed me.
   "You're a character, Ish. I bet you weren't this easy to tease when you were a college boy."
   She was right. In college I was an egotistical dog. Most college boys were. It didn't make any difference that I was a Christian. Any woman who sought my attention had to be flawless. Any defect could easily disqualify her; being too nice, being too mean, being too flirtatious, not being flirtatious enough. If I couldn't find an imperfection at first sight, I'd find one soon enough. That is, until I met Mary. I was thankful that this interchange with Ruth had reminded me of Mary, the great love of my life.
   Ruth now opened the huge decorative oyster shell that was in the middle of her platter. There were tiny oysters floating in sauce.
   "Oysters in cashew sauce with ginger and diced lamb. This is our customary dish for a groom on his wedding night, and this time I'm not kidding, Ish."
   As well I knew. All four ingredients were high in zinc. I remembered what I'd studied; that the Israelite men were believed to have been extremely fertile because of their high intake of lamb. I wondered; why was Ruth feeding me as if it were my wedding night? Did she have plans for me or did they simply have a custom to feed their guest of honor by the hand of their most beautiful maiden?
   Ruth raised the spoon again to my lips. It was exquisite. I could taste each ingredient and yet they combined into something entirely different. I let her feed me till I had finished all of it. She then put her delicate fingers into the sauce that remained in the bottom of the oyster shell and pulled out a small pearl. Wiping it with a cloth, she handed it to me.
   "This is for you to remember this day."
   "Thank you Ruth, I will."
   I wondered if there was some hidden meaning behind Ruth's gesture with the pearl. Nonetheless, I would remember this day. I couldn't help but think that John had given me the highest honor a guest could have; to be fed by the hand of his maiden daughter.
   After Ruth had hand fed me a sample of everything on the platter, she asked.
   "So which of these would you like me to bring you?"
   "They all tasted fantastic Ruth, especially what you prepared, but I'm full. You fed me so much. Thank you."
   I bit my tongue to keep from saying anything more. I wanted to tell her that it had been one of the most sensual experiences I'd ever had. Just the same, I'm sure she saw it in my eyes.
   "Thanks for letting me serve you, Ish."
   Ruth left to clean up after the feast. My eyes followed her, feasting once again. Just before going through the kitchen doors she turned as if knowing our eyes would meet. They did. Her eyes were warm and full of love. I hadn't seen such eyes in many years. Did she know my hunger better than I? Was this simple desire the beginning of a series of steps that would lead to sin or had I already sinned by desiring her?
   I knew John would have been pleased to see me marry his daughter and Suni was no longer hiding her own desire for me. I suddenly realized that I'd been studying how to witness to polygamous peoples for so long that I was lost in confusion. I could no longer distinguish between the rules that applied to them and those that I must follow. I was even beginning to question how those two sets of rules could be different. I took a deep breath and let it out. Then I assured myself that once Mary and I were far from this place that my desire would be for her only. I remembered the verse that Mary so loved reading to me, Philippians 4:8:

   "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

   My breathing grew shallow again as my chest tightened. Why did Mary's favorite verse have to come to mind right at this moment? Ruth and the girls who accompanied us fit the description in this verse precisely! Was the Lord speaking to me through Mary's favorite verse? Was I to think on the girls or was I simply an over imaginative husband whose wife had forgotten the words of my grandfather at our wedding;
   "A wife whose words are never praise
    A mistress fair will soon replace."

1. Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

 Click Here to Go to Chapter 10 - A Hard TeachingNote: This excerpt is from The Prince of Sumba, Husband to Many Wives.
Copyright 1998 Don Milton All Rights Reserved.
All Copyright Laws Apply - Thou Shalt Not Steal

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