Riding on a “skylab” in the jungles of the Philippines. It’s a vehicle you probably haven’t ridden in, in a place you probably haven’t been.
But Judy Clarke has.
“A couple of years ago, I quite clearly stated to Trev, my husband, that I had ‘had it up to my ears’ riding skylabs.”
A skylab, Judy explains, is what the locals call a motorbike that has planks mounted on each side so that extra cargo or many people can fit on it. The record number of people she knows of is 12.
It gained its name because of the uncanny resemblance it has to a satellite with solar panels down each side.
“Have you ever had the experience of being able to run a whole string of thoughts together as you go flying through the air?” asks Judy.
Travel by skylabs was once a very big part of Judy’s life. And not necessarily a joyful part, she says.
Judy and her husband, Trevor, first arrived in the little village that became their home in 2005. Prior to that, they had been support missionaries in town.
When Judy and Trevor joined Gene and Carol Trudeau, who were working among the Manobo people, the process of Bible translation was already well under way there. Judy and Trevor worked to support Gene and Carol in “all manner of the practical aspects of the work” until 2011 when the translation of the New Testament was completed and they worked themselves out of a job.
When they departed, fresh in Judy’s mind was a previous skylab encounter when the vehicle she was riding on had flipped and flung her from its back. So she left the village feeling very glad that her skylab-riding days were at an end.
After their departure from village ministry, she and Trevor had moved back to New Zealand to continue serving God there with NTM.
And quite unexpectedly, a few weeks ago, Judy was back aboard a skylab, headed once again for the little village that had been their home for six years.
Judy shares, “It was sooo awesome! … It was great to see that, despite the hardships that these believers face, some of them are faithfully teaching others.” She cites the example of a young family who are, by faith, in the process of moving to another area hundreds of kilometres away to be missionaries there.
So being back in their old village home was both encouraging and rewarding.
“Strangely enough,” Judy writes, “it was also awesome to travel the trail again on the skylab. It was even fun to use the raft to float across the river! Years ago, the raft was just another thing to contend with. … I never took time before to realise how much fun it actually used to be.”
It’s hard for Judy to explain the joys of this time they spent revisiting the village. She thinks of it as a sort of bonus blessing from God for some earlier hard times.
“It is amazing,” she says, “to look back on—and have been part in the lives of—these first-generation believers and know that they are faithfully moving forward despite the obstacles that they face. It was without doubt a big blessing from the Lord that He would allow us to go back for a visit and see growth and maturity that comes with time.”
Judy reflects further, “Not everyone gets the privilege of going back and seeing that people have grown in their walk with the Lord. So glad that we did!”