"I think Jesus is sad today."
These were the words spoken by Kori, our 17 year old daughter after witnessing the events of this day.
Good Friday dawned in Manila with an eerie quite in the normally bustling city.
Ayala Avenue, the "Wall Street of the Philippines," was devoid of cars and we drove out of the city headed to the site of the crucifixions.
Our destination was in the province of Pampanga in the city of San Fernando and the barrio of Cutud.
It was here we found the people and for the next 4 hours found it hard to navigate in the crushing crowds and stifling heat.
I will probably never do this again. There really is no words to explain the spiritual oppression. The closest I can describe it is to say, this must have been a similar atmosphere as in times past when they beheaded people in the town square or set the condemned aflame in a bonfire of public judgment.
The scenes were gruesome yet the crowd was festive, almost giddy with the sight of so much blood. Vendors were selling balloons and other party wares, baby chickens were painted bright colors and were for sale everywhere you looked. People laughed, ice cream trucks played carnival music, and cameras and video cameras were in almost every hand.
I jumped out of the vehicle and began shooting pictures.
This was to be the first of many groups of staggering, bleeding, suffering, misguided souls.
Their backs had been sliced in ribbons and then as they walked, they swung whips with a clump of wooden rods tied at the end, to keep the blood flowing.
When they walked by, we lowered our umbrellas to shield ourselves from the splattering blood.
There was blood everywhere they went, covering the village's walls, cars, and people who lined the way.
As they walked by, I wondered what their individual penance was. Each person had cut a deal with God, "If you heal my mother, I will do penance 7 years." Or, things like, "I am sorry for the crimes I have committed, so I will do penance 3 years."
The wooden mallet in this man's hand was one of the tools used to cut the initial wounds. It was embedded with rows of razors and was plowed down the backs to get the blood flowing.
They stopped at each Catholic church and laid down to receive more wounds, and more beatings. In this church the flagellants appeared to be children, just small, frail bodies. They laid down and children began to beat them with sticks and with whips.
It was particularly disturbing to see just how much they allowed the children to take part.
Here are more children beating the backs of the men. They swung the whips and sticks with a pronounced sense of accomplishment.
Instead of playing "Cops and Robbers," the children of this village play "Crucified and Soldier" with every child desiring to play the part of the one crucified.
We don't know for sure, but these children seemed to be following their father. They were walking between the crowd control rails which were reserved for the participants and family. They were not enjoying it as much as the others, they were crying.
They need to be freed from this sort of mental bondage. Jesus doesn't want this boy to grow up thinking he needs to suffer to get God's attention.
This man collapsed from the ordeal.
No one stopped to help him, they just walked by.
He eased back against the barrier, cameras clicking, and sat for a long while.
The loudspeakers were playing praise and worship songs, songs we sing. Yet no one was worshipping.
The flagellant's path made its way up to Golgotha, the hill with the three crosses. They prayed at the crosses for a time and then headed back down, whip coiled in hand, wounded by a religion that failed to tell them about the amazing Grace of the Cross.
After the flagellants passed, wave after staggering wave, here came the 16 volunteers who would be crucified at this place for the 2009 season. This is only one of many sites across the Philippines where this scene was being played out.
They called it a "Passion Play." Yet there was no play to it.
Roman soldiers, carrying real nails made their way up to hill and got ready for the crucifixions.
Here was the first to be crucified. These people gain great notoriety from doing this and are quite popular in this country.
Strangely there was no music playing during this critical time. There was no reverence. The public address system kept asking people to respect what was going on, yet they never did. Notice the Roman soldier with the video camera; they kept asking cast members to stay in character and to quit filming and taking pictures.
The bright polished nails were pounded into his hands, and he was raised to the sky.
They couldn't wait for the crucifixions to begin. The heat had subdued the crowd as we stood there for hours past the official start of the crucifixions. However, when the hammer hit the nail, they came alive.
The "thieves" did not get nailed to the cross, just the center one, and 15 more were to follow.
Kori was standing beside me, leaning against the railing and I heard her say, "I think Jesus is sad today."
One was enough, we didn't stay for the other 15, instead we went to one of our nearby churches.
Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty!
We went from that horribly oppressive experience to the exact opposite.
These children are being raised by apostolic parents who sheltered them from what was going on just outside.
We laughed and smiled and let these children lead us back from where we had just been.
We sat with Pastor Sam, his wife, and some of the saints and they told us stories of people who had been rescued from what we had just witnessed.
Here I am with Pastor Sam and a key member in the church, Brother Rolly. Rolly lives in the exact place where we had just witnessed the crucifixion and has been instrumental in bringing scores to the Truth.
In fact, he owns a fish farm where he raises tilapia, and in his holding tanks they baptize person after person. They baptized several this week, in fact.
Jordan with Dugong Go and Aaron, with Mt. Arayat in the background.
It was so refreshing... Brenda asked little Aaron if he had the Holy Ghost and he said, "No." She asked him if he wanted it and he said, "Yes!"
As saddened as Jesus must have been by all the people hurting themselves to gain His attention, he must have been just as happy by little Aaron so easily believing he could get the Holy Ghost.
Kori was tired from the day, but so glad to be with our brothers and sisters who made her feel like family.