I’m flying on my way home from a ten-day trip where I spoke at a conference and preached on two Sundays.  I spoke ten times in ten days; an intense schedule.  I get to thinking:  this whole trip I’ve been healthy.  I didn’t get sick.  I had stamina in spades.  I’m thankful to God – I’ll never take this for granted.

You see, a couple of years ago I learned how things can go the other direction.  I was in Butuan, in the southern Philippines.  I was supposed to teach on various aspects of Reformed church life. 

It wasn’t my first time in the Philippines.  I sort of knew my way around.  So the local believers often left me to my own devices when I wasn’t “on duty.”  I enjoy the freedom to explore, especially to enjoy the local cuisine. 

On this particular day I had the morning free and then I was supposed to give a talk shortly after lunch.  During the morning I did some work in my hotel room and then it was almost lunch time.  I decided to wander down the street to a local mall to find something tasty.

There were plenty of choices.  The one that grabbed me was a buffet serving a variety of Filipino dishes.  It was a reasonable price.  It was in a well-trafficked mall, so I thought it wasn’t likely to be unhygienic.  Moreover, the restaurant had a fair few Filipino diners.  So this was my choice for lunch.  It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had on the island of Mindanao, but it seemed decent enough.

I left the mall with some time to spare.  In fact, I stopped at a used bookstore in the mall and bought a biography of the famous ornithologist and artist Roger Tory Peterson.  I went back to my hotel room and one of the local church leaders picked me up a short time afterwards. 

It was a gathering of about 25 local Reformed believers along with a few people from other churches, including some pastors.  I was speaking on what the Bible says about church government.  The room was comfortably air conditioned, but as I began speaking it suddenly felt strangely warm and I was getting super sweaty.  Still I pressed on.

About five minutes into my talk I suddenly felt a wave of nausea come over me.  There was little warning.  I said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”  Then I was.  Right up in front.  In my hands and down my shirt.  It was the most embarrassing moment I’ve had in over 30 years of public speaking.  Nothing else comes close.

My Filipino hosts were so kind about the whole episode.  They rushed me to the back of the meeting place where there was a residence.  They sat me down and helped me clean up.  Two sweet Filipina ladies used some kind of acupressure technique to calm my nausea, placing pressure on my palms and wrists. 

They right away guessed what had happened – I do have a reputation for being adventurous with my food.  They asked me where I’d eaten lunch.  I told them about the buffet at the local mall.  They said, “Oh, you should never eat there!  They’re known for putting food out from the previous day.  Even Filipinos get food poisoning there.”  That bit of local knowledge arrived a little late for this hombre.  I went back to the hotel and was horizontal for much of the day remaining.  ‘Twas not a pleasant experience.

Yet God taught me two things.  One is never to trust buffets overseas, even in high traffic shopping malls.  I’m still curious about foreign foods – on this latest trip I’ve enjoyed some new ones again – but I’m much more careful.  The other thing I’ve learned is that good health is fragile.  When you travel and nothing goes wrong health-wise, what a blessing!  Maybe getting sick like I did in the Philippines isn’t the worst thing that could happen (a serious injury or permanent illness would be worse), but it was bad enough.