2017: Year in Review

In an ideal world,  we would send you a photo collage of all the people, places and things from this past year.  It would arrive on time, maybe in your mailboxes (yes, snail mail) complete with handwritten or even laser printed labels, and you could even post it on your fridges, mantles, or anywhere else for you to see.  Back to the real world, we are now 8 days away from Christmas, and with a few more days until the year’s end.

Our family (aka, Team Chang Lopez) wishes to invite you on a small photo collage “journey” of this past year.  Instead of one Christmas photo, we thought that you might enjoy more than one photo.  While some of these photos were previously posted on Facebook or with our quarterly newsletters, we tried to find new ones to share from our virtual family albums.  Taking cues from many news outlets that will release a similar “Year in Review” in a few weeks, we like the idea– and hope that you do too!  Who knows, maybe we have started a new tradition for this blog!

With deep gratitude, we’re thankful for your being a part of our team, through your prayers, cards, care packages, emails, Facebook posts and messages, and financial support, all to partner with us in ministry here in Southeast Asia.

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March: March 8 marked “International Women’s Day” as well as my and our daughter’s first protest march.  Too bad the heat and humidity were too strong for her.  “Solidarity against exploitation of women” is emblazoned our T-shirts and never too young to teach anyone
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March: March 17 marks the death of Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Flor Contemplacion, twenty years ago.  Each year many still remember her death and call attention to those OFWs stlil on death row, as well as the many abuses and exploitations that many still endure.  
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April:  Visit with the key leaders of TADI, one of the only anti-human trafficking ministries based in an UCCP local church.  TADI is housed in the UCCP Dumaguete city church, in Negros Oriental.  During this visit, the pastor also invited me to preach for their November Annual Thanksgiving worship service and share more about my work

 

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June:  Parents of Jennifer Dalquez share a message to advocates and supporters during a celebration-gathering, because of being freed from death row in the United Arab Emirates.  Sadly Jennifer still must serve 2 1/2 additional years for theft
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June:  Flying solo during brief visit to Lake Huron Presbytery (Michigan) and Grace Presbytery (Texas).  Grateful for the extra efforts to keep our family and our partners, in the minds and hearts of supportive churches
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September: First days of the Presbyterian Women Global Exchange in Jakarta, with U.S. and Indonesian sisters eager to learn about one another.  At the GPIB national office and guest house
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More questions and answers with a prominent Muslim feminist scholar
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Learning how to play marimba-style instrument called “gambang.”  Young performers were extra patient with us, after their top-notch performance that included audience participation with us singing “This is the Day”

 

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Enjoying the view and victory of traveling up hundreds of steps at Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple
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While in Jakarta, one of our speakers was an anti-human trafficking advocate.  While we only spent few hours together, maybe there will be more opportunities to serve together in the future  
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October:  Participants from Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Thailand share brief reports about the situation from their respective countries
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October:  During our family’s first return to the U.S. after moving to the Philippines, we began our jet-lagged days with breakfasts at the Princeton Theological Seminary cafeteria, during the Women in Ministry conference.  Serving as panel discussion participant and workshop leader requires a strong, healthy breakfast
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November:  According to the UCCP church calendar, November 19 is designated as Migrant Worker Sunday.  While I crafted a liturgy for all UCCP churches, UCCP Bacoor invited me to preach and share more about Migrant Ministry.  **Some of you might recall the same sermon title from before, but I assure you that I re-wrote many parts of this sermon for my Filipino brothers and sisters!
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December:  Our daughter began taekwondo in July and participated in her first poomsae tournament.  Thankfully her grand master is Korean, so she can learn more Korean beyond the simple meal prayer that I learned from my grandparents and we sing almost every day

Take Two/Indonesia Too/Second Time Around

Nearly six months have passed since I’ve last contributed to the blogosphere – so it feels like this is my second chance at trying to regain your trust, your friendship, your readership.  Nearly two weeks away from the end of the year, I am now reflecting on these past few months.  I’ve never felt more stretched to speak, write, and visit new places to meet new people and revisiting places to meet old friends, and trying to keep up with everything else in life.

English is still the main language that I was speaking and writing in all those places.  I wish that I could speak heart-to-heart in Tagalog, Visayan, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Bahasa Indonesian, Cantonese/Mandarin, Thai, with the many people whom I have met.  What I cannot say in your own languages, I still write with deep affection and admiration.  In the coming years, it is my heart’s desire to learn to meet and accompany you in your own languages.  Until then, please accept these brief “love notes.”

To my Indonesian sisters whom I met in November 2016, and again this past September, with the Presbyterian Women Global Exchange, you are beautiful and brave and bold.  You shared the beautiful parts of your culture, music, arts and food.  You shared about the challenges of being a Christian minority and the opportunities to work with other faith traditions for the betterment of civil society.  You shared the brave desire to serve women suffering under domestic violence.  You asked about programs from the Presbyterian Women.  Who would know if you were asking for yourselves… for friends… or for other women in your families… in your communities.  In the way that you were asking, especially weeks before #metoo and #churchtoo, you were also saying so much – and trying to do much more.

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Enjoying a lighthearted moment with our main hosts from Indonesia, through the Presbyterian Women Global Exchange

 

To the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church workers who I’ve met at Dumaguete, but come from all over the Philippines, and especially the most recent ones who I’ve met in Western Visayas, thank you for your Facebook and actual friendship.  In your pulpits, in your parsonages, in your communities, and in your families, you are striving to serve God and the people with the fullness of your hearts, minds and bodies. Such faithfulness demands me to step up my game and speak with as much theological and Biblical integrity, whenever you have invited me to preach in your pulpits and lecterns, walk and hear about the struggles and triumphs in your communities, meet your members.

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To the unnamed young woman in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and older man from Culasi (Philippines) whose names I’ve forgotten, but whose gestures are well preserved in my memories, thank you for accompanying me.  To the unnamed motorcycle drivers on Carlos P. Garcia Island (Bohol) and Madia-as (brief video below), thank you for holding onto me, even as I held onto you for my dear life.  From my brief lifespan, you were only my first and second motorcycle rides through the Presbyterian history of churches, as well as the enduring witness of living churches and faithful church people.  Desiring to explore and be fully immersed in the places where you live and where you come from, I was at your mercy.  Not knowing where to step in a rice field or in a river bed, I have lost my footing and a shoe, in the mud.  You have retrieved my shoes and tenderly washed both my shoe and foot.  You’ve also shown me that I must learn again how to be served, not just how to serve.

 

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To the creative people at Westminster Presbyterian Church, West Chester, who created the Wittenberg door, and to the UCCP church workers of Western Visayas Conference, you are now connected in a new way.  This was our family’s second time to visit Westminster.  That Sunday when our family visited in late October, we donned our Sunday best, in the Filipino way.  In a barong, my husband Juan also placed Martin Luther’s black cap on his head, to complete the outfit.   Although it seemed silly at the time, this picture has prompted serious theological reflection, “What does the Protestant Reformation mean for the Philippines 500 years later?”  Or as I like to put it, “Can Martin Luther wear a barong?”  Theologians like Dr. Everett Mendoza, Dr. Victor Aguilan, and many others have reflected on these questions, and I was privileged to facilitate this discussion with the current and retired church workers (even a recent widow!) of Western Visayas .

 

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Wittenberg Door “prop” used for children’s sermon at Westminster Presbyterian Church — husband later becomes the “prop” in discussion with Western Visayas church workers
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Views from morning bath in the river near the Mt. Maja-as, moments before our discussions about “Martin Luther in a barong”

Getting Away and Getting Back

marawi_b5cce9f481d03c549f6a321ee9458c3e.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Jesus got away from it all and went the mountains to pray – to be clear, I’m not saying that I’m Jesus. What I am saying is that this rare occasion serves as a helpful reminder, especially for people like me, that all of us need to take time away from our regular routines.

Nearly two weeks ago, our family left the Philippines to spend some quality time with my in-laws in France.   This was our first extended time away since moving to the Philippines — but also this visit was an extension of my commitment to spend quality time with family as much as we could.  Ever demanding and relentless has been the pace of life for the past few months, so we gladly disconnected from Facebook and breathed in the fresh mountain air on hikes and savored my father-in-law’s empanadas and enjoyed the smiles of satisfaction from our daughter who devoured fresh supplies of strawberries and cheese.

A few days before our return to the Philippines, we learned of some alarming news while scanning through our Facebook newsfeed:  a group of ISIS-inspired terrorists were attacking a city in the southern Philippines called Marawi.  Philippine President Duterte had cut short his trip to Russia and had already declared martial law in that southern province called Mindanao.

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What makes this attack and this declaration of martial law more than mere news headlines, but something more personal and close to home is that the Maute group had already been destroying several properties on the campus of Dansalan College – a United Church of Christ in the Philippines college which serves many students and much-needed education and employment in this city and region.

UCCP General Secretary Bishop Marigza and the other jurisdictional bishops already prepared their response in a pastoral statement.  Now, several UCCP church leaders are assessing the situation on the ground and discerning the next course of actions which include finding out about the 7-unaccounted-for people from the college.

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This is not what our family expected to come back to, but then again this is a small piece of the world as we already glimpsed it during our vacation:  Upon arriving in France and awaiting our family’s turn to go through customs, I detected one solitary sign with some helpful hints about a passenger’s rights:  for example, what to do if one is forcibly removed from a flight.  Of our first visits in Paris was a memorial erected for the victims after the Bataclan bombing.  Of the several bookstores that we visited, I noticed and later picked up a book about refugees called “Eux, c’est nous.”  A nearly completed mosque in my husband’s childhood neighborhood is among the many new community buildings.  During our Metro rides and train rides and walks around mostly tourist spots, the national police with larger-sized ammunition served as a reminder of the heightened security considering many recent events in France.  Hours before our flight back to the Philippines, during our last visit to a children’s park, at the entrance with both French and British flags at half-mast, to remember the victims of the recent Manchester bombing.

Somehow the tourist in me still found a way to reflect more on fear and the fragility of life:  Yes, I even thought about how quickly all of this, this life and this visit, could disappear in the blink of an eye.

Just a few days after returning to the Philippines, I am caught with the physical and social and emotional demands of jet lag.  Part-zombie, part-person, I can only hope that I can continue with a full and whole heart.  I’ll be returning to the US for 3 weeks, and maybe there’s one question that will still linger and guide my reflections and conversations with people:  Where is our faith amid this fear and fragility?  It keeps me getting away to those mountains, maybe not with more trips to France, but getting back from those mountains with more appreciation for my family and for my family of faith through many UCCP brothers and sisters.

Art and Science of Letter Writing

To save the life of Jennifer Dalquez, there has been an outpouring of support through prayers, social media posts, pastoral statements, and letters from advocates around the world.

What follows are three different letters that I helped to write, in collaboration with the PCUSA Human Trafficking Roundtable, and finally sent to the Office of Stated Clerk with the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II

Joint Letter from UCCP-PCUSA for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

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Letter for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan

UAEletter

Letter for all PCUSA members

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Write Up Too

 

When I last wrote about my emotions surrounding the U.S. presidential inauguration and the Women’s March, there was one more “up” to add to the litany that closed out my previous blogpost:  write up.

Writing is more than me hunched over my laptop and tapping away in the hopes of putting some words and phrases into something meaningful.  Writing means having the strong enough muscles to sit – and to stand – and to stand up.  Yesterday I stayed home to rest strained back muscles that were more tired than I thought:  one press conference, one prayer vigil, two protest marches, and several writings later, my body was trying to tell me to rest.  These were firsts for me, which also might account for the additional energies expended for these efforts.

Here’s a peek into those writing muscles at work: In response to an advocacy campaign for an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) named Jennifer Dalquez, I have tested out some new forms of writing, mostly to lift her situation and plead for her life. She is imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates and is awaiting appeal from the death penalty, in a hearing that will take place on March 27.  She fatally wounded her former employer who was attempting to sexually assault her. She is claiming self-defense.

When Jennifer’s parents represented her at a press conference, I joined several other church advocates in their support.  I represented the PCUSA and UCCP, so they invited me to write a prayer to include in the press kit.  Around then I also prepped for an International Women’s Day Forum, which I would provide the Rationale.  Trying to make sense of a theme prepared by the United Nations, as well as another UCCP theme of “Spirituality of New Humanity in Eliminating Modern-Day Slavery,” as well as the pursuit of peace talks, I attempted to put something coherent for this forum.  PHEW!  I asked my partner church UCCP if they could provide a statement in support of Jennifer Dalquez.  This is when I learned that when you ask, be prepared to act upon it:  I drafted and crafted until General Secretary Bishop Marigza refined and approved the statement.  Thanks to one of my UCCP colleagues Pastor Nonie Aviso, he gave me the crash course version on pastoral statements:  challenge, response and call.

As if an advocacy campaign, a forum, and a pastoral statement were not enough to stretch me, I also enlisted the support of the PCUSA Human Trafficking Roundtable, to join the appeal for life for Jennifer Dalquez.  One conference call, along with more crafting and drafting letters for the Stated Clerk also built up writing muscles: a letter for PCUSA churches; a letter for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte; and a letter for United Arab Emirates Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan **If/when I receive permission, I will share those letters.

Challenge, response and call: besides pastoral statements and letter writing, could this apply to a sermon, an article, or any other written or spoken word, or song?  What else could work here?  Maybe conversations with young daughter about why we’re praying for the president or Jennifer.  Maybe other speaking engagements or upcoming blog posts.

Here’s a sampling of “write ups” from the past few weeks:

Save the Life of Jennifer Dalquez (UCCP pastoral statement)

Rationale for International Women’s Day Forum (scroll to bottom of page)

 

 

 

More Together than Alone

 

To the sisters and brothers who gathered to march throughout the world for the Women’s March, I was right there with you.  There were no sister marches here in Manila.  Thanks mostly to my Facebooks news feed and the news diet that includes both local and international newspapers, I enjoyed watching the live speeches and songs, as well as the many colorfully creative posters.

Being surrounded by other Americans is what I thought that I needed this weekend, since most of the time I’m the only American in the room.  It used to be that I was the only Asian-American clergywoman under 40 when I lived in the U.S., but now it seems that I’m the only Korean-American clergywoman under 50 serving as a mission worker in the room.  This distinction is noticeable during instances like this past Wednesday, when I attended an ongoing series called the Wednesday Forum.  Originally started in the 1970s at the UCCP-Cosmopolitan church, this forum provided a place for dissenting voices during the martial law years under President Marcos.  Church leaders relaunched this forum last October to discuss critical issues such as the impact of the peace process on indigenous peoples, war on drugs, and most recently the status of foreign relations under President Duterte.  I have attended all but one event, but I have yet to comment or raise any questions.  Considering the upcoming weekend with both Presidential inauguration and worldwide marches, I hoped to say something – but in the end, I sat back and listened.

As much as I felt like I was there with the women’s marchers, I also felt strangely alone, maybe because I couldn’t march here, maybe because I regretted my choice to stay silent, maybe because I was caught in trying to find the right adjectives or metaphors to explain how I was feeling over the weekend.  Starting Friday, black was my wardrobe color of choice.  In the afternoon, I read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the quietness of our national church offices.  I stayed in that shroud of sadness, although I did come up for air when it was time to eat or time to dance and sing to the soundtrack of “Sing” with my daughter.

Sometime on Saturday I received an invitation to participate in a Facebook Secret group called “The Resistance.”  I accepted the invitation because I knew the colleague who invited me, but I didn’t recognize many of the people in this newly formed group.  After a day of watching different posts, one pinned post came through with this question, “Small acts of resistance matter… What’s yours?”

Getting dressed for church on Sunday morning, I chose to exchange the Friday black for Sunday green, to be more precise, Pantone 2017 greenery.   Walking into church a few minutes late, with the opening strains of a familiar hymn tune with different lyrics, God must have known that I needed to hear these lyrics and let them come over me:

For stories told and told again to every generation,

To give us strength in times of pain, to give us consolation.

Our spirits to revive to keep our dreams alive,

When we are far from home and evil seasons come;

How firm is our foundation.

 

For God our way, our bread, our rest, of all these gifts the Giver

Our strength, our guide, our nurturing breast whose hand will yet deliver.

Who keeps us till the day when night shall pass away,

When hate and fear are gone, and all our work is done, and we shall sing forever.

 

Although the hymn writer Ken Medema originally wrote these lyrics in celebration of the Reformation, which I learned only recently, I am still struck by how this hymn inspired by events 500 years ago, could still provide me with much needed comfort on this day.

To my sisters and brothers who are serving as mission workers throughout the world – and to the many individuals and churches who support them, I wonder if any of you feel like your work is considered “resistance.”  Maybe the individuals, church partners, and the organizations with whom you serve are doing everything to upset the status quo, which could be corruption in government, a culture of impunity or generations of poverty.  Working with and for a church in the Philippines, along with many organizations that are striving to write a different narrative for this country, it is our privilege to witness and testify to their acts of resistance through their pastoral and prophetic ministries.

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To my sisters and brothers of the resistance in the United States, I wonder if our work as international mission co-workers could also support the work that you’re already doing, or now it’s the work that you’ve committed yourselves to.  I don’t know what it looks like to be part of the “resistance,” in this in-between space of being American and serving in a country that wants to redefine its relationship with America.  Strangely both countries desire to cultivate their relationship with Russia.   Here’s what I know how to do:  wake up, show up, speak up, listen up and join up with people.

Indonesia: You are Invited

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Sometimes the best photos are people also taking photos:  Muslim schoolgirls on a field trip to Borobudur which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world

In 1950, the first woman was ordained as a pastor.  This happened 2 years after the Indonesian church was formed as the GPI, in English known as the Protestant Church of Indonesia with its origins in the Dutch state church.  66 years later, this denomination is the second-largest with 322 congregations in 26 provinces, with 582 active pastors, more female than male.  All of this in a country with the highest population of Muslims, with approximately 2% Christians.

For the week starting November 10, we met with a wonderful mix of female church pastors and church leaders, in the three cities of Jakarta, Solo and Yogyakarta.  I joined Presbyterian Women staff members Susan Jackson Dowd and Kathy Reeves and 2017 Global Exchange Chair Peggy Free, that together with our Indonesian sisters, we might make plans for the upcoming 2017 Global Exchange in September.  In case you were wondering whether there were any men in attendance, we also met many such as the chair of local church council, Synod chairperson, and seminary intern.

Our initial conversations were in English, with the occasional outburst of common English-language experiences; however, as the days passed, we realized that we needed a translator and more time to know more about each other:

*Within minutes of our first conversation with church leaders, we learned about the issues concerning church and society, such as domestic and sexual violence.  These women also discussed interfaith marriage and conflicts about natural resources with multinational companies.  For the fourth or fifth year in a row, these women would soon launch their own 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, as part of the United Nations global campaign that is happening now until December 10.  They are inviting us to “orange the world,” what will we do now?

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Enjoying lighter moments at the Museum of the Presidents in Bogor

*One day of site-seeing, we passed by a park with many female deer, I mentioned that the English word was “doe” as in female deer.  Without skipping a beat, the vanload of women burst into “Doe a deer, a female deer,” followed by eruptions of laughter.  Who knew how Julie Andrews could bring us together like that!

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Taking a break from Hindu temple sight-seeing

*After that same day of site-seeing, I sat in the backseat with a woman named Ejodia.  I learned more about her than what she learned about me:  She has worked extensively with international NGOs that work in Indonesia, for example, serving with volunteers after the 2007 Banda Aceh tsunami.  As she shared about her work, she also shared about her life and ministry.  I learned more about her leadership in an organization called Association for Theologically Educated Women in Indonesia.  The more she shared, the more I was convinced that I should ask her about human trafficking in Indonesia, specifically if she knew Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino woman imprisoned in Indonesia for drug trafficking.  I was encouraged to learn that these women knew of Mary Jane and have stood in solidarity with her.

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ATEWI local board members from Jakarta and neighboring cities:  during recent inauguration in Jakarta, the women also used the occasion to “Orange the World” and stand against violence against women and children 

From a recent e-mail exchange, Ejodia asked me for specific books about contemporary issues and theology, to share with this association.  She invites anyone to recommend book ideas or to support this group with actual e-books or physical books.  It is female seminary students who will benefit from these resources, and I am certain that they would welcome the opportunity to hear from you and maybe even participate in some book club exchanges with U.S. theologically trained women.  Please contact me at cathy.chang@pcusa.org for more details.

*Over our last dinner with the GPI women, it occurred to me that we knew about our lives, but not specifically.  I started to ask the pastor to translate so that we could talk about our respective families and church membership.  Most of this group of women had been long-term church members who grew up with Christian families, but I was also surprised to learn that two women converted from Islam because of their husband’s influence. Unfortunately, the conversation got cut short.

These and many other conversations with men and women formed the basis of my first impressions of Indonesian church and society.  I look forward to continuing these conversations, in the months to come and especially during the September 2017 Global Exchange, with these new Christian sisters, as well as Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist sisters.