Veronica’s Veil: Holy Week and Easter Reflections

Years ago during a Holy Land pilgrimage, I walked through the old streets of Jerusalem including those steps that traced Jesus’ last ones before the cross.  The 6th station of the cross, when Veronica wiped the face of Jesus and received the imprint of his face on her veil, speaks again to me today.  That face was indeed a face of suffering, misery, and compassion.   Although it was the face of Jesus, how many people are wearing that same face today?  How many people need to know that Jesus is with them, in his suffering, misery and compassion?  From Atlanta to Myanmar, to the NCR Plus bubble in the Philippines, there are the many faces, and there is one Jesus.      

More than other years, I cannot talk about Holy Week without talking about what is happening in my body, the world and in the Philippines.  To some, and even for me in years past, Holy Week may feel like a commemoration and re-creation of past events.  But this year, as I begin this walk from Palm Sunday, I am still grieving with the families of the Atlanta-area women and man who died in the massage parlor shootings.  These last weeks have been harder than I expected – I felt the secondary and vicarious trauma, as I felt the need for extra sleep and rest, and the need to pull back and focus away from “work.”  Although I am living far from Atlanta massage parlors, I live close and closer to the reality of these women and men.  The skin that I live, and the blood that courses through my veins, is Korean.  When any Asian women, regardless of the class or social differences or geographical distance or even vocational difference, I feel as if a part of me has been silenced or worse yet, killed too. My walk from Palm Sunday also includes the Myanmar people who are being killed in the streets for protesting or preparing funeral rites for fellow protesters. My walk from Palm Sunday includes the Filipino people frustrated and waiting for non-militaristic solutions to the covid-19 pandemic. But this is not my walk or work alone…

Holy Week captured the last days and moments of Jesus’ life.  It’s not just about Jesus though.  Holy Week was never meant to be separated from the suffering of the people.  Holy Week also speaks to where many people live too, too many are at the corners of life and death. 

This walk from Palm Sunday to the cross and onto resurrection happened once, but it is still happening.  Since Jesus walked through it, he is inviting us to walk it with him – and invite different people and communities into this walk from death, through death, and onto life.

Since I don’t have any preaching or worship responsibilities this week– but for those who do – and who have not yet recorded or gone live with your online worship services— and especially for those who will listen and worship in whatever ways:  let’s walk and work in ways that follow this Jesus, amidst such suffering, mercy and compassion, during this Holy Week and onto Easter, and even onward from Easter. 

Advance Hallelujah’s! Amen and Amen and Amen!

Arriba en la Cordillera

Back in February, Rev. Mienda Uriarte and Rev. Richard Williams of PC(USA) came to visit our partners in in the Philippines.  I was able to join during their visit to Dansalan College.

Ms. Edna Orteza, Program Coordinator of Institutional Ministries, was our guide. She has a long-lasting loving relationship with the school. Also present were mission co-workers Cobbie and Dessa Palm, Pastor Rannieh Mercado (Executive Secretary of Administration) and for a short time Bishop Ligaya Francisco of that same jurisdictional area. We met with the president of the school, Dr. Fedelinda Tawagon.

The students prepared a video to show the future campus of the Iligan campus.  Dansalan College has two campuses, one in Illigan city, the other in Marawi. The first part of the video is about the destruction that occurred in Marawi and the campus there. They used drones to film what was left of the previous buildings. Everything has been burned down, the few walls standing are covered with bullet holes.  The Marawi siege happened two years ago and there is still so much to do .

Few contractors are allowed by the government to work in the city. According to the army the city needs to be destroyed to be sure that there is no mines and bombs remaining. Everything is going to be removed to be able to rebuild. It will take years.

Right now, the emergency is to finish the Iligan campus so the teachers and students can keep on working in a safe place.

After a full morning of meetings, we flew back to Manila in the afternoon. I had a great time learning to know more about Mrs. Edna work. She is in charge of the  CREATE-UCCP (Church Related Educational Action Towards Empowerment – United Church of Christ in the Philippines). The program is the link between the main institutions of the UCCP and their schools.

Thanks to our recent visit to Dansalan College, she invited me to join her for a visit in the Cordillera, the central north region of the island of Luzon. Her cousin Dr. Ruth and Jason Caperas, one of the UCCP drivers joined us for this long road trip.

On Sunday February 24, we left for Nueva Ecija and spent the night at Ms. Orteza’s place where we met her husband who served at the Church of the Holy Redeemer before retiring in the early 2000’s (UCCP Church of the Holy Redeemer is in our neighborhood).

From Nueva Ecija we traveled to the region of Kalinga, 10 hours north. After crossing the pass of Santa Fe, we followed the cordillera range through Nueva Viscaya. We enjoyed beautiful mountains on both side of the road. One of the mountain range is called the Sierra Madre. We were surrounded mainly by rice and corn fields.

We arrived in Tabuk City and visited the Tabuk Institute to drop off books and supplies. Principal Mae Quilawat Pomay-O greeted us with mulberries, Kalinga coffee, camote (sweet potatoes) and black rice.

We visited the school and learned more…. One night in October 2018, the library caught on fire. Most of the books were destroyed. They were able to save some computers and Bibles but every else including the building burned down. This was a tragic loss for the school, not only for the students and the books but also for their certification. Without a library they might lose the subsidies from the government which will be dramatic for the school. They need those subsidies to allow students to study for free. A lot of the students come from poor families who cannot afford school fees. It is an important part of the community where several Kalinga tribes  study  together. They have to rebuild the library as fast as possible to be able to fulfill the academy requirements.

After that first visit, we drove to the heart of the town to St Tonis College, Inc. We met Bishop Elorde Sambat who serves as president of the school. They were getting for the 42nd founding anniversary celebration that will happen over 3 days. The school was built 42 years ago has an extension of the Tabuk Institute and now serves 1168 students. We went to a local restaurant for dinner and meet with one of the owners which happens to be a regular of the NCUC local church where our family worships every Sunday. We also met Dr. Ruth’s brother, Jesse Garcia who happens to be the National President of United Church Men. He was the guest speaker for the Tuesday morning worship service.

Tuesday is the big celebration kick off, with all students and staff attending the morning worship service. There are several prestigious guests including the city mayor, Ferdinand Tubban, who is also a UCCP member.  The students showcased several talents in music, dancing and singing. The former and first principal of the school, Dr. Presentacion Bartolo, sang most the school hymns, which she also wrote. The invocation was led by Rev. Roceni Bakian, the same PC(USA) International Peacemaker in 2018.

After lunch, we met with the principals of the UCCP schools of the Kalinga region. Due to distance and national holidays (Monday was the celebration of the 1986 People Power Revolution), two couldn’t join us: Ms. Merlina Ayam from Apayao Community Learning Canter in Kabugao, Apayao and Ms. Joy Andaya from Abra Mountain Development Education Center in Lamao, Bucloc, Abra.

The purpose of our meeting was to assess the different needs of the schools and to start creating a school system including all the schools in the Cordillera. Dr. Ruth De Lara offered to train the teachers and staff. She is a curriculum writer. With the national Department of Education she helped develop learning competencies for Math and Science for K-12, wrote textbooks, and trained teachers and practitioners. She is a member of the UCCP Formal Education Board. She coordinated the production and publication of the Values Education materials.

We talked first about the Kalinga Academy in Lubuagan, founded in 1927 by the Evangelical United Brethren. The principal Cesar Manalwap talked about losing the school accreditation due to the state of the building. The school is 92 years old and there have been few upgrades through the years. The building is not safe and needs to be replaced but there are no funds. Starting this year, the government will stop providing help and if nothing is done, the school will close in 3 years. They serve a lot of farmers and children from different tribes. The community doesn’t have much money. The region suffers from the tribal wars. Some kids do not go to school during the conflicts due to security or because they take part in it.

By the way, the principal is a trained nurse.  He took the direction of the school because he was the only one willing to step up.

Next Bishop Sambat talked about St. Tonis College’s projects: extending the campus and improving their nursing program. They have some support but the task is great. The students are also suffering from the tribal wars and Bishop Sambat wishes to create a peacemaking group to mediate with the different groups. He is asking for materials or programs that can help him in that task.

Pastor Ruben Puguon, principal of the Ifugao Academy of Kiangan, introduced us to the Centennial Plan that they are following. The school will celebrate 100 years in 2026. He wishes to build a College, as well as a hotel and canteen to create some income. There are 310 students. The building is very old and needs to be renovated.

Principal Mae from the Tabuk Institute talked more about the library fire. They are still looking for an architect to design the new building. They need to finish the gymnasium and build a canopy on the playground. It gets so hot during most of the year, that it is impossible to use that field for any event or activity. They have 3 stores that generates income from selling black rice.

The group also expressed their training needs for their teachers, parents and students. They need support in dealing with bullying, sexual misconduct, social media behaviors, teenage pregnancy and tribal feuds. They are too isolated to send the teachers to conferences, so they hope some UCCP volunteers can come to help with those issues. A lot of the teachers are young and ask for more leadership. The principals also were not trained and learn on the go, and they wished to have better tools to do their work. They are dedicated but lack resources. One of the objectives of CREATE is to provide that support.

Early on Wednesday morning, we left for another 5 hours road trip to Kiangan in the center of Ifugao.  We visited the Ifugao Academy. We ate breakfast in their brand-new canteen. The school is very old and seems about to fall apart. The campus is right across the main public high School. The student comes from all around the region. They stay during the week because they live too far to commute every day. Each grade and section has to participate once a month to the Sunday worship service in a local church.

There is also a World War II museum that commemorate the end of the war and memorializes all the fallen Filipinos. It is close to the top of the main mountain, so you can see the valley from it. There’s an empty lot right at the entrance of the museum, where the school wants to build the College building for the Ifugao Academy. They hope to have a hotel there too, since there are no accommodations for visitors in town.

Before leaving, we did some shopping and enjoyed the crafts from local weavers and wood carvers.

We drove back to Nueva Ecija for the night and came back to Quezon city on Thursday morning.

The Patricio Manns song is still in my head. 

We met again in May during the CREATE general assembly. Looking forward to see how the partnership can go on.


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.

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

March: March 17 marks the death of Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Flor Contemplacion, twenty-two years ago.  Each year many 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.

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


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

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

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

More questions and answers with a prominent Muslim feminist scholar

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”


Enjoying the view and victory of traveling up hundreds of steps at Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple

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

October:  Participants from Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Thailand share brief reports about the situation from their respective countries

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

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!

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.

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.


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.



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 .


Wittenberg Door “prop” used for children’s sermon at Westminster Presbyterian Church — husband later becomes the “prop” in discussion with Western Visayas church workers

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.


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.


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


Letter for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan


Letter for all PCUSA members




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.


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

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?

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!

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.

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 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.


Thailand: Getting to Know You


At the Overbrook Hospital in Chiang  Rai:  name of the hospital comes from the Philadelphia-area church that has provided financial support

“I do not plead for returning calls, handshakes, chairs, dinners and teas as such. I do on the other hand plead for all of them and more if they can be expressions of a friendly feeling, if these or anything else can be the outward proofs of a real willingness on the part of the foreign missionary to show that he is in the midst of the people to be to them not a lord and master but a brother and a friend.”

“Through all the ages to come the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self denying labors of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We ask for love. Give us friends.”

During a seminary missiology course and a visit to Edinburgh, I came across these quotes from Bishop V.S. Azariah at the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference.  Especially at times like these when I feel like I want to do more, and I wish others could join me in the struggles of learning more about migration and human trafficking and then doing something about it.  That’s when I remember that friendship from the global church can be the greater and the greatest gift.  Some of these people might never become my Facebook friends, yet they are friends because they have helped shape my perception of the world beyond the facts and figures during my first visit to Thailand:

Learning about the challenges of obtaining ID cards for tribal minorities, with CCT pastors

*Originally Pastor A is from Myanmar and settled in northern Thailand.  He crossed the border only now to fight discrimination because of his lack of ID card.  Without this card, he has no identity and no rights.  In multiple attempts to complete the paperwork, he paid countless fees to shady government or law enforcement officials and was arrested over 30 times.  After many years, he has received his ID card, granting him permission to work, vote, receive medical assistance, and to travel freely.  I am confident that his story of perseverance gives hope to his congregants for their process which can last anywhere from 2 to 10 years and include exorbitant fees from more shady government officials.

At the New Life Center, everyone takes their shoes off before entering the buildings — that included us during our introductory meetings

*Girl B lives at a residential facility for at-risk young girls called the New Life Center.  Her family includes her, brother, mother and father, and they are tribal minorities.  When she was old enough and no longer lived with grandparents, she found a job in construction and worked alongside other children.  She lacks education.  Her father encouraged her to claim her ID card, so that she could receive benefits.  She also has abusive father who attacks her mother, and soon turns against her in multiple attempts to sexually assault her.  Each time she screamed loud enough and ran away far enough to get people to help her and to evade these attempts.  Eventually her mother believes her, leaves her husband, and Girl B can begin a new life at this facility.  Her strength and courage to run away from her father, must be a source of strength and courage to her fellow residents.

Younger school-aged children can attend a version of school while they are detained with their families at the Immigration Detention Center

*Girl C lives in an immigration detention center in Bangkok.  She and her sister and their family have been detained for over one year.  They left Pakistan because of attacks against their family members who are Christian.  On the same morning of the U.S. election returns (12 hours ahead of EST), I spoke to her and her family mostly through yells and screams.  In a noise-filled room, there is an arbitrary separation with moveable gates about 2 feet apart on one side for detainees, and another side for visitors, we introduced ourselves and quickly connected because of our common faith.  She dreams about becoming a missionary pastor and already reads the Bible regularly and preaches to the women in her same room.  Her favorite story and character is Daniel.  She and her family are waiting for the UNHCR to grant them status as refugees.

During Sunday worship service, Pastor Sirirat shares messages of hope for the children, while displaying their artwork prepared the week before


*Rev. Sirirat Pusurinkham is a Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) pastor serving the Prachakittisuk Church.  As a schoolgirl, some of her friends were sold into prostitution by the families.  Some of the children in her current community have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, leaving them in vulnerable situations where other family members might not be able to care for them and open to options like forced labor or sex trafficking.  The women also lack education and skills which could leave them to consider moving to the city for better opportunities.  Many pleas and prayers later, there are now two extra buildings near the church to serve as the orphanage.  Through the church and its orphanage and livelihood projects, the children and women live in relative safety and security, away from the conditions that lead them susceptible to trafficking.

For the first ten days of November, I traveled to Thailand, with a Presbyterian Church USA delegation that included General Assembly co-moderator Denise Anderson, Carl Horton (Peacemaking), Ryan Smith (Presbyterian Ministry to the United Nations), Barry and Shelly Dawson (regional liaisons of southeast Asia).  Many thanks to Barry and Shelly for preparing this informative and engaging visit.   This will be the beginning of many more visits to come, since Thailand is considered my secondary site of service with partners such as the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and Christian Conference of Asia (CCT) and other organizations.

Elected leaders such as Moderator and Vice Moderator and staff members of the Church of Christ in Thailand offices in Bangkok

In these first eight months of living in the Philippines, I have been learning about how best to represent the PCUSA and UCCP at different activities and events. For the first time, I would not be the sole PCUSA representative because now I could enjoy the perspectives and insights of my fellow Presbyterians.  All of us knew something about human trafficking before this visit, but all of us left Thailand with new awareness and information and people.  It was as much a time getting to know Thailand and the church, the government, and culture, as getting to know one another and exploring ways of working together as colleagues in ministry.

Our 9-day schedule included visits with church leaders, staff members of non-profit organizations, representatives at embassy and international offices, and at-risk children in residential facilities.  We also met more people in living rooms, community centers, conference rooms, rice fields, hospital and an immigration detention center.  Filled with loads of information to scribble into notebooks, to read later in papers and reports from different organizations, I was humbled to learn through the sharing of life stories from these new friends.