In the middle of June, I traveled to a province called Nueva Ecija in order to attend a court hearing against Mary Jane Veloso’s alleged human traffickers. Going to court also meant noticing the half-basketball court in the courthouse’s parking lot. I joined a group of Methodist women from the Board of Women’s Work and other related ministries, along with representatives from Catholic ministries and Migrante International. Together they constitute the “Church Task Force to Save Mary Jane.”
Last May when I interviewed for this position and met my potential co-workers, I first learned about Mary Jane Veloso. Since 2010, Mary Jane remains imprisoned in Indonesia for drug trafficking charges, but she was spared execution and granted temporary reprieve in April 2015. Her parents and two sons have visited her in Indonesia. She has received additional legal support, but I can only imagine the anguish of this imprisonment and almost execution for her and her family. Mary Jane’s life and story came to full picture for us in the PCUSA, thanks to the efforts of a former mission co-worker Becca Lawson who also served in the Philippines.
Little more than a year after learning about Mary Jane Veloso, I had no idea of the ways that I might become involved with her and her story: traveling with an ecumenical group of supporters for her and her family, in a bus for more than 6 hours; laughing and learning about social justice from the perspectives of these women; eating and praying and singing in this same courthouse parking lot; sitting in a crowded courtroom for a 40-minute hearing; and meeting Mary Jane’s mother and father for the first time.
These hearings against Mary Jane Veloso’s alleged recruiters began in late March. On this mid-June day, only two witnesses appeared which included her mother and former husband. Another witness failed to appear, prompting an order for his arrest by the presiding judge. According to one of my traveling companions, this latter witness is also a family member. Due to the list of witnesses from both prosecution and defense, it appears that this trial will take some time to process.
Added to the anguish is how family members impacted by this situation. Mary Jane’s godfather’s daughter-in-law is one of her accused traffickers. Mary Jane’s sister has testified as a witness in pre-trial hearings, which include memories from her brother’s suspicions about this new job offer. In the pre-trial prayers, Mary Jane’s mother shared with the crowd about her one grandson’s needs for psycho-social intervention. Both sets of grandparents take care of both grandsons, since Mary Jane cannot care for her two sons.
In a crowded courtroom, the dividing lines are clear between those who support Mary Jane and those who support her alleged traffickers with our seating arrangements, even though families are intertwined. I was curious to observe how closely family members can sit with one another, not just on the few wooden benches set aside for the public in the courtroom. I also noticed a grandmotherly figure in the row sitting behind and grasping tightly her hands of support for Mary Jane’s alleged traffickers. Yes, even the accused trafficker needs family support during this hearing.
Below is the “parking lot” liturgy that we shared as Nueva Ecija local ministry leaders, family members, church task force members, lawyers, lifting up our prayers and praise to the God of compassion, courage and justice:
Here is a loose translation of the song: “Nobody lives for ourselves and nobody dying for herself alone. We all have a responsibility to each other….” While my Filipino language skills are almost nonexistent, I could still sense without a common language that the Spirit of God is already here and at work. Knowing that Mary Jane is not alone, and her parents and siblings and sons knowing that they are not alone, must be a source of great comfort. Although the job description calls me to support and come alongside organizations and ministries to address human trafficking, this ministry also moves me to meet the families of human trafficking victims and support them– and yes, even for the alleged recruiters and traffickers.
In addition to the song above, I join my prayers for and on behalf of Mary Jane, her sons, her parents, her in-laws, with Psalm 142, and I invite you to pause and pray with me: “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way. In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look on my right hand and see—there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me. Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.”