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.