Jesus 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.