Ma Rosa


For a preview of this movie, click here.

Note:  My husband, the poet and film human encyclopedia, has appeared on this blog before.  As many of you know him, he’s not shy at all — so here he is without furher ado.

It’s been a long road since I discovered the magic 7th Art in my childhood, thanks to the Cinema de Minuit. I remember sneaking to the living room at night to watch all those impressive black and white movies. The day was for silly unaesthetic colored 80’s movies, the night was devoted to clair obscure masterpieces from the past.

In France, the cinema is no entertainment, it is art. It is as sacred as Literature and painting. We do not go to the movies to be entertain but to experience feelings and be changed. I’m not a real “cinephile” but a real “cinephage” therefore I do not discriminate a genre, a region or a style. I might have strong biases against directors or actors but it never stopped me to watch their movies. So I do not avoid the bad summer comedies or any of the buddies movies.

In every country I end up living, I locate the closest movie theatre and check what is available. In Quezon City we live right by two major malls with an Imax movie theater in each. It shows mainly blockbusters, every superhero movies or Disney. Sometimes for few days they will release an independent movie.  So I’m lucky, I can continue my movie obsession.

And I have a good karma about movie. Marion Cotillard won Best Actress at the Academy Award the year I moved to the states. “The Artist” won almost everything the year my daughter was born. And this year Jaclyn Jose won the Best Actress Palme D’Or  at the Cannes Film Festival.

I have a long love story with the Cannes festival and it’s always moving to watch the closing ceremony.

So here I am, thousand miles away from home watching over and over on every tv in the Philipinnes the triumph of Filipino cinema in Cannes.

Brillante Mendoza’s “Ma Rosa” was released a month later in every cinema in Manila and Quezon City. So I jumped in a jeepney for 8pm movie session, excited to discover the work of Brillante and Jaclyn on a big screen.

In the Filipino theater you can bring your own food. They just advised to not bring smelly, foul or rice dishes. You can bring a full picnic if you want, it’s fine. I do not like much eating at the movies so I just drink, tea or coffee.

The election is just over and the new president Dutertre seems to come straight out from a Don Siegel movie. His nickname is the punisher and a local artist has made action figures portraying him as the Marvel character “The Punisher”. He wages a war against drug pushers, corrupt cops and corrupt journalists.

The movie is about a woman, a wife, a mother of four who runs a “Sari Sari” store (mini marts where you can buy anything from detergent to cigarette and eggs). There are Sari Sari at every corner here. It’s part of the everyday scenery.

She sells and uses drugs.

She gets arrested and brought in a police precinct in which her husband and her are pushed into some offices by the back door. There’s no registration or no other policeman in uniforms. Only four undercover cops with a teenage that cleans and brings them food.

It’s mainly natural light and over the shoulder camera. We are really close to the actors and the close up hide no intimacy.

If they give up the name of their dealer and 50,000 thousand pesos they will be free, no charges, no jail time.

The undercover cops celebrate every pesos than can put in their pocket, they buy chicken and give some money to their chief. They keep some personal belongings from themselves and are violent when they need to keep control of the situation.

Ma Rosa accepts the deal and help them arrest their dealer. It’s the jackpot for the policemen. The dealer has to give away some names and money to get out. Same deal… The dealer asks if he can make a phone call and texts his dealer which happens to be a local elected official of a barangay  (district). The policemen intercept the text and beat him to pulp for it.

The tension is strong and relentless.

President Dutertre warned the corrupt elected officials, the barangay chiefs and other local politicians and policemen to surrender or they will be killed on sight. There’s been a lot of surrenders and tears all over the front pages of every newspaper here. Some were killed in their home or in the middle of the streets. Over a thousand “suspected” drug addicts, pushers and gang members have been killed in the streets since May. Bodies are left in the street for all to see what happen to who defy the new order.

The goal is to stop the corruption at the higher and lower level of the society. The most clever already flew away the country.

Ma Rosa and her husband have 48 hours to get 50,000 pesos (a small fortune here). Their children will have that task. Of the four children, the youngest stays with a relative. Her teenage daughter will visit every close member of the family to ask for money even the one they are upset with. The oldest son will try to sell some possessions in the neighborhood. And the Benjamin will sell his body which is going to be the most lucrative transaction of all.

We witness all the stages of misery: money, work, sex and the lack of options they bring.

The movie is about to finish and I still do not witness any amazing performance from Jaclyn Jose. She is true, do not overplay like her usual tv roles, she’s almost absent, lost like a victim, in shock.

And then it happens, we spend 10 minutes alone at the end of the movie with Ma Rosa. Alone, trying to find redemption in the streets of Manila. It’s beautiful, tragic and moving.

I’m baffled and moved.

The movie is a honest reflection of the climate that reigns in the Philippines today. From the police corruption and brutality that splashes on the news every day, to the cold killing and judgment without law of “criminals” and of course to the social poverty that brings some Filipinos to those extremes way of life. Because it is about life.

Faith, Family & Filmmaking: Interview with Direktor Sigfreid Barros Sanchez


“Money can fill your stomach with food and can give you things, but doing your art feeds your soul.  Art is always there for you, when you have only little money or few pieces of rice,” the director and screenwriter Sigfreid Barros Sanchez shared about how he became involved in film.  Growing up with relatives in the arts but still winding through the different paths of life that included basketball, law school, marriage and kids, this path of filmmaking, this is what called to him.

His recent film “Magtanggol,” is a tribute to the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), many of whom are working and being exploited in many parts of the world.  A portion of each movie ticket is going towards an OFW fund with the Philippine chapter of Migrante.  “In the Old Testament, the Israelites were the slaves and abused workers, but in today’s world, they are the Filipinos who are abused globally,” says Barros Sanchez.

Telling the story about OFWs, Direk Sigfreid crafted this film with his unique style through a first-time-ever whodunit genre.  One hallmark of his screenwriting is to include always “a tie to advocacy,” so that “people will want to respond in a different way to the topic, maybe even talk about the movie over the next week and into the next month.”  Since the story is told in a different way, there are also “characters who are not black and white” such as the college party boy who becomes the ambitious Senator advocating on behalf of the OFWs, or the socially activist college student whose definition of justice changes over time.  In the same way, all OFW employers are not abusive, because some will promote higher education and welfare for their employees.  With such a diverse array of characters, the audience can then see themselves in the characters.  Another key feature of his films is at least one character who “appears as the ever-present God-like figure.”  In this way, people have something to hold onto and cling to knowing that God is involved in their lives.  In contrast to other films about OFWs, this film arrives at a conclusion that is more hopeful, with “something to uplift the spirit” and “uplifts the stature” of the OFWs.

Click here for a preview of this film.

So what drives a man like him to make these kinds of films?  Search for his full name on IMDB, and you’ll find a sparse profile but Sigfreid claims, “It’s not about the movie ticket sales, it’s not about the positive reviews of the movie critics.”  As a husband and father of four boys ranging from 6 to 19 years old, he shares that, “My family is my foundation, and at home I am not the director.”  Since his wife and sons know him better than his critics, it is a higher compliment when one of his sons will say this is his “best” film and another son invites his friends and teachers to a film screening.

Even more motivating for him is when someone who could not otherwise have seen the movie, has a chance to watch it.  His desire for that “wider audience” comes through his analogy, “In our early Philippine history, our national heroes hid their works in Bibles, so that everyday people could get to them… [in the same way], I want people to have similar access to my films.”

Note:   As part of the National Heroes week celebration during August 24-30 in the Philippines, there will be another film screening at Rockwell.  There are ongoing efforts to provide screenings at schools.

Note for US viewers:  In order to watch this film, you may have to attend the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival or the Manhattan International Film Festival.  It is uncertain whether the film will be available via Netflix or Iflix.

Maybe you’re wondering how I connected with this film and this director:  Since reading about this film in the newspaper from early June, I’ve searched for a way to watch this film. Not wanting to give up after not seeing any listings at local movie theaters, I wandered around the Internet to find out more about the film.  Thanks to a Facebook page for the movie, I promptly sent a message to see if I could interview the producers.  For a while I stayed in contact with the anonymous person responding to my private messages, until I saw that the University of the Philippines Film Institute, not far from our home, was hosting a screening.  Finally I had a chance to see the film and pursue more interviews with the right people, but of course, it was the night before I was to preach my first sermon.  With good incentive to finish my sermon early, I attended the film screening and met the director, or in Filipino, Direktor.  Before the movie, I handed him our family’s prayer card and offered my “elevator speech” of an introduction, asking for an interview.  After the movie on the way out, he handed me his business card, and I promised to follow up with an interview.

After that film screening, Direk Sigfreid and I have attempted several times to find the time and space to discuss the film and his filmmaking.  From my email signature that includes the line “In partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines,” we discovered that our Protestant Christian faith and UCCP link also were also points of connection.  Such a small-world connection made it less intimidating and more exciting to talk with him.

During our interview on Sunday July 31, we met in a Sunday School room of the UCCP-Cosmopolitan Church in Manila.  Later that evening the church would host a Service of Thanksgiving to honor the many elected and appointed leaders serving in national government.  Stay tuned for another blog post for another time or maybe in our next quarterly newsletter.   There Sigfreid and his wife shared how he and his family attend the UCCP-Cosmopolitan Church in Manila, starting with his grandparents, then his parents who were married there, and all 4 of his sons were baptized there.  Incidentally this was the first church that we visited after our family moved to Manila in early March.



On Sermonizing and Preaching

The Dallas shootings and Baghdad bombings made their way into the pastoral prayer this morning.

On Sunday, July 10, I preached my first sermon in the Philippines.  I had almost 3 weeks of lead-up time to write this sermon.  The earliest drafts included comments and observations about the PCUSA after General Assembly, with the Confession of 1967 and the Belhar Confession, our origins—as well as our divisions— as a church over the issue of slavery, and the ongoing legacy of racism.

Still I cut all of that material, about a week before the actual sermon.  This would no longer be a 10 to 15-minute sermon, this would be a seminary lecture on the PCUSA, I rationalized.  Then in the week leading up to July 10, in the days leading up to the end of Ramadan, the world seemed to light up on fire, through the numerous bombings in different parts of the world:  Turkey, Bangladesh, Baghdad,  and then more shootings of black men by police officers, in the United States.

Should I preach about these events?  How would I preach about these events?  Would it be appropriate for this Philippine congregational context?  In an attempt to shore up some courage from colleagues, I read some guest post from Rev. Wil Gafney on RevGalsBlogPals and some insight from Russell Moore.   I read and re-read the letters from our new stated clerk as well as from our new co-moderators.  I drew enough courage to reach out to a clergy colleague in Michigan who would preach on Sunday, and unsure of where to begin.  What about us being made in the image of God, I wrote on a Facebook reply.  I also reached out a clergy colleague in Dallas, private messaging that I would pray for her and the family, the community and the congregation.

All of these possibilities and all of these questions:  these recent events seemed to fit into my sermon theme “The Reconciling Power of the Holy Spirit,” and the Scripture passages from Genesis 33 and Philemon seemed to push me in the direction of putting back some of my original reflections.

So here’s what I added, at the very end of my sermon:

“Please indulge me for a moment:  While striving towards good works that demonstrate the new humanity in Christ, I join with my fellow humans in mourning the loss of lives and the violence from recent terrorist attacks in an ever-growing list of countries in the last days of Ramadan, and now the recurring police killings of black men and women in the United States.  Far from us in geography, I challenge myself and all of us in the nearness of these events, for everyone who believes in the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit to overcome terrorism and racism and other evils.  Lord, in your mercy and grace!”

Had I stayed to serve my congregation in Michigan, I know that these topics would be included in my pastoral prayers—for that seemed to be the extent of my involvement.  If I were preaching in Michigan, I’m not sure what I would say—just as I was thinking about the same thing in the Philippines.   Caught between these two different contexts, I still didn’t know if what I wanted to say reflected the words that were written on the paper.

On the Saturday evening before the sermon,  I typed brackets around that paragraph.  When it came to the final printout of the sermon, a big X went through this paragraph.  If there was time in my sermon, I would include it.  If the Holy Spirit seemed to move me in that direction on Sunday morning, I would include it.

In the end, when it came to go-time on Sunday morning at both 7:30 and 10:30 worship services, I did not include that paragraph.  I did listen well and noticed that my clergy colleague, during the Sharing of Joys and Concerns, included both the Dallas shootings and Baghdad bombings.

As we were leaving church after that full morning, my husband said, “27.”  That’s how long the sermon was since he timed it.  Our daughter in her usually talkative way had something else to share:  she showed me the two red hearts, now stuffed in my husband’s shirt pocket, that she made in Sunday School.  She learned about Joseph and his jealous brothers who threw him into a pit.  They were upset because their father loved Joseph more.

Maybe I couldn’t include a paragraph or even more reflections in a sermon.  All that I didn’t say and still wanted to say, was swallowed up by the preacher’s daughter who was telling me about what she learned in Sunday School.  Joseph forgave his brothers.  Momma, remember you forgave me when I said that I loved my Marie (stuffed animal) more than you.  Momma preacher, can you forgive yourself for what you didn’t say in the sermon?


Going to Court


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.”




On Monday, May 9, the Philippine people voted for their president, vice president and senators.  Within hours, it was announced that Rodrigo Duterte was the President-elect.  More than three weeks later, the vice presidential race is still in question, due to some questions related to the technology behind automated voting.  In the last few days, the new Vice President-elect has been proclaimed as Leni Robredo.  Although the Presidential inauguration is at the end of June, there are lots of questions about what a Duterte administration will look like for the Philippines and the rest of the world.

In case you didn’t catch these news stories, the Philippines has claimed the spotlight for other reasons: Telenovela star Jaclyn Jose won the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Anthony Bourdain kicked off his seventh season of “Parts Unknown” in Manila.  Davao-made chocolate claims international recognition from London chocolate tasting awards.  Reading the local newspaper and watching news channels has helped us to stay informed and an ongoing part of our cultural orientation:  refer to May 19 cover page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer above.

Settling into one month of Philippine life in March and April, then traveling in the United States in mid-April and May, and now returning home to the Philippines, Cathy straddled that cross-cultural divide.  Meanwhile Juan and our daughter stayed in the Philippines to continue life in the Philippines, beginning with summer school studies in Filipino language, writing and reading and swim classes at her new school.  With his street smarts, Juan learned more jeepney and train routes to get to different places, but also discovering the cosmopolitan culinary delights of Asia.

While we have tried to experience the fullness of life in terms of the Philippines, sometimes it’s easier to compare and contrast based on what was familiar from our life before in the U.S.  Here are a few highlights from the past month:

Three months of campaigning for the Philippine presidential election, is one of the first facts that I learned about politics during the midnight ride from the airport, on the same night that our family moved to metro Manila in early March.  During my church visits in Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, I was struck by how I was following the same steps as U.S. Presidential candidate hopefuls.  One day I was also struck by a radio news story that compared then Philippine presidential candidate Duterte with U.S. Presidential candidate hopeful Trump—oddly it took a U.S. news radio story to bring those two people together.  Later when sharing this fun fact about a Philippine presidential three-month long campaign with two different Iowa congregations, I was surprised by how many people erupted in applause.  Although I wish that I had asked the meaning of this applause, I can assume a wishful thinking for a shorter, if not at least, different electoral process.  If I were to talk more fully with other Philippines and round out this discussion, I wonder what they might think about the U.S. presidential campaign.     

For three days I participated in the “United Metropolis Conference” annual session, which brought together clergy, church workers, students who are training for ministry, UCCP national staff, in the closest thing to what I have experienced as a Presbytery meeting.  Most of the meeting was in English, but Tagalog spoken about 50% of the time.  From local church to conference to jurisdiction to General Assembly, it is almost like Presbyterian polity.  There are also “bishops” who function similar to the general and executive presbyters.  How best to support financially each of these “levels,” especially for small local churches who can barely support themselves, to larger churches who can without any problem, is just as much as a question for U.S. Presbyterian local churches and Philippine UCCP local churches.


Out of those discussions about financial support, I met an outspoken local church leader later in the restroom.  In turn, she invited me to her church for a 66th anniversary celebration which included a mini-production focused around the UCCP statement of faith and theme “Spirituality for a New Humanity” (my translation:  theatrical and multi-media presentation).

Days later, our family sat in the front row of this local church to enjoy the presentation.  In the spotlight now was this major (anything but mini) production which included a live choral ensemble, youth band, protest-type songs, children and youth dance and drama teams, church women drama team, and multimedia videos highlighting Typhoon Yolanda, Lumad killings (indigenous peoples), flooding after dams, and families living in poverty.


Although the entire presentation was in Tagalog, the expressive language of faith came through the drama, songs, music and movement.   Here is what we experienced through this dramatic presentation, through an excerpt of the UCCP Statement of Faith from their Faith and Order committee revised in September 1992: “We believe in One God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who provides order, purpose, meaning and fulfillment to all creation.  That in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary, God became human and is Sovereign Lord of life and history.  That in the Holy Spirit God is present in the world, empowering and guiding believers to understand and live out their faith in Jesus Christ…. We believe that God is at work, to make each person a new being in Christ, and the whole world, God’s Kingdom – in which love, justice, peace and prevail.  The Kingdom of God is present where faith in Jesus Christ is shared, where healing is given to the sick, where food is given to the hungry, where light is given to the blind, and where liberty is given to the captive and oppressed.”

Note:  We will be changing our blog template soon, so that you will enjoy this blog enhanced with videos.  Thanks for your patience!

First: in prose and poetry

Remember the last time that you moved to a new place?  For our family, that last time has been this first month in the Philippines, filled with many questions and many more answers.  Where exactly do we live?  What is the closest (fill in the blank)?  What church should we attend?  When are we expecting that appliance delivery?  What is the best way to get there?  To what school should we send our child?

No longer owning and driving and insuring two cars, we now entrust our transportation needs to others like our new Philippine colleagues in ministry, but also the taxi, jeepney or tricycle driver and our feet.  No longer buckled up in a car seat, our child sits fixed between us parents.  When walking on sidewalks or more likely, roadsides, our proximity to the street and handgrips are the best safety feature.  No more baguette but now the pandesal is our daily bread.  No more Michigan cherries but now more tropical fruits such as papaya, guava, and pineapple.  No more crunch and shovel of snow but now heat and humidity with cooling relief from warm evening and morning breezes and A/C units.         

As we are settling into our new home as well as a new life in a new country, God has provided us with many blessings during these weeks of transition.  Through informal chats, our landlord has given us insights into Philippine culture, politics, and people.  Our neighborhood includes a local library with many English-language children’s books.  In a different neighborhood, our family has discovered that we can continue to enjoy classical and new board games.

Conversations and encounters with our new friends and colleagues from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) remind us of the essence of mission partnership.  While we have not experienced a formal “orientation program,” everything that we have experienced but also the following specific instances demonstrate that we already are being enriched and equipped for the days ahead:

General Secretary Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, during his Palm Sunday Bible study for staff worship service, reminded all of us about what happened in 1986 with the People Power Revolution— set against the ways that Jesus still speaks and embodies truth to power through his sacrificial love.  That perceived “power grab” of him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey makes a mockery of power.  The conference room in which we met for this worship service, overlooks the same street called EDSA in which hundreds of thousands of people gathered and protested in relative peace against corruption and ousted then President Ferdinand Marcos.


 Protesters gathered on EDSA in late February 1986 (photo credit: Joey De Vera)

In the middle of March, former PCUSA mission co-worker Rebecca Lawson invited me to attend the pretrial hearing for Mary Jane Veloso’s alleged traffickers.  This is the same Mary Jane whom we introduced to many U.S. churches during our interpretation assignment.     Please pray for Mary Jane, her family, and her alleged traffickers, and all who are involved in this legal process to grant her clemency and pardon.     

On Easter Sunday, our home church, the National City United Church (NCUC) worshipped with a sunrise service that included 4 adult baptisms at the outdoor baptism pool.  Singing our way through part of the baptismal liturgy, it was a joy to celebrate and to remember our own baptisms.

On Easter Sunday, NCUC pastors and members prepare for four baptisms

After attending a recent Bible study at NCUC, I met one of the classmates and shared about our ministry.  She promptly shared about how she edited a recent volume about human trafficking in Quezon City—and invited me to visit her publishing house called New Day Publishers.  That following week, this same member brought the book to church.  This book looks to be a great resource for the local, national and international efforts to confront human trafficking.


In the meantime, our ministry continues during these earliest weeks and months of many firsts’ in the Philippines.  Thank you again for your support by reading this blog, and especially praying for us and our church partners, and providing financial contributions for God’s mission in the Philippines and southeast Asia.

Over the life of this blog, Juan will also contribute through his gifts of the written word.  Here is a poem that he has written about these first days:

The dust glows in the dark
The blue dragons hit hoops like pistons on play offs
Skin burned
Face cooked
Celsius makes sense
Escape from the abstract cold of the mitten
Meters are meters
Kilos are kilos
And a peso is worth more than a dollar
On the ever present concrete, wheels master the noise
Not so fast but Furiosa for sure
Decibels are invited in every room at every hour of the night
Their dust glows in the dark
Not much sleep
The sun is beating us like a CRS at a Nuit Debout party
Not much left to hide
Outsourcing resourcing
Pas Panama off sure, just good old taste of the empire
Lechon y flan, Patas y mangosteen,
Refreshment for the fools, so good
Everything is packed even the thoughts
Between a Duterte colonial fratboy joke
And mexican walls
My head is shaking
But who am I to complain
When both ecuadors are about to collapse
The dust glows in the dark
Waiting for the class to be over
Sonic youth leaks in my ears
“All the angels are dreaming of you”
But I never was a girl in a band
Mindanao is rebuilding itself
The grass is almost green at veteran’s
We are falling asleep
In the bright lava of a jeepney
There is silence for a momentary miracle in the heat
It’s the thought to be at the right place in the right life
And if at night dreams are shorts
I check on our daughter’s ones
Her soul glows in the dark

LOOKING AHEAD:  Over the next three weeks will be the run-up to the May 9 Presidential elections.  Watch for but also please pray for the candidates, the citizens and the election process.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Human trafficking is organized criminal activity in the Philippines and southeast Asia.  We are creating a zone of safety and security which includes not sharing too many family photos and sharing personal information.  Feel free to contact me directly at, if you have any questions.



Goosebumps from God


February 2016

During the last week of January, our family traveled to the Philippines to attend a regional gathering for all Presbyterian World Mission personnel serving in Asia and the Pacific.  Although it was our first time traveling there, we learned that our connections to the Philippines begin with Midland, Michigan, our home base for the past 6 years, in more ways than we thought.

Consider the early 1920s, a very different time in the life of the Church and the United States, when the fervor to obey the Great Commission compelled many young men and women to serve at a fever pitch:  a young single woman named Metta Jacobs, heeded the call to serve as a missionary in the Philippines.  There she met Robert Silliman, another young man who was also heeded a God-given call to serve as a missionary in the Philippines too.  (Although Robert shares the same name as the university, it was a New York philanthropist named Horace Silliman who provided the initial funding for the institute which became the university).  Together they eventually worked for Silliman University in Dumaguete City, while providing for the needs for their students, preaching the gospel to neighboring villagers and providing for their spiritual and physical needs.

Over the next four decades which included hiding from the Japanese invaders during World War II, repatriating to Australia, recuperating in the United States only to return later to the Philippines, the Silliman’s would serve faithfully as one of the longest-term missionaries.  Financial and spiritual support for their mission endeavors came through the generosity of people like Grace A. Dow and the Women’s Association and the First Presbyterian Church of Midland.

So what does Midland, Michigan have to do with the Philippines?  Get ready for the “goosebumps from God,” knowing that God is truly in the details:  The First Presbyterian Church of Midland is now known as The Bertha E.R. Strosacker Memorial Presbyterian Church, and more recently, the church where I served as Associate Pastor.  During my tenure, our church archivist Tawny Nelb introduced me to her book called “Mission Accomplished,” about Robert and Metta Silliman.

Fast forward to our first full day of the gathering which included tremendous hospitality from our hosts at Silliman University:  starting with Sunday worship, lunch, presentations and dialogue with the University President Dr. Ben Malayang III, campus tour, and concluding with the dedication of Presbyterian mission rock garden to highlight the 3-fold mission emphases of teaching, preaching and healing.

During our dialogue with the President, I shared these connections between Midland and Silliman University.  His response included a litany of Metta Silliman’s contributions, but also his hope to study more of the weekly letters exchanged between Metta and Grace.   I presented Dr. Malayang with the book called “Mission Accomplished,” written by the Tawny Nelb, the same archivist who handled all of these primary source materials including those very letters.

Grateful as I am for these gifts of the past and heritage and legacy, I am aware of additional gifts that we received during this regional gathering for all Presbyterian World mission personnel serving in Asia and the Pacific, that will carry our family forward into the future:   Our Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United States stand at a critical place in time and history, which is both our challenge and calling to serve as mission co-workers.

Each day of our gathering Dr. Cynthia Rigby led spirit-filled devotions and evening vespers inviting us to wonder with God and with one another. Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II provided challenging keynote discussions about the condition of the Presbyterian Church (USA), American politics and factors for effective Christian advocacy.  Planned events aside, several informal conversations also left lasting impressions:  During a dialogue about the challenges of how to support the financial future of Presbyterian World Mission, one mission co-worker urged us towards personal financial commitment in supporting all mission personnel.  Over several meals with Young Adult Volunteers serving in Korea, I listened to how they were learning about the challenging political realities and the very challenges of communicating these with friends and especially family members at home.   It was also refreshing to compare notes about these earliest years of mission service, some of whom are also families with younger children, while reflecting aloud with more seasoned mission personnel about their experiences and wisdom over the years.  During a day of recreation, we also enjoyed the wonder of God’s creation while swimming with whale sharks.

Once again, I affirm that God is at work and has been at work, not only because of these inter-cultural connections across time and place, but also because of the ability to “connect the dots” that can further support my convictions and calling.  God’s mission is ongoing in this critical and different time and place.  I cannot help but wonder about the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the leadership and future of the United States, and I wonder about how God will lead us as a family to serve in this new appointment.

Into this mixture of emotions, I plod not with heaviness but proceed with greater affirmation because of something else that I glimpsed during our last appointment before leaving Dumaguete City.  Over lunch, I spoke with the program manager of an NGO that advocates for people to reconsider a life outside of trafficking, even before being lured into it, but especially after someone has been trapped, rescued and now providing holistic healing during recovery.  This NGO is partnering with the local city church to create a shelter of holistic healing for trafficking survivors.  Last fall, this NGO trained local pastors about human trafficking, citing Biblical Joseph as one prime example who was trafficked by family members.  Get ready for more goosebumps:  Throughout the fall and winter, I have also preached about this same Joseph, inviting people to consider his dreams both dashed and fulfilled and overtaken by God’s promises to redeem the circumstances and to reconcile the relationships between him and his brothers!

What a wonder that the Spirit breathes such inspiration in the Philippines and the United States!  Out of such convergence, I imagine that God’s Spirit is making way for a different kind of space, into which local churches, both in the United States and the Philippines, can partner together in God’s mission defined as advocacy of “speaking truth in love to power” (to quote J. Herbert Nelson), as all of us work towards the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Partnered together around the issues around human trafficking and migration, as both advocacy and mission, in the local and global mission context, what might that look like?  Come, I invite you to explore and wonder with us.

After Sunday worship service at Silliman University Church