Thailand: Getting to Know You

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(Almost) Three Years after Typhoon Haiyan

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Construction continues despite warnings and restrictions

Note:  As I write, Hurricane Matthew has already wreaked destruction with its torrential winds and rains, upon many in the Caribbean.  Many in the southeastern United States are now bracing for the storms.  Prayers for the many people already impacted and who have yet to be impacted, as they bear emotions associated with survival, trauma, grief and loss.      

Last Tuesday, I finished traveling through southeastern Philippines in Leyte and Samar with a PCUSA delegation that included executive directors and coordinators (Tony De La Rosa, Sara Lisherness and Laurie Kraus), associate (Luke Asikoye), mission personnel (Mienda Uriarte and Cobbie Palm), and a program assistant (Dayna Oliver).  Over three days, we visited “barangays” (very loose translation: “local communities”) which received assistance for shelter, livelihood and water/sanitation/health (WaSH) projects, after Typhoon Haiyan on November 8, 2013.  Support for these projects came from overwhelming generosity and developed through a partnership between Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Task Force Haiyan with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Here are some of the ways that this partnership assisted individuals:

*School children can enjoy a drink of clean water.

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*A family is no longer living in trees but now have a home.

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*A health clinic can serve people with standard medical equipment.

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*Farmers can use a rice mill close to their home that also employs their own people.

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*Men can support their families when they provide transportation services with refurbished tricycles.

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Several members of the PCUSA delegation had witnessed the early devastation and the ongoing rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts.  Without that kind of perspective, I still found myself looking back in a different way.  Traveling with this delegation prompted me to reflect on my faith journey from early high school, but also to reflect on my first six months in the Philippines.

On my first short-term mission trip to Merida, Mexico, I traveled with other youth group members.  Admittedly I didn’t care much for how we got there, that is, the missionaries who were already serving in Mexico, and the people who would be served by the seminary dormitories being built by our youth group.  These questions only formed in me over many years of mistakes and misconceptions.  These questions continue to open myself and others to newer conversations and actions around shared ministry and mission.  In preparation for this recent visit, I even practiced sample questions in Filipino that I might ask community members about their lives after Typhoon Haiyan.

From the view of a van, I noticed the signs of businesses and spaces that have been rebuilt after Yolanda.  Thanks to USAID, this sari-sari store is now open for business.  On the main street driving through Tacloban, World Vision has built up a playspace:  the sign is almost as prominent as the playspace itself.  These signs are still displayed, but many of these organizations closed up their operations, one year after Haiyan.

Through brief snatches of conversations with Task Force Haiyan staff members on the bus and during walks, I learned more and now wonder about the future of my new co-workers—because their peoples’ lives are still “under construction.” Many of these staff members are still recovering from Yolanda, and their very work is helping to support their own families:

“Eric” the avid photographer previously worked as a nurse at a hospital. He remembers hearing the warning of an impending storm that morning.  As the eldest son, he urged his brothers not to go to school, even though they had exams.  Now he is still providing for his family and looking out for his brothers, but not as a nurse.

“Lisa” is the primary breadwinner of her family, since her husband and his coconut farming is on hold until the plants mature for harvest.  Her eldest daughter graduated from college and is preparing to be a school teacher, but until her licensing exams which will happen next year, she works at a call center.

Our three-day visit to Samar and Leyte wrapped up quickly without my saying goodbye and thanks to these many staff workers, yet they are now are a part of my growing heart for the Philippines.

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*Check out more videos from our visits throughout Samar and Leyte.

 

Ma Rosa

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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

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“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.

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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?

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Going to Court

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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.

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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:

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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.”

 

Spotlight

 

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.

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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.

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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!