Thursday, September 11, 2014

Let Your Empire Come

First a schedule of my time in the Philippines so far:
Monday, August 25th: Depart US
Tuesday, August 26th: Arrive in Manila, yes, we lost a day in our travels.
Wednesday, August 27th: Fly from Manila to Davao, Mindanao
Thursday, August 28th-Friday, August 29th: Orientation, rest, relaxation, somewhat recover from jet lag in Davao at Haran Center, a mission house of United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP)
Saturday, August 30th-Tuesday, September 2nd: Immersion in an Indigenous People (IP) community in the mountains of Panansalan, Compostela, Compostela Valley Province, Mindanao, at Salugpongan Ta'Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc., a K-8 school for Indigenous children living in the mountains
Tuesday, September 2nd: Travel to Tagum City for the night
Wednesday, September 3rd-Friday, September 5th: Immersion in the banana plantations in Compostela
Friday, September 5th: Return to Davao and Haran Center, our "home" sweet home
Saturday, September 6th: Immersion in a Moro community on the outskirts of Davao
Sunday, September 7th: Worship at Davao UCCP, travel to Samal Island for vacation, processing, and relaxation
Monday, September 8th: Enjoy a beach morning and return to Davao and Haran Center
Tuesday, September 9th: Leave Davao and Haran Center, fly to Cebu City, Cebu and begin stay at the Center for Development, Education, and Training (CENDET), the training center for UCCP
Wednesday, September 10th: The first full, and much needed, free day to relax
Thursday, September 11th: Orientation with Central Visayas Farmers Development Center, Inc. (FARDEC) and travel around Cebu City
Friday, September 12th-Saturday, September 20th: Travel around Cebu with FARDEC for another series of immersions with coastal and farming communities still rebuilding from Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November 2013
Sunday, September 21st: Travel to Dumaguete, Negros Oriental for our first retreat and last week of orientation before we travel to our sites and begin at our work placements

Needless to say, it's been a lot. It's been busy. It's been hard to process. It's hard to feel settled at all. Half of my luggage was in Manila until it got shipped to Dumaguete. We had somewhat established our homebase at Haran in Davao...and then we left. Now, our home base is FARDEC and CENDET (Yes, Filipinos love their acronyms), but we will only spend four nights total here. It's a lot of change and transition that started three and a half weeks ago when I left South Carolina and flew to New York for a week of (dis)orientation. However, that's not the purpose of this particular blog post.

During (dis)orientation, we had many sessions that may or may not have challenged our beliefs about ourselves, society, religion, culture, relationships, and the Bible. One of these instances came when our worship leader and YAV alum (YAVA), Matt Black, explained a new (to me) interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. Apparently, the Greek word that is traditionally translated to "kingdom" refers to "empire," as in the Roman Empire elsewhere in the Bible. He invited us to consider what it would mean if we were asking God to bring God's empire to this world. What would that look like?

We explored this in our daily Bible studies with former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), Rick Ufford-Chase, director of Stony Point Conference Center, where we had our (dis)orientation. Using the work of Ched Myers, Rick led us through a political reading and understanding of Jesus's life, ministry, and mission. Let me say that political does not necessarily mean partisan. Partisan is liberal, conservative, democrat, republican, libertarian, independent, etc. Political simply means that Jesus had some serious words for the government and culture of his time, no matter the ideology.

In our anti-racism and cultural competence training by Crossroads, we started to unpack the issues of privilege and our complicity in today's empire. We described the "cultural center" we saw in the US and what characteristics would lead someone to be outside of that center. Where do we fit inside or outside of the box? Now that we know this information, how can we use it in our years of service?

Again, this idea of an empire came up when J. Herbert Nelson, director of the PCUSA Office of Public Witness spoke to us about faith in advocacy. He confronted us about how we all have conformed to the empire. The empire is all about domination and control of everyone and everything. The empire protects its power. The empire is inviting and seductive.

So it is with this background that I came to the Philippines for my year of service for a lifetime of change. Oh, what a change it will be. I have already seen myself changing. I am probably going to come home much more radical than I was when I left. I'm really ok with that. These past few weeks have taught me that Jesus was a pretty radical guy. He wanted to really change the world (read: empire). If I am to truly follow him and strive to live like he did, then I must not be afraid to take risks for the sake of justice and peace.

At Haran, we had a book on our bedside table called Seeking God's Kingdom of Justice and Peace by Father Peter Geremia. Fr. Peter has been a priest for 51 years, and most of that time has been spent in the Philippines as a missionary, particularly in Mindanao. Now, those of you concerned for my safety may have seen that there is a US State Department travel warning issued for the Philippines. It warns US citizens not to travel to Mindanao, especially the southern and central areas. Well, what did we do the day after we arrived? We flew to Mindanao.

Fr. Peter's book is his diary from 1972, when he arrived in Manila, to 2013, his 50th anniversary of being a priest. During that time he received many death threats, was accused of rape and robbery (both false accounts), and saw his friends, fellow priests and church workers killed, threatened, and/or kidnapped. Did he ever stop? No. Was he afraid? Absolutely. However, he knew that the people and their rights were worth it. He was not going to let some paramilitary group waiver his commitment to empowering the people. He felt that his call was to work with and minister to the Poor, Deprived, Oppressed, Marginalized, Exploited, and Suffering people, or PDOMES.

Clearly, this book has meant a lot to me so far on this journey. It was comforting to read his first experiences with jeepneys and "Hey, Joe!" in 1972, as we were getting acclimated to the same things 40 years later. It was also an eye-opener into the history of the Philippines and why things are the way they are. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed much. In 2012, one of Fr. Peter's companions, another priest, was gunned down by a motorcyclist as he was getting into his car. Extrajudicial killings against church workers and those working to organize PDOMES populations are still happening.

Like Fr. Peter, I refuse to let these stories deter me from seeking God's will in this country this year. Instead, they give me great determination and motivation to learn as much as I can from these lovely beautiful people. I welcome the change that will come this year, even if that may put me in harm's way this year or later in my life. It is ok because it's not about me, anyway.

As usually happens when I blog, I get sidetracked and write about something different than I had planned. I will call it a night for now (or morning for everyone in the other hemisphere) and get back with more of my thoughts and reactions to the empire later.

Until then, much peace and love.

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