Warm greetings from the island of Mindanao!
Today is May 23rd 2018. I have been in mission in the Philippines now for 1 year 4 month and 26 days serving in my new assignment with community schools for the indigenous Lumad peoples on the island of Mindanao. It has been one crazy ride. Many geopolitical events have shaped my time here so far. Most notably the declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23,2017, a declaration that until this day is on going.
Still, I have been able to carry out the work of the Save Our Schools Network, visiting remote rural communities, accessible by rough unpaved often muddy mountain tracks only accessible by motorcycles, horses and helicopters. Through these visits I have listened to stories of hope from Lumad Datus (pronounced Dah-too), the community leaders, of their people’s ongoing struggle in asserting their right to self-determination and ownership of their ancestral domain. I have walked through villages so underserved by civil services that they must build their own community schools to teach literacy, mathematics, composition, critical thought, analysis, history, economics, traditions, sustainable agriculture, music, art and composition to their children, so that they have a leg up in advocating for their future communities.
In these schools I sat in classrooms made of wood or cement walls with grass thatched or tin roofs, rooms baked by the heat of the sun often with no breeze to move the humid air around; in these rooms I sweated and learned. I learned from young Lumad teachers, recent graduates themselves coming back to teach other Lumad scholars. I learned with these children about biology, algebra, Filipino literature, physics and soil preparation for the planting of mung beans. All of these I learned in scarce resource classrooms where creative teachers take practical applications and make these subjects relevant to their students, grounded in their experiences as indigenous peoples.
I celebrated in graduating “moving up” ceremonies recognizing achievement of Lumad scholars in advancing in spite of the odds to the next academic level. I listened to songs presented by children of all ages, songs depicting their struggle for education and for their livelihood as well as songs paying homage to the Lumad way of life through dances stylizing daily chores like planting, weeding, washing clothes, cooking, separating rice from husk and school.
In short, I traveled and lived among indigenous peoples for short durations, sandwiched between working on grants, advocacy campaigns, embassy visits, fact finding and disaster relief missions all around the plight of the indigenous people of Mindanao. For while the schools and communities may sound idyllic in my description, the truth is these communities, schools, teachers and even students are persistently threatened by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the current administration’s martial law and all out war against the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
I am in grief for students like 6th grader Obillo Bay-ao who was killed by members of the state’s paramilitary forces. I am disheartened by the increasingly violent and disparaging rhetoric from national politicians regarding these schools, as well as the closure of 89 schools. These tragedies of harassments, red tagging, trumped up charges, threats and killings existed long before martial law and the Duterte Administration, and yet, martial law has emboldened state and corporate security forces, giving them leeway to accuse anyone who disagrees, doesn’t comply, stands up for their rights – of terrorism.
Unfortunately, as a missionary I am not immune to martial law. Facing mounting international scrutiny with regards to the murderous anti drug campaign of the current administration, the international expat community of missionaries, human rights workers, peace builders and social justice activists has been on the receiving end of investigations for deportations from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration. I have been embroiled in my own suspect investigation, having been accused of violating my missionary visa as the former should preclude a visa holder to doing “missionary works and nothing else.”
My future here in the Philippines is uncertain. Should my visa extension be denied or revoked, will I be ordered to leave… or worse – deported? Should I be granted a stay by the special prosecutor than perhaps I will be relocated to Manila, where habeas corpus is not suspended and free of martial law. Will I get to stay in Davao? Whichever the outcome, having been here 16+ months with intent to stay longer term, I set down roots and bought larger household items than I should have (my TV nooo!) than if I had I known I might leave. I have some anxiety, regrets and sadness about leaving behind my home: transitions are hard. In an email to from my parents I received wisdom an Iowan farmer shared to my dad once: The second best day to plant a tree is today. The best day was 15 years ago. In other words: Do not worry myself about what I would have done or wouldn’t have done had I known this was coming. I had a good run with the people here and a good life in the home I found here. Today is a day to praise God, make peace, plant trees, and be thankful for the times I had.
Invitation to Prayers:
o Please pray for the Lumad communities in the Philippines, for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP.)
o Please hold UMC missionaries and other human rights workers in your prayers for safety, fair trials and resolutions of cases against us.
o Please pray for awakening of the Bureau of Immigration officials to an advanced understanding of God’s Mission – that it encompasses ministry with the poor and respect of rights for God’s creation.
o Please pray for me, for reliance on God in a time of uncertainty and for open mindedness to future whatever may come.
Invitation to support.
If you feel moved or led to support the work of UMC missionaries and want to make a donation in my name you can do so here. 100% of your donation will go to supporting missionaries serving in mission fields around the world.
If you feel moved specifically to support indigenous schools through the Save Our Schools project, you can do so here. 100% of your donation will go to supporting the indigenous community schools I have been working with the past 15 months.
Thank you so much for the support you have continued to shower me in gifts and in prayers.
Whatever comes, I know that I will be where God wants me to be.
On Christ the solid rock we stand,
Global Missionary, The United Methodist Church
Davao, Mindanao, Philippines