When I first arrived, fresh off the plane, I arrived with very few expectations. I had no idea what to expect. The Philippines was such a far away tropical dream nation from my homeland that I just didn’t have any notion whatsoever what was in store for me. From reading the placement site application I was aware in a very holistic form what sort of work InPeace did, so I knew it would have something to do with promoting peace. I didn’t really know anything about peace actually; I always just thought it was the absence of war.
I remember my orientation days and the getting to know you Icebreaker. It seemed like no one else really struggled with their words (A for Agreeable I put) like I struggled to come up with mine. My first impression of the staff was everyone was really focused about who they were as people, and what they cared about. Everyone was finely honed like a sharp tool…that was something I was envious about because even though I had chosen to become a missionary I didn’t have the purpose and focus that the InPeace staff had. All I had was passion and ideals.
I remember missionary training. Everyone else had expectations for their placement sites, everyone else had specific reasons they had applied to be MIs with GBGM. For me it was just chance, fate: God’s Will. I missed the original deadline and barely made it to the second extended deadline (in fact, I think I emailed the YAMS address and asked for 2 extra days.) I applied because fresh out of college I was looking for adventure, I was looking for direction and for purpose. I wanted to learn about life and not spend the next 3 years in grad school working on an advanced degree. I just wanted to start my degree in life. The MI program was a springboard for me– A springboard into Life. Not into my future career hopes, at least not knowingly. I knew that a lot could happen in three years, but I didn’t realize how much could happen in 18 months. How so many different exposures, experiences and people could change the life of a college boy and make him a more mature Christian man, a passionate advocate for justice and change.
One of the goals of the MI program is to have learning goals. My major problem was that I didn’t have any concrete expectations. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would be challenged and I knew that I would miss my home but also that I would have the time of my life. How do I put those into learning goals? The only real learning goals I could come up with were:
- To learn how to effectively integrate in various communities
- To learn how to communicate in meaningful, bonding ways across cultural divides (often non verbally, or with limited knowledge of language)
- To embrace challenge and hardship, and be flexible
- To discover what in the world Liz meant by ‘community organizing’
- To make for myself a new home in a new and different world
- To understand what is meant by a ‘ministry of solidarity’
And later I added:
- To accept the hope that people placed in me and my capability to help them
- To become more, to grow, to embrace more people every new day
- To stay out of the hospital (Healthy!)
I’ve changed a lot in the past 16 months that I’ve been at InPeace. I haven’t changed so much that people won’t recognize me at home; rather what has changed in me has been my focus, my drive and my will. I’ve discovered what is important in life to me, I have found purpose, a purpose given to me by the hopes of the communities that I was exposed to, a purpose fueled by the plights of the individuals and the communities in Mindanao and a purpose that is impassioned by a desire for justice and the social transformative gospel of Jesus Christ. I came to the Philippines willing and ready to be broken…and I was. I came ready to be molded, and I was. I came ready to be transformed by people, ideas, and experiences and I was. I believe that God spoke to me through everyone I met in Mindanao and said: “Adam, This is who is important to me, let them be important to you also.”
My transformation wasn’t done overnight…or even in 6 months. It wasn’t pain free or always happy. I’ve had fears and doubts, sickness and depression. But I’ve also had joys, happiness, and the tired satisfaction of helping one person tell their story. God shaped me from the earth that I was and put me into the fire, making me into a tool for the Kingdom of God.
If you had asked me 2 years ago what my opinion of politics was, I would have told you I hated it. I hate election years, all the mudslinging, bigotry, racism, Christian intolerance, American exceptionalism, bipartisan fights…I hate it. It’s just a popularity contest that is won by the contestant who can knock the other contestant down the most. The democracy of the United States was a joke to me. I never read political articles nor cared for debates.
After having been involved in polarizing political action campaigns during the past 15 months, it is correct to say that my political poles have been charged and magnetized towards justice for the people, tolerance for the discriminated, fair labor rights for the working classes, and quality education for all. I read the news a lot more, comment on forums; have political discussions with my friends. I have been interviewed by major TV networks and guested on political radio shows. In the Philippines, it has become impossible for me not to be involved in politics…and that plight of the people gives me purpose in the grind of ‘western democracy.’
I value everything that I have been taught and shown during my stay. I know that I have become more focused, mature, flexible and understanding during my time in Mindanao. I always had passion and ideals, but now I know how to organize communities around issues, and how to manifest the ideals that are within me. InPeace taught me things that I didn’t know I wanted to learn, until after I learned them. My experience here has been excellent. I will not ever forget how I was changed by the people of Mindanao, by the volunteers and organizers who serve them or by the church workers and lay leaders that live their spiritual calling serving the people of God’s Kingdom.
My next step is to be involved in similar capacities when I get home. I now know where to look to be involved: i.e to discover what issues are people dealing with. I’m happy that I’ll be working in L.A. because I have a strong bond with the Philippines and would be thrilled if I can make them part of being my next steps, for yes, I cannot forget the people who placed their hope in me, a foreigner, a young man, to tell their stories and to not let them be forgotten in the press for unlimited profits, wealth and fame.
I don’t really have a bucket list. My experience has been so earth shattering and wondering that I can’t honestly think of anything else that I missed out on. I would love to go to Palawan or do some touristy things. That can always wait until my next visit, for I will surely be back. I did want to climb Mt. Apo but I can be contented with seeing it rise from the morning clouds outside my windows. Mainly on my bucket list is to spend time with my friends before I leave, to reminisce on the good times and on the bad: To enjoy the last weeks that we have together and to look forward to coming back again.