A letter from Paul Matheney in the Philippines
August 7, 2011
Mary and I are “assigned” primarily to teach Bible and Christian theology, respectively in our graduate programs. The programs are newly established in response to an urgent need for advanced theological education. The United Church of Christ in the Philippines, our partner church, is suffering from a lack of qualified seminary professors. There are very few professors that have a doctoral degree and many of the professors that are teaching now have been officially retired for years. While the churches are growing, the number of seminary graduates is dropping. Few are answering the call. These may seem to be simple institutional problems, but they are not. What happens to theological education makes a great difference.
It has been over a month now since the death of our friend Taytay Sam. Sam Guerrero was almost 90 and had led an extraordinary life. In the Philippines there is a tradition of celebrating the life of such men by remembering them in a fellowship 40 days after their death. The family gathers with those close to them and spends a day remembering, eating, singing and praying in his honor. Remembering is hard, but it is the best way to show gratitude for someone. In this case, the man, Sam Guerero, was a man who had done so much to remember.
First and foremost, Sam was a family man. He raised and loved a large family of seven children and one adopted child. Very poor, with little formal education, he had accomplished great things. The most important was to give birth to children who would be as caring and giving as he was. Sam did not graduate from high school. This was common for those who were young during the war. He was a soldier, having fought with the Filipino resistance and with the American Army for his country during WWII. He earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and other distinctions of valor. He told me once that the greatest honor of his life was serving in the U.S. Army. After the war he worked at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in ways that made him a legend for reliability. For decades he was a familiar face to students and faculty. He earned his high school diploma and a degree from UTS in their extension program for lay people. Even during the Marcos era, when it was very unpopular to show respect to the United States, Sam would celebrate the 4th of July by saluting the American flag on the UTS campus. He had a very clear sense of what responsibility meant, and those who knew him learned from his example.
What stands out about Sam is that almost every member of his now large family is a church leader. In a time when very few decide to serve the church, Sam is the father of three ordained ministers, a minister of music, and a daughter whose husband is a minister. Among his other children are elders and lay ministers.
Sam was a gift not only to his family but also to his country and God. Raising a family meant raising his children in the church. We have much to remember and be grateful for when we gather for the 40th day celebration of Sam’s death. It will be a great day.