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A letter from Paul Matheney in the Philippines

July 2013

Many modern critics of religion predicted a steep decline in Christian belief and an equally strong rise in religious tolerance.  The detractors of traditional Christianity were wrong on both accounts.  The growth of Asian Christianity, for example, has been a great surprise for many.  The expectation was that Christianity would subside as the colonies disappeared.  A decade ago, when I first arrived in the Philippines, my colleagues spoke about the failure of Western missions to root the gospel in Asian soil.  Today, however, Christianity has not only rooted, it is firmly planted and remarkably spreading. 

Along with the growth has come hostility.  The old canard that Asian Christianity is nothing more than a colonialist endeavor foisted upon the Asian peoples for nefarious reasons has taken on new forms.  Yet conversions to Christianity cannot be tied to Western economic and political manipulation.  People come to Christ because they have faith—a fact that is exhibited by the joyful Christian communities that are rising all over Asia, from Japan to Indonesia. 

Two of our current doctoral students. Zacharias Circulado and Lolita Galinato

The hostility has grown lethal.  Large numbers of communities are subject to violence, government harassment and discrimination.  For many, everyday existence has become difficult, if not intolerable.  Many Christians are scapegoats for anti-Western distrust and bigotry.  Christians are attacked from many sides.  In countries like Myanmar and Vietnam, Christians are imprisoned and brutalized for being treasonous—not really trustworthy citizens.  Among critics of Christianity, progressives have taken the side of those who see the new converts as pre-modern and irrational—giving them an excuse for ignoring their suffering.  For many their joy and newfound faith have meant constant danger, suffering and loss of human rights, with no one to stand by them and for them.

Christians around the world seem to be unaware of this situation.  Our help, however, is urgently needed.  We cannot do this by writing articles about it for the press and Western readers alone.  We need to cultivate caring relations with the Christians of Asia.  We need to stand by and support their leaders, teachers and pastors as they seek to shape the future.  We need to acknowledge their suffering by helping them.  Their forbearance deserves our respect, love and prayers.  We need to share in their experience by entering into partnership and solidarity.  One way we can do this is to offer them a space free from the threats of violence and suppression.

The graduate programs Mary and I are coordinating at UCCP’s graduate school for religious studies, Philippine Christian University (PCU), have been envisioned as a safe haven for Christian leaders.  They are enabled to grow in leadership and forge their vision of Christian communities on their own soil.  PCU is a safe place to study and explore.  Here they receive support and experience solidarity.  Our students arrive from dangerous places and find friendship and the fresh air of new ideas and hope.  By training Christians from all over Asia, we have touched the lives of Christians throughout Asia.  We are very grateful for the prayers of our partners in the U.S.A. and elsewhere that have held us up during these years.  It is due to them that the lives of so many have been enriched and the faith of so many has been strengthened.  Your scholarship support has made miracles happen in the lives of students such as Josie Calixto, who is now teaching in Mindanao, and Mang Len Sung, who is director of a theological institute in Myanmar.  It is our graduates who are preparing a hopeful future for Christianity in Asia. 

Please remember us through your prayers, thoughts and gifts that support this ministry.  Please do not forget us.

In Christ,
Paul Matheny

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 211
Read more about Paul Matheny and Mary Nebelsick's ministry
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