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A letter from Paul Matheney in the Philippines

October 2013

Dear Friends in Christ,

In my last letter I shared with you our vision as a graduate school.  We are a safe haven for Christians who come from lands that are dangerous for Christians.  We intend to be a place where threatened Christians can think freely and openly about their beliefs and faith.  Among us they can say what want and live out their faith, without fear of reprisal or intimidation.

Jesilyn, a few months before she died in childbirth.

This is a noble vision, but lately the Philippines has not seemed safe.  The number of students in our programs who have died or suffered grievous harm is large by my estimation.  This month one of our applicants was terribly injured in a motorcycle accident.  He was thrown hard against the concrete, losing a portion of his leg and removing his jaw.  He was not taken to a hospital until several hours had passed.  He just lay on the road, while people talked about what to do.  His name is Rev. Robert Gabia.  Robert is a UCCP pastor and was about to enter our M.A. program.  He wanted to be a teacher.  In the Philippines if you take someone to the hospital the injured often has to pay prior to receiving service.  If they do not have money, they will not be admitted.  This happened in his case.  After lying in the corridor for more than four hours, the Philippine hospital refused to take him or even to care for him.  This is why people do not like to take people to the hospital.  They do not want to be held responsible.

Friends and the church came to the rescue and Robert finally found a hospital that would provide care.  Since then this handsome young man has had several operations trying to rebuild his face and reconstruct his leg.  Hopefully he can be put back together.

In August we lost one of our advanced doctoral students.  She was riding in the back of a public taxi.  Here in the Philippines the taxis carry about 8 to 10 people and open up from the back, as well as the front.  While on her way home after work in a Methodist social ministry, the taxi was boarded by a thief.  The man aimed his gun threateningly at the riders and yelled that he would shoot if they did not shell out their money and valuables.  Noemi jumped out of the back of the taxi and struck the pavement.  The taxi sped on and left her behind.  She did not have valuables with her, but she had papers that were very important to her and her family and could not be replaced.  She jumped to save them for her family.  The car behind the taxi stopped and called the police.  She was not offered aid until several hours later, when the policeman finally arrived and carried her to a hospital.  They did their best to help her, but her concussion had become a coma.  She never recovered.  The next day she passed away.  Noemi was a student who loved to learn and was exciting to talk to.  She was writing her dissertation and loved to tell others about her work.  We found her death hard to accept.  I was glad to be able to participate in her funeral.

For many of the years I have been living on the campus of UTS, I have been on call to help students who needed medical care.  When needed I would rush students or their families to hospitals.  Most of the time I was expected to help pay for their medical care.  That is just the way it is in the Philippines.  We have lost several other students in this atmosphere.  I can only think of Jesilyn and Alfredo, both who are no longer with us and might have been saved if medical services were prompt.  Death is a greater part of everyday life than in the U.S.  Our students are faithful pastors and leaders in churches, so their response is one of prayerful support for the families and friends involved.  It does not darken our days, but we do miss them.

Friends, family and the church are the only barriers to an early death for many.  I have been able to help keep a number of our students alive and have unfortunately been unable to help some.  Each life saved is infinitely valuable.  This ministry is one of the most important that we do here.  Life here is often very fragile.  It only takes a moment for all to be lost or saved.  I am so glad to be here or to be able to make the difference.

Please remember us with your prayers and support.  Knowing that you care makes a big difference.  Mary, Rachel and I will be coming to the U.S. in June for our interpretation assignment.  We would love to visit you and share our ministry here with you.  If you would like us to visit, contact me at my email address (or use the link below).

Paul Matheny

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 211
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