A Letter from Dessa Quesada Palm in the Philippines
Kindred servants in Christ,
The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!
By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself,
"The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!"
Theater for Evangelism and Advocacy: God’s call for creative transformation
I am new to the family of commissioned mission personnel of the PC(USA) and I would like to share with you a short introduction to my work and ministry in the Philippines.
Growing up in a Christian society where 80 percent are Catholics and 10 percent are Protestants, we were supposed to abide by a strong Christian ethic. But I remember how deeply troubled I was even as a child by the disconnect between what I was learning from church or from reading the Bible, and what was happening around us, especially during the repressive military regime of the deposed president Marcos.
In the Philippines today we continue to witness the brazenness of some of our country’s officials in their plunder of the nation’s wealth, the gaping disparity of the few rich and the majority who lived in poverty, continued and systematic violence, much of which remains unabated because of a culture of impunity and the arrogance of power. In fact, people who try to be faithful to Jesus Christ by doing good and questioning wrongdoing are often considered troublemakers, dangerous and regarded as a threat.
Through all the years of my life I have been involved with advocacy theater with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), which has been a creative approach of speaking truth in an unjust and violent culture. Through theater a story is told that is an awakening of the heart and conscience to the need to act for change.
Theater as education has remained an important part of my life. In 2005 I started working with a group of at-risk youth in Dumaguete, where I now live. Many of these young people were broken; many were seeking God’s vision of goodness here on earth. We produced a play about human trafficking, as the region where we are based in the Visayas was identified as a trafficking hotspot.
This was when I met Aiza, whose family lived at the margins of the city’s dumpsite, scavenging for and recycling scraps to make a living. There was Ricky, abandoned by struggling parents as a child, who openly asked, “What does good parenting mean? I am afraid that we will be future parents and have no idea what that means.” And there was Hope, whose parents were both UCCP pastors working with evangelizing and empowering rural communities. Both were gunned down in May 2006, during a dark era in our history when those who acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with God and the disenfranchised were targets for extrajudicial killings. Hope’s mother survived, but his father did not. The gunman, whom his mother has already identified, is still on the loose.
These young people and I were brought together by God, and were given the grace of God through the use of theater and the arts to heal, to pray for and mirror our concerns, celebrate our joys, and to envision what God’s kingdom should look like if we were to be true believers in Jesus Christ. Theater became the space where Scripture came alive, given meaning and creative interpretation, where it offered a place where we can together rehearse what it means to live in Christ, to recast and replace the script in a society that has legitimized greed and oppression so that we may prayerfully live by the script faithful to God’s word and intentions.
Today Aiza and Ricky are teachers, bringing joy and love to the classroom. Hope is now helping in the village where his parents served. Praise God for the countless blessings. And for revealing what I am clearly called to do, a ministry using Theater for Evangelism and Advocacy. Theater and creative work is a personal passion for me, especially since I have witnessed the healing and transformative power of theater in my own life, in communities and in our churches.
With our partner church in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), we have developed a ministry that seeks to equip our local churches, especially the youth, to use theater as a creative process to share the story of the Christian faith, the values of Christian life, and to build awareness about social issues such as poverty and repression affecting the lives of the Filipino people.
It gives me great joy to be part of this ministry and partnership, and I feel even more blessed through my recent PC(USA) mission co-worker orientation to meet and learn with wonderful people who are likewise commencing their mission service: the Stones (Tim, Rachel, Aidan and Graeme) heading to Malawi, the Nicewander/De Jongs (Kari, Joel, Frankie and Johnny) and the Ruths (Andrew and Claire as a global mission fellow at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church) who are heading to different parts of Zambia, and those being reassigned like the Lims (Choon and Yen Hee). We were also joined by Duke Morrow, the new pastor of Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church in Barrow, Alaska
Brothers and sisters, please pray with us. We know in our hearts that God will provide, but we hope you can help it happen through your continued support in ways that you feel called to by the Holy Spirit. Thank you, and God bless us all.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 203
Give to Cobbie and Dessa Palm's sending and support