A letter from Dessa Palm in the Philippines
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
A group of young people were performing a scene in mime. One discovers painfully that she has been diagnosed with cancer and has to go through chemotherapy. Another group depicts a community in panic due to a fire that has spread quickly and tragically leads to a girl's death. The girl’s mother comes homes and agonizes as she lays her daughter to rest. In unison, they all cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This group was not performing in a school drama or community theater. It was at the chancel of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines—Dumaguete City Church—and the Christian Youth Fellowship (CYF) members had been preparing the creative interpretation of Jesus Christ’s Seven Last Words as part of their Good Friday service. At the helm of this task was Nikki Cimafranca, a member of the church and also artist-teacher and officer of the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA), with whom I have worked since 2006.
As a child raised in a Catholic church, Nikki remembers Holy Week as a dreadful week of many don’ts. They were instructed not to bathe at 3 pm, which marks the hour that Jesus died, and if you did you would grow ugly spots on your skin. They were also told not to go out of their homes because Judas, portrayed almost as the devil, is just lurking around the corner, ready to prey on those who insist on leaving their homes and to force the wanderers into a sack.
And so Nikki, who is a gifted young director, together with a good friend Hope Tinambacan, another YATTA artist and pastor's kid, put extra effort into making Holy Week less about the fears and the don’ts and more about celebrating the Passion of Christ and the great sacrifice Christ has made for our salvation. With the pastors of City Church, they wanted to involve the church’s youth in understanding God’s Word in ways that connect to the life stories and concerns of the church members. And so the CYFers for weeks prepared interpretative dances, skits and images to embrace the Seven Last Words in ways that made Scripture come alive and make sense in their own lives.
Interpreting in dance the suffering of Christ
Glynda Descuatan, the chairperson of the church’s council (equivalent of the session) enthuses: "City Church has placed great emphasis on our ministry for young people. The pastors and the Church Council realize the greater challenge of making our approaches more relevant, and more meaningful for the young people in our church. City Church is blessed because of the members of YATTA, who introduced more creative ways of worship. In a congregation composed of the older more conservative group and those who readily embrace new approaches in bringing the good news, YATTA has successfully paved the way to unify the congregation, using the not-so-usual and more creative ways of expressing one's faith, and infusing more enthusiasm in its worship through theatre. The treatment of the Holy Week observance was an example. We have been used to the traditional way of interpreting the events leading to Christ's crucifixion. The presentations with Hope and Nikki and the young people were joyfully and positively embraced by the whole congregation. In fact, we look forward to more of these kinds of creative approaches in our worships and church activities in the future.”
The church’s pastor, Rev. Ed Samson, echoes appreciation for this creative effort. “I have seen how young people become much more engaged in the church’s work and ministries because of this theater ministry. And when young people are more active, the parents are drawn even closer to the church and even bring in other members of their families to the fold.” Christ is risen indeed.
The final word in song and dance: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” (Luke 23:46).
Indeed Christ’s love and light is revealed in so many creative efforts. For Nikki, being able to proclaim his faith using his artistic talents is Christ’s face revealed. For all the youth, interpreting the Seven Last Words and coming closer to understanding what Holy Week is about is Christ’s light illumined.
It is wonderful to share this with all of you because this is Christ’s love that has shone even brighter in the young people’s lives through all our collective efforts. Continue to pray that this ministry can be sustained as a place for worship, for study of Christ’s teachings, and where young people feel they are relevant to the church and can nurture their talents. Thank you so much for your tireless support in prayer, through financial support, and in words of encouragement.
Christ is risen indeed.
Dessa and Cobbie Palm
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 238
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