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A letter from Rev. Cathy Chang serving in the Philippines

November 2016

Write to Cathy Chang

Write to Juan Lopez Carrasco 

Individuals: Give online to E200533 for Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez’ sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507588 for Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez’ sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Family and Friends,

Talk about being in a whirlwind, with swirling confusion and the need for constant learning in both cultural contexts, in the United States and the Philippines! When we accepted the call to mission service and moved to Manila in early March 2016, we didn’t realize that we would experience one more national election in the Philippines, as if one U.S. election wasn’t already enough. President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in early May, inaugurated in late June, and people are now evaluating his first 100 days in office. By the time this letter reaches you, the U.S. will also have elected a new president. Whatever happens, we will share the impact and still work together in God’s world. With my husband, Juan, and my entry into beginner-level Tagalog language, we are left in desperate need of humor and friends to navigate these churning waters. Thankfully God has provided both news and satire from the U.S., as well as face-to-face encounters with Philippine friends who act as cultural compasses to our many questions.

Maybe recent news stories about the “end” of U.S. and Philippine foreign relations, or a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila, or the ongoing drug war caught your attention because of your interest in the Philippines, because of your personal commitment to our mission and ministry, or some combination of both of these reasons. Maybe some of these questions come up when you read, hear or experience news from the Philippines: How do these news stories impact us? Are we safe? Are we the target of anti-American hostility?

These questions are ones we also ask ourselves. Since we are connected through the body of Christ, we’re grateful for your prayers and concerns for our safety and well-being. Still, we’re inviting you to a different kind of prayer and conversation, one that includes the very people and the country to whom God has called us to serve. For our new Philippine brothers and sisters in Christ, the future of U.S. and Philippine and other foreign relations does not diminish our relationships: we are still committed to one another because we are connected through the body of Christ.

Read on for more glimpses into our unity in Christ. I have attended and participated in many different events in the hopes of learning and meeting people to build up my network of church partners who are already addressing the issues of migration and human trafficking. I learn when I hear someone share his/her story about how they became a trafficking victim, or if he/she is speaking on behalf of a deceased family member. I learn when I meet a young adult who is socially engaged and volunteers for an organization, or a Catholic sister who has devoted her life to this ministry. I also want people to learn something about me when I register and sign my name and introduce myself as a PC(USA) mission worker who is working in partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Whether in my verbal introduction or written on a registration form as “UCCP/PC(USA),” lifting up these two entities is a way of highlighting our mutual ministry.

Faith, Witness and Service staff of National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP)

One of the first times that I intentionally wrote both acronyms on a registration form was at a National Consultation for Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM) sponsored by Migrante International and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) in September. Started in 2008, CWWM acts as a counterpoint to the rationale that migration leads to development. This perspective calls upon the government to provide basic needs such as housing, education, and employment instead of depending on remittances of overseas foreign workers (OFW) to build up an economy that isn’t focused on the needs of the most vulnerable people. Such a perspective is related to “addressing the root causes of poverty,” one of the strategic initiatives of Presbyterian World Mission and our global church partners.

At a recent church consultation about Mary Jane Veloso’s victimization our goal was to receive updates and to join our common efforts in advocacy and pastoral care for Mary Jane and her family. Nanay Celia, her mother, was there along with representatives from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Migrante International, and the Church Task Force to Save Mary Jane Veloso. A small but diverse range of people from churches and faith-based organizations had already committed their energies through previous efforts such as vigils and a social media campaign, but on this day we were trying to figure out how best to get involved in the future.

Mary Jane is a Filipino woman who was allegedly recruited in 2009 to transport drugs, although she thought she was on her way to a job in Indonesia. She is currently imprisoned in Indonesia, having been granted temporary reprieve from the death penalty in April 2015. The trial against her alleged recruiters is happening now in the Philippines and includes two different cases of drug trafficking and large-scale recruitment.

Ecumenical efforts to eradicate human trafficking are helpful but not without challenges regarding identifying common priorities. At the CWWM consultation I observed a diversity of participation with some who appeared content with programs and services to prevent trafficking while others were more concerned about urgent assistance for current victims. At the Veloso consultation I was surprised that the topic with most traction was the best care for Mary Jane’s two sons, especially if they should continue to live with family members. Nothing was finalized, but thankfully everyone agreed that Mary Jane Veloso’s life and her family are priorities. Into these mixed motivations of people and organizations I am also trying to figure out how best to engage UCCP and PC(USA) churches and individuals and appreciate your prayers for wisdom and discernment.

Closing prayer at the Mary Jane Veloso Consultation
Photo Credit: Emmanuel Mijares

During the Veloso consultation one Catholic sister introduced Saint Josephina Bakhita from Sudan, considered the patron saint of victims and survivors of modern slavery. She mentioned that her community incorporates this saint’s prayers into their liturgy. We Protestants don’t pray to or ask intercessions from the saints, but I was still grateful for the gift of this prayer:

Saint Bakhita, you were sold into slavery as a child and endured untold hardship and suffering. Once liberated from physical enslavement, you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church. O St. Bakhita, assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery; intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity. Those whom [humanity] enslaves, let God set free. Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and let them look to you as an example of hope and faith. Help all survivors find healing from their wounds. We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.

In early October we marked a year since we participated in mission personnel orientation for international mission service through Presbyterian World Mission. Thank you for your commitment to us and our Philippine brothers and sisters in Christ! We are grateful to God for your tremendous outpouring of love and encouragement through your cards, letters, prayers and financial support. We invite you to continue with us on this journey. Grace and peace to you now and always through Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever,

Cathy, Juan & Aurélie

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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