A letter from Cobbie and Dessa Palm serving in the Philippines
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Discerning the Will of God as a Community
The room becomes eerily silent as brown envelopes are handed to each candidate. Some leave their chairs, while others just stay in place with a palpable air of nervousness and excitement. In a minute or two, presumably as each candidate opens the contents of their letter, distinctive sounds and expressions explode throughout the Eco-Center at the Presbyterian Ferncliffe Retreat Camp. Quite a few squeal in joy, higher-pitched than usual voices seeking to connect with other voices. There are a number in tears. A few are over the phone, sharing the news with their loved ones.
This is the final night of our Discernment Process for the Young Adult Volunteer Program, when after a few days of prayer, site presentations, conversations, each volunteer is offered a placement in one of the many sites for their year of service. It’s a very intense and intimate moment, a moment that is both a culmination of a longer application process preceding this weekend, but also one that marks a beginning.
We are entering the third year of our engagement as Philippines site coordinators for the YAV Program, after a few years of hiatus. It has not always been without its challenges, but it’s always a joyful learning and growing experience to journey with the church’s young adults as they fulfill a call to serve partner churches and programs in various parts of the U.S. and the world. It is also a year that they are able to resonate in context with the World Mission critical global initiatives around addressing the root causes of poverty, sharing the good news of God’s love, and engagement in reconciliation.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In the Philippines our five currently serving Young Adult Volunteers are spread in three different islands with very different areas of work. Emily VandeWalle is based in Tacloban, Leyte, assisting a partnership between our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for a comprehensive post-disaster rehabilitation program. Two hours away in Kananga, Angela Williams works in a church-related school as a guidance counselor, where she is able to use her academic background in psychology. Two islands away, in Dumaguete City, Kendall Jennings volunteers as a social worker in a shelter for abused girls, while Tyler Hoisington works at the Silliman Water Ministry, helping in the production and distribution of filtered drinking water for the campus and for remote mission areas affiliated with Silliman University. In Manila Kelsey Pennington is working for a union of lawyers that provides free legal service to the most vulnerable sectors of the country.
Living apart from each other can be daunting and lonely, but this vulnerability has compelled each to entrust their lives to Christ even more, understanding that the edict of mission is an act of surrender and submission. We get together four times a year for our retreats, a collective time for worship, reflection, assessment and continuing vocational discernment. It is these times when we can share how God has worked in each of our lives during our months apart, and when we continue to carve out spaces to listen more closely to what God calls us to do, here and now and in the near future. Some YAVs quickly resonate with the nature of their placements, solidifying perhaps a call to pursue seminary, further studies in social work or law, another year of YAV service, or even a longer time for further contemplation and discernment. It involves a lot of prayer and conversations with God. These conversations may happen in their happiest moments, or when they feel most challenged and broken.
The YAVs meet inspiring folks in this journey. During our most recent retreat in Palawan we met Bobby Chan of the Palawan NGO Network Inc (PNNI), who came to Puerto Princesa in the 1990s and graduated from a reputable university in Manila. He began work as an environmental lawyer, educating local communities about the urgency of preserving the forest cover and coastal resources to protect the rich biodiversity of the province. It was in the midst of these educational programs in the communities, when he faced the irony of advocating for stewardship of the environment while at the same time hearing chain saws whirring and felling trees or dynamite setting off for fishing, that he could not escape a call to do more. He knew then that he was called to do something beyond what he signed up for. Instead of returning to Manila, where he could pursue a lucrative career in law, he has never left Palawan, and now he leads a local civilian team that confiscates equipment used for illegal logging, fishing and mining, enforcing laws in places where lack of political will has eroded the efficacy of the law and undermined the interests of the communities and the natural environment.
It is numerous encounters like these with people who share their personal journeys of discernment that we hope can open up the spirit of our YAVs to be more cognizant of and open to what is the will of God in their lives.
We ask you all to continue to journey with us, sisters and brothers in Christ, that in our Young Adult Volunteer program we could all be part of nurturing generations that more openly and willingly embrace the transformative aspects of our faith journey, one that endures the test, knowing that it is integral to discerning God’s call to pursue what is good and acceptable and perfect. Our YAVs have been able to serve because of a network of supporters, from their families and friends and their local churches to the larger worshipping community of the PC(USA). We thank you for your steadfast support, in prayers, through your financial gifts, and in your gestures of encouragement. And we invite you to find out more about the Young Adult Volunteer program, and share this opportunity with young adults you care about. A year of service for a lifetime of change.
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Cobbie and Dessa
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 249
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