Racial Justice Resources

Rising Up in Partnership

A Letter from Cobbie and Dessa Palm, serving in the Philippines

August 2019

Write to Cobbie Palm
Write to Dessa Quesada-Palm

Individuals: Give online to E200393 for Cobbie and Dessa Palm’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D506901 for Cobbie and Dessa Palm’s sending and support

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

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In October 2013, a horrific earthquake struck Bohol, a very populated island in the central part of the Philippines. I (Cobbie) was invited to meetings at Silliman University, where I teach, as the disaster response team was deliberating on the situation. Trauma was a serious concern, and discussion was focused on what could be done to ease the community’s fears about being inside buildings. As the aftershocks continued, the community even feared entering their homes. The Silliman University president at the time, Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, who is also an environmental planner, made the suggestion, “Recycle and redesign the shipping container van into a church.” His comment was received with silence. Then he went on, “The metal container van is earthquake-proof and fireproof, and once built it can also serve as the community evacuation center.”

A psychologist in the meeting inquired about the possibility of converting a container shipping van into a church and went on to say that if it was possible, it would surely comfort the trauma victims. The engineer in the group said that this would be a first for Silliman University, but converting a container van into a useable building is not new. As different areas of expertise collaborated on the idea, the room grew excited with the possibility of Silliman University supporting the construction of the first container van church in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

The conversation had hardly ended when Rev. Mienda Uriarte, Presbyterian World Mission area coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, informed Silliman that she would be visiting to engage the university in other concerns. Silliman University took the opportunity to introduce her to the proposed container van church for Bohol, and she agreed to seek support. Reverend Uriarte took the idea with her to the Youth Triennium in 2014, and the Triennium committed to supporting and raising funds for the project. God has mysterious ways of connecting the dots in partnership to see to it that when God’s people come together to heal wounds and touch lives through the church, God will be there in their midst.

I had forgotten about the project. It had been several years since I was informed of the celebration and ribbon cutting of the completed container van church in Catigbian, Bohol, when I discovered a letter on my desk. As if God wanted me to know of God’s good work and the fruits of partnership, I received an invitation to facilitate a retreat at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Catigbian Church. I had not put two and two together at the time I accepted the invitation — the island of Bohol has more than 50 UCCP churches. The journey to Bohol took me across the water from the island on which I live. I was met at the port and taken to Catigbian, about a 40-minute bus ride. As I stood there, I was surprised to find a new building. Then suddenly the name “Catigbian” came back to my memory as the location where the container van church was to be constructed. Here I was, absolutely surprised to be looking at the container van church before me. I was welcomed by Pastor Romeo Puracan and an active worshiping congregation.

I looked up to heaven in that moment and could almost see the face of God smiling at my surprise. In God’s great design, there was a new church that has risen out of the rubble of an earthquake, built by a beautiful partnership that included Triennium young people who may never see the fruits of their generosity.

Then the reality of where I was suddenly struck me. We would be sitting inside metal containers under the scorching sun. I thought I would surely melt in the heat of the space, and I prepared to suffer. But even my own fear was comforted when I stepped into the church and was struck by the creativity of ventilating through the ceiling and side panels. It was both comfortable and spacious. It was a beautiful blessing of partnership, giving me more inspiration to tell people, “God is alive! God is in our midst!”

Partnership is bearing fruit all over the world. God has placed us in the Philippines as PC(USA) mission co-workers to share our skills as workers for Christ through inspiring congregational life. Our work here is an extension of your partnership with us. In partnership with you, we bear fruit together. We thank you for your prayers and gifts of support to our ministry. We strive to represent you here in the Philippines with dignity and grace. In everything we do, we are cognizant that without you and God in our partnership, our ministry here in the Philippines would neither flourish nor see the surprises of God’s great design.

Cobbie and Dessa Palm


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