A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, serving in the Philippines
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This long year is finally coming to an end. The long days at home and the sheer number of conferences, meetings and classes online changed our family life. What was supposed to be a temporary adjustment turned to habits and routines. Like a short burst of sunlight on a cloudy day was our quick trip to California. After three weeks, we returned to pace ourselves and our souls, to cope better with the constant presence of mental, physical and health threats.
Thankfully the Lord has blessed us with good health and vaccines, but we recognize the challenges for many of our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors.
While Juan’s colleagues were on the ground evaluating and responding to children’s needs in the communities that they serve, Juan provided additional support through online training and conferences. Almost all sessions highlighted mental health struggles and breakdowns among teachers and volunteers.
Back in September, Juan facilitated a training session for young volunteers, 13 to 17 years old, as part of a series of discussions sponsored by the Association for the Rights of Children in South East Asia (ARCSEA) in partnership with the Children Rehabilitation Center. Every month, the ARCSEA invites young volunteers and teenagers to participate in this “Usa Isip ASAP” (Talk, Think, As Soon As Possible) series. Juan was the guest speaker about internet addiction. With the pandemic and remote learning and working realities, the time spent in front of a screen and on internet has changed astronomically! As of November 2021, according to a UNICEF study, the Philippines was still among five countries that did not resume face-to-face learning. Teenagers and youth workers shared that they spend from eight to 20 hours online daily, five to seven hours with classes and the rest of the time on social media as it became the only way to meet friends and distract themselves from the boredom of having to stay home all the time.
Only in October, Philippine quarantine protocols allowed permission for children and teenagers to step outside their homes and into the streets. They were in great despair and suffering from various forms of depression and abuse. The remote learning and staying at home revealed a lot of technology disparities, with many teachers and students not even owning a phone or computer with these capabilities, leaving most to share equipment. During the training, there were two groups of four students who were sharing one device. According to the Philippine Department of Education, this lack of access to technology and data left roughly 4 million students out of any formal learning.
Two weeks later, Juan was invited to join a panel at the University of the Philippines Diliman, through the Resilience Institute to discuss “Dealing with Emotional and Educational Challenges Faced by Children During the Pandemic.” The audience was a mix of students, teachers and parents. Juan discussed the social and mental toll the pandemic wrought through school closures and the government restrictions for children and teenagers to stay inside. During the discussion, a lot of parents and teachers expressed their despair in the lack of support about how to manage their children being all the time at home and having to wear more hats than usual. Everyone was looking for ways to cope.
It helped us to reflect on how we dealt with the extra-long confinement that the Philippines decided to adopt and how it impacted us. Learning how to cope together and separately. Together by reading, board gaming, video gaming, playing badminton, biking, watching movies and series, having family sleepovers and a “Yes day” (like from the Netflix movie). Individually by keeping our secret gardens alive: workouts, martial arts, meditation, lots of reading and writing, keeping up with friends and family and trying to sleep more.
Aurélie is still learning and doing activities mostly from her bedroom, with Juan’s assistance. Recently, she was elected as one of four fourth grade senators in student government. In a few weeks, she will represent her class team for the annual spelling bee. She progressed to her Third Grade Blue Belt in Tae Kwon Do.
Thankfully, she has an active online social life with school friends and other “Presbyterian mission kids.” Over Zoom, they discuss and play video games and whatever else is important to them. Like last year, when many were already at home and unable to travel to cemeteries and mausoleums to pay respect for their loved ones, we celebrated Halloween as a “Candy Fiesta” with the neighborhood girls. Juan started to teach French to Aurélie and the two girls that live right next door.
Aurelie and Cathy are both students now. Since mid-August, after returning from our quick trip to the U.S. and during our 10-day quarantine hotel stay in the Philippines, before being allowed to return home, Cathy started her classes as a doctoral student. She is enrolled in three different courses about human rights, religion and introduction to peace studies. She enjoys learning from the readings and classmates mostly from Myanmar, as well as a student from Brazil and Tanzania. Now she is preparing for three different term papers.
During these years of mission service, our family gratefully received your prayers and financial support. This funding is vital for our family. Please continue in your prayers and financial contributions.
Thank you for partnering with us in God’s mission.
Juan, Cathy & Aurélie
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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Tags: children’s rights, COVID, Internet addiction, mental health, quarantine, Remote learning
Tags: Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez
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