A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, serving in the Philippines
Individuals: Give online to E200533 for Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez’ sending and support
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When we interviewed in May 2015 at the Presbyterian Center with World Mission staff, it was the first time that we learned about Mary Jane Veloso. She was an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) on death row in Indonesia and spared from the death penalty at the eleventh hour by the Indonesian government. The international spotlight emphasized that Mary Jane was a human trafficking victim who had unknowingly carried a bag lined with heroin that was prepared by her job recruiters.
I have yet to meet Mary Jane, but I have witnessed especially how her mother Celia Veloso has become her tireless advocate. The persistent pleading for Mary Jane’s life has been Nanay Celia’s main concern, but she is not alone in her quest for justice. About three months after moving to the Philippines I traveled to one of the hearings against Mary Jane’s traffickers. Over the past three years, as part of a small group, I have accompanied Nanay during travels near and far, from Malacañang Palace, the official residence and office of the president of the Philippines, to Myanmar for a gathering of Asian church leaders committed to learning about and confronting human trafficking, to Morocco for the United Nations Global Compact for Migration. Even though Nanay Celia and I can’t speak directly to each other in English or Tagalog, we have found other ways to support one another through actions. A strong cup of coffee during long travels can help push us through jet lag. Jokes about clothing and expectations release the stress of dressing up for a formal visit with presidential advisors.
Recently I re-met Celia, her husband Cesar, two sons Mark Daniel and Mark Darren, and Mary Jane’s eldest sister Leah. Thursday, September 26 was the last opportunity for the prosecution to provide witnesses, specifically Mary Jane’s testimony. Along with the lawyers, a group of supporters traveled from Manila to the hearing to fill up the courtroom with support for Mary Jane Veloso. Thankfully Mary Jane Veloso received good news through one last chance.
This October 28 at the Philippine regional trial court, Mary Jane will have the last chance to speak in the trial against her alleged traffickers. Her testimony has been blocked until now, because of her recruiters who assert that their constitutional rights to see her face-to-face are being violated. She cannot travel to the Philippines. She can only testify based on two different scenarios: either the Philippine Supreme Court could allow her testimony, or the facilitation of the Philippine Consulate General in Indonesia could lead to a written deposition.
Such good news made for an enjoyable fellowship lunch for the Veloso family and some of their supporters. After the hearing, we shared a meal of chicken adobo and pancit (noodles), which Nanay Celia had lovingly prepared. While the meal filled me up, I appreciated the long and full hug, followed up by broad smiles from both of her parents.
While Mary Jane languishes in prison for drug trafficking in Indonesia, there is a drug war that claims the lives of mostly poor Filipinos whose names might not make the national or even international headlines. Two years ago, Juan was invited to learn more about their names and situations. He shared about these experiences in a past newsletter (The Voices of Children, Sept 2017). People are targeted as drug abusers or pushers, and then killed in the streets. In the wake of these deaths, families are left without their family members or access to justice. Several mothers have come forward and filed cases with the Philippine government, and even fewer prevail in their cases against law enforcement. Children who have witnessed deaths or dead bodies have very few places to deal with their trauma and grief, and later are often bullied or ostracized by their peers and surrounding community.
Thanks to the relationship between the Baigani community, social work students and practitioners, and Catholic parishes, there is a place for children and their families to process their trauma and begin healing. At family camps, Juan works alongside these volunteers so that children have time to play, share their stories and express their buried emotions and experiences.
Looking forward to this next term of 4 years of mission service, we are committed to continue serving alongside our partners in the Philippines and around Asia. We realize that each situation and person is an invitation to learn and to pray and to serve together, even though we are separated by distance and circumstances. We’re likely to experience mistakes, mishaps, and miscommunication along the way, as we are navigating new cultures and expectations. We’re grateful to God and for church partners and organizations that invite us into solidarity and support on behalf of migrants and their families, human trafficking victims, and children and families victimized by the war on drugs in the Philippines.
Almost four and half years after that Presbyterian World Mission interview, Juan and I are humbled and heartened that God has called us to serve as mission co-workers. We are grateful for your prayers and financial support that enable us to accompany Mary Jane Veloso and the children and families who are impacted by the war on drugs. Your prayers, your letters and notes, and your financial gifts show us that we are seeking and fulfilling God’s mission together. You are invited to join us for the shared journey in the next four years.
Cathy, Juan, and Aurélie
Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission
Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,
Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.
The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.
I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.
Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.
Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.
Faithfully in Christ,
Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission
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Tags: advocacy, Celia Veloso, drug abuse, fellowship, grief, human trafficking, mary jane veloso, OFW, overseas Filipino Worker, testimony, trauma, United Nations Global Compact for Migration, War on Drugs
Tags: Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez
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