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The Purple Notebook

A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez, serving in the Philippines

August 2020

Write to Cathy Chang
Write to Juan Lopez Carrasco 

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“Mama, you spend too much time on your phone,” said my daughter Aurelie during family discussions about changes to our family routines of school, work, and play. It had been several weeks since the Philippine government authorities imposed “enhanced community quarantine” measures, which meant no school and no after-school routine of playing with her best friend or taekwondo. I would no longer report to the office or finish my workday at the local gym. Government restrictions backed up by the telecommuting guidelines from Presbyterian World Mission created these new rhythms. There I was trying to make sense of the coronavirus, stay in touch with friends and family, and read books, all from the palm of my hand.

The words cut deeper than the surface and caught me off guard. Instead of the usual joking banter of our family ways, this sounded more serious. Trying not to be defensive and appreciate my daughter’s honesty, I still needed a few hours to acknowledge and begin to find different ways of relating to school, work, and play, since our cozy apartment was morphing into multi-purpose space that felt more cramped than cozy. That’s when my husband Juan handed me the purple notebook, “Write down the important things, the things that you don’t want to forget,” he said.

The purple notebook sits at the ready next to my computer tablet, with its lined pages ready to receive my color-coded notes. To be honest, I haven’t counted if this notebook means less time on my phone and more time with my daughter—it might mean more hours with my tablet than my phone? Black or blue ink is the standard tone; pink ink raises the urgency; pink highlighter translates roughly to, “Do this before you do anything else.” The first details in that notebook are four medical centers recommended for COVID-19 patients. On the next page are April 8 notes from my first online meeting with colleagues sharing their observations about the urgent needs of Filipino migrants and their families.

More than a to-do list, this notebook includes plans and preparations, lessons and learnings from many online collaborative conversations. Although important, not everything has made it into the notebook. Juan and I have had multiple conversations about what we value as co-parents, co-teachers, and co-workers. We have connected more often with our families and discussed everything from racism to the Korean War to caring for aging parents.

I consider this notebook a passport of knowledge because it reminds me that I can still travel and meet with colleagues virtually. Colleagues affiliated with the Christian Conference of Asia, a regional ecumenical conciliar body, hosted webinars about the impact of COVID-19 on a range of concerns such as women and gender-based violence, food insecurity, and migrants. With Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM), there is a growing international and interfaith network of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern colleagues committed to solidarity and support with migrants and refugees. I am amazed that colleagues from around the Philippines, Asia, and the world, remain committed in improving the lives of migrants. At the same time, the Filipino people are suffering from lack of livelihood and hunger, exacerbated by the Philippine government crackdowns. Philippine churches and human rights organizations, in solidarity with international partners, are hopeful that the United Nations can call the government to accountability for human rights violations committed under the current administration. Presbyterian World Mission colleagues from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East have been meeting to create a forthcoming virtual World Communion Sunday liturgy, as part of a larger World Wide Worship kit ( that includes prayers and music from around the world. I volunteered to oversee this working group.

What excites me is how this notebook has traced our movement from online meeting spaces into new opportunities. April 8 marks the first time that my Migrante International colleagues convened an online meeting to discuss how we could respond more effectively to the short and long-term needs of overseas Filipino workers. We met again July 2 as a larger group of colleagues from Migrante, CWWM, and Compass PH. On July 25, we hosted an online Visayas-area dialogue to develop a systematic response for faith communities to partner with one another so that they can mobilize and organize around these shared concerns.

Although the challenges are great, churches are preparing to care for these migrants and their families. Initial estimates of at least 1 million migrants will return home to the Philippines by the end of this year. Many have lost their jobs and haven’t received their wages, while others are still hoping to work abroad with contracts before the pandemic. Seafarers are still stranded in their vessels and waiting for the government to repatriate them. Meanwhile their families are often disqualified from government assistance programs because there is at least one family who works abroad.

Maybe this isn’t your first time hearing about these colleagues or shared experiences. We are grateful that beginning in April, you have invited our family to preach, lead online worship, share a Minute for Mission, teach a children’s Sunday School, and share presentations. Consider this newsletter your new or renewed invitation to join our partners and colleagues in God’s work in the Philippines and around the world.

Your friends in Christ, Cathy, Juan, and Aurelie

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