A Letter from Cathy Chang and Juan Lopez
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“Let no one despise your youth but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
PMK: Ask our six-year-old daughter, Aurélie, what this stands for, and proudly she will say, “Presbyterian Missionary Kid.” She came up with that acronym, and surprised many — including her parents — when that showed up on a hand-drawn name tag for the Presbyterian Women Churchwide Gathering in early August. One lucky Louisville taxi driver also received an informative discussion about Presbyterian Women from this youngest mission co-worker.
June through August was our family’s first time for extended interpretation, which included visits to churches of all sizes and gatherings, like the 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis. Our journey focused on the Midwest, with more visits to California, western North Carolina and Colorado.
These visits and gatherings must have firmed up this identity for our daughter, as had the earliest years of mission service for our family. She might not be able to tell you exactly what her mother and father are doing, but she can tell you about who she is and what she likes and doesn’t like. After hearing her parents repeat the same presentation at church after church, after about the 10th, she wanted to introduce herself. We know it sounds like we’re gushing over our daughter; however, we want to express our gratitude to the many church members who hosted us and welcomed us graciously, and in turn made way for our daughter to speak up in the first place.
In the spirit of Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” Aurélie reminds us to slow down, breathe deeply, and enjoy the journey called life — especially during a full schedule of church visits and gatherings, and parents who work in God’s amazing world that is also fraught with complexity and complications. Here is a bit of what we have learned and re-learned from Aurélie:
Take time to swim. As we are inundated by responsibilities, the demands of work and travel can overtake the time to play together as a family. Along the way, we try to refresh ourselves and our bodies and our spirits. Juan and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a visit to and swim in the Russian River Valley, in Sonoma, California, where we got engaged.
In late March, my partners and I hosted a Philippine consultation to discuss the national and regional networks of churches and organizations that address forced migration in the Philippines. These new planning and implementing roles kept me busy and gave me a deeper appreciation for my colleagues from Migrante International and the Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM).
Although the geographical scope of my work is mostly Southeast Asia, I have had two occasions this year to travel to South Asia. In January, I traveled to Sri Lanka to learn about how our church partners are seeking to address modern-day slavery in the supply chains of various industries. One of the projects that impressed me was teaching Sri Lankan handloom weaving to women who otherwise might work abroad. I learned about two new organizations adding to an ever-growing network of those that address migration and human trafficking, the LIFE project and Selyn, a Fair Trade Handloom company.
In late April, I traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal, with a PC(USA) regional colleague from South Asia to learn about the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). Like many overseas Filipino workers, Nepali women often become human trafficking victims when they work in Persian Gulf countries. To address the countrywide concerns of Nepali migrant workers, UMN emphasizes community-based prevention and education, while holding government officials and law enforcement accountable too. Revisiting a local bookstore before leaving Kathmandu, I found a book called “The Nepali Diaspora: Migrants, Ministry and Mission,” which I look forward to reading and learning from in the coming months.
In late May, our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, celebrated its 70th founding anniversary as a denomination at the 11th Quadrennial General Assembly in Cagayan De Oro, located in the southern region called Mindanao. Juan experienced the rare opportunity to visit Iligan City, close to where the Marawi City siege took place between the Philippine armed forces and ISIS-inspired militants in May 2017. Iligan City is the temporary location of the historical Dansalan College, which boasts its reputation as a Christian school in a city mostly populated with Muslims. This same Dansalan College was destroyed within weeks of the Marawi City siege. The school president invited teachers to share their testimonies of those earliest days, as well as their desires for the school to reopen and to serve as a beacon of hope for the community. During initial discussions, several people mentioned that maybe Juan could provide trauma-centered training for the school staff, administrators and students. Should Juan stay involved with this school’s rebuilding efforts, he will accompany these same people through their balance between work and play. Play can help an overwhelmed family like ours, and maybe even begin the healing of trauma for this school and community.
Make new friends but keep the old. With an ever-growing memory and imagination, Aurélie will now remember the people and churches we visited. She wants to stay connected to the people and churches (and especially the pets!) we met. Many of our friends’ children have become her friends. She is looking for pen-pals.
It’s not easy to say goodbye. During one of our last church visits, we hung out in the church library and ran across “The Goodbye Book” by Todd Barr. More correctly, this book found us, instead of us finding the book — much like that other book that “found” me in Kathmandu. After saying too many goodbyes to old and new friends in many churches, as well as cousins in California, this book came at the best time for us. As parents, we might not have known all the right words to say, and Todd Barr’s words and illustrations helped us.
Aurélie’s desire to connect and reconnect with you has been nurtured over these almost three years in mission service. She learned it from her parents, but she learned it from you as the church — it’s what you do best and why we’re grateful to God for these relationships. We are especially connected because of God’s work in the world. We’re grateful for the many ways that you support us and especially our daughter, the youngest mission co-worker, through your prayers, care packages and letters, and your financial gifts that enable us to serve alongside our partners in the Philippines and throughout Asia. Please consider adding your support.
Cathy, Juan, and Aurélie
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