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I could not walk away: The mission work on migration and human trafficking

Philippines mission co-workers speak with Texas churches

by Judy Ramos | Director of Communications, Grace Presbytery

IRVING, Texas – Cathy Chang and her husband, Juan Lopez, are mission co-workers in Manila, Philippines. They help global partners such as churches and non-governmental organizations address issues of migration and human trafficking. During her visit to Grace Presbytery, Cathy spent time with members of several churches to help spread awareness of her mission work.

“I could not walk away”

Cathy said her upbringing, her focus on faith and early leadership roles helped shape the person she is today. But, she remembers the specific circumstances that led her to her current mission work against human trafficking.

In August 2013, the Presbyterian Women in her home presbytery in Michigan asked her to preach the closing worship at the end of a day focused on human trafficking awareness coming up that October. Cathy said she did not know much about the subject but she threw herself into research for the next two months.

Cathy Chang speaks at First Presbyterian Church in Henderson, Texas. (Photo provided)

“I know that sermon was supposed to be delivered to a group of Presbyterian Women, but I was preaching that sermon to myself,” she said. “I could not walk away. Something in me started to churn and just take hold of my spirit and I knew it would not end with that sermon.”

Soon, Cathy was serving on a county task force. The group had connections to a state organization and to legislation about human trafficking being proposed by a Michigan state senator.

“I found myself gathered at a conference table at a local women’s shelter with other community leaders. We worked with law enforcement, the judicial system and social service organizations,” she said. “So, I have to give credit to Presbyterian Women, our state senator, and the community-based focus of our task force that was a way for me to become more involved in advocacy against human trafficking.”

Fast forward to 2017 and Cathy and Juan now live in the Philippines after accepting their calling to this important mission work. Cathy is one of the two mission co-worker recipients of the annual Grace Presbytery support of World Mission.

“These churches are committed to praying for us”

More than a year after their family moved, Cathy visited Grace Presbytery in June 2017, where she had opportunities to share her story. She visited churches at regional gatherings and she gave a presentation at the presbytery office for staff and church leaders. With each visit, Cathy shared her personal story and listened to the stories of the people she met in central and northeast Texas.

“It’s been wonderful to not only mutually make this visit beneficial to say, ‘OK, I would love to introduce our work,’ but I’m excited to see what God is doing here in Grace Presbytery.”

Cathy said she wanted to personally thank two churches that already supported her mission work, Northridge Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Henderson.

In addition to providing financial support, Cathy said, “These churches are committed to praying for us and staying connected to us through our email updates and Facebook posts. They know not only how we are doing as a family, but they lift up the work and say, ‘Please, pray for our partners as we face very critical times in our government and in our society.’ Support also comes in the form of emails that come from them that ask how we are doing.”

“What do I bring to the table?”

When people ask about her mission work, Cathy said that for a church to address human trafficking you have to learn what it is. There are different economies operating throughout the Philippines and it is important to understand the context of the country as a whole. Cathy is working with a global partner, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). UCCP also oversees the ministries of hospitals, schools, colleges and the hotel industry.

Cathy Chang with Cheryl Taylor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. (Photo provided)

“It is through their witness as a church, their relationship with other organizations and by virtue of who they are that I also have been invited into this relationship” Cathy said. “UCCP consists of a heritage and the best of what these denominations can offer: Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Philippine Methodists and Presbyterians.”

“This is about relating, meeting, attending, and visiting with the various individuals and churches and ministries,” she said. “The beginning of understanding ‘what do I do?’ is to first understand the church with whom I’m working.”

She said she is learning to understand the concerns about migrants, migration and human trafficking through organizations like Migrante International and Churches Witnessing with Migrants.

“I am still learning what do I bring to the table as someone who is not only a representative, but a guest and partner of the UCCP? But also, what are those resources that I bring as a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker? These earliest months have been about navigating and finding the navigators who will help me.”

Cathy said the remainder of 2017 will be fast-paced, with lots of travel in and outside of the Philippines. She will be part of a curriculum revision committee on adult sexuality to use the curriculum with UCCP churches, colleges, and other sites. She will travel to Hong Kong to meet with several PC(USA) regional liaisons to discuss collaboration efforts. She will be a presenter for a UCCP divinity school convocation and she will serve with the Presbyterian Women Global Exchange to Indonesia.

Her travels will take her away from her family at times, but Cathy said she hopes they can join her once in a while. She said being in the Philippines has made their family stronger.

“We’ve spent more time than we ever have together in these first few months,” she said. “We depend on each other and play off of our strengths. Our daughter is resilient and has adjusted well, too.”

Cathy said her term of service goes through September 2019. She said she is thankful to take her memories of Grace Presbytery back to her new home in the Philippines.

“You can never say ‘thank you’ enough. From our hearts, from team Chang Lopez, we are grateful for the ways God has connected us in God’s mission.”


To read more about Cathy and Juan:

To learn about Migrante International:

To learn about Churches Witnessing with Migrants:

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