Journal Notes - January in the Philippines
Jan 1st – Two more days until we head back to the Philippines. It has been 13 years for me and 17 for Janice since we set foot there. I’m sure things have changed. It will be good to reconnect face-to-face with old friends and ministry partners [we served there as mission workers—I as a community development worker and pastor, and Janice as a nurse—for the greater part of the 1990s]. I like feeling this excitement on New Year’s Day.
Jan 4th – I forgot about the humidity! And the crankiness that goes with it. The hot, sticky moisture in the air immediately hit us in the face upon stepping out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport—a stark contrast to snowy Philadelphia where we started our journey.
Zzzzzzzzz . . . .
Jan 5th – Metro-Manila, a city of 20 million-plus, feels overwhelmingly foreign right now. There was a time when I knew it pretty well—how to talk to people, navigate the streets using public transportation, haggle over prices at the marketplace, emotionally negotiate the gap between the rich and the poor, as street kids and well-dressed business people use the same sidewalk. Etc.
I’m not near as confident right now, not even close, feeling rather paralyzed actually. The Robin Williams movie Hook comes to mind, the part when grown-up Peter Pan finds himself back in Never-Never Land, not knowing how to fly anymore, not knowing how to play by the rules.
Jan 6th – I wish this nasty cough would go away. We were going to travel two hours south by bus to Lipa today to see a bunch of old friends, but my cough turned into asthma. I take breathing for granted, until it becomes difficult! So we’re taking it easy in Manila today before heading off to Olongapo tomorrow.
Jan 7th – Olongapo [where we spent the last 5 years of our time there] has changed to almost unrecognizable proportions. A mega-mall now occupies the huge lot that was next to the church we were a part of. I’m glad the church wasn’t just crushed by the colossal presence of the mall; but it did have to move over a few blocks to give way to globalization.
We’re staying at Lifehouse Center, an orphanage run by old friends. There is nothing more heart-wrenching than to hear the stories behind why the kids (16 total) ended up at the orphanage—mostly runaways from grinding poverty and abuse in Olongapo and other neighboring towns—but also nothing more inspiring than to see people fueled by God’s love to give hope to the children via food, shelter, education, Bible study, and love.
Jan 8th – Went to Tambakan, Olongapo’s former garbage dump, where many of our friends live. I’ve been gone long enough and the place has changed enough that I didn’t know how to find the dwellings of a few of my co-workers, places I could find with my eyes closed back in the day. As much as the place has changed, the familiar sights, sounds and smells of poverty are jolting when you’re not around it on a daily basis.
Jan 9th – Visited with co-workers of LIGHT Ministries [a community development organization I helped to start but became inactive as of 2007] in San Antonio. The group of faithful workers there has grown the Kabalikat Savings and Credit Cooperative, a community cooperative that provides both micro-loans and affordable goods to the community—this, in spite of the threats from loan sharks called bombays who feed off of the poor by charging high interest for the same services. Kabalikat is one of the few shining remnants of LIGHT. Gratifying to see and hear of the benefits that this cooperative is providing for the people of San Antonio.
Jan 12th –The first week was so intense visiting with folks and their respective ministry sites that it took driving up the steep winding road to the mountain city of Baguio to remind me what actually prompted this trip in the first place: the annual William W. Menzies Lectureship.
Every year, Asia Pacific Theological Seminary invites an outside scholar to share a week’s worth of lectures related to his or her field. I’m it this year. Upon arriving at the entrance to the seminary, a larger-than-life banner with my picture on it made me and Janice laugh out loud, like hysterically. It was a mixture of feeling honored and feeling that no one deserves anything that big, I’m sure.
I do hope I can share my thoughts on missional preaching with authenticity and passion. How can we preach in such a way that inspires God’s people to remember who they are—children of the God of peace, justice and salvation—and to mobilize them for redemptive action in the world? That’s the question my lectures will address this week. First lecture is tonight.
Jan 14th – Lectures going well. I think. I’m having fun at least. I’m also really enjoying meeting the good folks here at APTS. I’m surprised at how international it is. The president is Malaysian Chinese. The dean is Australian. I also met faculty from Korea, America, New Zealand, and also a few from the Philippines. I guess I was expecting a seminary teeming with fellow Filipinos on both faculty and student levels. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m sure it’s partly personal; I want to see more Filipinos training and being trained in all things theological for the sake of the gospel in the Republika ng Pilipinas.
Jan 15th – Tonight’s panel discussion focused on something I said about a Christian’s commitment to nonviolence. Speaking to a mostly Pentecostal audience, I described myself as a Pentecostal (one open to the creative, unpredictable move of the Holy Spirit), but who has been hopelessly “Anabaptized,” that is, who has been influenced by the likes of Ron Sider, Stanley Hauerwas, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day—those committed to nonviolence as an integral part of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I reminded the APTS community that the early adherents of Pentecostalism were pacifists, and even further back that followers of Jesus were pacifists for the first 300 years of the church’s existence. What is it about the beginning of a move of the Spirit that inspires people toward peace?
Jan 16 – Lectures done. Whew. I feel honored to have been the guy this year for Menzies lectureship.
Jan 18th – Well, we’re back in Philly as of last night. It’s 3am and I’m wide awake, not only because of jetlag, but because scenes of the last two weeks vividly replay in mind. What a privilege to have been a part—however brief—of what God is doing in and through God’s people in that special part of the world.