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On Receiving the GTU 2021 Alumnus of the Year Award

It's hard for me describe the feeling when I received the call from the GTU dean informing me that I’d been selected for this award. It came during a strange season of transition, just a few weeks after I announced my resignation as Executive Minister of Serve Globally, which is the international ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church through which I’m ordained. There is, of course, a story behind my resignation, but fortunately for you time will not allow me to bore you with it tonight. I choose to believe that the award you’ve honored me with, as well as the timing of it, was God’s way of saying, “Everything’ll be just fine.”

Obviously on a personal level, it feels good to be recognized. But on a deeper level, the award puts the spotlight on the people whom I’ve had the privilege of being in partnership with for the last four decades: the poor, oppressed, marginalized, traumatized, and despairing both in my homeland of the Philippines and in urban America. By this award, the GTU says loudly and clearly that it’s interested in theology that serves the world’s most vulnerable.

Oh, if only my Filipino immigrant parents were still alive, they would be proud! I’m confident too that I will not be the last Filipino to receive this award, as I know the faithful, quiet, subversive work of many Filipino theologians and activists in the world. May my kababayan (fellow Filipinos) be inspired to be faithful to their calling to be lovers of God and lovers of people, especially the needy.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the GTU for helping me realize my own calling as a scholar-activist. I’m at my best when I have one foot in the academy and the other foot in the active church as it engages God’s beautiful but broken world:

  • The GTU helped me to develop language around what my wife and children and I did in two squatter communities in Metro-Manila, as well as in disaster-stricken communities in Zambales province as we engaged in community development ministries;

  • ·The GTU helped me to make sense of a movement I was immersed in among those who held fast to evangelical Christian faith, while also espousing progressive social views;

  • ·The GTU helped me to see God at work in and through traditions not only outside my evangelical tribe, but outside Christianity, even as I continued (and continue) to bear witness to my faith convictions.

  • ·Related to that, I credit the GTU for helping me lay the foundation for reconciliation and peacemaking in which I have used much of my energies over the last ten years or so. Reconciliation as mission is in fact the subject of my most recent book Whole & Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World.

If I may, I want to give a shout out to the members of my dissertation committee who ended up becoming more than just academic mentors: Dr. Philip Wickeri (SFTS) served as chair. His knowledge of the history, theology, and mission of the church in Asia (and beyond) was unrivaled. Dr. Eduardo Fernandez (JSTB) kept me accountable in all things contextualization. Dr. Ben Silva-Netto (PSR/ABSW) made sure I was on the right track regarding the Philippine studies portion of my research. And Dr. Susan Phillips (New College Berkeley/UCB) was an invaluable resource in the social scientific dimensions of the project. To say “thank you” feels inadequate! I also so appreciate our ongoing friendship, which developed beyond my GTU tenure.

A shout out to the rest of the GTU faculty and the enduring friendships among peers that were formed there. At the end of the day, the ultimate gift of the GTU has been the GTU itself, a community of people who are always learning and forever pursuing the deeper things of life—God, community, peace, justice, love, and truth. In a rapidly secularizing world, it is good to be a part of a community that cultivates a spirituality that conveys the message to all, but especially the disinherited, destitute, and desperate, that this not all there is. For good reason, we believe that the universe bends towards justice, so there’s more to come! It’s in that “more” that the poor have hope. Thanks again, GTU, for ultimately honoring them with this award.

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