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Letter from Debbie Shields

Pastor Leng asked me to write about my trip in the Philippines for your newsletter.  First I would like to say THANK YOU for the very warm welcome I received from your church!  It was wonderful to be back at Sabang, to see people I met last time, to learn about church projects, and to have the opportunity to get to know Pastor Ronell and Pastor Bea.  A special thanks to Efren and Louie Frani and Tita Letty for letting me stay at their house, which feels like my home away from home now.

How does one begin to write about the trip of a life time?  I will start by saying I love the Philippines, which is why I came back!  The hospitality of people in your country is so warm, loving, and giving.  Truly I am blessed to have met so many people I now call my global family and friends.  As a Christian, I was also deeply moved by the shared vision of our faith. From Cagayan de Oro, to the mountains of Bukidnon, to Cebu, to Dumaguete, to Cavite, and Manila, I saw the body of Christ at its best through strong and capable pastors and church members willing to put their very lives on the line for their beliefs; church sponsored livelihood and mission projects that are making a difference; programs to provide educational scholarships to help families rise out of poverty; UCCP-run health care facilities, advocacy work and child trafficking rescue operations; spiritual formation and fellowship activities, and active youth ministries to nurture the next generation of Christians.

This time, I also had opportunities for a closer look at some of the daunting obstacles to these shared visions: poverty in some areas so extreme that malnutrition is a constant thief of the well being of those affected, especially the children; high unemployment and under employment, especially severe for young people, robbing them of their place at the table of life; such limited access to health care in some regions that people simply die because they cannot get to a doctor or a clinic, and even if they could, they could not afford to pay for services; escalating human rights abuses that allow 43 health care workers to be recently abducted and held on false charges, and attacks that terrorize Lumad villages in Mindanao as they struggle to stay out of harm’s way in the chronic fighting between the military and the New People’s Army.

As an outsider, perhaps the most sobering obstacle I observed was the growing tension within the UCCP itself, as one side pushes to take a more conservative approach to faith, while the other side continues to take enormous risks for social justice.  A divided house cannot serve the Lord with all its strength.  I pray that these divisions and tensions can be healed soon so that the creative energy and resources needed to make an ongoing difference in helping to solve your country’s pressing problems can flow unencumbered again.

My trip also strengthened my resolve to help my church at home stay focused on our own shared visions with the UCCP at a time when we, too, face problems of increased unemployment and diminishing resources.  So we will do our best to continue supporting two children at the Disciples Learning Academy, our advocacy work concerning human rights abuses in the Philippines, and our joint mission projects to help the Lumad people in Mindanao.  As I sang at your church from the song “Somos el Barco,” “The boat we are sailing in was built by many hands, and the sea we are sailing on, it touches every land.”  We are all the body of Christ; we must all embrace the vision for a more just world to make it happen because “we are the boat, we are the sea, I sail in you, you sail in me.” Debbie Shields

[1] Debbie Shields is a member of SCCD’s sister church, United Church of Christ Holmdel Community Church in New Jersey, USA. She came to visit the Philippines for the second time on January 3, 2010 with her two sons on the 1st half of her journey to Mindanao, then proceeded to the Visayas and the last leg was Cavite and Manila conducting training on Reiki, an ancient healing touch.  Debbie is a US accredited Reiki Master.