Tomorrow I will board a plane to fly 19 hours to Manila, then ride in a car 9 hours north to Santiago, a transportation hub and See City in the mountains of the northern Philippines. If you had asked me a month ago why I was going to do this, I would have said it is because the Diocese of Nevada and the Diocese of Santiago are companions, and such visits are what you do. I expect why I am actually going will be revealed to me when I get there. God works that way. We think we are doing things for our own reasons, but it turns out we are doing his mysterious will accidentally. “Direct us in all that we do to the fulfilling of your purpose.” But already I am getting a better sense of it.
I am not going to Santiago to do anything for the people there. I do have a cowboy hat to give Bp. Alexander Wanadag and I will lead an Advent retreat for the diocesan staff and the clergy of the diocese. But those are just courtesy gestures. I will participate in an ordination, help consecrate a church, and have dinner with the primate. But those are things they are doing to include me in their ecclesial life. It could all happen without me. The real reasons are deeper.
I am going to express the caring respect of Nevadans for our brothers and sisters who live the Christian life in these distant island mountains. I hope to visit the Philippines in an authentically Christian way. That is important because of colonialism. Christianity came to the Philippines as a medicine mixed with the bitter base of colonialism.
Spain imposed conversion to Christianity, and the friars ruled the people harshly for hundreds of years, actually preventing them from learning Spanish or how to read and write. It was a ruthless subjugation that brought the word of grace. Then the United States acquired the Philippines in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. But no one asked the Filipinos. We were engaged in military conquest of the Philippines until 1902, during which 200,000 Filipino civilians and 20,000 soldiers died from combat or disease. Their guerilla resistance continued on the mountain regions I will be visiting until the 1920’s.
The United States and Japan fought in and over the Philippines during World War II and the local people paid a heavy price. They participated with Americans as prisoners in the Bataan death march, and it might be said that we “destroyed (Manila) in order to save it.” Certainly the United States was a more benign ruler than Spain had been or than Japan would have been – but we have nonetheless been an imperial power like Rome to Galilee.
While all of that was happening, the Episcopal Church spread the gospel albeit in the colonial context. It started with a military chaplain to the occupation force celebrating the Eucharist in 1898. Then the Brotherhood of St. Andrew sent missionaries. In 1901, we established the Philippines as a missionary district of the Episcopal Church. (Remember we in Nevada were a missionary diocese until not so long ago.) That missionary district flourished and became the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, an independent Province of the Anglican Communion in 1990 – only about 20 years after Nevada became a full-fledged independent diocese.
I met Bishop Alex on a bus headed from Kent to London at Lambeth, 08. He knew our priest, then deacon, Teogenes Bernardez, Jr. I found Bishop Alexto be a man of great dignity and mischievous wit. We talked and I asked about the possibility of a companion diocese relationship. His first impulse was "No." He explained that their independence was important to them, and they did not want to receive the largesse of a wealthy American diocese. I said, “Then we are the companion for you, because we have nothing to give.” Thereupon a series of meetings and visits culminated in each of our dioceses adopting companionship resolutions.
I want to visit the Philippines as a friend, representing the friendship of the Diocese of Nevada. We are not oppressors and not benefactors. We are friends in Christ. I hope this will be a sharing of the gospel and a sharing in the gospel uncontaminated by colonialism. Finding the authentic faith is harder when it has been presented by a dominating power. Ask our First Nations Peoples about that. Being there on an equal footing is the all important point.
I also hope to learn something while I am there. I know I will learn a lot, but I particularly want to learn how we can strengthen Asian ministries in Nevada. For starters, I’d like to be a better bishop to the Filipino Episcopalians already in our pews.
I am also thinking of evangelism. The Asian population of Nevada is nearly twice the national average. Asians accounted for 2.9% of Nevada’s population in 1990; 4.5% in 2000; and 6 % in 2008. That is already over 156,000 people. There is presently a movement of Asian Americans from urban centers from the East and from California to the Mountain West. I am grateful for the Asian worshipers in our congregations, but I estimate about 155,900 of them are missing. We have been blessed with Asian ministries that were self-started. But we have not set out to deliberately invite Asian Americans to worship, pray, and share with us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Frankly, I am not sure where to begin. I hope with this trip I will begin to learn.
God willing and the angels of information technology cooperating (do you suppose if the Annunciation happened today, Gabriel might just text Mary?), I’ll report in as the adventure unfolds.