Last night I had dinner with Bishop Alex Wanadag and a young engineer from New York who is here with the Young Adult Service Corps doing community development work with the diocese. We then shared a traditional Filipino breakfast this morning before joining the diocesan staff – about 18 of them – for Morning Prayer.
After the daily office, the staff told me about the things they do. There is a major push on evangelism. The Episcopal Church has traditionally been identified mostly with the Igarot tribes, but is now drawing members from other tribes as well, especially in this diocese. The other big push is on Christian formation, specifically “lay enhancement” (particularly training lay preachers and Eucharistic Visitors) and continuing education for clergy. All of the clergy come to the two clergy retreats per year. I was about to explain that our clergy cannot do that because of our vast distances. To set up my explanation I asked Bp. Alex how long it took the most distant clergy to get to the retreat. He said, “It’s about a two days’ walk.”
Next I heard from their staff members who work full time in community development. There were 6 of them. They have more people working in community development than our entire diocesan staff. Community development includes a variety of projects like: forming agricultural cooperatives, setting up micro-credit small business and agricultural lending to free farmers from usurers, building a warehouse to store agricultural products without charge to the farmers, converting a water project’s power source to solar for cost savings, working with Heifer International to provide livestock to farmers and overseeing the farmers’ passing on the offspring of their gifts to other farmers.
Community development begins with the diocesan worker living with the community for a few months to learn their needs and earn their trust. They then do Asset Based Community Development analysis: what could this community do together for economic support? The diocese then offers training – first in the values of Christian living essential to being a cooperative, then in business methods and financial responsibility, then in the enterprise itself.
The government has also tried to form these cooperatives but theirs fail while the ones established by the Episcopal Church survive. The difference is the Church builds a real community with relationships and values.
I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the whole staff about how they were overcoming poverty through creative enterprise and Christian values. Instead of offering band aid charity to the poor, they are putting people on their feet. Self-reliance is a core value they practice and teach. Their challenge is to keep the social ministry tied to evangelism so that they nourish the souls as well as the bodies of the people. It is a challenge but it is a front burner priority for the community developers. This is, by the way, closely related to what we are trying to do through PICO in Reno and Las Vegas Valley Interfaith with our community organizing efforts. It is so inspiring to see the Episcopal Church here going beyond maintaining its Sunday morning operation and going beyond hand-out charity, to make a lasting difference in people’s lives and transform the society and economy around them.
This afternoon, I visited two small open-air churches. One had a large concrete slab used for drying the members’ grain and a warehouse for storing it. The priest, Fr. Tando, also showed me their health clinic. They have no doctor so they use herbal remedies, massage, and acupuncture. They grow their own herbs and have begun a major herbal soap business. Fr. Tando is also a bee keeper and has hives there on the grounds. Poor farmers can’t sustain the church with cash so honey and soap sales go to pay the bills; and the farmers can give more since they are not paying a warehouse to store their grain. Other churches are helping farmers convert to organic farming. Some are helping their coffee farmers who have been selling raw coffee beans to big companies process the coffee for sale themselves.
Bp. Alex and I had a serious talk this morning about the human rights situation here. I don’t think it best to blog about that, but one story is public knowledge – except that I somehow missed it. Did you? On Nov. 23, 2009, there was a massacre here in Miguindanao. One political leader had warned a potential rival that if he announced his candidacy, he would be killed. So the rival sent his wife (figuring in a Muslim region women would be safe) to make the announcement accompanied by a convoy of journalists. The entire convoy of 57 people was abducted and gunned down in broad daylight. 32 of them were journalists. 42 were women. That case was unusual because of the numbers, but political killings here are frequent and usually go unpunished. Human rights violations are being addressed this week by a group of visitors from the World Council of Churches. Participating in or reporting on the political process here is not for the faint hearted.