Kimberly Wong was one of six young adults who were a part of the California-Nevada Annual Conference’s second Pastoral and Solidarity Mission Team to the Philippines, June/July of 2008.
She is a member of Buena Vista UMC in Alameda, California.
By Kimberly Wong
This past June I joined the Cal-Nevada Pastoral and Solidarity Mission Trip to the Philippines. Our mission and goals were to provide pastoral support, to stand and be in solidarity, and to share the stories of the victims of extra-judicial killings and their families.
I first heard about the situation when my pastor, the Rev. Michael Yoshii, returned from his first trip. I was in awe and strongly disturbed by the situation and stories that he shared. Later that year I attended an event held at Buena Vista UMC where some human rights workers from the Philippines shared more stories and their point of view and screened the film Live to Witness. I was impressed by the kindness and compassion that they exhibited in sharing their stories with us, in spite of the oppression and pain they were dealing with in the Philippines.
Many people around me warned me not to go on this trip because of safety concerns, but I knew that if I would not stand up, listen to the victims’ stories, and meet the people suffering in the Philippines, that others might not dare to do so, either.
When I think about my experience in the Philippines and how it has affected me since my return home, a few words come to mind: a new perspective, inspiration, strength of the people, and change. Before I left for the trip I was excited about what I would learn from what I saw, heard and felt. Right now I am in one of many stages of discerning what path I want to take in life – asking questions about education majors, possible careers paths, and my own individual identity and beliefs. At the same time, realizing that the trip was through the United Methodist Church, questions about my faith and Christianity also arose. I thought the trip might help guide, inspire, or push me in a direction that feels most authentic.
This week’s Hebrew text is about Joseph. I have to admit that I did not know much about him. As I learned more about the story and his background, I saw myself as Joseph at the beginning of the Scripture. He was favored by his father and given a beautiful coat. I believe that living in America gives me so much freedom – not only of speech and actions, but freedom to feel safe and live life in luxury. In this way, I know that I am lucky – or, to make the connection to Joseph – somehow favored to be living with these freedoms.
A few days after coming home from the Philippines, I was walking on Park Street from the Marketplace, about to go home and cook. As I was walking in the sunshine so freely I was suddenly struck by feelings of freedom, ease, and joy. And then I thought of people in the Philippines who live with fear, anger, pain, and angst. Immediately I was both grateful and sad that I am able to live this life of luxury while the people in the Philippines may never be able to live and think this way.
As the story continues, Joseph is sent to check on his brothers, who were pasturing their flock. As he is traveling, he runs into a man, and the man asks, “What are you seeking?” And Joseph replies, “I am seeking my brothers,” and the man replies that they had gone far and so Joseph continues his journey to find his brothers. Stepping into this trip, I felt like Joseph on the journey to find his brothers. What was I seeking on this trip? I was seeking to hear the words and stories of the people in the Philippines. I was seeking a new perspective on my life, a direction, and a renewed path of light on my faith.
While I was reflecting with Michael and Jeanelle, they helped me to realize that all the things that I am seeking are related to each other. This question was put out to me: What kind of Christian am I? I was a little struck by this question because I always thought that there was a stigma associated with the idea of being Christian and religious. However, the trip shed a different light on faith and what Christianity can be.
On the Sunday before we returned home, my group attended an extremely small church in the Tondo area. Tondo is known to be the urban poor area of Manila. Families and children live as squatters, in abandoned warehouses living off of peoples’ garbage, and some actually live on Smokey Mountain II – which is the dump site in Manila. In spite of these living conditions and on top of the oppression by the government, I saw so much beauty in the peoples’ faith. When we sang and prayed I felt as though I could actually feel and see their hearts opening and pouring out. Their faith was so strong, in spite of the barriers that were set before them.
Not only were they strong in their own lives, but they felt called to work and help others. I saw this not only at the church, but everyplace that we visited on the trip: people constantly helping each other, motivated by their faith, their love of God, and their calling in life.
One of the people that I met on the trip, Jonathan, lost his brother to extra-judicial killings. The military came into the family’s house, and held Jonathan and his family hostage while they beat his brother and eventually killed him. Jonathan now lives in hiding. One of the most inspiring things is that Jonathan is working with an organization called Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Justice, providing relief and help for other families and victims of injustice and extra-judicial killings. He is seeking justice for himself, his family, and all the other victims in the Philippines and he is taking an active role in that journey.
Returning from the trip I realized that there are other ways to show my faith –through love, compassion and service to people. I received and witnessed this kind of faith and Christian love in the Philippines and that felt good to me. However, as Michael reminded me, this trip was not only about sharing compassion, but about advocacy and action, also. I am asking a greater question: How can I bring not only compassion but justice to peoples’ lives? How can I push myself to get involved and speak out? How does my faith and God tie into this all?
On the trip we attended an event on corruption and governance in the Philippines. There was a young adult speaker, Lizette Tapia-Raquel, who shared a reflection on the same story of Joseph. She talked about how Joseph became so wealthy he forgot about his family and roots. I never thought of the story in this way, but as I was thinking about my own life in America and those who are in the Philippines I realized that I do sometimes forget about my connection and ties with those in the Philippines, and about suffering that is all around me.
Joseph was mixed up about his own family and community. Being favored and donning his special coat made him think that he was better than the others. When his father sent him to find his brothers, Joseph may not have thought that he was actually trying to reconnect with his brothers and see that they were all equal, even if he were wearing a special coat and being treated differently.
I went on this trip also seeking to find community and equality with the people in the Philippines as if they were my own family and brothers. Like Joseph, I was out of touch with the rest of the world, caught up in this material world. But I was sent to seek out and unite with my brothers in the Philippines, to realize that we are all the same and deserve the same blessings.
And this where my questions of faith and my future converge. We are all the same and deserve the same freedoms and happiness, no matter what coat we wear or where we live. And as children of God and people of faith, we need take action against the inequalities of all people. That is where my faith pushing me – to seek justice and to stand up. This calling has helped to guide me in a direction that is most authentic, challenging, and growing for myself.
Before the trip, I was like Joseph, flying high on luxuries and living a life that was centered on me. Going on the trip, I was able to seek my brothers and see that we are all the same. The trip helped me to take off the Technicolor coat and stand together with my family, community and all people.
Things I want to share:
· changes in my daily life – being more grateful with what I have
· being comfortable with my faith, that there is a Christianity that is authentic to me – and maybe that faith will support my wanting to take action and do justice work
· the questions to which I am seeking answers in life: what path to take, where I should go and what I should do, what is my identity, what is faith, and what does it mean to me?
Kimberly Wong is at right in second photo (on boat), above. To her left, at bottom of photo, is Laddie Perez-Galang, followed (clockwise) by Cynthia Elliott, Rev. Lloyd Nyarota, Casey Antonio, and Jeffrey Laya.