Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ. These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own. The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond.
Both Dessa and Cobbie Palm, mission co-workers to the Philippines, were born there as well. In her keynote at Dallas II Friday, she spoke about how the Filipino word “kapwa” literally means “fellow human being,” but actually bears a more profound moral kinship. Kapwa informs the way Christians should treat one another.
Dessa spoke about how, in the 1930s, an accord was signed by the U.S. and the Philippines on sugar trading, engraving the Filipino economy in a triple dependency: on monocrop culture, on sugar trading and industry, and on the U.S. as a single market. Fifty years later, the US demand for sugar was drastically reduced because of the development of artificial sweeteners and the world market price of real sugar plummeted. More than 250,000 sugar workers were forced into unemployment and indebtedness. By the mid-1980s, UNICEF reported that more than 140,000 children were threatened by hunger and malnutrition, including a boy named Joel Abong, who weighed only 3 kilograms at the age of 7.
“This is the face of globalization,” Dessa said, that slapped simple, hard-working Filipinos held hostage by global market forces that dictate life and death for the Philippine economy and the farmer in the field.
This desperate reality is the backdrop for why many of Dessa’s kapwa Filipinos yearn to leave the country to find more meaningful employment and seek a way out of their perceived dead-ends in that country. The government estimates that our country deploys 4,559 persons a day for overseas work, 4,559 or 1.6M a year.
But not all are able to wrestle their way out of the country. Some find their way to the metropolitan Manila where 11 million Filipinos reside, where an estimated 50% live in slum dwellings, often without clean water, toilets, and unsanitary environments. This would explain why the top three causes of morbidity in the country include Pneumonia, Bronchitis and Acute Diarrhea.
Less than 1% of Filipino students assessed are qualified for high school or college level education due to lack of resources and poor management of the public school system by the government. School facilities are overcrowded and dilapidated, materials and textbooks are inadequate, and schools are marked by technological incompetence.
The UCCP Tondo Evangelical Church aims to jumpstart the educational aptitude of 50 children among the poorest of the poor through the early education and the feeding program. They acknowledge that it is a really modest contribution to a much more complex problem of poverty. Its current pastor, Bishop Elmer Bolocon, a former secretary general of our partner church in the Philippines, explains: “Poverty is not God’s creation; it is a human deviation. There are enough resources for all, but they are not distributed equitably and are concentrated in the hands of a few.”
The church responds to this situation, says the bishop, because our faith requires us to. In our conversation, we both agree that poverty is far from being isolated stories of someone’s misfortunes. Its causes are historically rooted, structural and global in nature.
The picture looks bleak and overwhelming. But we must begin somewhere. And we have. For those of us in this room that beginning connects us to a cloud of witnesses that had been working to change the world long before our time. And we continue that legacy because we believe.
We believe in a God who began small, with just twelve, and reminded us, where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there. (Matthew 18:20).
We believe in a God who gave us a plan in the face of tragedy all around us and taught us, I have come that all may have life in its fullness. (John 10:10).
We believe in a God who showed us a way through overwhelming circumstances saying, Peace I give to you, my peace I give to you…Let NOT your hearts be troubled AND let them NOT be afraid. (John 14:27)
And we have! We have begun sowing the seeds! From Asia to Africa, from Central America to the Middle East to the Caribbean and throughout the world the Presbyterian Church USA is involved in work of addressing the root causes of poverty. In Central America the CEPAD through Kilambé Community Development Association in Nicaragua is helping rural villages come together and become legally constituted community associations, empowering them to seek resources for community development. The PC(USA) is there standing and witnessing with them. In Africa, the Kihumo Presbyterian Parish in Kenya is distributing female goats to widows to supplement the nutrition of their children with goat milk, and augment their incomes by selling the goat’s offspring. The PC(USA) is there standing and witnessing with them. In the Middle East, fair trading of high-quality and organic olive oil by the Palestinian producers through Import Peace has helped bring quality health care to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Occupied Territories. The PC(USA) is there standing and witnessing with them. In the Caribbean the FONDAMA or Foundations Hands in Hands in Haiti is providing corn and bean seeds to farmers, and simple tools for crop-growing in the continuing effort to rehabilitate the island from the devastating earthquake. The PC(USA) is there standing and witnessing with them.
We have begun to sow the seeds, but we need to do more. We need to come together and grow as an orchard of concerted strategies, sharing resources and learning and working together if we are to become God’s instruments of fulfilling the dreams of people around the world. May we earnestly learn from each other and gain greater resolve in our work. May we examine the ways by which we could be complicit to the problem, while striving to define our collective capacities to respond creatively. May we seek to find the keys to unravel both the specific challenges of each critical global issue, while appreciating the integral links of each issue to one another. May we be moved deeply beyond our isolated initiatives and have the courage to carve bigger and converging spaces that may sustain these emergent alternatives.