Reflection: Kristi Van Nostran

Reflection: Kristi Van Nostran

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Hebrews 13:1-3

“Let mutual love continue” was our theme last weekend for World Communion Sunday. It was a beautiful way to frame the celebration of the unity that we are called to as Christian siblings around the globe. Mutual love sounds sweet, don’t you think? Love is always a good thing. Cue the singing animals, some sparkly stars, and warm fuzzy feelings. Until of course you are stuck on a never-ending zoom call with the person who drives you absolutely crazy, or the person who always complains but never steps up to fix the stuff they complain about, or that person you live with who just left their dishes inches from the dish washer for the 10th time this week, or the family member who knows exactly which of your buttons to push… And so the author of Hebrews goes on to describe what mutual love actually looks like. And unfortunately for Disney it doesn’t appear to include singing animals or star-crossed lovers. It is a choice, and often not an easy or comfortable one.

Mutual love is counterintuitive: it looks like congregations who are facing all the challenges of living in this difficult, in between, insecure, unclear and unsure moment welcoming strangers. Strangers who could be angels, but who are strangers all the same. Mutual love isn’t safe. It means empathizing with those in prison, so much so that you visit them, write to them, pray for them, advocate for them. Mutual love extends to those who we can easily love like family and those who are strangers, love means being in the skin of the person being tortured, practicing compassion so extreme that you experience the suffering of others yourself. Which is probably going to demand that you do something about that torture. Love changes you, love demands things of you; love is action. Love is making the choice to act for those who are in danger, who are powerless, who are other. Love is a risky choice that will change who we are at our core.

The reason is simple: we are made in the image of a God who is mutual love. God of course does it perfectly, the three diverse persons of the Trinity freely to act for one another, to make room for one another, to always choose the best for the Beloved, and in turn the same is done for them. Mutual love becomes perfect in that the One who made us got so in our skin and felt our struggle that God came to us having put on human flesh. It doesn’t get much more compassionate or more loving than that! God took on real risk to be with us, to experience our lives, to show us with God’s own hands a different way of living, a way of choosing to love. Even if it meant suffering, even if it meant conflict, even if it meant death.

The author of Hebrews is seeking to guide that congregation – and our congregations – to build wide and welcoming community where the vulnerable are cared for and safe, where those with privilege and power give of themselves for the good of all. And the key to all the author’s instructions is action that builds welcoming, mutual, loving community. Love is about our relationship with others, the actions that will draw us closer to others, that will knit together a community, that will bind individuals into relationship with each other, and with God.

Love is a choice, however. We are free to walk away from it. We are free to choose an easier way, probably a more comfortable way. That easy way lets us choose just the people we like to

surround us, and only do activities that we like, and resist any change that might crack us open to otherness, or newness. We do have that choice, but it won’t help us to pattern our lives after Christ’s way; not like consciously choosing love does.

To choose mutual love is to choose to act in a way that gives life to all. Sometimes that means welcoming the stranger who is in danger, afraid, hated by others. Sometimes that means allowing ourselves to be the stranger who is welcomed by others out of our suffering, to be raised up and cared for in a community of love.

We are called by God to choose to act toward others in ways that builds wholeness, promotes healing, provides welcome and wellness in ourselves and our communities. It is work we can only do together, with one another and with the God who made us. This is the hope to which we are called on World Communion Sunday, and every day: To be people who are formed by and who practice mutual love.

In peace,

Kristi

 

 

Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:17

I have known Merilie Robertson since the early 1990’s when our paths crossed as my husband and I were gearing up for PC(USA) mission service. Little did I know that our paths would continue to cross for the next 3 decades, but I’m sure glad they have! I have been blessed to know her and be inspired by her. She moved into Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena in Feb. 2019 after spending many years (when she was in the U.S.A) living in Canoga Park, CA. If you don’t know Merilie already, I hope this article gives you a glimpse into why I feel so blessed to have worked alongside her in both San Fernando and San Gabriel Presbyteries for a number of years now by giving you a brief look into just a few of the adventures in justice she has lived.

Merilie was born in Simi, CA, in 1928 and grew up on a ranch that grew mainly oranges, walnuts, and grapes. She characterizes her family as adventurous, and she remembers many a summer camping trip in Baja California. She has many happy memories of growing up.

It was while earning her teaching credential that Merilie first considered that her calling might be to the mission field. She got her teaching credential; taught science, math, home economics, and P.E. for two years in a small town; earned a Masters in Religious Education at seminary; and then applied to the PC(USA) Board of Foreign Missions. In 1957 after missionary orientation in New York, she boarded the USS Flying Independence (a freighter) for a two-month trip around the tip of Africa to Karachi. She lived in Lahore, Pakistan, for 11 years teaching at the Forman High School for girls. Forman High School was a Christian school for Muslim girls. Merilie started the science department and taught mainly physics and chemistry in the Urdu language. Her next assignment which started in 1969 was teaching school at the Community School in Tehran, Iran. It was a very diverse school both religiously and ethnically. Merilie came to love Iran – the beauty of the country, the cultural treasures, and her students. In 1979 the U.S. Embassy was taken over, and then the Community School was taken over by the revolutionary guard.

Merilie and some other teachers stayed one final school year teaching at a new site in northern Tehran before the government closed all foreign schools and she came back to the U.S. in 1980.

That year, at General Assembly, a 5-year study that produced a document called “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling” was received. This little booklet had a profound impact on Merilie, and she says “it was a life-changer for me.” It helped her put many things together and cemented her call to be a peacemaker.

Merilie states that her love for justice started in Iran and grew from there. In the 1980’s Merilie really became an activist. She went on Witness for Peace delegation trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia. She learned about issues affecting Latin America and worked to raise the awareness of U.S. citizens and elected officials so as to effect change in U.S. policy toward Central America. She participated in acts of civil disobedience. It was an important time for her.

As I mentioned, I met Merilie in the early 1990’s before my husband and I went to Nicaragua as PC(USA) mission workers. In Spring 1994 we landed in Managua to begin our assignment. Then in the fall of 1994 Merilie arrived in Nicaragua with the Presbyterian Reconciliation and Mission Program. Merilie was 66 years old (the next oldest participant was 35 years old), and she was sent to the Atlantic Coast to the town of Puerto Cabezas. She was assigned to work with the Moravian Church’s Women’s Association and it was through that group she met many amazingly strong women who inspired her.

One such inspiration was a Miskito woman named Edrina. Edrina was extremely poor, but she was passionate about starting women’s associations at Moravian churches in the region. Edrina’s passion led to Merilie accompanying her to some very remote communities, and Merilie told me of one such trip.

Edrina had set up visits to several remote communities north of Puerto Cabezas, so one late afternoon Merilie walked to the port and boarded a 20 foot or so long sailboat along with Edrina. The boat carried quite a lot of people and freight, and they sailed on the ocean all night up the coast. When they got off the sailboat the next day they walked to a Moravian pastor’s house where they stayed for 2 or 3 days. Each day they walked to different communities and met with church women to talk about starting women’s associations. The return trip was via inland water passages and ended with them wading from waist deep to shore. This was just one of many interesting and adventurous experiences Merilie had while in Nicaragua.

Not one for twiddling her thumbs, Merilie felt called to travel back to Central America shortly after returning to the U.S. from Nicaragua. She went to Guatemala in the fall of 1995 where for two months she accompanied Pastor Lucio Martinez who was receiving death threats. Her time in Guatemala was very significant for her. Accompanying Lucio every day whether he went on a pastoral call in a community or to a meeting in Guatemala City or to work in his corn field gave Merilie a glimpse into and a better understanding of the lives of indigenous people. On community visits she would hear discussions about relevant issues. During Bible studies Lucio would read a passage and those in attendance would bring their experiences to the Scriptures in ways Merilie had not heard before.

Accompanying people like Edrina and Lucio gave her insight into how important it is to listen and especially listen to indigenous people.

Since leaving Central America she has continued to tirelessly do what she can for oppressed peoples. She spent parts of 3 summers along the U.S./Mexico border with “No More Deaths,” sleeping on the ground and carrying heavy water bottles around in order to assist migrants in the desert. At 78 years old she decided she had to stop that activity. But she realized that she could still work in aiding immigrants without traveling into the desert. She’s done a lot of advocacy work and about 7 years ago she started learning about detention centers and realized that people from countries she had visited or volunteered in were in some of these facilities. She started visiting detainees and listening to them, so she could then share their stories and struggles and better advocate for them. Then in time she began to train others on organizing and making visits. One local group she helped train is now way beyond just visiting detainees, and that makes her happy. During this pandemic she is still writing to a few detainees or released immigrants and she is reading to continue learning.

“See life as an experience that educates you,” said Merilie. Well, with all she’s experienced I’d say Merilie is a very wise woman.

In peace,

Wendy Gist

 

 

Languages

Languages

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Galatians 6:9-10

Yesterday was Pentecost, and the day before that was San Gabriel Presbytery’s first Zoom-based Presbytery meeting. As we reflect on the many languages spoken on the day of Pentecost, several have noticed that in today’s context, “language” can mean many things. These last months, this time of Coronavirus, have made us much more aware of new technologies—Zoom, Facebook, email, phone— and modes of expression—speaking, singing, watching body language, touch—by which we communicate with each other.

In our Presbytery meeting, we experienced several new ways of communicating. In worship, we heard a few of the languages of our Presbytery, with a Call to Worship for Pentecost in Spanish, Filipino, Thai, Taiwanese, and English, and a virtual choir singing in Korean, Spanish, Taiwanese, and English. We welcomed Rev. Dr. Michael Spezio of Scripps College as a new minister member. Michael has integrated his theological training with his scholarship in neuroscience, focusing on neurodiversity and how we can appreciate and relate well to people who have been labeled “disabled.”

Thanks to Zoom we also had a running conversation via chat, and so we heard from the breakout groups that most churches are exercising caution about coming back into your sanctuaries, reflecting on the new learning—and new participants—you have seen through online worship. Those who responded said you will be taking several weeks or months before coming back in. (This is prudent, also, because the State and County will be reevaluating this allowance in three weeks, so there may be changes come June 16.)

And we were able to hear from and talk with Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, whose positive energy came across clearly from Boston, giving us words of encouragement and prophetic wisdom as we consider our calling as the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We also received an offering for ICON, the Inland Communities Organizing Network, as they organize community members for affordable housing in the Pomona area. If you want to learn more about ICON, go to http://www.icon-iaf.org/, and you can give by going to https://sangabpres.org/donate/ and using the drop-down menu to give “to Presbytery Offering.”

Not only was the meeting Zoom-based, we utilized for the first time a new Facebook account, https://www.facebook.com/SanGabPresbytery/ where we could livestream events such as Cindy Kohlmann’s message and Q&A—and we can also store and access a recording of Cindy’s talk, as well as videos that were created for and since the Presbytery meeting.

I cannot thank enough our Presbytery leaders who put countless hours, expertise and love into making this Presbytery meeting a truly inspiring and hope-filled experience: Diane Frasher, Ally Lee, Jennifer Ackerman, Lauren Evans, Beau Wammack and musicians from Calvary Presbyterian Church, and of course our moderators Karen Sapio and Deborah Owens.

This meeting was a needed oasis for me, as we continue to walk through this time that has become even more painful than dealing with the Coronavirus. As we have been dealing with the uncertainty of this unknown, we were slapped, maybe gut-punched, with the all-too-certain reality of racism and violence, most recently illustrated by the violent and totally unjustified deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. One cannot view the way Mr. Arbery was hunted down and shot, or how a police officer kept his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd for almost 9 minutes, with his hands nonchalantly resting in his pockets, without knowing that the lives, the very humanity, of these children of God were totally ignored. There is so much to say about this, and yet words cannot fully express the pain that has erupted into demonstrations and sometimes violent acts of protest and fury.

The sad thing is that for many, this pain is not new; in fact some recall Fannie Lou Hamer, who described the vicious 1963 beating in a Mississippi jailhouse that left her with severe kidney damage,

a blood clot behind one eye and a permanent limp. She said about that, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” But for every generation, and for all who for whatever reasons are not aware, it’s important to speak, and communicate, from various perspectives. Over the weekend many presbytery leaders have been engaged in sharing thoughts and concerns, resulting in a video cry of lament and also many letters, including one from former San Gabriel executive, Ruth Santana-Grace, speaking from her Latinx experience, and a beautiful message to Detroit Presbytery from their Associate Executive, Charon Barconey, who speaks as a church leader and as an African-American mother of two young black men.

CNN commentator Don Lemon said, almost as an aside, that one way to learn more about what’s happening in this world is to make friends with people who are different from you:

If you are Black and you don’t have a White friend, get one, and tell him what’s on your mind.

And if you’re White and you don’t have a Black friend, then get one, and let him tell you what is on their mind. Because that is the only way we’re going to solve this.

Actually, I think there’s real truth to that. I remember many years ago watching a news item about a famous actor who accused a young man of assault. The actor happened to be White, and the young man was Black, and from Pasadena. While watching the report which assumed the young man’s guilt, my mother said of the young man, “That’s not true. I know his family, and I know he isn’t like that.”

How well do you know people different from you? Do you know them well enough to know better than to trust the lies and misconceptions that spread like a virus among us? Do you love them enough to care what happens to them and their families? Do you take the time (and maybe courage) to see and show your love for other children of God beyond the walls and myths that have been used to divide us?

In our Presbytery, we have people from so many different backgrounds and perspectives, we have a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other in this family of faith, knowing that however different we may be, we stand on the solid common foundation of our mutual love and faith in Jesus Christ. May we continue to build these relationships that enable us to be a shining beacon of light in this dark time.

Empowered and bonded in the Spirit,

Wendy

 

Reflection: Reopening?

Reflection: Reopening?

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

John 20:19

This last week nearly every state in the country has practiced some form of “reopening,” following its own set of phases and preconditions to determine the safest way to allow for more mobility and business interaction.  You can review the slide presentations for the State and the County.

I believe this has led to massive confusion.  Guidelines are developed state by state, sometimes by city and/or county, and they are not consistent.  I happened to go to an outdoor shopping area, to pick up some food at a very small takeout restaurant, who had two other customers, neither of whom were wearing masks.  Actually, I felt most uncomfortable with one customer who was “wearing” a mask, pulled down around his neck so that he could speak vociferously and constantly as he moved back and forth around the food counter, at one point almost bumping into me.

The State of California allows for some variance in county guidelines.  So, for instance, though the State allows for curbside retail business interactions, San Francisco does not.  Though the State hopes that schools and colleges and universities may welcome students back to the classroom by late summer or early fall as part of “Stage 2,” Los Angeles County is including schools as part of “Stage 3.”  And while the State lists FOUR phases, Los Angeles County lists FIVE—but on closer examination, it seems that “Stage 5” is simply the declaration of “fully normal operations,” whereas the State includes the opening of concerts, conventions, and live audience sports events as the “end of stay-at-home order.”

For churches, this has been confusing because, for instance, Los Angeles County does not mention in-person worship services.  However, the State does, as part of Stage 3, along with hair and nail salons and movie theaters.  Since the County lists salons and theaters in Stage 3 (along with schools), I believe that in-person worship is not allowed until “Stage 3,” and the State or the County are NOT giving any indication of a date for reaching Stage 3.  Though I hesitate to anticipate anything since things change from day to day, I would expect that Stage 2, which has just started, will be settled and analyzed for Coronavirus increases before Stage 3 is considered.

The County continues to state, in an overview of the May 8th revision, “All indoor and outdoor public and private gatherings and events are prohibited.”  And even though some retail shops have been allowed to open, they are not to allow customers inside the store.

As each sector reopens, the County has set protocols which will be tailored to its specific circumstances.  I expect that when it is time for churches to begin in-person worship services, guidelines will be developed along these lines, including things like (not a comprehensive list):

  • Protecting and supporting worker health and safety: supplying face coverings and requiring they be worn by all people coming onto the church campus
  • Ensuring appropriate physical distancing: blocking off seats/pews so that household groups are 6-10 feet apart from each other
  • Ensuring proper infection control: sanitizer dispensers everywhere; restricting self-serve food; reducing or eliminating contact in passing the peace, offering, and communion; restricting group singing or use of wind instruments; thorough cleaning of shared objects or spaces
  • Communicating with the public: educating and gently enforcing proper protocols
  • Ensuring equitable access to services for vulnerable populations: ensuring that all people are included in worship, including those who may still be discouraged from attending group events, such as people who are over 60 or have chronic health conditions.

At some point we may attempt to publish clear guidelines for reopening, but the guidance from the community has not yet settled, and I would hate to add to the confusion by making multiple changes in the time before in-service worship is allowed anyway.  It does seem wise to provide worship that is accessed remotely for the foreseeable future.  Several churches have already received requests that online worship continue even when in-person worship is restarted, and that would be great if churches can provide for both.  Some churches may choose not to meet in person for a while, even if the ban is lifted, depending on the needs of their people.  Last Tuesday, the pastors had a lively discussion of ways to make their worship services even more accessible, to people who do not have access to a computer, so people can listen to worship by telephone.  It is workable, and in one of our churches, half of the members participate in worship by phone.

Even as we face more peer pressure to consider “getting back to normal,” I hope that we remember our work as Christians is not to simply go along with the crowd, nor is our faith dependent on access to a sacred building or ignoring safety considerations.  In light of this time of Coronavirus, the familiar appearance of the risen Christ to the disciples reveals a couple of important details:  the disciples chose to protect themselves from perceived threat by locking themselves in the house—and yet, Jesus came in.

This time allows us—forces us—to reform our understanding of worship, faith formation, and community.  We believe that God is everywhere, so worship may occur anywhere, and providing for worship and faith formation at home is in fact a good thing.  Community is not just who we see on Sunday mornings in the church building; there are many people who are hungry for the Good News of Jesus Christ who for whatever reasons will not come into our Sunday morning services in the sanctuary—perhaps they are the mission field we’ve been reading countless studies about.

One of the most difficult things is honoring life events without gathering as a people.  This has been especially hard when people pass away, separate from their loved ones, and we cannot gather to celebrate their life as a group.  This last week, my mother’s oldest friend passed away, and on May 3rd, Rev. Charles “Chuck” Hammond died.  Chuck was a pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Pasadena in the 1970s, and was elected General Assembly Moderator in 1980.  A memorial service will be planned when we can gather in worship and thanksgiving for his life and ministry.  While both passed away quietly at home, with family present, we pray for their families, along with all families who are mourning loved ones.  Let us find ways to remember them and the ways they have been a blessing to us.

In Christ’s peace,

Wendy

 

Caring for Our Communities in Response to COVID-19

Caring for Our Communities in Response to COVID-19

Dear San Gabriel Presbytery family,

This has been a stressful and confusing time as we all try to come to terms
with the rapidly-changing guidelines regarding Coronavirus. The current
thinking is for all of us to sacrifice our busy lifestyles for the continued
health of our community, especially those who are most vulnerable. To that
end, and since we cannot know who is carrying the virus and thus risking
spreading it, it is important to consider how to restrict direct interaction
with others as much as possible, at least for the next month or so.
This weekend the Presbytery Executive Commission is considering whether
to cancel the March 28th Presbytery meeting; if so, we will announce in the
Monday Morning Update.

Please consider the following for your churches:

  1. Whatever you do, please consider the elderly (65 and older) and
    those with compromised health (heart and lung problems, diabetes,
    those taking medication that suppresses immunity or have
    compromised immunity). This means not only limiting physical
    exposure, but making phone calls and other ways to make sure they
    do not feel forgotten.
  2. The State of California has limited gatherings of over 250, and the
    City of Los Angeles is warning against gatherings in confined spaces
    of over 50. Remember to keep at least 6 feet away from each other
    when possible, and wash your hands whenever you can.
  3. For many of our churches, in-person worship is being curtailed, as
    well as most meetings. Several sessions are deciding to suspend inperson
    worship for Lent; others are looking for other ways to pray
    together by phone or email; others are still offering in-person
    worship but adding livestreaming and strongly encouraging people
    to stay home and joining via livestream. Click HERE for information
    on livestreaming (midway through the article).
  4. Many churches are suspending communion (or having only servers
    handle the elements and using individual cups), and offering plates
    should not be passed from person to person.
  5. Please look for ways to help others who are being more severely
    impacted. Make sure your church’s staff are not penalized for taking
    sick leave. Consider ways your church can support families with
    children whose schools have shut down, or elders who are isolated or
    worried about their retirement communities. Pray for and seek ways
    to help the most vulnerable neighbors, such as the homeless.
  6. Consider offering online giving for those who want to continue
    regular tithing. Your bank may offer an option for online giving or
    you might choose to use Paypal. Also, the Presbyterian Foundation
    can help you set up online giving.

MORE INFORMATION is available through the attached resources and
links. LA County has a section with resources in many languages, including
Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, etc. Go to
http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/, scroll down
to “Information For” and click “Other Specific Audiences,” which includes
“Faith Based Organizations.”

JOIN US FOR A GROUP CONFERENCE CALL on Tuesday, March 17 at
10:00 am to share questions, concerns, ideas, and best practices with sister
churches.

Click here for the details on the ZOOM call.
Click here for a video on how to join a ZOOM call.

Blessings and constant prayers of thanksgiving and concern for your
caring leadership.

Wendy

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Guidance for Faith Based Organizations

PC(USA) Resources for Churches Coronavirus: Faith, Not Fear

Human Rights in the Philippines

Human Rights in the Philippines

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.

Romans 15:25-26

Among Presbyterian leaders, we often refer to our “connectional” nature.  This connectionalism informs all levels of our church:

  • We assume and encourage decision-making and mutual accountability by groups over individuals
  • We gather local churches into presbyteries, and encourage participation in ecumenical and interfaith efforts for the good of the local community
  • We send presbytery commissioners to synods and to the General Assembly, which meets every other year to discern the mission and leadership for the national church and provides guidance to churches, presbyteries, and synods
  • We participate in global ecumenical mission through formal gatherings such as the World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches, through relationships with mission partners in different countries, and in individual relationships with local churches in other countries.

As a gear in this great connectional machine, I enjoy the greetings sections of Paul’s letters, when he celebrates connections between churches and church workers, and asks for prayers for churches in other areas.  This is a core function of the presbytery, and part of my hope in writing this column is to tell the story of our member churches, and to highlight concerns and joys of the wider church.  And our MMU always starts with a request for prayer for one of our member churches or ministries in San Gabriel Presbytery.

In our upcoming Presbytery meetings, we highlight our connectional nature in multiple ways.  On March 28th, we will hear from Mickie Choi and René Myers from our national church, and we will consider two overtures to be presented to this June’s General Assembly.  On May 30th, we welcome GA Co-Moderator Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and commission our commissioners Jennifer Ackerman and Maria Cacarnakis.  Throughout the year, we are referencing the Vision 2020 Team’s proposal that we strive to fulfill our mission as the PCUSA to be “Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, and Alive.”  In March we will consider what it means to be Courageous, and in May it works nicely to welcome the Co-Moderator and give thanks for being United in Christ.

Today and next week I wanted to highlight the overtures that are being presented to us for consideration on March 28th.  You can reference both by clicking these links:

 Today I am focusing on the Philippines, and specifically on the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, our sister denomination in the Philippines and the mother church of many of our own members.

Some of you may know of our long and deep connection with the Philippines.  Presbyterian missionaries were among the first Protestants in the islands, coming after the end of the Spanish-American War in 1899.  In 1901, Presbyterians founded Silliman University, the first American school in the Philippines.  In recent years, two of our GA Moderators are of Filipino heritage, and are both based in California:  Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow (2008-2010) and Rev. Dr. Neal Presa (2012-2014).  In our own presbytery, two of our congregations have Filipino-majority memberships:  Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church in Azusa and Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church in Eagle Rock.  And our own CRE Bong Bringas, Presbytery Moderator in 2016, serves on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

But you may not know about the struggles experienced in the Philippines in recent years.  Poverty, natural disasters, and human rights violations have severely impacted the quality of life.  Resolutions were passed by the General Assembly in 2006 and 2008 to ask for prayer and partnership with the UCCP, and to decry human rights violations in the Philippines, including the murder, abduction, or torture of dozens of UCCP pastors and leaders since 2001.  Currently, their violence and harassment has been given open governmental support, most recently in November 2019, when the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, of which the UCCP is an active member, was included on the list of “front organizations of local communist terrorist groups” by the Department of National Defense.  Police are now openly arresting pastors and church leaders with false accusations of attempted murder.

Frankly, when this overture was sent to us for consideration, my initial thought was it’s a no-brainer for our presbytery to concur with it.  But then I realized how little attention has been given to this issue by national media, the church, or myself.  So this is an opportunity for us to give thanks for our strong relationship with the people of the Philippines, to learn about the needs they are facing, and to step forward in love and support with our Filipino family, here and in the Philippines, as they seek God’s help for peace, justice, and health for all their people.

Let us pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Philippines, and all who love and are concerned for them.

Peace,
Wendy