I will be traveling to the Philippines (depart 2/19 and return 3/1) later this month for the second of two week-long retreats to work with clergy in the Philippines develop spiritual practices and communities of support to help sustain their ministry over the long-haul. I’ll be working with Rev. Dr. Matthew Lewis from my Wisconsin days. Matt is part of an organization that provides training for clergy both in the US, Africa, and Asia.
You might wonder why in the world I’d travel halfway around the world to visit a third-world nation that was hit by a Category 1 hurricane on Christmas Eve, followed by the eruption of the Taal Volcano with over 300 earthquakes recorded since its eruption.
For me, it’s personal. Shortly after I moved to Hawaii in 2001, I met Fe Nebres, Hawaii Conference UCC Associate Conference Minister. Fe was ordained to ministry some 35 years earlier in the United Church of Christ Philippines. She was incredibly generous in her acceptance and nurture of me as I sought ordination. She modeled the extravagant welcome of the UCC and mentored me through that process. She developed cancer and her final public act of ministry was at my ordination in Hana, Maui. At the end of the service she came forward, stood face to face with me, removed her beautiful, hand-woven stole, and placed it on my shoulders. The stole was made by women in the mountains of the Philippines and presented to her at her ordination. In giving it to me she passed on her blessing and affirmation of my call.
Matt contacted me two years ago to see if I’d be interested in mentoring a group of clergy women in the Philippines. They had specifically asked for a mature woman to work with them and apparently, I fit the bill. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or honored!
I didn’t have to think twice. Unknown to Matt, I’d traveled to the Philippines with a group of clergy from Hawaii in 2009 with Compassion International. Rod and I have sponsored a girl named Vhea for the past 10 years as result of that visit. And Matt had no idea about Fe Nebres!
Last February I returned to the Philippines and met the cohort of women clergy I’d be working with in-person for that week-long retreat and then via internet video calls for the next eleven months. Early in our time together, I told them the story about Fe, and showed them her stole. The women broke down in tears, knowing the place where the stole was made. One woman boldly declared, “You brought that for me!” I gave it to her and she immediately put it on her shoulders and wore it for the rest of the day. Later, she told me she’d lost her husband, with whom she co-pastored, to cancer 5 months earlier. Although they were both pastors, that denomination wouldn’t support her ministry in a ministry without her husband. She had to move out of the parsonage and, without a home or job, she was desperate. She discovered a home and ministry in the United Church of Christ Philippines. She’d been praying for a sense of affirmation and peace, and the stole was her answer.
This trip, I’ll spend a week leading sessions, teaching, mentoring, and praying with these friends I have come to love. As a bonus, I’ll make a side trip to meet Vhea, now 15 years old, for the very first time!
It will be a busy month, with the start of confirmation class, and preparations for my travels. I ask for your prayers for safety, good health, a quick adjustment to jetlag, patience in the midst of language challengers, and above all sensitivity and attentiveness to the movement of the Spirit in our work together. I am sure I will receive far more than I can possibly give! Please know that I will also be praying for you!