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Good News?- Reflections for NCCP Staff Worship on my month in Manila

October 1, 2007
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I spent a good deal of time packing for the Philippines. It was a months-long process- making lists, buying a few things here or there, and then during my last few days in the states it was mental agony trying to decide what I would need for more than a year in a country I knew very little about. And for all my worry, I came here only forgetting one thing. Not bad, except for the fact that, that one thing was my Bible. A missionary who forgot her Bible.

At first I thought, a missionary who forgets her Bible is like a soldier who forgets his gun, who comes running to his destination leaving behind the thing with which he’s been the most trained. But as I’ve thought about it more and more, I’ve come to believe that this unarmed soldier may be the best kind of soldier. He’s a soldier who must be careful and listen, who has lowered his defenses and must rely on the people around him. He’s a soldier without an easy solution to fall back on.

I hope to be the best kind of missionary. I, too, hope to come with my defenses down, careful with words and more careful in listening. I want to be the missionary who lives in partnership, not leadership and not servitude, at least not the kind of servitude that perpetuates the imbalance of power between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

I can see a little bit of the imbalance in the scripture we’ve read today. This imbalance may not be what the writer of Isaiah II had in mind, but I think the greatest truths come when we turn traditional sources of wisdom upside down. The Good News today is this, “My people, foreigners will serve you. They will take care of your flocks and farm and tend your vineyards. And you will be known as priests of the Lord, the servants of our God. You will enjoy the wealth of nations and be proud that it is yours.” (Isaiah 61: 5-7)

Good news, right? Looks like God’s people are living quite well here. Unless of course we consider that God’s people also include the foreigners. And after a month in Manila, this is what I’ve come to believe- the Filipinos have been made to be foreigners in their own land. Whether it’s the Moros in Mindanao, farmers in Luzon, or workers who live in the shanty slums, their lives are determined and destroyed by powers that be, powers that come in from the West and take what they want. Priests from Spain took the land and the religion, and then capitalists from America took the economy and educational system as well. The Filipinos will work for them; they will be the foreigners who serve.

But I’ve also learned that just like that of ancient Israel, the collective Filipino memory is long. The nearly 400 years of Spanish rule is not forgotten and the US-Filipino War is not forgotten either. Three hundred thousand Filipinos lost their lives in that war, as did 100,000 during the Japanese Invasion of World War II. And the presence of US troops for the past 60 years is on the people’s mind. After all, the Americans are still here.

In light of this knowledge, I am forced to ask myself this question- how can the presence of one more Westerner, one more white American, be a good thing? What can I do here? Can I undo the damage of militarization and commercialization? Is there anything I can say to change anything? How can I possibly bring the Good News when I don’t have any answers, when I left my Bible and so much of what I knew at home?

And that’s when I realized- the best kind of missionary doesn’t bring good news. She looks for it. She stands in solidarity with the oppressed and listens when they speak. A good missionary doesn’t come armed with solutions or with Truths- she comes with open ears and an open heart, gentle hands and a grateful tongue. The solutions come from the people and the Truths come from God, but when God speaks he does so through the oppressed and downtrodden. What can I do here? I can listen for the word of God that comes from the displaced and desperate.

Because after all, Filipinos don’t want foreigners to serve them. They just want to possess the fields they till, the companies they serve, and the land of their ancestors. They want clean water to drink, air to breathe, and education that includes their story. They want what everyone wants- to be citizens, not servants, in their country.

I hope in the next fifteen months I can learn to live in partnership, that I grow to find the place of solidarity and learn to stand in strength and silence. I hope I am ready to hear the news that comes from the mouth of the people, the words that bring liberation for them as well as their oppressors. And then I will be a messenger of the Good News- I’ll take it home with me.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jen S. permalink
    October 4, 2007 6:38 pm


    That was impeccable writing. If only more people in this country could experience what you are experiencing, then I believe that at least some of the inequalities of which you speak might be lessened.

    Congratulations on learning from history and leading by example rather than by force.


  2. Donna permalink
    October 7, 2007 1:25 am

    Lindsey: You have my greatest admiration. Only you could forget your bible and write so eloquently about leaving it behind. Love you, Mrs. M.

  3. Liz permalink
    October 19, 2007 12:21 pm

    I love this outlook from the country! I spend so much of my time with Filipinas – and honestly, the first fews weeks I spent a majority of my time insisting on not being served, – it just seemed so ingrained – serve the white skin. I am not here to serve or be served – but to learn and to help. It has taken 6 weeks, but I am no longer pushed to the front of the line, but neither am I handled with care. The stories, fears and anger are free to flow now – and I am excited to learn!

    Also – a missionary who forgets her Bible? Classic.

  4. Faith permalink
    October 22, 2007 1:53 pm

    What a wonderful perspective on being a missionary. As I watched you grow, I always knew you would be an eloquent, influencial, compassionate, and giving person. Obviously this come to be. I am so proud of you and love you so much.

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