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The gap

August 27, 2011

“When the hell is fall in the Philippines?” she demanded, as we looked at the billboard that was announcing The Gap’s arrival in Davao City in “Fall 2011”.  It was a foreign venue for my American friend and me- the mall was so much more high-end than anywhere the two of us had met before.  It was like being in the US.

“Do they mean the wet season?” my friend continued, as we walked away.

“Seriously,” I replied, thinking the whole deal was the least serious thing happening on the entire island.  I never discerned what the billboard meant, and I left Mindanao before The Gap arrived.

A few days later I was in Manila, I was with a United Methodist solidarity team, sitting in an upper middle-class church singing of snow.  “Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home,” I mumbled along with the choir.  “All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.”

The pastor preached about the harvest of souls.  In a country where the vast majority of people are impoverished, landless peasants, this reverend opted to use experiences with pizza, t-bone steaks and 300 dollar suits as sermon illustrations.  After the service, our group ate lunch with the pastor.  I held my tongue and filled my plate with vegetables and rice.  Halfway through the meal,  I watched as he showed off his latest gadget- an I-Pad 2, with an Israeli flag sticker affixed on the lower right corner of the case.  By then I was already stuffed with the harvest of those peasants he’d failed to mention in his sermon.

My stomach turned.  This was winter in the Philippines.  It is the gap, when the peasants gather the crops for the wealthy Filipinos and foreigners (like me).  The harvest has come home, but it bypassed the people’s nipa huts and went directly into the overlords‘ storehouses.  In my air-conditioned room that night, I prayed for spring- for the sun to melt the guilt from my heart, and move me out of such sanctuaries and into the rice patties.

The days that followed were filled with programming by the National Council of Churches, Philippines.  Our group listened to so many stories of human rights abuses: The victims shared the weight of their struggle, but also the grace and beauty of their laughter.  We were given the gifts of the people’s harvest- wisdom, strength, and humor.  All they asked in return was for us to tell the truth in the ways we can.

I will take their harvest home with me.  This bounty of the people is life-giving.  When their words fill my ears, my heart rejoices.  When I shoulder their stories, my body is young and alive.  The harvest  is great because the people’s movement does not allow it to rot in storage.  The people dole out their crop to hungry souls like me, who, despite all of my material wealth, am starved for community.  It is a great harvest, and perhaps- through the power of the people’s perseverance- will bring about the Philippine Spring.

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