Updates

A Time to Mourn

It is with great sadness that we must begin this update with the notice of an incalculable loss. Pastor Gilene Franco, the teacher at the Aglongon Child Care Center, and her husband Pastor Nestor Franco, leader of the Aglongon Baptist Church, both lost their lives on Sunday July 16. Attempting to cross over a bridge during a storm, Gilene and Nestor were swept away during a flash flood trying to reach family who were in need of making it to the hospital. It is a tragic loss to their family and the community.

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Many from Canada will know these two dear people. Teams from CBM came to Aglongon to help rebuild after the typhoon. The Francos made an impression on all who met them. It was Pastor Nestor who made me (Duane) feel welcome on my first visit to Duran. In fact he made me promise to come visit him, an hour long walk into the jungle, a promise I kept, and I am truly blessed for having done so. I received amazing hospitality from the people of Aglongon.

We ask for prayer. Pastor Nestor and Gilene have grown children and a living parent. This unexpected loss is a burden, emotionally and financially. This is also a blow to the church and child care center, work that is so important. The community is in mourning and the needs continue. Their funeral will be this coming Saturday, a final goodbye, but their loss will be felt for a vey long time.

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Updates

A Time to Dance

At the Libas Child Care Center it has also been a difficult start to the school year. There has been some difficulty in finding a new teacher to serve this community and we are pleased to introduce Celeste Martinez, a student at Filamer University, who chose to take on this project early July. Celeste is an answer to prayer and a blessing to this community and to KPM.

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Our concern was that there were 20 children connected to the centre who were being left behind by the lack of a teacher. With Celeste joining the team, we were all grateful, especially with the fact that she is an exceptional young woman and has a deep passion and burden for underprivileged children. Frankly she’s amazing. In fact we completely underestimated the headcount. After two weeks of her working with the center, Celeste’s classroom has just over 40 students. This is an amazing accomplishment, and we are dancing with joy at God’s provision, asking Him to continue leading us as we work together to reach out to this community.

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Reflections

A season of goodbyes

Every year, with the end of term arrival, there begins a series of goodbyes, families and individuals who are leaving, uprooting themselves and severing ties to place and people. It is a difficult time and over the years I have become somewhat calloused to any emotions, until this year. For some reason this time around the goodbyes were more difficult, the lingering sadness more challenging to manage. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, something member care could sort out nicely, but this reflection is not about that. This reflection is about what it means to be a witness within the pain of loss and confusion.

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The disciples, at the end of the earthly ministry of Jesus, also faced a difficult goodbye. Over the past 40 days Jesus had been presenting himself to these friends, teaching them about the kingdom of God, preparing them for the next phase of God’s plan. The disciples, witnesses to God’s mighty work through Christ, were still facing confusion and pain. It echoes in their questions, their concern for Israel, for the restoration of God’s promise to His people. They wanted to know if now was the moment where the kingdom was to be restored.

The disciples weren’t just saying goodbye to their leader, their teacher, Lord, and friend, they were saying goodbye to a dream, a worldview that only a few weeks earlier was focused on an earthly kingdom, Rome out, Israel restored. Perhaps included was a sense that reward and power would follow. After three years of ministry, his death on the cross, the resurrection, and now 40 days teaching, these men, who knew Jesus personally, still didn’t understand what God was doing. In confession, I too suffer from this spiritual amnesia. After decades, I am guilty of missing the point, failing to act and think out of my faith but rather out of my fear. I too have asked if Jesus will finally now restore the kingdom to Israel.

But Jesus answers them with grace, reminding them that only God knows the terms on which all will come to completion. We are called to be His witnesses, and are given the very power we seek, not through our own strength but the strength of the Holy Spirit, and not for our own ends, but for the Kingdom’s sake. In the pain and confusion Jesus hasn’t abandoned us, and like disciples before us, God gives us the strength to persevere in any and every season. And here, at the end of their time together, Jesus tells these men they will go to Jerusalem and Judea, and throughout the entire world. He also tells them they will go to Samaria.

A word that no longer stings in our ears, Samaria was not the place respectable people went. It was the place no good person would enter and now Jesus was saying go. We too are called to go. Jesus gives us permission to go places, for the sake of the gospel, we once had been forbidden to enter. Samaria can be a brothel in El Alto, or a slum in Nairobi. It is a rice farm in Capiz and a Muslim man’s home in Cotabato. Samaria is the high places of Metro Manila towers and the low places of a northern Canadian First Nation reserve. Samaria, for me, has been all these places and many more, and I am grateful for having been sent. But I am still sad. I still feel the loss of all the goodbyes.

It is easy to get paralyzed, to stand there staring into the sky, waiting for Jesus to return, longing for him to return, wondering if you can continue. Another confession, I am prone to wonder if any of this matters or is of any worth. I ask again, Lord, when will you restore the kingdom to Israel? In spite of all that I know to be true, I can still get bogged down in my own discouragement, my own self-pity and spiritual amnesia. But then the angels come and cut right through the pain. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking into the sky?” Men of Galilee, another phrase that has lost its sting, a reminder to these men they were mere provincials, the lowly not the elite. Any remaining delusions of grandeur now finally, and ultimately, shattered. These men were called to be witnesses for the true king, the real kingdom, and that meant looking out at the world, not up into the sky. I too am a mere provincial, from Duncan no less, the Nazareth of the West, but I am still called to witness to the world on behalf of my king. Sometimes that includes working through the goodbyes and the sadness, one eye looking outward and one staring into space.

Good women and men from Galilee, from Duncan, from communities around the globe, why do you look up? We all have received the call, to witness the life of Christ to every corner of the globe, and at times we will experience the season of goodbyes. And if that were all, it would be enough because it is for the King and this sacrifice pales in comparison to the one He made for us. But it isn’t the end. The angels don’t leave the disciples alone with their pain, a kick in the pants and a pep talk. They leave them with hope. In the same way Jesus left, he will return. None of this is for naught. The goodbyes will be replaced with warm hellos, moments of reunification and restoration. And as the old hymn reminds me…

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives.

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Marketplace Ministry

“Do you love me more than these?”

One of my favourite scenes in “Fidler on the Roof” is the beautiful moment when Tevye asks Golde if she loves him. Long married, and dealing with the romantic complications thrust on them by their daughters (and their cultural context), Tevye wants to know exactly how his wife feels about him. This is of course not an uncommon. I’m sure, that at one point or another, all of us have asked this question, even if it was only to ourselves. Jesus also asks this question.

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By the lake, after a moment of great commercial success, a miracle catch of fish, Jesus asks the apostle Peter directly, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter, having denied Christ, having returned to his former work, is being asked point blank about where he has placed his priorities, where his heart lies. This past Sunday our Pastor, Dr. D, preached a brilliant sermon on this interchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus is calling Peter out, asking him to assess his situation and take stock of his life. Where is he placing his love? Dr. D asked us this same question. Do we love Jesus more than these? Will we place Him before our careers, before our planned futures? I had to admit, it was a convicting question. It is easy to let our dreams get in the way of our relationship with Christ, to allow our ambition to cloud our judgement and form our actions in ways that draw us away from Jesus.

I believe this is especially challenging for those who have been called to business. With success there often comes money, resources, and power. It is not difficult to locate examples of individuals who have lost their way as a result. Even for those who set out with a dream to create common good through the marketplace it is a difficult not to be swept up by the euphoria of success. It is easy to forget that we have been called to be fishers of people while we strive to be fishers of profit. It is important I am not misunderstood on this point.  It is not a bad thing to be engaged in business, to be creating wealth. In fact it is vital for the common good that some of us do so. Societies depend on it. It is equally important for those same societies that those who work in business remember to uphold the common good and not solely work for themselves, or their families. Seeking profit for profits sake, especially at the expense of people and the environment, should never be the focus of the marketplace. Loving Jesus more than these means putting His priorities before our own, and that means loving our neighbour in and through our business practices.

I get to see this in action often, business people seeking the common good in their own small way, in the form of business mentoring. Every day experienced business people share their time with new entrepreneurs as they start out. It is beautiful to see but it is culturally counterintuitive. For many business people, in this context, to share ideas and skills with someone outside your family would be considered ill-advised. To give something to a potential competitor, to do so willingly, and for free, would at best be considered a bad business decision and at worse, reckless. It isn’t a naturally occurring action. It is here where Jesus’ question comes into play. When Christ enters, when He asks each of us whether we love Him more than these, new opportunities come into view while old worldviews are challenged and replaced. New ways of doing business, living together in community, and caring for our neighbours become possible. Sometimes, like Peter, that means we are called into a new vocation, to abandon our former dreams completely for something different entirely. Other times, more commonly, Jesus asks us to remain right where we are, in business, or any other vocation in which we might be engaging, and to do so loving Him more than these.

P.S. Join the conversation. We would love to hear where your worldview has been challenged, where Jesus has caused you to do your work in a counterintuitive way.

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Reflections

The Rich Young Businessman*

There is a well-known story told to us in the first three Gospel accounts that tells of a rich young man who approaches Jesus to inquire about eternal life. Jesus responds by quoting from the Ten Commandments, specifically a selection deeply connected to life within the world of business. The corporate world can be a very exciting place and brings deep meaning to the lives of many in our modern world. It is also a place that is filled with temptation, conditions harmful to a life of faith. Jesus’ response goes directly to the heart of these challenges.

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From the corporate boardrooms of global multinationals to the smallest of street merchants peddling their wares for a few dollars, all business people face situations that can polarize thought and action, creating a division that separates the physical and spiritual. Stressful work environments and demanding expectations can lead to great anger and resentment, while long work hours and close proximity to colleagues tempts unfaithfulness. Greed and need all too often lead to theft, lies and broken promises, sometimes ending in punitive actions that bring shame to individuals and families. The world of business exposes individuals to situations and conditions where loyalties can be put to the test.

The rich young man claims obedience, but Jesus sees through the mask, his well-crafted public image, and puts his finger on the heart of the matter. This man’s love for wealth, power, and status prevents him from truly taking hold of what Jesus is offering. Even now, the world of business creates similar challenges as it encourages us to draw our eyes from Christ and place them firmly on the world, tempting us to build our own kingdom. It is for this reason the very first question we ask new entrepreneurs addresses their own personal motivations and interests. Marketplace ministry is about getting to the heart of the issues that exist inside the world of business. Jesus knew that the rich young ruler was facing an impossible challenge, more difficult than stuffing a camel through a needle’s eye. The rich young ruler couldn’t do it. He walked away from Jesus that day deeply discouraged, his own personal motivation and interest out of alignment with those of Jesus. By having attention called to personal interests and motivations new business people have an opportunity to connect their work with their faith, to begin a process of reflection focused on the deeper purposes of business activities.

In some parts of the world the church has diminished or even condemned business as impermissible for Christians, leaving Christian business people feeling disconnected from their faith communities, and denying pastors an opportunity to provide meaningful contextual care for many within their congregations. In other places the church hasn’t condemned the practice of business but has missed recognizing the kingdom value of just and equitable corporate practice. Space has been created for business people to live one life on Sunday and another on Monday, seemingly existing as if their faith had nothing to do with their business practice. Fortunately it’s not all bad news. Increasingly churches around the globe are hearing the call to ministry in the marketplace. Every week, in sermons and Bible studies, Christians are discipled to love their neighbour, to notice the unnoticed, to love the unlovely, and to care for the poor, the hurting and the marginalized among us. Every day Christians reach out to their communities, in love, to share Christ in meaningful ways, both small and great. Sometimes this is done within the context of the marketplace, through the countless interactions that take place every day, actions that serve the common good, Christians serving and loving their neighbours through business.

Unfortunately much is being done everyday that fails to contribute to human flourishing, that is anything but just and equitable. When Christian women and men press into the corporate world, businesses large or small, and choose to do so in ways that honour Jesus, they are doing ministry. It is here, at the heart of the matter, that marketplace ministry finds its focus. Discovering together how just and equitable corporate practice can be one of the ways through which we can love our neighbour. Marketplace ministry is all about loving our neighbour, the poor and the marginalized, as well as the rich and powerful. Business people are uniquely situated to effect change, in poor communities where business owners are often community leaders, and in wealthy enclaves where business people hold great power and influence. Some days it really can feel like we are trying to stuff a camel through the eye of a needle, but as Jesus so hopefully expressed to his disciples, what is impossible for us is absolutely possible for God.

Join the conversation: Have you ever faced a choice at work that you knew was in opposition to your belief’s? How did you feel?

*Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-34

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Updates

Food for Life

When crossing cultures there is always fascinating discoveries to be made about how others view the world. One of the areas we have always found interesting centres on food. This is summed up perfectly in the Filipino expression, “if there is no rice there is no meal.” It would not be overstated to say that rice is life. Enter any local market or chain grocery store and you will find rice, in bags, in bulk, from many various venders and varieties. It fills the baskets, and the stomachs of millions every day. Rice is most definitely life. There is however a certain irony in this. Every day, as rice is being placed on millions of plates, small rural rice farmers are being placed under pressure, finding their livelihood increasingly unsustainable. For the growers of our food, rice is becoming less life giving every year.

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There are several contributing factors behind this development. Globalization has increased competition as rice grown outside the Philippines continues to flood local markets. Land reform, intended as a means of fair distribution for the poor, has now created a system where small farms are limited in their ability to achieve economic scale. Farming practices over the recent decades have moved small farmers to input intensive methodologies, dependent on chemical fertilizers, and to make matters worse, these farmers have become reliant on rice traders, increasingly locked into a cycle of dependency.

Through our work with Kabuganaan Philippines Ministries (KPM) we have been made aware of this struggle, specifically with farmers in Capiz Province on Panay Island. The churches of Capiz, where many of these farmers worship, feel this struggle first hand and an increasing discomfort with the situation has caused a small group to begin working through possible ways to help. Michael Waddell and Duane are part of this group. Over the past 15 months we have been working through options, building capacity in leaders, and exploring new concepts for ministry and community engagement that intersect with marketplace and business development. The result is the birth of a dream to establish a cooperative that works with local churches and local farmers, the formation of a system that will work toward just practice and equitable compensation. We are calling it “Food for Life.”

Cooperatives are of course not a new idea. In fact, in the Philippines, cooperatives have long been established as a way to use community cohesion to create stability, especially in the agricultural sector. What is new, for the Baptist churches of Capiz Province, is a cooperative that works with farmers and church congregations. It is the first step into thinking through ministry, and community development, in a new way. Cooperatives have the potential to be long term partners in ministry that are inherently stable once established, stable organizationally and financially. CBM, along with KPM and other community leaders, are now in the process of creating plans to start a prototype that will used to test the idea. Beginning with a small group of 10 farmers and one circuit of churches, Food for Life will establish the market, work through new models of agricultural production, and build capacity in the area of business, all in a contextually appropriate way and all in partnership with local churches.

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Uncategorized

The Anteambulos of Manila

In a recent article I discovered the Roman system for the patronage of art and science. Successful business people, politicians, or wealthy families would subsidize artists, thinkers, and writers to produce works of art, or to perform tasks, in exchange for protection, food, and gifts. One of these tasks was the role of the anteambulo, literally “one who clears the path.” The anteambulo would proceed in front of his patron as they traveled through Rome, making way and communicating messages.

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When our family arrived to Manila, almost two years ago, we did so without a Canadian team in the city, starting ministry from the ground up, sent with a mandate for exploration. These were challenging beginnings, something we refer to as the white space, the empty page yet to be filled. There were lonely times, and times where we have lacked clarity, but there has also been times of great blessing as God has brought us people to journey with and opened doors for us to walk through, sometimes in the most unexpected places. It has been a time of discovery, having our eyes opened to new cultures, and new ideas. It has also been a time of sharing, telling the stories of what we have seen as we have moved forward. In many ways our family has been filling the role of anteambulo, travelling ahead, communicating a message and clearing a path.

Focusing on the marketplace, we were, in essence, developing a new approach to ministry that CBM had been dreaming about for the past several years. We were sent to pioneer an idea. When we think of pioneers we often imagine images of early settlers or cutting through jungles, images that don’t really line up with the Mega City reality of Manila. Ray Bakke, a global leader in Urban Transformation, has described Manila as “the greatest lab in the world.” The presence of a strong church, combined with the various religious, social, and economic groups that teem the city, Manila is a microcosm of the world. It is here that we have an opportunity to try out new ideas, shape new vision, and work through early challenges in order to launch new ministry that has potential to impact the rest of the region and beyond. Manila, as it turns out, is an ideal place to be a pioneer.

So far our exploration has taken us to some of the poorest locations in Manila where we have participated in business development training. It has taken us the rice fields of central Philippines where we have begun to work on ways to help small plot farmers increase their sustainability. It has even taken us to some of the wealthiest districts imaginable where we have worked with young entrepreneurs seeking to engage their faith through their work, in the tech industry of all places!

There are more stories to come, more opportunities to share where God is taking us which is the purpose of this blog. It is here we intend to share stories from the trail, memories made while we clear the path, explore new ideas, and search for new expressions of ministry. It is our hope that you not only experience a deeper connection to our work and life in Manila, but that you will be inspired to join in the exploration, to discover for yourself what God is doing in your community or in your place of work. We also invite you to share your own stories with us, moments where you have been an anteambulo, where you have been the one clearing the way and witnessed the Gospel in action within the context of “the other six days;” integral mission at work…in workplaces around the globe.

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