Reflections

Rethinking the Last Supper

When we began meeting with the Church of The Triumphant Christ we quickly became aware of a small feeding program that was struggling to continue with the children of Ascona. The difficulty came in the overwhelming need and the finite resources. Leaders were concerned about how little transformation seemed to be taking place, how little contact the church was having with parents and guardians of the children, and how little impact  a program operating one day a week was actually able to accomplish in light of the need.

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There were strong feelings in the room as we explored our options, feelings we have personally experienced, common amongst those who work with the poor. Complex feelings if we are being honest.

Rather than abandoning the program, the team chose to explore new images to help us reflect on what was possible with our mustard seed. The vision that came forward was the Last Supper, the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection as a community building act. We began to explore what kept parents away, what impact was possible with the small amount we had available, and where we could take the p program if we had a renewed vision for the ministry. We chose to relaunch not as a “feeding program,” but rather as an act of communion, celebration of community at Christ’s table. It was an image that allowed the gospel to reshape our actions.

We began to see how our previous engagement was alienating parents as it created shame. We allowed our service to be part of a larger vision for community by inviting our Ascona brothers and sisters to share in the bounty and the burden. The program is no longer programmatic. Instead of inviting people to the church, the church goes to the community, crossing boundaries and breaking barriers in ways that has encouraged both communities to share. It is driving away shame, allowing us to see first hand just how subversive the gospel can be as it undermines class structures and draws people together from different backgrounds. It is still small but it feels so much bigger and much more meaningful.

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Updates

Church of The Triumphant Christ

We have a friend in Manila, a young pastor who inspires us as she serves her people in and out of season. Pastor Joy Pring, CTC Church’s gift to the community, has a love for people and a passion to see lives transformed. Her church is situated in a village that is made up of middle income families, a nice place to live but not extravagant in any way, a place that would fit well into any Canadian context. Across the wall, however, is Ascona, a poor area that people have lived in for over thirty years without title to the land. Ascona sits on the bank of a river, water that is black with pollution, with smells that make you sick to your stomach.

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When it rains, the river rises and floods the passageways. When it rains hard the village is under two meters of water. All of the houses are on stilts. It is so common an occurrence that village leaders have strung ropes to aid people’s movement and constructed makeshift boats to float supplies. Children can’t leave their homes when this happens. It simply isn’t safe. CTC has had a small work with this community, Sunday school with children, a small feeding program, some financial support when emergencies happen. They happen often.

The church has been feeling overwhelmed by the pressure and underwhelmed by the response. This is not uncommon, well meaning people set out to serve and eventually burn out under the pressure. Poverty is complex, it is hard! CTC knows this first hand. My friend Joy knows this personally. She asked for our help. We laughed together as we acknowledged the level of her desperation in asking us. Humour always help put things into perspective and keep things from getting too heavy. Yes Jesus wept, but he also laughed! We chose to engage.

This is always a difficult situation for us. There is never sufficient resources to go around and communities like Ascona face so many challenges that it is above the capacity of a small local church to handle, or a couple of Canadian GFS come to think of it. Does this mean we should walk away? Absolutely not! Jesus didn’t, Joy doesn’t, we couldn’t. We offer what we have, at best a widow’s mite, a mustard seed filled with hope, an expectation that God will honour our efforts, heal our mistakes, and cover it all with His grace as we wobble forward into places we have never been, doing work we are woefully under equipped to do.

In the case of CTC that mustard seed comes in the form of encouragement. Church leaders need to hear that it is ok to be frustrated, permissible to feel deeply about all the causes of poverty, the ugly side of this world. The role we fill in partnership is co-journeyer, training and assisting where we can. Sometimes that is active work, getting our hands dirty. Sometimes it needs to be unhurried, prayerful, especially when things are especially difficult. In either case it is a privilege and a blessing.

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Marketplace Ministry, Updates

Business Development: Mission in Action

Part of our work allows us to focus on business development and initiatives that help people to envision new possibilities. To do this we have been working on ways to assist individuals and teams as they work through ideas for business startups. To do this we use something called Business Modelling. This form of business development focuses less on making a plan and more on working through the ideas and testing them in the real world. Using something called the “Business Model Canvas,” we create space for ideas to form and grow as they are readied for testing, the crucible where they are measured for validity.

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The format itself is not very important, there are many excellent ways to process new business. What is important is the opportunity we have received to help others realize their dreams. We have worked with all levels of society, rich and poor. We have encouraged business development that takes people into account. We have even managed to take our training on the road, beyond Manila, even beyond The Philippines. We work with individuals and teams. Private businesses and agencies developing social enterprise. We have even been invited to help ministry teams develop new strategy for mission that is self sustaining and highly innovative. It is amazing to see what people can dream into reality.

We didn’t set out to become consultants, but that is exactly what has developed. Doors have opened as people hear about our work, allowing us to share in their vision, helping them to refine their ideas as they work out complex issues and complex problems. It has stretched us, challenged us, and mostly humbled us as we have been forced to learn, often from our many mistakes. We often joke that failure is a great teacher and we are always learning. It is a truism but in our case it has proven to be truth. It is good not to take things too seriously.

What is most exciting about this development in our work is the opportunity it has given us to share about marketplace ministry. We are given voice in areas beyond where we imagined, influencing decisions that are shaping business and mission development that considers the gospel as it relates to our neighbours in the workplace. Decisions that are changing the very essence of business purpose, moving to an agenda that adds social and environmental issues to the bottom line, what we personally view as important parts of holistic mission. What is most exciting is our ability to encourage business people, helping them to embrace their calling to serve, as business people, to see the value of business as a means to human flourishing. It is good work, a really great part of our job, and we are blessed to have this opportunity to help people in this particular way.

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Marketplace Ministry, Updates

Stingless bees, a sweet project in Bicol

Throughout 2017 we have been travelling to Bicol, a peninsula on the southern tip of Luzon Island, in order to support work being done to reach out to the Agta people. Landless people, the Agta tribal people live a subsistence life, often as day labourers. Working with local partners we helped to develop a business model that has introduced bee hives to the community.

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Bee hives can be split, allowing for a growth model that doesn’t require funding support from they outside, building up a business over time. The hives can also be moved if the family is expelled from the land and can be placed in a hollow during a typhoon, both real issues for these people. A stingless bee variety, the honey has a significant market potential that exceeds the level of production the project could ever hope to manage.

While the hives are being split and the people are being trained, we are developing a second, parallel business model that is developing the production and marketing of the honey. In order for the Agta people to receive fair and timely compensation for their work, there needs to be a developed business model that can accommodate their honey quickly and profitably. The parallel business will produce a stable supply of honey that can serve to fulfil contracts and grow the market over time. The Agta people will have access to these markets as they grow their own production, freeing them from the burden of marketplace development that can stifle startups and slow growth. Eventually, should they choose, they can further develop their own businesses with training that will be made available. There is much potential for growth should people choose to participate. This really is a sweet project!

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Marketplace Ministry, Updates

The Launch of Food for Life

It has been over 18 months of preparation, teaching, dreaming, and planning. Food for Life is now a reality! Starting with 10 farmer cooperators, Food for Life is in the process of building a community of people who will stand together in the face of significant oppression. Food security is always a maddening condition that no one should ever have to suffer. Food security amongst farmers and farm workers is just shocking and should never happen. As global pressure exerts itself, local small plot farmers are forced to borrow increasingly for farm inputs and are left with less money to support their families every year.

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Cooperatives have become a vital part in sustainability for rural communities but have themselves become less stable and many have failed over the past decade. Food for Life is starting small which will allow leaders to learn without placing the community under further risk.

What makes this venture so exciting is the participation with the local church. Congregations are banding together in support of these farmers. In the rural churches it is the farmers who are beginning to think differently about how to support each other, choosing to act as a community rather than solely in their own interest. This has included a collective decision to pursue ecologically sustainable farming practices that will restore soil quality after many years of over fertilization. This was not a decision they were compelled to take, in fact it was their decision to make it a mandatory aspect of membership, community in action for social change. It was an amazing thing to witness. Creation Care and Marketplace Ministry coming together within Sustainable Community Development. It is a Gospel Movement!

In the city, where most of the rice is sold, urban churches have also committed to support these farmers and farm workers. Congregations are making decisions to purchase locally grown rice over imported options that are most often less expensive. This is the reality these farmers face. Factory farming in other S.E. Asian countries has pushed down the price of rice in the region. Farmers in The Philippines, small land holders, are unable to compete if they try to go head to head with such scale. Where these small landholders have an advantage is in their ability to produce higher quality food, Food for Life. These urban churches are learning about food quality and community value, choosing to purchase local products that benefit the local economy and their families. It is a fine example of using the marketplace to assist in transformation, in ways that are sustainable and tasty!

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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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