My visit in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Philippines (EDSP) was as a representative for the Caring for All Creation Partnership between our two diocese.  I visited the diocesan center, meeting Bishop Danilo Bustamante and the diocesan staff; discussed website development and maintenance with the diocesan staff, and set up a domain and website for EDSP; Traveled to Upi and spent time at St. Francis parish and school learning about their ministries and learning about the tree nursery.  During my visit, I traveled to several congregations and had the pleasure of preaching on Pentecost in St. Francis parish.

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Cotabato and the Diocese of Southern Philippines – May 15

Early up and out today to catch what was supposed to be an 8 am flight. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the airport from the church center, then we went to the wrong terminal. I had to check in at the counter as I couldn’t check in online because I bought my ticket from “overseas” (from home over the internet) and they had to see the credit card I used to purchase the ticket before I could check in.

Once we got off the ground, everything went well. The domestic terminal is interesting, and reminded me of a Greyhound bus station – crowded and busy. It’s been a long time since I boarded an airplane from the tarmac using the roll-up stairs. However, in all the hustle and bustle, everyone was courteous and friendly, staff and customers.

When I arrived in Cotabato, I had a warm greeting and was presented with a scarf and a necklace of a miniature hat with the diocesan seal in the center. We drove to the Church center and cathedral, where I was greeted by Bishop Danilo and we had a short conversation about my visit and what plans they have for me during my few day’s stay.

After lunch (and a short nap), I met with the diocesan staff to talk about my purpose for this visit and what I hoped to do, and we talked about the web site I have for EDSP. They like the site and wanted to make it their official site, so we spent the afternoon in an impromptu web class. We made some changes to the site and assigned an Admin and Editor for it, so they can manage their own content. Check it out – a work in progress – http://edspphilippines.com.

I met Dean Johnny Labastan, cathedral dean and he gave me a short tour of the cathedral, which is about to be torn down and replaced with a new building. It seems that they have outgrown the worship space and need a new, larger facility. The new building will be patterned after the new cathedral in Santiago, and will be build with the help of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Dean Labastan also told me about their school – 1st thru 6th grade, which they hope replace the facilities with a new building – also due to overcrowding. Their student population is about 350 and there’s no room to take more students. The demand continues to grow and a new, larger facility would allow for the needed growth.

I’m staying in the church center, in a new building, funded by the United Thank Offering (UTO) (I now have another UTO story when it comes time for the offering ingathering). The building houses the diocesan staff and bishop’s office, a meeting space, 6 individual rooms with a bath, and a dormitory space for groups. (and they have a great internet connection).

Tomorrow at 7:30 am, I’m off to visit some local congregations on the way to Upi and lunch with the deanery and St. Francis School staff. In the afternoon, I’ll visit the rubber tree nursery – part of our Caring for all Creation partnership.

There’s no service here for my cell phone, so email or FB is my only communication from here and I don’t know what to expect in my further travels. I’ll be staying at St. Francis School compound until I leave on Monday, back to Manila.

To Upi and St. Francis Church and school – May 16

Upi is the location of the rubber tree nursery that is part of our Caring for all Creation partnership and I’ll be staying at St. Francis High School compound through Sunday.

Up early and walked around St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral grounds taking some photos. After breakfast a short conversation with +Danilo. I asked about the number of congregations in the diocese since the division into two diocese with the creation of the diocese of Davo. There are 70 congregations, 4 full parishes, 10 aided parishes, and the rest are missions or outstations (preaching stations).

I’m accompanied on this journey by Gideon Bustamante (+Dan’s son). Gideon is doing a documentary about my visit and I will have a link to it on this site when he’s completed the project.

Our first stop was at St. John’s aided parish and school, where I met the rector, Fr. Renado and the retired bishop of EDSP, James Manguramas. We had coffee in the rectory and visited a few minutes and hit the road again. Parish membership is about 300 and the school enrollment is about 180. Like St. Peter and St. Paul school, limited by the size of their facility.

We stopped next at St. Martin’s parish, where we were welcomed by the rector, Fr. Jeff and his wife, Bernadette, and several of the parish members. The parish’s origins are related to a Capt. Edwards, who served in the US Army in Mindanao during WW II and stayed in the Philippines (I’ve got to do some research about Capt. Edwards, so I get the story correct). The rector’s wife is Capt. Edwards’ granddaughter and two of his daughters are parishioners, whom I met today. Fr. Jeff has responsibility for 17 preaching stations, and gets to some of them my motorcycle. Right now he only has a small motorcycle because last March, his larger bike was stolen off his front porch.

We had refreshments, this time including fresh coconut, (we waited for them to be cut from the tree). They called it “young” coconut and the meat was softer than I’ve seen in the usual “ripe” coconut and the milk was milder flavor.

Our destination for today, St. Francis Parish and High School in Upi. I met the rector, Fr. Francis Imperial (we’re Facebook friends) and Deacon Eugene. We went into the church and Fr. Francis offered a prayer of thanksgiving for my safe arrival and for the visit.

We gathered around coffee and snacks and talked about a little bit of everything. I asked about the school enrollment and was told it is about 660 and that registration for 7th grade is already full. They are planning an addition to their school facilities so they can increase the student population.

My room here is typical country Filipino with typical toilet facilities without shower and flush toilets (you flush by pouring water into the toilet bowl). It is a little cooler here than in Manila and I expect it will be quite comfortable during the night. No matter, I’m grateful for the hospitality and the opportunity to spend time here. Fr. Imperial just informed me that I’m expected to preach on Sunday (Pentecost) at the 2nd worship time.

I’m having a hard time getting all the names straight, so I hope I don’t offend anyone with my lack of short-term memory.

After lunch, we walked over to the tree farm and met Bong Bacas, the director of the project. We watched the workers “budding” the rubber tree seedlings by grafting buds from other plants. The budding is to make the trees grow more rapidly. Trees that are not budded, take 10 years to the point they can be tapped, budded trees reduce that time almost in half. Next to the farm are some rubber trees planted 5 to 10 years ago and the more mature are already tapped and producing latex that is processed into rubber. The latex is treated with a chemical that causes it to jell into cup-sized pieces and these are taken for processing.  In this form, the latex is much easier to handle than if it were liquid.

The seedlings come from seeds that are sprouted in a bed, and then put in individual burlap sacks to grow to the point they can be transplanted. I have two seeds I’ll photograph, as it’s illegal to take them home with me.

The farm has about 700 rubber tree seedlings that are close to being transplanted. Alongside the rubber trees are mahogany trees, about 300, to be distributed and planted by local land owners. Also, there are some coffee plant seedlings that will also be distributed to local families.  In this rural farming community, the trees from this nursery will have a significant impact on the financial stability of the families, giving them sustainable sources of income.

The reforestation also stabilizes the environment and reduces flooding and landslides, which destroy the crop fields and damage homes and businesses.

This project also reforests the land, which has been clean-cup of timber over the years.  You can see in the photos bare hillsides that were covered with rubber and mahogany trees 40 or 50 years ago.  It’s hard to imagine how so much timber could be removed over a large area covering this part of Mindanao.  Not only cut from here, but shipped out of the Philippines, primarily to the US and Japan. The clear-cut timber harvesting has been stopped, although there are still instances of cutting, especially near the coast where they can float the logs to ports to be shipped.

We also saw the corn shelling facility and drying pavement, a facility co sponsored by the Episcopal Relief and Development. Three families live in the facility, run the corn shelling process, dry crops, and keep the stored corn from being stolen. Also at this facility, they ferment rice husks and sell them to a fertilizer company that combines them with bat guano to make fertilizer. The corn cobs left over are also used, some for fuel by local families, and the decomposed cobs are also used to make fertilizer. The entire project is designed that nothing goes to waste and to give every opportunity for income for the families involved in the project. Right now there are 15 families designated to receive rubber tree seedlings to transplant.

We walked up the hill behind the school offices to overlook the rest of the school facilities, there is a covered walk between the office building and the main classroom building. Below the school buildings is a large field that is partially planted in corn and/or rice, and a concrete basketball court. I found out that many of the students are boarding students, and only some live in school facilities, others live in local boarding houses. Fr. Imperial said the goal is to increase the school facility so that all the boarding students are housed at the school.

Later in the afternoon we walked down to Upi city and I discovered that almost everyone knows Fr. Imperial and are members of his congregation. We walked to city hall and met the town mayor, a special opportunity, as the mayor usually does not take visitors without prior arrangement. The mayor was knowledgeable about the tree farm project and is very supportive. My impression is that he holds Fr. Imperial and the Episcopal church in high regard. Our walk back to the school was interrupted by a strong thunderstorm and we took refuge in the city sports facility, until Bong came down in his truck to rescue us.

I’ve had dinner and it’s been a long day and my old bones are tired. I’m going to take a shower and get some rest. It sounds like the next two days are going to be just as busy. Frankly, I’m having a great time experiencing rural Filipino culture and the people are nothing less than fantastic

From Upi to Moro Gulf – May 17

Still waking up early, but going back to sleep. I figure I’ll be completely adjusted to the time difference on May 30th. Today we were on the road around 7:30 headed for Lebak and Kalamansig. We had another destination on the schedule but changed because of the rain making the roads difficult in a 4-wheeled vehicle, and also a report of armed men in the town close to our destination. From the news report, what I could understand and what was interpreted for me, it sounded like the army and marines were dispatched and the end of the story was it was only one armed man.

Our travels took us from flat lands with rice fields to high country with corn, rubber trees, and coconuts and eventually to the sea coast. I believe they said our destination is about 70 Km from Upi.

Our first stop was in Lebak, at St. James Church. St. James is an organized mission with a vicar and a congregation of about 140 families. The vicar also has responsibility for 10 out stations. In fact, in this deanery there are only two priests responsible for 2 missions and about 30 out stations. We were greeted by the women of the church and the vicar and served refreshments and had a chance to learn about the ministry of the mission and the out stations.

From Lebak to Kalamansig and Holy Child church, also an organized mission with a vicar. This congregation has a high percentage of members from IFI and Roman Catholic background, so it is the only Episcopal church I’ve visited in the Philippines with a Santo Nino. Once again the women of the church and the vicar greeted us and again we had refreshments and a conversation about the ministry of the congregation. I believe the vicar said he has 14 out stations.

From Holy Child, we drove to the coast of Moro Gulf to see a fishing boat being restored, financed as a project of the church. Part of the community commerce is commercial fishing. My first impression is the board are small compared to what I see on the Washington coast for commercial fishing.

We stopped at the town market to get some fresh fish and squid for dinner. Coming back toward Upi, we stopped in South Upi at All Saints’ church. Again, this is an organized mission with a vicar with responsibility for several out stations. The vicar was not available and we greeted and again fed, by the women of the church. This congregation grows coffee and I got some of their excellent native coffee to take home.

Further toward Upi, we stopped at one of All Saints’ out stations, St. Catherine’s Chapel. Here we were greeted by the women of the parish and the Vacation Church School kids. It is the custom for a priest to bless children when they greet them, so I had the opportunity to exercise that priestly role for this group of children, and at the other congregations we visited.

My experience all day is that these folks are happy to see a priest, especially a visitor from outside the community. The other significant experience and observation is the significant role of lay leaders in the mission congregations, and in the out stations. With only a few priest to serve so many congregations, the life of the church is led by strong and committed lay leaders. The ECP does a great job training lay leadership and youth – some things we can certainly learn from them. It’s also my observation that the church, and the life and ministry of the church is overall more important to the members that I have typically found in my parish ministry.

Our last stop was St. Andrew’s church on the outskirts of Upi. Here the vicar was out of town for a wedding and the church was closed up.

We arrived back at St. Francis in time for a short nap before dinner. I’m about to post today’s journal, some photos and then a quick shower and to bed. Tomorrow we’re out and about again, only I’m told there’s time for a cold San Miguel on the schedule.

St. James’ Mission – May 18

Today was a quieter day, with only one visit to St. James’ mission, an outstation of St. Francis parish. Here we met some of the parish leaders, and the two oldest members. This is a congregation of 37 families and 146 individuals (in the ECP families and individual members are counted separately, and individual members of families are not counted separately). Their ASA is about 50 to 60.

Next to St. James’ chapel is a lot covered with rubber trees and below the chapel are rice fields belonging to members of the congregation. After the visit, we had lunch at the Church Council chair’s home. I learned that in this area, most of the residents are related, although many of them are not Episcopalian.

Saturday afternoon I rested and worked on my travel journal and photos using the school wi fi in their science laboratory. About sunset, Gideon, Eugene and I walked down to the town square to watch the activity as the shops were beginning to close and I had my first experience riding a pedal-powered tricycle taxi.

Gideon showed me a video he had made about people from a nearby community whose residents were relocated because of fighting between the government and radical Muslim groups and the assistance from the Anglican Board of Missions to help them get reestablished in their homes after a year. I linked his video to my web site.

Late church is at 8:30 tomorrow and I’m scheduled to celebrate and preach, so a quick shower and bed.

Pentecost at St. Francis – May 19

Up early again, breakfast was waiting when I got up. Early church is 6:00 am and late church is 7:30 am. I celebrated and preached at the late service. It was a blessing to be here on Pentecost and to celebrate the feast in a congregation whose first language is other than mine. The liturgy and music were in English, except for the lessons (good thing I reviewed the lessons on Saturday afternoon). I was particularly moved by the sequence hymn “Santo, Santo, Santo….Holy. Holy, Holy.” It is the hymn we often used as the Sanctus at All Saints’ when we had a multicultural celebration; except when we sang it at All Saints’ we included a verse in Tagalong (“Banal, Banal, Banal”)

After worship, I was greeted by practically every person in worship and was asked to bless most of the children. It was a full house, probably 250 people, including 40 or more kids and 20 or more youth. I met one of their youth leaders in town yesterday afternoon, and saw her again today. We talked a little about their youth organization and some ideas about having a youth exchange between our two diocese.

We then gathered with the leadership of the youth (SKEP), Episcopal Church Women (ECW), and Brotherhood of St. Andrew (BSA) for a discussion about my visit here; why I came; and what has been my experience. There was also a question and answer session about my ministry, my parish, and what I will take back to Olympia.

One of the leaders talked about the Caring for All Creation partnership and about how there is interest in both diocese to expand the relationship beyond issues of ecology, and to include shared information and ideas about our ministries, companion congregation relationships, and youth and adult exchange visits.

We also talked about some of the challenges we face in our ministries and how some seem to be the same and others quite different. One of the most obvious differences in the life and ministry of our congregations is that here the lay leader take responsibility for much of the parish worship and ministry.

There is a shortage of priests, as you may have seen from my descriptions of the congregations I visited where two priests take care of 30 congregations. In our diocese, with most congregations having their own priest, there is more of the idea about the parish life and ministry of “that’s what we hired you for.”

The young people are excited about the possibility of exchange visits, and the ECW also expressed an interest. We also talked about the political situation in Mindanao and the warnings to US citizens to not travel here. We all realize that for us to visit here, we must take this into consideration. Although, my experience is that I have not felt any concern over my safety or security in any of my travels in Mindanao. I believe that the idea of “keeping a low profile” and going with local folks are the best ways to stay safe and secure.

Someone raised the question about how a young adult from the Philippines might participate in the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC). A good question worth seeking an answer.

After lunch, I made a video for Gabriel about my experiences here. He is putting together a photo and video of my visit for the diocese and ECP. Clair, from the diocesan staff is in Upi visiting family and come to the center and I spent some time with her, Gabriel, and Eugene talking about my visit here. Later we rode a tricycle motorbike on a short tour of the area to the Upi Agricultural College, founded by Capt. Irving Edwards, an American Army captain, who stayed in the Philippines after his military service here. The Agricultural college is the only college in this area, with a student population of over 1000. We then rode into town to see the Roman Catholic school and walk through the town square to see the giant corn and the statue of Dr. Rizal, a Filipino national hero in the fight for independence from the Spanish. Dr. Rizal was an inspirational writer, who inspired the Filipinos to seek independence from the Spanish and was arrested and executed by the Spanish.

It has been a special part of this trip to spend time with the young adults and hear about their lives and their aspirations. Clair has an education degree and works for the diocese as director of Christian Education, Gideon has an engineering degree and is preparing to take his licensing exam, and Eugene is looking forward to completing his internship here, returning to his home diocese, and looking forward to his ordination as a priest.

Closed out the day and my visit here with some of the men of the BSA and conversation over a cold San Miguel.

I’ll go back to Cotabato City in the morning to catch my flight to Manila, where I’ll be until Wednesday when I fly to Isabela province and the diocese of Santiago.

It has been a whirlwind tour of this part of the EDSP; I’m tired and hot, and I have had a wonderful experience and hopefully I can report back to the diocese of Olympia the true sense of my experience here. I am grateful to Fr. Francis, Deacon Eugene, and all the parish and school staff for their welcome and hospitality, great food and fellowship; for Bong Bacas for the time he spent with me talking about the tree nursery and the insight about the entire project, and for being our driver to get us to the right place at the right time; to Gideon Bustamante for his companionship and being the photographer and videographer recording this experience.

I’m thankful for all the clergy and laity, the adults, children, and young people in all the congregations I visited for their warm welcome and lots of good food and fellowship.

Lastly, I’m grateful for Bishop Bustamante and all the diocesan staff for welcoming me and spending time with me talking about our joint project, our ministries, and our dreams for the future. I look forward to my next opportunity to visit the EDSP (only I’ll come during the cooler season). I hope to keep in touch with many of my new friends through Facebook. Salamat po!

Upi to Manila – May 20

Pretty quiet day for travel back to Manila.  Bong Bacas was our driver and I was accompanied by Gideon, Eugene, and Claire on the drive back to Cotabato.  Passing through the hills and valleys, I tried to imagine those bare hills covered with rubber and mahogany trees as they were 50 years ago.

We stopped by the market in Cotabato to look as some local made goods and then proceeded to the airport.  It’s about the size of Jamestown, NY airport, only busier.  The security here is different than in the US, no taking off shoes and belts and emptying water bottles, or taking laptop computers out of your backpack.  Everyone gets a brief pat down as you go through security.

Back in Manila and at Horeb house, it feels like home.  I’m still amazed at the Manila traffic and how so many vehicles, from bicycles to large busses move so easily through the congestion.  I also think I’m getting a glimpse of what the US will look like if the NRA and its supporters are successful in getting everyone to carry a gun – every business, except mom and pop shops has an armed guard and even in the market areas, there is somewhere an armed guard keeping watch.  For instance, I don’t worry about using the ATM on a busy sidewalk; there’s an armed security guard standing next to me.

Prime Bishop Edward Malecdan was in his office, so I had a change to greet him and tell him some about why I’m here, particularly about the web sites for EDSP and EDS.  I will see him again next Monday the consecration of the EDS cathedral.

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to “tour Manila” as Betsy has it on my schedule, so I’ll see what I can discover with Restie’s guidance.

Time for a real shower (cold water only), and a good night’s rest in an air conditioned room.