Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What is our Faithful Response?

When the disciples brought the dilemma of having a hungry crowd of more than 5,000 people to Jesus, he said: "You give them something to eat." They had hoped that Jesus would agree with their proposal to "send them away and let them look for food". Yet instead, Jesus said, "Feed them." And they did.

This was not the case for hungry farmers in the town of Kidapawan in Southern Philippines this past weekend. Last Saturday, April 1, 2016, more than 6,000 farmers and their families took to the streets to ask government for food support. The El Nino phenomenon has brought about a severe drought to the country, so bad that even farmers are asking for food assistance. Sources say they tried to request food through the "proper" channels prescribed by government. Their pleas were unheard, dismissed for technicalities. So they took to the streets.

Instead of giving them food, they were violently dispersed and "sent away". Instead of feeding them, the farmers were shot at, killing three among their ranks and injuring many.

Through this ordeal, United Methodists in the town of Kidapawan and surrounding areas stood by the embattled farmers and their families. They opened up Spottswood Methodist Center, where the UMC Davao Episcopal Area office and residence are located, as a sanctuary for the peasants to find shelter, to rest and to be fed. Sadly, this act by our fellow United Methodists has been misconstrued by the government as an act of supporting "rebels". Our UMC Bishop in the area has received threats of lawsuits and legal action as a result of this ministry of justice and compassion. Spottswood Methodist Center is now under surveillance by the Philippine National Police and the military and entry to the center is being closely regulated, even for our own United Methodist constituents. Access to food supplies is still being denied.

To speak to this, Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of the UMC Davao Episcopal Area has issued the following pastoral statement:


“Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD.” (Psalm 130:1b)
Nights are neither quiet nor peaceful for hungry and poor ones. When they cry out for food, this is also a cry for justice. The poor in our midst remind us that God’s abundant life is still a promise to be fulfilled—when farmers are left without adequate sustenance and pushed toward the brink of starvation, injustice has prevailed.
It is never a sin when poor farmers demand for food, but it is a sin to deny them food. And when  the might of bullets and guns are used against the poor in their rightful demand for their basic  needs, a monstrous violation of what is decent, upright, and just has been committed. Three  people’s lives have been snuffed off the face of this earth in their simple plea for “bread;” entire communities of men, women and children ache in hunger, mourning and desolation, as their cries for food were answered through the barrel of a gun. As bullets rained upon them and pierced their bodies, the gathered crowd sought only the fulfilment of a simple prayer: rice for their families.
The flagrant and vicious use of live munitions to disperse the poor farmers on April 1, 2016 is abominable. No justification exists for this murderous and terror-inducing act by the Philippine National Police.
The shooting of the poor farmers that claimed the lives of three people on April 1 during their protest is condemnable. There is no justification for this murderous act of some concerned members of the PNP.
Likewise, the church asserts not only its right to protect the vulnerable ones, it is an imperative of our faith to are for the weak and the poor specially during the crucial moments when they are being beleaguered by the powerful and the mighty.
By offering our sanctuary, we are not just being hospitable to our farmers and hungry ones, but we are making them as one amongst us. When we welcome them in our “home”, our sanctuary, we do not only give our best, but we share with them our deep kinship. By offering them our sanctuaries, we recognize their suffering and hopes, their struggles and aspirations.
I am humbled by the capacity of the poor to claim their rights and defend their dignity. They are without “connections” to the corridors of power, but has never given up their HOPE.
I am thankful to the people’s organizations, institutions and ecumenical community here and abroad who expressed their solidarity. My prayer is that you will keep us in your thoughts and that you will stand with the poor farmers until they have seen the fulfillment of their aspirations. The church can only fulfill its mission as long as it stands with the poor and side with Justice.
I call on our church members. Let this response of our church to give sanctuary to the poor strengthen our unity. We must not let the enemies of life divide us, but let the peace that is built on compassion and understanding lead us to where our hearts should be- Justice, Peace and Truth. In the Service of Christ,
Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco
Resident Bishop, Davao Episcopal Area

My heart is broken for what is happening in Kidapawan. I am proud of our United Methodist sisters and brothers in the Philippines and I stand in prayer and solidarity with them and their faithful response to go beyond hospitality to being Christ's incarnate presence among the poor and the marginalized. I pray for peace with justice.

What is our faithful response to the evil and injustice that is happening in our communities and societies? What are similar issues in our own towns, cities and communities where God calls us to provide faithful witness on behalf of those on the edges. Will our action or inaction be part of the movement that further oppresses those in the margins? Or will we take part in the movement of grace that welcomes everyone?

I know what Jesus would have done and what he did.

What about us? What is our faithful response?

Your fellow disciple,

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