United Methodist Women Strategize for Mission in Asia

United Methodist Women from the Philippines and United States meet in Manila to strengthen ties and organize for mission.

United Methodist Women Strategize for Mission in Asia
School children in Santa Ines. Their teacher is Lodema Dela Cruz Doroteo, the first indigenous school teacher in her village.

United Methodist Women of the Philippines and the United States strengthened their historic ties and strategized ways to address the needs of women, children and youth in Asia when they met in Manila in January 2018.

More than 70 women leaders from the Philippines Central Conference and United States, including United Methodist Women’s Asia regional missionaries and national staff, discussed mission opportunities and issues impacting women, children and youth in Asia at “Looking Forward: Women Transcending Boundaries in Solidarity” conference.

“Our foremothers in mission didn’t know what the future would hold, but they met the challenges of their day, and they built the identity of women called to mission, called to advocacy, called to making a difference in the world,” said Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive of United Methodist Women in the United States. “We can no more predict what the future will hold than our foremothers could. But can prepare women to lead.”

Partners in mission

The women kicked off the conference by experiencing the work of United Methodist Women partner mission institutions in the Manila area. Mission institutions toured included the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, which offers services and skills training for impoverished women, children and youth, including homeless families living in Manila’s North Cemetery, and the Bocobo Learning Center, which provides early childhood education programs. Mary Johnston Hospital and College of Nursing, a small teaching hospital founded by deaconesses that trains young people for careers in nursing, is also a mission partner, as is Decker Home Foundation, a facility that cares for retired deaconesses. Harris Memorial College, a liberal arts college founded by deaconesses to prepare students for Christ-like service, has been long supported by United Methodist Women. More than half of the Philippines Central Conference women leaders attending the event were graduates of Harris Memorial College.

Andris Salter, United Methodist Women associate general secretary for administration, said the work of these agencies and the women’s desks of the Philippines Central Conference are examples of how U.S. and Asian women are already working together, but more must be done.

“I’ve always struggled with the story of Hagar,” she said. “But what I come away with is that God had her go back and submit in an unjust situation because God was not finished with her. And that’s similar to where we are today. God is not letting us go because we have work to do. We do not do this work alone. We are stronger together than alone.”

Examining history

Conference plenaries examined the history of women’s mission outreach in the Philippines and socioeconomic realities that impacted the work. Deaconess Chita Framo from the Philippines offered an overview of the history of women in mission in the area, the institutions they founded and the women advancing the work today. Filipina Christian feminist theologian Arche L. Ligo explored the role of gender in women’s past and current position in church and society with a view toward the future.

“One important feature in the Second Wave of feminism is the appreciation of gender’s intersection with the other social and hierarchical categories of age, class, race and culture,” Ligo said. “The new and uncomfortable thing about the use of gender as a perspective and lens of social analysis is, first, everything is gendered. Poverty, hunger and underdevelopment affect women doubly in the sense that when she is hungry then her children also suffer hunger, for the care, nurture and feeding of the children are culturally placed on her shoulders. … True and sustainable development has to consider how it impacts women.”

Women telling their stories

Women talked about their mission stories and the challenges faced by women in their communities.

Many of the women’s stories involved ameliorating the effects of poverty, the need for education, pursuit of gender justice, confronting human rights abuses, women’s reproductive health care and support for women living with HIV and AIDS.

“In the year 2014, a partnership started between the Board of Women’s Work and the Babae Plus, a support group of women living with HIV. I, a woman living with HIV and an HIV advocate, am very thankful that I am part of this partnership,” said Tina Morales, a resource person and former coordinator of the program.

Morales said the Philippine Central Conferences’s Board of Women’s Work and United Methodist Women helps women living with HIV with medical needs, psychosocial support, capacity building, vocational training and computer literacy. And in return, she said, Babae Plus members help women and youth of The United Methodist Church with HIV awareness-raising efforts.

“I believe the church can stand for us and with us,” Morales said. “With our experience working with the women of The United Methodist Church, we feel valued and loved.”

Some of the women talked about their work with survivors of human trafficking and forced emigration. Rose Otero-Yamanaka, director of the Batis Center for Women in Quezon City, said the center is one of the pioneering nongovernmental organizations working with migrant women in the Philippines since 1988.

“Batis existed even before Philippines drafted our overseas migrant law,” Otero-Yamanaka said. As early as the 1970s, the Philippine government allowed women to emigrate to Japan as “entertainers” legally to boost overseas employment until strategic action addressing trafficking pushed both nations to adopt anti-trafficking laws, she said. “If before the trend was legal deployment of Filipina entertainment to Japan, since 2005 is the emergence of the so-called ‘marriage of convenience.’ The alternative route now is to get a spouse visa …, but the woman still ends up in trafficking situations with difficult working conditions. And that is the challenge in the Philippines in particular because we are one of only two countries in the world that don’t have a divorce law. The other country is the Vatican.”

The women shared stories about the forced emigration that pushes poor women to leave the Philippines to work in more wealthy countries to help support their families.

Such emigration often destabilizes families and causes the children left behind to suffer—but the nation depends on it, they said.

“What keeps the Philippine economy afloat is the overseas Filipino worker,” said Xandra Bisenio of the nonprofit IBON Foundation, in a presentation on globalization and Asia, especially the Philippines. Nearly 2 million people worked abroad and sent portions of their earnings to family members in the Philippines in 2015, she said.

Bisenio said that while the region is sometimes called “Factory Asia” because of all of the manufacturing jobs that have relocated there, transnational corporations control the process and profits, which keeps advanced countries the global centers of industry and traps underdeveloped nations in poverty.

“The change in the international division of labor is a product of a … perennial quest for higher profits,” she said.

Although the women discussed harsh realities throughout the event, they were exuberant with hope for the future.

The women’s future plans focused on expanding women’s leadership capacity for increased mission action together. Several meeting participants cited the leadership training opportunities they had experienced through United Methodist Women-related Scranton Women’s Leadership Center in Seoul, South Korea, and the Wesley Foundation in Tokyo, Japan.

The Philippines meeting was the second of its kind, following the United Methodist Women-sponsored “Women Transforming the World” conference in October 2017, when women from 21 African nations gathered for networking and leadership development in Maputo, Mozambique.

Yvette Moore is director of communications for United Methodist Women.


Posted or updated: 6/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
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