Tahanan Community Center is frequented by a special group of youth who are hungry for the Word of God. These young people vary in age from senior high students to young professionals. Five of them have recently been accepted as interns with G.O.D. Int’l SEA. The purpose of this internship is to equip participants with a biblical education and provide skill development opportunities within the context of the ministry of G.O.D. Int’l.
This May, I was sent by the SEA Regional Team as part of a delegation mission where our primary goal was to facilitate orientation for the interns. I was responsible for the biblical education portion of this mission. My objectives included teaching the biblical foundation for our ministry practice, as well as equipping them with biblical interpretation skills. I also continued a lecture series on the Gospel of Mark, which had begun as a non-formal, online course. As a Bible teacher and historian, I found myself reflecting on the development work God is doing in the lives of each youth in relation to the complex and painful history of the Philippines, Leyte and the Eastern Visayas.
Tahanan is located in Palo, Leyte, an area where the memory of several significant historical events intersect. On my first full day on this delegation mission, our team decided to walk over before breakfast to Red Beach, which is less than 50 yards away. Immediately, we saw the incomplete structure that now separates Tahanan from the beach: a 15-foot seawall embankment project that was begun in 2016 and known by many as “The Great Wall of Leyte.” The structure is supposed to reduce the impact of future storm surges, which was one of the most devastating factors of Typhoon Yolanda.
This wall is also intended to draw tourists from around the world. Pedestrians can stroll atop and experience a better view of the sunset and the mangrove forest across the way. Prior to reaching the beach, we walked along the wall and encountered a few others walking and biking on the path. A Japanese agency is helping the government with the project, which is a hazy reminder of the relief work and aid from NGOs and foreign nations after Yolanda. Though a nice view, my attention was focused on workers with inadequate tools and no covering from the sun, working to complete the unfinished project. Projects like this often promise more and better jobs. Instead, workers find themselves suffering under unsafe, inhumane conditions, grossly underpaid for their labor. Moreover, local residents are being displaced by the 17-mile long project, which spans two major municipalities and a city. The situation and issues it creates are complex.
Red Beach, a popular tourist attraction, sits parallel to the wall. This area includes MacArthur Park, which memorializes the naval landing of Douglas MacArthur in Leyte during WWII with larger-than-life statues of the general with his crew. This history is reinforced each year with the Leyte Landing holiday, known as MacArthur Day by the locals, a celebration of highest importance for the island of Leyte. Not far from this location is Dulag where the Americans mounted and raised the U.S. Flag. These historical events have contributed to shaping the present moment, as well as providing lessons.
As I was teaching the Gospel of Mark to the interns and other youth at Tahanan, I noted the evident contrast between the Empire of Caesar and the Kingdom of God. On this trip, we stressed the importance of discipleship as it relates to becoming a laborer in the Kingdom of God. Although empire and other systems of power offer solutions for societal betterment, learning from Jesus will result in spiritual development, which is manifest in the kind of character and competency that can impact society in a better and more enduring way.
It was a delight to interact with the interns and other participants at Tahanan. I was blessed by their testimonies and inspired by their desire to be disciples of Jesus. Sherelyn Campo, a 21-year-old social worker from Palo, Leyte, chose to participate in the G.O.D. Int’l SEA Internship. She said, “I chose to do the internship because God is moving in me to do social work, not just in general but to learn God’s will and do it in accordance to His word.” Another intern, Jairus Tumamak, a 22-year-old science teacher, expressed that the Bible class component of the internship has been life-changing for him. He said, “The Bible molds us to be the people of God. I have a need to learn God’s Word more.”
Despite my reflection and investigation into the suffering and loss of these painful chapters in Philippine history, I was filled with hope, because God has been writing a new history, a story of redemption, liberation, and purpose. This history is being advanced through the cooperative efforts of G.O.D. Int’l and the participants at Tahanan who are pursuing a calling in Christ to make a difference in their society.