Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflections: My time in Mindanao

Adam marches in solidarity with workers in the Philippines.
Photo courtesy of Adam Shaw

By Adam Shaw

When I first arrived, fresh off the plane, I arrived with very few expectations. I had no idea what to expect. The Philippines was such a faraway tropical dream nation from my homeland that I just didn’t have any notion what was in store for me. From reading the placement site application I was aware in a very holistic form what sort of work InPeace did, so I knew it would have something to do with promoting peace. I didn’t really know anything about peace actually; I always just thought it was the absence of war.

My first impression of the staff was that everyone was really focused about who they were as people, and what they cared about. That was something I was envious about because even though I had chosen to become a missionary I didn’t have the purpose and focus that the InPeace staff had. All I had was passion and ideals.

I remember missionary training. Everyone else had expectations for their placement sites, everyone else had specific reasons they had applied to be Mission Interns with Global Ministries. I just wanted to start my degree in life and not spend the next 3 years in grad school working on an advanced degree.

I knew that a lot could happen in three years, but I didn’t realize how much could happen in 18 months. How so many different exposures, experiences and people could change the life of a college boy and make him a more mature Christian man, a passionate advocate for justice and change.

I’ve changed a lot in the past 16 months that I’ve been at InPeace. I’ve discovered what is important in life to me, I have found purpose, a purpose given to me by the hopes of the communities that I was exposed to, a purpose fueled by the plights of the individuals and the communities in Mindanao and a purpose that is impassioned by a desire for justice and the social transformative gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you had asked me 2 years ago what my opinion of politics was, I would have told you I hated it. I hate election years, all the mudslinging, bigotry, racism, Christian intolerance, American exceptionalism, bipartisan fights. I hate it.

After having been involved in polarizing political action campaigns during the past 15 months, it is correct to say that my political poles have been charged and magnetized towards justice for the people, tolerance for the discriminated, fair labor rights for the working classes, and quality education for all. I read the news a lot more, comment on forums; have political discussions with my friends. I have been interviewed by major TV networks and guested on political radio shows. In the Philippines, it has become impossible for me not to be involved in politics. The plight of the people gives me purpose in the grind of ‘western democracy.’

I value everything that I have been taught and shown during my stay. I know that I have become more focused, mature, flexible, and understanding during my time in Mindanao. I always had passion and ideals, but now I know how to organize communities around issues, and how to manifest the ideals that are within me.

InPeace taught me things that I didn’t know I wanted to learn, until after I learned them. My experience here has been excellent. I will not ever forget how I was changed by the people of Mindanao, by the volunteers and organizers who serve them or by the church workers and lay leaders that live their spiritual calling serving the people of God’s Kingdom.

I came to the Philippines willing and ready to be broken and I was. I came ready to be molded, and I was. I came ready to be transformed by people, ideas, and experiences and I was. I believe that God spoke to me through everyone I met in Mindanao and said: “Adam, This is who is important to me, let them be important to you also.”

My transformation wasn’t done overnight…or even in 6 months. It wasn’t pain free or always happy. I’ve had fears and doubts, sickness and depression. But I’ve also had joys, happiness, and the tired satisfaction of helping one person tell their story. God shaped me from the earth that I was and put me into the fire, making me into a tool for the Kingdom of God.

Adam Shaw is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, serving initially with Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao in the Philippines. The full text of this reflection can be found on Adam’s blog.

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