A Journey to "Ubuntu"
It’s a long way to Manila, Philippines, from Atlanta — some 9,000 miles over more than 19 hours of actual flight time — and in economy class it seems even longer. But oh the joy that awaited our group of eight United Methodist Women members on an Ubuntu eXplorers Journey to the Philippines and South Korea, Sept. 2 to 17, 2012.
The countries are quite different from the United States, and Ubuntu sisters in both embraced us warmly. Sisters greeted us with “Mubuhay Ubuntu Sisters!” — Welcome Ubuntu Sisters! — signs when we are arrived in the Philippines, and South Korean sisters treated us to an action-packed weekend touring their capital city of Seoul on our way home.
Our Ubuntu journeys reflected the love of God among sisters in mission today and the history and current practices of Methodists in both countries.
Team members gained inspiration from women doing Christ’s work, enhanced our leadership skills and learned that we share many more commonalities than differences.
In the Philippines we participated in a three-day national women’s leadership training event at the United Methodist Church headquarters. The training included Bible study, worship, singing and testimonies from women who had survived being caught up in human trafficking through migration.
We met women living with HIV and AIDS, and we learned how the Methodist board of women’s work is engaged in advocacy work around violence against women and children and women and poverty. We played games and sang songs one afternoon with the children at Luneta Park and later distributed disaster relief supplies to their parents and family members at nearby Central Methodist Church.
Our group was divided for overnight community immersion ventures in three locations. One group traveled to the Camachile Ayta indigenous peoples in Pampanga Province; another to the indigenous community in Taytay, Rizal. The third group visited a community of people who actually live in the Manila North Cemetery and the Baseco Community, which is sponsored by Asuncion Perez Memorial Center, a 2010 Mission Giving grant recipient. We also visited and listened to the choral ensemble of Harris Memorial College, which was founded with the help of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States in 1903.
On our way back to the United States we stopped over for a fully packed weekend in Seoul, South Korea. We visited Ewah University, Ewah High School and Scranton Women’s Leadership Center — all institutions with United Methodist Women roots. We had lunch with retired United Methodist Church missionaries the Rev. Dr. Dwight and Sonia Strawn. Mr. Strawn is from South Carolina and had connections with some of our team members.
We attended Sunday worship at Chung Dong First Methodist Church, visited the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, toured the bustling city of Seoul, and had great fun shopping along Insadong Street and the Namdaemun Market.
Since returning home, we have learned to pray more specifically and with enhanced insight. Having seen the faces of children living with their families in the streets of Manila and in remote villages without electricity and other amenities, we better understand the needs. Having heard personal stories of women who’d been caught up in human trafficking, we understand more fully the pain and suffering involved. Having experienced how the people of South Korea yearn for a time when a demilitarized zone is no longer needed at their border with North Korea, we pray for peace with urgency. Having witnessed physical and spiritual needs and how our sisters in Christ are making a difference, we pray for their continuing empowerment and dedication to Christ’s work.
Witnessing our hosts’ sacrifices of time, sleep, money and service has helped raise the bar on our giving of ourselves in this mission Christ has called us to. We have become more intentional and generous in taking up our cross daily, using God-given gifts and resources to enhance the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Mission opportunities often appear when we are caught up in the “busyness” of our daily lives. Because of this Ubuntu journey, however, our eyes, ears and hearts have become more cognizant of these opportunities to serve Christ through service to others. We are now even more committed to making ourselves available for service by looking for where God is at work in our communities and the world and joining in those efforts.
Departing Manila, we hugged and said goodbyes to our Philippine Ubuntu Sisters and shouts of “Miss na miss ko kayo” (We love you and blessings!) still ring in our ears!
Kit Adkins is an semi-retired educator and a member at Main Street United Methodist Church in Greenwood, S.C.
Jeanie Blankenbaker attends St. Andrew By the Sea United Methodist Church in Hilton Head, S.C., and was team leader for the Philippines Ubuntu Journey.