UCC delegation visits Philippines' Muslim Moro
Written by Tim Johnson
August - September 2006
September 1, 2006
At first glance there is no apparent connection between a small wooden footbridge and the price of natural gas. But, as my traveling companions and I were to discover, getting to the other side involved a lot more than carefully watching your step. It also required an openness of heart and mind, and a willingness to wonder why the vast majority of the world's people live in poverty.
Crossing that footbridge was taking us over into a side of the world where hopes and aspirations are as simple as survival and dreams as basic as having a voice in one's own destiny. We were there by invitation of the Moro people in the Philippines. The Moro are Muslims who early on resisted the coerced conversion to Christianity imposed by Colonial Spain. Today the Moro's resistance is against the intrusion of the Philippine government's efforts to exploit the natural resources of what is known as their "ancestral domain."
Natural gas recently was discovered in a large marshland area of the Moro's ancestral domain. In order to get at the gas, the Philippine government dammed the river feeding the marshland. This in turn causes severe flooding of Moro cropland, adding to their impoverishment.
The stronger river current and resulting erosion of the embankment greatly diminished fishing as a mainstay. The footbridge now crosses a small river, which was once an easily crossed, mostly dry creek bed. The dam has turned the creek into a river with its embankments also steadily eroding. The small bridge is the only avenue for getting produce to market.
By simply crossing that small foot bridge we had stepped over into some of the largest issues the world faces today and which ultimately effect us all, ecological destruction, our continued dependence on non-renewable resources, the linkage between the two thirds world poverty and the seemingly unquenchable appetite of the rest.
My traveling companions and I were guests of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a denomination that takes as an article of faith a commitment to seeing the Muslim Moro people as brothers and sisters. Before leaving, the UCCP pastor who was our guide offered a prayer for peace, justice and the well being of the Moro. We, in turn, received a prayer of blessing by our Muslim brother.
You never know for sure what you will find on the other side of a bridge. But, as people of faith, we are bound to build them and bound to cross them knowing that there is a presence, greater than any bridge, that joins us as one body with each other and all creation.
The Rev. Tim Johnson is pastor of Cherokee Park United Church in St. Paul, Minn. He was a delegate to the 8th Quadrennial Assembly of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The Minnesota Conference has a partner relationship with the UCCP's South East Jurisdiction.