STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 06/14/2010

Regenerating The Story

Jeremy Simons '97

As an ex-Marine turned pacifist, investment banker turned justice advocate, peace efforts have taken me back to the Philippines, where I grew up as a missionary kid. Throughout its modern history the Philippines has experienced wars and freedom struggles during and after successive colonization by Spanish, American and Japanese powers. Those struggles continue today, amidst widespread poverty and injustice.

In the hope of living out peace and healing in the Philippines, my wife and I work with Peacebuilders Community Inc. (PBCI), an ecumenical, Mennonite-led ministry based on Mindanao island. PBCI organizes peace and reconciliation teams across the Philippines among Muslim, indigenous and Christian communities. As consultants and trainers, we have a small part in God’s story of peace, justice and reconciliation, engaging four dimensions of peace or shalom: harmony with God; harmony with self; harmony with others; and harmony with creation.

Harmony with God, a Story of Spiritual Transformation
Last summer PBCI conducted a youth music and arts peace camp with high school age youth representing what we call the tri-people of Mindanao—Muslim, Christian and indigenous—with another group coming from the capital, Manila. Throughout the week the campers worked together on group challenges, games, role plays and team- and trust-building activities. They composed songs and wrote a dramatic production as their final project, and their preconceived notions and stereotypes were challenged. One student’s mother later related how her son returned a changed person, got involved in their church and helped people displaced by fighting in their community. In unexpected ways God’s storyline of spiritual transformation was being written.

Harmony with Self, a Story of Psychosocial Transformation

Every Christmas season some members of the Matigsalug tribe come down from the mountains to the cities to beg, hoping to benefit from the giving spirit of more wealthy and Westernized urbanites. Entire families walk barefoot through neighborhoods in their indigenous clothes, using their tribal identity as a commodity in exchange for a few coins. This past Advent a group of Matigsalug ministry leaders, both men and women, some illiterate and communicative only in the Matigsalug language, came down for a different reason: a three-day vision-setting process I cofacilitated. Our task together was to create a culturally based, indigenous vision for their communities and ministry. Participants shared, clarified and distilled their own conception of being an authentically Matigsalug community, articulating their indigenous cultural foundation for ministry rather than using one imported from outside—a psychosocial transformation.

Harmony with Others, a Story of Sociopolitical Transformation

In January I was invited to the largest mosque in Midsayap by several Muslim students from a training I had facilitated on active nonviolence. The city of Midsayap is a mixed Muslim and Christian enclave in the region where the armed Bangsamoro freedom struggle is being fought. Just two months prior, a massacre of nearly 60 civilians by a political warlord led to the declaration of military rule in the neighboring province. Though the training had been planned months earlier, the context was now significantly altered, and I was unsure how that would affect the tri-people participants. As we shared the principles of active nonviolence, discussion was vigorous as most trainees are involved in both violent and nonviolent struggles for their communities’ rights. Yet it was a Muslim student, also the imam (worship leader) at the mosque, who spoke most forcefully of making peace in our hearts as part of making peace with others and God, backing it with a quote from the book of James: “Faith without works is dead.” As I sat in the mosque after the training, he preached to a purely Muslim audience; I couldn’t understand his sermon in the Maguindanao dialect except for three words that kept popping out: “active nonviolent approach.” Sociopolitical transformation was happening.

Harmony with Creation, a Story of Ecological-Economic Transformation
Recently two Filipino agricultural community organizers came to our office to pick up two nondescript plastic bags of coffee beans. They have been working with our coffee retail program, Coffee for Peace, to train indigenous farmers in organic growing methods and international coffee processing standards. The premium price these families get from selling to our fair trade distribution network goes a long way towards meeting their basic needs. With the four dollars the organizers collected from their subsistence farmers, they bought high quality Arabica beans to plant as part of an agroforestry initiative that would protect the remaining forests of Mindanao. It happened that a Canadian investor in Coffee for Peace was visiting our office that day. She was moved to see and hear the stories of how her investment was benefiting some of the most marginalized people in Mindanao. As the money and beans exchanged hands, the organizers shared how they were urgently working to get the coffee seeds out to the remote communities so they would have alternatives to the economically and environmentally unviable practice of monocropping palm oil for biofuel. They expressed how timely it was that God had brought us together over the past year: “Truly this is coffee for peace.” Truly this is ecological-economic transformation.

Thus we continue to be grateful for our part in God’s reconciliation story with the world, regenerating the themes of harmony and transformation in Philippine society.

  Jeremy Simons is a mediator and peace trainer, and Amy (Ludeker) Simons ’96 is a nurse practitioner. They have been serving in the Philippines since 2008. Jeremy and Amy will be back in the States in the summer and fall of 2010 and would be happy to share with interested groups and individuals more about their peacebuilding and health ministry in the Philippines.

NEXT: Peace Efforts on Both Sides of the Wall