The last Juno Awards, which took place in Winnipeg, Canada in March 2014, were the scene of a prolific encounter: that of Matt Epp and Willard Metzger. It seems strange that Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Epp, born in a Mennonite family, should meet Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada (MCC), in a big country-wide music awards event. But as the song goes, it’s a small world after all! Matt had been invited for a song he had co-written with Serena Ryder (who won Juno Awards both for Songwriter and Artist of the year). Willard heard him perform and talk about his music at the Songwriter’s Circle. He told us: “I fell in love with his beautiful soul!” Fast forward one year of a growing friendship, and in March 2015 Matt Epp was coming to the Philippines to visit Mennonite Church Canada’s mission PeaceBuilders Community, Inc (PBCI) and their fair-trade business arm Coffee for Peace.
Matt Epp and Coffee for Peace realized that they had much in common. In Canada, Matt is a musical activist for the First Nation People, and thirsts for justice and peace. This concern shines through his music, through songs like “Metal Bird”, “Put it Back” or “There Shall be Peace”. In the Philippines, Coffee for Peace stands out by paying a fair price to their partner-farmers, both Indigenous People and Migrants. Coffee for Peace works hand in hand with PeaceBuilders Community to help value and strengthen the Indigenous People’s identity, to advocate for their rights, and to call the attention of the church and the country on injustices that are being done to them.
This one-week visit was very busy, and very rich. After a first few days in Manila where Matt met Peace Church, our sister community, he and Willard landed in Davao a Tuesday morning. They were driven to their hotel to drop their bags, and from there went straight to the joined facilities of PBCI’s main office and CFP Warehouse. The rest of that day was spent in Purok Pluto, one of CFP’s partner-farmers community on Mount Apo. Intensive logging in that area caused the mountain to suffer from severe erosion, affecting the upper communities with droughts and the lower communities with floods. For Coffee for Peace, developing Arabica coffee was both an economic and an ecological move: economic because it supports the growth of the farmer community, ecological as both the coffee trees and the shade trees help hold the soil together and prevent erosion.
The last two days of Matt’s stay, a group composed of Matt, Willard, founders Dann and Joji Pantoja, PBCI Information and Communication Team Jonathan, AJ, Kevin and Salome, and Videographer Sam Finlay, went to Bukidnon. They were invited by the Talaandig People, one of the 7 tribes of Bukidnon, to celebrate both the beauty of life and the appointment of one of their Datus – or “Chiefs” – Datu Vic as a senior consultant for PBCI. It was beautiful to see people from different backgrounds, countries and cultures play, dance and laugh together, and gave us all a taste of heaven. Each was embracing their identity while welcoming the other: this is the world the CFP and PBCI want to help building, this is Amoria, the country that Matt Epp sings about.