I felt energized by the Spirit of the Great Creator as I listened to my fellow Erumanen Ne Menuvu. I’m aware that the Creator is always with me in everything that I do. Before I left for this trip, I prayed that the Spirit would strengthen me with love, joy, and patience. That’s exactly the strength I experienced. Love. Joy. Patience.
My team’s objective for this mission trip was clear. To build relationships with the indigenous farmers of Mt. Agkir-Agkir in North Cotabato framed in Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) principles and practices. We are doing this in partnership with Peace Creed — a group of young farmers from among the tri-people communities in Mindanao (Indigenous People, Moro, and Settlers) who are being supported by their families, clans, and tribal elders.
Listening — the first act of love
At PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) and Coffee For Peace (CFP), we have voluntarily given ourselves to love the Creator and to love all people unconditionally. As a missionary, I have personally committed to practice selfless love, along with the members of our community, “to the point of offering our lives to the people with whom we are called to live and to serve.” We consider ourselves “dead” — dead in the false bases of security through armed escorts whether they’re state forces or non-state forces. Because we have voluntarily accepted the fact that our lives are offered to the Creator, each of us have faced the possibility of death as entering into the everlasting peace in the presence of the Great Creator. This spiritual view of life and death influences who we are and what we do based on our submission and love to our Creator.
This unconditional love is best expressed through listening. My mentor, Lakan Sumulong, have instructed me to proceed with this mission guided by a set of dialogical principles we’ve been learning as an organization for more than a decade. Our community learned these principles through listening. I was taught to listen. I am being trained to listen actively before even thinking of a project in partnership with the local people. At PBCI-CFP, we’re always reminded that listening is our first act of love.
Serving our people brings joy
Joy. This word describes how I felt when I started connecting with the Erumanen Ne Menuvu community here on Mount Agkir-Agkir. Much of my pleasant childhood memories suddenly came like videos in my mind. Several times when I’m alone, I just cried for no reason. But I was happy. They were tears of joy. I can’t explain why. There’s this assurance within me that the spirits of Mount Agkir-Agkir welcomed me and my team.
My ability to speak our language again, however limited, is an amazing experience! I can only speak about 25% of our language. But I feel the joy of being welcomed into their reality. As my Ama says, “Language creates reality.” By seeking to speak in our language, I’m given the permission to enter into our indigenous reality — how they describe who Magbabaya is, how the gracious and merciful character of Magbabaya guide our value system, and how our values determine our customary laws. This is the joy of being embraced by my tribe back to our indigenous world.
It also gives me so much joy when I see them expressing themselves freely. I may only speak 25% of our language. But I understand them 100%. There is this spiritual connection between me and our tribe that goes beyond verbal language. The spiritual connection is joyful.
Faith produces patience
My faith-based view of myself as a funnel of the Creator’s love strengthens me and keeps me patient as I lead a new team of Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) field workers with members coming from various ethno-cultural communities. Leading this team is quite challenging because we are all learning through different cultural points-of-view. I’m looking at this field work as an opportunity to serve them as a field mentor — to help them learn to love the Creator, to love others unconditionally, and still be rooted in their respective cultures as Moro, Indigenous, and Settler young people. This love energizes me to be patient as I lead this multi-cultural team.
I believe we’re all growing in patience. In various stages, we all are seeking to sharpen our understanding and practice of our respective missions in life.
Patience is necessary for us, younger generation, to understand and appreciate what our elders call “active waiting.” This is like planting and growing root crops according to our tribal elders. A farmer must not dig the roots every now and then to check if the roots are in fact growing. Faith and patience are necessary as we journey together with the indigenous people.
Partnering with the community leaders on Mt. Agkir-Agkir gives us rich opportunities to continue what PBCI have started in Central Mindanao in the past 12 years.
This patience-oriented partnership is also an opportunity for us to share our inclusive development principles and practices among the small coffee farmers in North Cotabato. I believe that, in the future, they will be able to compete in the international market with all the inputs that we are going to share. Aside from coffee production, it is also a chance to re-connect with our peacebuilding partners in the area.
I pray that our loving Creator may guide and direct our team to become more discerning and be always energized by love, joy, and patience as we serve the people.
These are the love-based dialogical principles and processes, of listening and responding, that guide us in walking alongside the indigenous peoples:
- We are being taught by the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines to join them as they journey towards their liberation and their self determination. Therefore, we will support their view of their future and we will help preserve and nurture their respective Ancestral Domains.
- We have learned to respect the dreams of their elders and we are enriched by listening to the visions of their young people. Therefore, we will walk with them towards their dream of a sustainable livelihood that respects their culture and dignity as a people.
- We are seeing a lot of Indigenous People living on mountains higher than 750 meters above sea level who have existing coffee trees. Therefore, we will share a coffee processing technology that would meet the highest local and global standards at Fair Trade prices.
- We are invited to look to the future when all the Indigenous People in this land are trading fairly in local and global markets. Therefore, we will assist in developing their entrepreneurial skills by practising direct trade philosophies and inclusive business models to the coffee industry.
- We are learning that financial resources and monies earned by our farming partners through a successful coffee entrepreneurship may, at times, lead to conflict if we do not prepare them with necessary skills in personal and communal financial planning. Therefore, we will journey with community leaders and their people in basic conflict resolution approaches and financial management strategies to ensure the sustainability of their newly-gained economic capacities in the context of their cultural values and customary laws.