Strangers, Foreigners, Offering Bread and Fish

Last August, my wife, son, and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee in the United States. We came from the Philippines, halfway around the world–from the land of delicious and sweet dried mangoes, of beautiful beaches, and hospitable people.

movingboxesIt’s hot, and the traffic is really bad, and although more than 20 typhoons pass by every year, it is still home. It is where I grew up and learn how to interact with my world.

Both of my parents are pastors in the United Methodist Church. That probably explains why they gave me the name Mighty. Since they are both pastors, I have lots and lots of memories of moving from one place to another: from the seminary in Cavite, which is about 40 kilometers away from Manila, we traveled for 9-10 hours at night to move to the Northern part of the Luzon island; packing boxes, helping my parents put books, clothes, and other things into containers. After several moves, I have several boxes that I just did not open: we just moved them from one place to another.

In all of those moving, church members helped us pack our things, they even went with us to the new church and parsonage. Some members gave us parting gifts and foods. And when we arrived at the new church and parsonage, the members were eager to welcome us, helping us unload and arrange our new home, and they all made us feel part of their community.

We probably moved to around 15-20 houses in the past 4 decades. So I know what it is like to not have our own house. I was 29 when my father brought and built our own family house. I no longer lived with them, but at least, I have place to store all those unopened boxes. I suppose that in the Philippines and in a lot of places around the world, having your own house is a big sign of stability.

In the pursuit of this stability and abundance, many Filipinos look for opportunities all around the world. Filipinos have become the nannies of many Chinese kids in Hong Kong, in Malaysia, and even in royal households in the Middle East. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Filipino engineers and carpenters built up most of Dubai and the big cities in the Middle East. I was in Zambia for the Africa Young Leaders Summit organized by Young People’s Ministries, and guess what, I saw two Filipinos there who were working as miners.

There are a little over 100 Million Filipinos. About 12 million of that number is in Metro Manila. But another 12 Million are scattered all over the world. They leave their children, husbands, wives, and parents to work abroad so they could provide for their families. They are looking for the proverbial “green grass” — and in their minds, the sacrifice they do now will help build up their family in the future.

It’s amazing how a place, a culture, and a faith perspective shape our view of the world.

My wife and I did not really plan to leave the country for employment purposes. But for some reasons, God led me to take on a bigger role in the Young People’s Ministries Staff. So we had to move to Nashville.

I found myself as an unlikely Overseas Filipino Worker based in the United States, uprooted from where we used to be, and now learning to live in a new society with different cultures, different rules, and a different way of life.

Just to give you a taste of what we have been learning and adjusting to the past month or so. I have learned how to have an automated car wash where you give your card or use coins to get your car washed automatically. I even took a video while the machine was washing my car.

The evening before my flight to Germany, my wife, son, and I went to KFC near our apartment, and we discovered that the chicken tastes the same as in the Philippines, but the gravy for the chicken is not free! You have to pay 97 cents for a small bowl of gravy. Back in the Philippines, KFC gravy is free and you can get as much as you want. But, well, if you want SODA, that’s unlimited in most US fast food restaurants.

While travel in Manila could be hot and inconvenient, and you’ll encounter the horrendous traffic, you can go to your destination by using public transportation — bus, train, jeepneys, tricycles, and yes, people have bicycles with side cars who can take you where you want to go. But again, traffic is really bad, but you can get to your destination. In the United States, at least where I am right now, you cannot move around easily without a car.

When you move to another country, you need to learn again many things that you already take for granted in your own country. Your brothers and sisters, and parents are too far away. You have no close friends (yet) who can lend you help if you need it–whether it’s their advice, time, or money.

I was not without help because the YPM Staff members and friends helped us out a lot–some gave us things we need–lamps, a sofa bed, dishes, and many more. It was like when I was a child and we moved to a new parsonage. There were the people of God called Methodists welcoming us, giving us what we need, and helping us adjust to our new situation.

So, with my own transition from the Philippines to the United States, I’ve been thinking about the transitions that many other people are going through right now. Those Overseas Filipino workers who could not find a job in our country and deciding to go abroad. But there’s an even worse and more difficult transitions being experienced by refugees: Those who are at the borders waiting for their chance to enter a different country. Their own countries are no longer safe for them and for their families. Those who are paying high prices just to board on tiny boats that was supposed to help them cross to a safer place. Those who are tired of the fighting, and those who just want to have a fresh start in life.

image credit: World Economic Forum via Twitter

Yet, they have lost everything they own, and they are not welcome to the places where they intend to go.

It’s easy to be hospitable to one of us–those who belong to our family, to our family of faith, and to our friends, and loved ones. It is more difficult, and sometimes even painful to be hospitable to the stranger. the foreigner. the alien.

And if we look back at human history, we have not been very kind to the stranger. the foreigner. and the alien. In fact, we have a bloody history of conquest where the powerful killed or enslaved the stranger–the ones with a different color, or those who do not have the same language. Those that we could not understand.

In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they were refugees, fleeing from enslavement, but still on the road to the Promised Land, they had been refused passage several times.

In Numbers 20:18-21, the Israelites asked Edom for permission to pass through their territory, but Edom’s answer was “You shall not pass!”

Again, in Numbers 21, we read of how the Israelites asked permission to go through the land of the Amorites. But Sihon, king of the Amorites, did not let them pass. But instead he mobilized his army to attack them.

21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:

22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”

23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements. 26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.

27 That is why the poets say:
“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
let Sihon’s city be restored.
28 “Fire went out from Heshbon,
a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He has given up his sons as fugitives
and his daughters as captives
to Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have overthrown them;
Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon.
We have demolished them as far as Nophah, which extends to Medeba.”
31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.

It’s a good thing that no country’s military are attacking these refugees now (or at least, none that I’m aware of). But borders are closing, and this situation is creating a lot of problem in Europe right now. This is not the first refugee crisis in the world! It’s root cause is war. People are being scattered by the wars being fought in their countries — wars that are essentially the remnants and aftermaths of other wars in the past decades, or maybe the past century.

World War 2 created lots of refugees. In the late 1970s through the 1990s, about 2 Million Vietnamese people left their country, and they were called the boat people. Sometimes, a smaller number of peoples: a lot of them are indigenous peoples, can be displaced in their own residences because of mining, harassment by business aided by local militia and military.

However, this present refugee crisis in Europe is staggering! It is very difficult to think of solutions–both in the short term and in the long term. Economists, politicians, governments are calculating the cost…

and they don’t want to pay that cost!

And we, who observe it from a far, through our Facebook timelines, TV screens, and occasional newspaper reading can only sigh and ‘promise to pray’ if we can even do that.

A lot of us, LIKE those pages, and SHARE those news stories of the refugees’ pitiful situation. But we are often helpless how to share our resources and reach out to the people who are suffering.

There is a cost. And it is HIGH. And sometimes, all we could do is count the cost for these millions of refugees. Just like the disciples when they were faced with the big challenge of feeding 5,000 people.

John 6:6-14

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

image credit: ros.wood via Flickr

6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

DOES THIS COMMENT FROM PHILIP SOUND FAMILIAR? Fill in the blanks: It would take __________ millions or billions to accept these people, feed them, and help them be integrated into our society.

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

I could imagine some of the disciples rolling their eyes, or they may have scoffed at the boy’s offering. Some of them might have been thinking: what good is that food? It’s too little, it might not even be enough for 2 disciples.

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

When we are faced with the staggering challenge of helping others, may we always remember that young boy–he probably was not good in Math as Philip was. He probably didn’t care that he only had five barley loaves and 2 small fish. But he cared enough to offer what he had. And Jesus met him there. Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated…

There is a miracle in the feeding of the 5,000. Some scholars say that the people actually brought food with them but were not willing to share their food with others. But maybe, that in itself is a miracle! When people share what they have, no matter how small, God can work wonders and meet the needs of many.

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