Filipino workers in Taiwan, with the support of the UMC mission there, participated in a prayer in solidarity with the Cotabato farmers and indigenous people in Mindanao who were seeking famine and drought relief from their government.
A Home Away from Home for Filipino Migrant Workers in Taiwan
By Richard B Navarro and Alma J. Navarro
As Global Ministries missionaries ministering to Filipino workers in Taiwan, we have observed that engaging in ministry with migrant workers requires holistic guidance from God.
The Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) ministry in Taiwan is linked to the Methodist Church in the Republic of China (Taiwan) and is conducted in collaboration with the Davao Episcopal Area in the Philippines. There are an estimated 100,000 Filipinos in Taiwan at any given time—a majority of whom are temporary migrant workers. In fact, some 3,000 Filipinos leave their country every day seeking livelihoods abroad. The OFW ministry in Taipei was started by volunteers, enhanced by pastors sent by Davao, and provided with space and stipend assistance by the Methodist Church in Taiwan. Global Ministries was invited to become a partner in this outreach.
The plan of ministry includes not only worship and social services in Taiwan but also follow-through as workers return to the Philippines. It provides both spiritual care and pastoral counseling, while keeping OFWs linked to their congregations at home.
Being a migrant worker in Taiwan is not easy. Most of the ones we encounter are abusively overworked, with many actually having no days off. Emotionally, they are stressed because they really miss their families back home while enduring mistreatment at their new workplace. Financially, they are in debt, having had to pay employment agencies high placement fees to get here.
Our ministry here is designed to accommodate the workers’ needs. God continues to build this ministry, which we named Tahanan, a Filipino word meaning “home.” Tahanan has become a “home away from home,” enabling many to find rest and peace by sharing with one another as God’s family “...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NRSV)
The mission of Tahanan is to provide marital, family, and personal counseling, including counseling via the internet with the migrant workers’ loved ones back in the Philippines.
This enables Christians to “… bear one another’s burdens, and in this way … fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV)
Fellowship and Understanding
Being away from home for long stretches of time can be a serious struggle. The migrant workers we know accept the risk of leaving home in order to feed their families in the Philippines. They are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NRSV) Our ministry brings the compassion of Jesus to the complex lives of these migrants who work so far from home. We are deeply immersed in their lives, seeing not only their workplace struggles but also the reality of biased company policies and management, problems relating to their distant loved ones, and burnout from their endless work.
Annually, our Tahanan ministry offers Filipino migrant workers fellowship through an outdoor worship service. In February 2016, we headed to “Lihpaoland,” a recreation park in midwestern, Taiwan. We planned this vital activity for a venue that would transport the workers to a place out of the ordinary routine of their lives, enabling them to regain new strength physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually. This experience leaves them feeling revitalized once again, being members of a family in which God’s love is shared.
Borrowing a Baby
One of our active members has been working as a machine operator in Taiwan for almost 12 years now. He returns to the Philippines every three years when his current contract is finished and stays there for two to three months to process his papers, renew his contract, and plan his return to Taiwan. He has three lovely daughters—one who is four and twins who are a year old.
Because he’s been working abroad his entire married life, he has never experienced being a hands-on father. He was not present when his children learned to walk. He has never rushed one of his children to a hospital when she was sick. He hasn’t had the opportunity to play with his girls regularly. Since his oldest child has learned to call him up and talk to him on the phone, his struggle has become deeper and more painful. Her final words to him are always: “Bye Daddy! Love you, miss you! Please come home soon!” He can’t help but suffer in silence with a heavy heart as he tries to be optimistic and to assure his daughter that he’ll be home soon.
One Sunday morning, a Filipino woman whose spouse is Taiwanese came to join us in worship, bringing her baby to church for the first time. This nine-month-old has become “a baby for all”—especially for the father just mentioned. She is the first baby we’ve seen in the congregation since we arrived two years ago.
What happiness this baby has brought to our Filipino migrant working fathers! Our friend with the three daughters asked the baby’s mother if he could hold her. His joy in holding her could hardly be described, but it showed in his face. His heart seemed to be dancing in delight. He’s holding a baby he’s meeting for the first time—playing with someone else’s baby even though he doesn’t know the baby’s parents very well.
Working abroad is a difficult decision—sometimes a crucial one for family support but painful for parents whose children are left at home. Homesickness strikes one or another of our workers every now and then—especially when a child is sick so far away or when a father’s longing to hug and kiss his child must be suppressed.
But our church community is right here, embracing the Filipino workers who need us to serve as friends, as brothers as sisters, or as parents to fill their need for a loving family.
Transport to Comfort
Part of our ministry is called “transport to comfort.” We use our “church car” to take patients who need medical care to hospitals or clinics. Besides transportation, we offer moral and spiritual support to Filipino workers who are sick—since their co-workers are at work and their loved ones, far away. When patients need operations, we accompany them to the hospital. Recently, we accompanied a nervous young man, seeing him through his first hospitalization. When we arrived at the hospital, his parents were talking to him on the phone. Before he went into the Operating Room, he handed his phone to us, allowing his parents to express their gratitude for our help. They asked us to meet with them when we returned to the Philippines because they wanted to thank us personally.
After that incident, this young man recognized Jesus as his savior who never let him down in times of need. Since that day, he has come to church faithfully to worship God and to offer his talents for Christ’s service.
When a typhoon hits a place, everything is a mess. Even the clouds are in chaos. But when the typhoon is over, everything becomes clear and calm.
A spiritual retreat is like the day after a typhoon. It is a moment of clearing and cleansing everything in life. It’s also a moment of soothing your heart in the presence of Christ. Spiritual retreats revitalize your inner being so that you may become ready and strong again for all the challenges you’ll face going forward.
Part of our ministry is hosting an annual spiritual retreat for Filipino migrant workers. It is a wonderful event that allows Filipino workers to rest in God’s presence and with one another, insulated from the hardships, boredom, and burdens that are part of doing hard work while away from loved ones.
Participants encounter God in their own unique experience. They are able to express themselves to God, learn more about God, understand their own lives, value their work and lives, and honor God in everything.
Being in Solidarity
In March, farmers in North Cotabato, Philippines, decided to make their voices heard. Thousands of them demonstrated, asking for rice to ease their hunger. Because of a damaging “El Niño” effect this year, they have not been able to plant anything on their lands. They have no harvest and, therefore, no food.
These farmers were essentially asking for rice, yet the government of the Philippines answered them with bullets instead. Three of the demonstrators were killed and many more were injured. (See article, p. 34) We, as Filipino missionaries whose parents are also farmers, feel these farmers’ anguish. We urge the Filipino workers to stand with the farmers who suffer such oppression from the government. The community prayer we hosted in solidarity with the hungry farmers coincided with the opening ceremony of our basketball league for Filipino workers in our community. We reminded the Filipino workers to be good stewards of their earnings, recognizing God as the source of everything.
The Rev. Alma J. Navarro (Advance #3022029) is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries, serving as the minister for administration and Christian education of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) ministry in Taiwan, based in Taipei. The Rev. Richard B. Navarro (Advance #3022030) is a missionary serving as the minister for congregational development and pastoral care of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) ministry in Taiwan. They have two children, Charis and Matthew.
Copyright: New World Outlook magazine, September-October 2016 issue. Used by permission.
A Filipino worker in Taiwan holds a child belonging to another church member. He has three daughters of his own, but he rarely gets to see them or hold them because of his three-year work contract with his employers. Photo: Courtesy Alma and Richard Navarro
Richard Navarro accompanies a Filipino worker in Taiwan as he prepares to have surgery.Photo: Courtesy Alma and Richard Navarro