Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Solidarity in Christ

by Adam Shaw*

Solidarity often describes the work I engage in as a United Methodist missionary in the Philippines. While I have been in solidarity and in mission with many people on this fateful journey, it took me quite some time to tangibly grasp what that means. It could be described as a “oneness” based on a community of interests, objectives, and standards.

Likely you have heard of solidarity before. If you watch American football, perhaps you have seen players kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement. You may also have heard of solidarity in church, especially if your church recognizes community prayers and concerns. Pastors and laity lift our prayers to God in solidarity together as the body of Christ for the forgiveness, wholeness, and healing of our community.

Indigenous Communities Under Fire

Adam with students from the Busco School in Quezon Bukidnon Jun 2017.jpg
Adam Shaw with students from the Busco School in Quezon, Bukidnon, June 2017. PHOTO: COURTESY ADAM SHAW
In the southern Philippines on the island of Mindanao, indigenous people inhabit remote mountainous areas. Known as “Lumad,” these communities are among the most marginalized in the Philippines, lacking access to public education, health facilities, and other basic services. The illiteracy rate in Lumad children is 50 percent. Seventy percent of adults and almost all mothers over 30 are illiterate as well. While some Lumad children can attend public schools, their experience has been one of exclusion. The Filipino public education is derived from a different worldview than that of the Lumad, teaching curriculum that does not include or reflect indigenous context, history, or values.

In a proactive effort to eradicate illiteracy, many Lumad communities undertake school building projects. In 2017, I was assigned as a global missionary serving the Save Our Schools, Protect Indigenous Life project based in Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines. The Save Our Schools Network-Mindanao (SOS Mindanao) is made up of Lumad communities, parents, students, teachers, religious organizations, and nonprofit groups united to provide viable alternative education in community-based schools. In SOS schools, the host indigenous community is fully engaged in deciding the school’s overall direction and management. Curriculum and programs are based on a Lumad worldview: rooted in their identity, culture, context, realities, and struggle for self-determination.

SOS teachers at Busco school in Bukidnon sort school supplies sent by a support group in Canada personally delivered by us.jpg
SOS teachers at Busco school in Bukidnon sort school supplies sent by a support group in Canada, personally delivered by us (Adam Shaw with SOS, Save Our Schools, Protect Indigenous Peoples, Philippines). PHOTO: ADAM SHAW

Lumad schools are a great success and a focal point for rural community life—an achievement that has tragically brought them under attack. In the Philippines, indigenous ancestral domains are the last frontiers of forest and mineral resources. The island of Mindanao contains 1 trillion dollars-worth of unexploited mineral wealth alone! Today, the Philippine government provides incentives and protection to multinational corporations for developing the land.

This means Lumad communities resisting the destruction of their ancestral domains are subject to military incursions. These state campaigns of repression disrupt classrooms for months while affecting community life, notably Lumad subsistence farming.

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Missionary Adam Shaw (tallest person in the back row), with Lumad leaders who have come together to discuss what's happening in their communities and strategize about how to respond. PHOTO: COURTESY ADAM SHAW

In many cases, military troops occupy and vandalize school property. Troops implementing government “development” policies enter Lumad communities to question the existence of these schools. Soldiers also interrogate teachers and label SOS schools as “rebel schools.”

Called to the Ministry of Solidarity

When I first started working with the Lumad, I often was asked: “What are you doing?” “Why are you here?” Why am I, a citizen of the United States, in the Philippines working to save schools that are instrumental in uniting an indigenous people against corporations seeking to mine and plunder? It is a valid question for someone from a consumer economy, in which we are always on the lookout for the next big material thing. These “things” require resources to manufacture—resources corporations acquire from countries like the Philippines and in situations like that of the Lumad and their ancestral domain.

As a person of faith, I believe God calls me to solidarity. Solidarity with God entails a oneness—a unity with God. That is solidarity with God’s will: God’s interests, values, objectives, and standards.

For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the
Lord our God
forever and ever.
Micah 4:5

American culture has many idols and gods. The god of American exceptionalism, the god of capitalism and profit, the god of private property, the god of social media—we can think of many others. American culture has more idols and gods than Jerusalem and Samaria did when Micah lived!

In the name of the Lord our God, I walk: listening, learning, living, eating, sweating, praying, mourning—serving in solidarity with the Lumad of Mindanao in the Philippines.

“I am a United Methodist missionary!
That’s why I am here.”
“I am a person of faith.”
“I am a missionary.”
“I am a Christian.”

The more I said these words, the more I realized that this is my truth:

I am a person of faith. My faith, Christianity, usurped my nationality years ago and continues to supersede my patriotism.

I no longer introduce myself as “American.” I am merely Adam: child of God, a person of faith, and a United Methodist missionary. My calling is to be in solidarity with God, walking in the name of the Lord, working in a life infused with that solidarity and love.

Whether with indigenous people in Mindanao asserting their right to ancestral domain and self-determination; whether calling for justice and transformation of our society with the #blacklivesmatter movement; whether working to welcome the immigrant and the refugee in my country, I shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. Thank you for all the support you have provided for us, your missionaries. Together let us continue to serve God and be witnesses to the power of God’s transformational love, now and forever.

We are here because God is here.

Adam Shaw, from Brunswick, Ohio, has been a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries since 2011. He served as a Mission Intern from 2011-2014, then as a Mission Advocate for Young Adult Mission Service from 2014-2016, and most recently as a global missionary with the Save Our Schools Project in the Philippines.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.