Petition response tops 10,000 signatures in five days
People representing 100 different countries sign on
By Christie R. House*
Since its launch on June 23, the #LetThemLeave petition has garnered more than 10,000 signers urging the Republic of the Philippines to let three United Methodist missionaries depart the country. A snapshot of signatures on the evening of June 30 represents people from approximately 100 countries, even as more continue to increase the counts every hour.
The General Board of Global Ministries initiated the United Methodist campaign after other avenues of engagement with officials and viable legal options proved unsuccessful in winning the missionaries’ release.
All three missionaries, assigned to ministries in Davao City, Mindanao, took part in an international fact-finding investigation of human rights concerns last February, coming under government surveillance at that time.
Tawanda Chandiwana, a Global Mission Fellow from Zimbabwe with Initiatives for Peace (InPeace) in Mindanao, was arrested in Davao City on May 9 for having an expired visa, though he had initiated an application for a tourist visa to finish the last couple weeks of his term. On June 4, authorities transferred Chandiwana to the Bureau of Immigration Warden Facility Bicutan detention center, Taguig City, Manila, where he has remained.
A second Global Mission Fellow working with InPeace, Miracle Osman from Malawi, had her passport confiscated by Davao immigration authorities when she sought to apply for a missionary visa as her tourist visa expired. Authorities also confiscated the passport of Adam Shaw, from Ohio, who serves as a global missionary with the Save Our Schools, Protect Indigenous Life project. Without proper documentation, Osman and Shaw cannot leave the country.
Worldwide petition response
Sign The Petition!
Working with the United Methodist Council of Bishops, United Methodist News Service and the World Council of Churches among other partners, Global Ministries launched a media campaign across United Methodist and ecumenical channels. The agencies urge people to sign the online petition, pray daily at noon each day, share campaign posts on social media and follow the campaign on Global Ministries’ social media pages.
Word of the campaign has traveled through multiple and multiplying media networks, including those of the World Council of Churches, United Methodist Communications, current and former United Methodist missionaries, United Methodist Women, annual and central conferences, local churches and secular media. To date, stories have posted across online media outlets in the United States, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Australia, South Korea and Singapore.
While the highest number of responses on the petition have come, predictably, from the United States, the second-highest response rate is from the Philippines, followed by Zimbabwe. The top 10 countries for signers include the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Singapore, South Africa and Mozambique, with Colombia and Hong Kong tied for 10th place at 9 a.m. Saturday. Canada and Democratic Republic of the Congo were close to the top 10.
People in unexpected places signed — from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. Signers from Ethiopia, Greece, Indonesia, Mongolia, Togo, Ukraine, Russia, Pakistan, Bolivia and New Zealand have added their voices to the call to let the missionaries leave the Philippines in peace and safety.
In all, petition signers include people from 23 African countries, 23 European countries, 19 Asian countries, 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries, six Pacific oceanic countries, five Middle Eastern countries and three North American countries.
Social media response
Responses on Global Ministries’ Twitter feed range from general words of support to personal notes from friends and family. “I went to Africa University with Tawanda, and we even played football together,” commented former Global Mission Fellow, Albert Wakili. “Malawi is home to Miracle Nkhata, just as it is home for me, too; Adam Shaw is my big brother in mission.”
Responses keyed into the petition site expressed a range of emotions, including concern, sadness, hope, outrage and support. Adam Shaw signed the petition, writing, “It is absurd that Tawanda has been in detention for more than six weeks, that Miracle's passport was taken from her and that all of us are considered involved with subversive groups. Release Tawanda, return Miracle's documents and let us all go.”
Paulo Bakeinakorodawa, from Fiji, who teaches at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute wrote, “What happened that afternoon shocked the MPI community when immigration officials appeared unannounced and picked [up] Tawanda and put him in detention. How long the justice process will take remains unknown. They must be released immediately. Please free them and let them return to their countries!”
*Christie R. House is the editor of Global Ministries’ New World Outlook magazine.