We’ve just come back from a week-long trip in Dumegeute Philippines. It was nice to spend time with coworkers, talk to others doing this kind of stuff, and learn about PCUSA’s plan and vision. I’m always moved by the types of work others do. On this trip there’s a pair of doctors who have worked in South Asia for a generation, an English teacher in Japan who has raised his kids pretty much entirely in Japanese (they’re adults now), and a coworker in Hong Kong who has worked with a church council that has emphasized human rights. It’s an eclectic mix and there are a lot of strong personalities, but in general it’s been nice.
The kids had a blast. Originally we’d only planned to send one adult and Sam, since he’s a fairly good traveller. On the last retreat like this there were at least four families in the region but we were the only one where all of us travelled, and although people were very accepting, infants and a toddler were a pretty rough go. This time, our kids were the oldest ones there and there were four great child care workers who looked after them. The kids travelled very well, but it was a pretty intense eight days: a 4:30am departure from our apartment, lost baggage, Emily’s eye swelled up from a mango allergy, and Eva had a 24 hour flu. That’s pretty much par for the course for us. It was redeemed by meeting great people and some time spent looking out at the ocean and different critters. I met some new staff members and also connected to ones I’m working with on different projects. PCUSA has usually done these retreats every year, rotating between different parts of the world. They’re expensive, but there’s also no cheap way to do them. Dumaguete is basically a college town on a tropical beach, but cities (Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai) are not cheap and going back to the US isn’t a great option.
The highlight for me on this trip turned out to be the speakers. I’d gone into it saying to a colleague ‘I’ve heard both of these people before—I wonder what I’ll get out of this,’ but then they really spoke to where I was. One speaker was J. Herbert Nelson, who runs PCUSA’s DC office. He travels intensively and advocates for PCUSA General Assembly policy (right now, this might include a focus on responding to gun violence, immigration, education, and health care concerns; to opposing drones and militarizing trends; to advocating for refugee situations, trafficking and other issues raised at recent GAs). However, I was especially grateful for his personal stories. He is a third generation black Presbyterian pastor. He talked several times about starting a church for the poor in Memphis and having his salary cut by nearly sixty percent months into the call. How do we live with integrity when institutions, especially the church, so often fail us? He also discussed work he’s doing on gun violence, and how challenging it can be for (often white, elite, suburban) congregations to hear how this work plays out in daily life for black congregations. The other speaker was Cynthia Rigby, who talked about the idea of wonder and a theology of play (highly appropriate given days of mandatory meetings). I’d forgotten but she’d organized a panel at AAR’s Reformed History and Theology group, where I talked about PCT and the problem of schism. She also was a keynote speaker (along with Jurgen Moltmann) at the first Princeton Institute for Youth and Theology I attended in summer 1999. I still remember her talk, which was a bright point and an encouragement as I waited to start seminary.
Now the challenge is that we’re down to our last days. We have basically three days to pack and move out. It’s a lot happening on a very short deadline. It’s also quite possible I’ll be back in a few months to pack us out for good. We’re in a “farewell for now stage.” I am happy that I’ll get to connect to some friends and do some transitions. Yesterday I took books up to the seminary to donate. I just saw Peter Chen, a classmate and coworker. Sam got to spend some time with his buddy Emile on Sunday and our church had a big cake and a lit-up plaque. Yesterday we saw Kevin, Sam’s other best friend. Tomorrow we fly to the US. So much going on I can barely stand it all…