|Ministry and Mushrooms in the Philippines|
New York, NY, July 23, 2009--The Rev. Leslie Casupanan de la Cruz is both a shepherd and a farmer. She watches over the flock of the Camachile United Methodist Church in Luzon, the northern island of the Philippines, and helps villagers to cultivate a cash crop of mushrooms.
Pastor Leslie has worked for six years with the Aeta people, who live in scattered mountain communities in Luzon, north of Manila. Many Aetas were resettled in the Camachile area, in Pampanga Province, after their homes were destroyed in 1992 by the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano.
The Camachile United Methodist Church puts strong emphasis on worship and celebration, education, health, and building economic self-sufficiency. Pastor Leslie is appointed to the church by United Methodist Bishop Lito Tangonan of Manila. She is also among a group of mission workers called Persons in Mission (PIM), supported in part by grants from the denomination's General Board of Global Ministries.
Mushroom cultivation is part of a church effort to bring greater economic prosperity to both church families and the community as a whole.
The Aeta People
The Aeta (pronounced "eye-ta") are indigenous people who number some 227,673 in Central Luzon, according to a written report by Pastor Leslie. Their main traditional sources of livelihood are hunting, gathering, and swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture.
Aetas are among the poorest of the poor in the Philippines, according to the World Bank.
Indigenous people, according to United Nations definitions, are those who meet four conditions:
Indigenous people constitute some 16 percent of the Philippine population. Some, including the Aeta at Camachile, are displaced from ancestral lands by commercial logging, mining, agribusiness, and government programs encouraging tourism. This displacement contributes to poverty.
Natural disaster caused the relocation of many Aeta at Camachile. Some 800 people were killed and many villages totally destroyed when Mount Pinatubo, a volcano dormant for centuries, erupted in 1992. Most of these people were illiterate and lacking educational opportunities and health services.
Role of the Church
Methodist missionaries began to work among the Aetas in the 1950s. One, Marion Walker, was especially effective in providing education for children. Others took up the ministry after Ms. Walker's death, so that there was a strong mission commitment when the mountain blew apart.
Seven years ago, the Manila Episcopal Area decided to focus on the Aeta community at Camachile. Pastor Leslie was appointed to lead the work. The Person in Mission program of which she is a part has several well-defined objectives. Global Ministries provides grants that assist and challenge mission partners to hire their own personnel. The approach encourages the emergence of national leadership. Priority is given to the support of innovative ministries or essential services.
Pastor Leslie is not Aeta but she knows and appreciates the culture. She wrote that she understands "their resistance to being subjugated and Christianized due to their cultural orientation…[remaining] objects of racial discrimination by the unats (those with straight hair)." She worries that the Philippine government and the dominant society offer the Aetas no protection, depriving them of lands and rights.
Camachile church invites but does not pressure people to embrace faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Leslie says:
Deaconess Jam Morales works closely with the growing church community of children.
"The United Methodist Church, Camachile Mission Church is a living testimony," the pastor states. "Over the years, it has proven its love and concern to all indigenous Aetas and its heart to the mission.... Its ministries, programs, and advocacies show that the church is concerned not only with the members but for the whole community. That is why it is the only Christian church that was given a place in the village.… The church is now training Aeta leaders towards an independent, sending missionary church."
A part of the holistic approach is expressed through measures of economic development. Mushroom cultivation is a natural and successful economic venture in the area. The climate is good for the crop and there is a ready commercial market in nearby Angeles City. Filipinos enjoy mushrooms, which have many culinary uses. A growing Korean business population in Angeles City especially likes the Camachile produce, which is grown without chemicals.
Pastor Leslie's husband, Albert de la Cruz, an agriculturalist, helps in teaching the people the art and science of growing and processing mushrooms.
Most Aetas, Pastor Leslie says, are not after material wealth: "They are satisfied with having enough food for the day. They share their blessings with everyone. Despite their poor economic condition and lack of proper nutrition, at the end of the day, you will still see joy on their faces. They are peace-loving people who love their ancestral domain because for them land is life."
The PIM Program
Individuals, congregations, and annual conferences can support the PIM program, which allows Pastor Leslie to minister among the Aetas through The Advance, the designated mission giving channel of The United Methodist Church.
Give to Philippines Global Mission Partners, Advance # 00424L, providing salary support for innovative staff positions in the local area for Persons in Mission. Support other projects and mission personnel in the Philippines.
The Advance is an accountable, designated-giving arm of The United Methodist Church that ensures 100 percent of each gift reaches its intended mission or ministry. You decide which program or ministry to support through The Advance.
A Global Mission Partner is a United Methodist congregation that expands its vision of mission by partnering not only with a Global Ministries missionary but also a Person in Mission (PIM).
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This article is based in large part on reports by the Rev. Leslie Casupanan de la Cruz and Rebecca Asedillo, a staff member of the General Board of Global Ministries, and was written by Elliott Wright, information officer of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Jul 23, 2009