It seems strange that despite the strong place Christianity has in the Philippines, there is little real Filipino theology (within orthodox Christianity at least). In the past, there has been some original theology done by Catholic theologians in the Philippines, especially linked to martial law, but not much since. Most theology in the Philippines (again, not counting heterodox works) simply borrows from outsider works. Innovation seems to be more in line with switching who one borrows from. I am not Filipino, so it is not my place to say what good Filipino theology should be. But here are some things to think about. First think about a couple of other theologies…
1. Mestizo Theology. This is a Latin American Theology and looks at Jesus as one who bridges the gap, in like manner to the way the Mestizo bridges the gap between the people in charge and the people oppressed. Some focus on Jesus not merely as a Jew, but a Galilean Jew. As such, He is an outsider… disenfranchised. One can see how this might resonate with many Latin Americans today.
2. Dalit Theology. The Dalit are the people of India held down by caste. Jesus is the Liberator, the One who speaks good news to the poor and downtrodden. God leading His people from the oppressors in Egypt to take them to the promised land is important to their understanding of Him.
So, if one looked at the TNT (or more generally, the OFW, overseas foreign worker) phenomenon, is there something in God’s revelation that would be resonant to the Filipino Diaspora? Here are a few passages that would seem to me to be relevant.
a. Abraham. Abraham was called to leave his home to a place of God’s leading. This place may be looked at as Promised Land, but it was also a place of struggle, fearing death from local governments, owning no land except to bury his wife. Yet He was called upon to trust God and trust that following Him would lead to ultimate blessing and being a blessing to others.
b. Joseph. Forced to leave his people, he was compelled to work for strangers. But God ultimately remembered him, blessed him and gave him the opportunity to be a blessing to his family.
c. Moses… a stranger in a strange land. He also was forced to leave his people and live in the desert for many years. Yet because of His decision to follow God wherever He led, Moses was ultimately successful in freeing his family and people from slavery.
d. Exodus. The people of Israel sought the promised land, yet were forced to struggle in the wilderness, living by faith and hope for the next generation.
e. Babylonian captivity. Judah singing songs by the rivers of Babylon, praying to once again see Zion.
f. Jesus. Jesus, citizen of heaven, lived in obscurity in a hostile land. Sought by the government, He had to hide in Egypt and was later rejected in Nazareth. He had to spend much of His ministry in Galilee, because of trouble with political and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Not understood and not appreciated– ultimately, He was captured by the government and killed as a seditionist.
It seems to me that seeing Christ as one who left behind all to do what He needed to do in an unforgiving foreign land (for His family) relates well with the TNT experience. The Filipino experience in this setting is one of SUFFERING, ALIENATION, MARGINALIZATION and HOPE. So little of the imported theology connects with that situation here.
The term “tago ng tago” seems to fit the role of many global Filipinos, even those that are not illegal status. The term suggests, in a general sense:
-Being foreign or in foreign territory
-Being either unwanted, or ignored.
The ignored is also important. In places like the USA, where over 2 million Filipinos reside legally, they are often ignored as a people group, because their appearance is not highly distinctive, and their family names are often confused with Latin Americans. The sense of being foreign and ignored (hidden, not in hiding) can be a great challenge for many Filipinos. In other places, like Hong Kong, many Filipinos work legally but are considered inferior because they do the jobs that legal residents there consider “beneath them.” Many others live and work in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most racially and religiously bigoted places on earth. The strange sense of being foreign, needed, and yet not valued, is a difficult challenge.
Within this sort of model, Jesus is more than one who has experienced the same things that many Filipinos go through. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd risking His life to save the lost/hidden sheep. Jesus is the man who purchases the field to find the hidden treasure. Jesus is the forgiving father who welcomes home the son who went away. Jesus is the one who creates a new family, a new home, a new hiding built on a sure foundation.
<Note… I am not discussing the morality of living illegally in a foreign country… I am discussing its reality>
Anyway… some things to think about. Maybe someone else can think more about it. I don’t think my background or talent will allow me to go beyond vague thoughts.
Bob Munson lives in Baguio City, Philippines since 2004. He serves as the Administrator of Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center (www.bukallife.org). He is nearing completion of his Doctor of Theology degree from Asia Baptist Graduation Theological Seminary.
He puts down random thoughts on missions, symbolism, theology, and contextualization on his blog “Munson Mission Musings” http://missionmusings.wordpress.com