Psalm 66:1-7, 16-20
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
When I read the first few verses of Psalm 66:1-7, my initial reaction was to cringe from the disconnection of what it was telling me and what my reality was. How can a migrant worker like me “shout for joy” in the midst of exploitation, vulnerability, precariousness and pain? Is this some kind of joke? One cannot expect a demoralized worker to be joyful and forget their agony.
When I arrived in Canada late in 2014, I had high hopes on becoming a permanent resident so that I can finally practice my nursing profession, which failed to take off in the Philippines even after passing the board examinations in 2008. Of the 68,000 nurses who challenged the exam, only 27,000+ passed. I felt pretty special then and thought that it gave me a leverage to working abroad to help my family financially. Now that I am here and working as a Temporary Foreign Worker, an extremely exploitative immigration stream in Canada, the future looks bleak. Being an Overseas Filipino Worker is more challenging than I had imagined. My question now is, “Where is God in all of this?”
More questions arose as I uncovered the hard realities of working abroad: Why does the economic situation in the Philippines make it so difficult for ordinary people to live? Why did I have to leave the country in the first place? Is this migration issue just because of our corrupt local government officials or is it actually a part of an international crisis involving large, rich countries? What is the total cost of coming to this country? It seems as if my five-year-old daughter paid the highest price when I left her back home.
The experience of getting emotionally, verbally and economically mistreated as a healthcare provider taught me the hard reality of being a Filipino from a poor country. The color of my skin confronted me and told me of the stratification of human beings all over the world. My being a brown, migrant woman placed me at the very bottom of the food chain where I do not have the same rights and protection as a local, white citizen. My experience as a migrant worker stands incomparable to that of a white, middle-class Canadian woman even if both of us are educated.
As I got more acquainted with these painful truths, I recognized that other migrant workers are going through the same thing. I learned that more than 80% of Canada’s caregiver force is made up of Filipino women. These are thousands of Filipinas doing back-breaking domestic labor that goes unnoticed and unheard of. Our abuse and tears are unseen.
This is therefore not an isolated case but a systemic problem involving all migrant workers trying to make a living in countries with harsh immigration policies, which are created to work against them. This means that there is so much work that needs to be done in order to rectify the errors in our broken society. If we believe that we were made equally in the likeness of God, why should we let others tarnish that image? Why should we allow others to exploit us and make us feel like we are sub-par human beings? As children of God, we should be able to live life abundantly and with dignity. We have every right to decent work and living just like anybody.
In the Gospel of Luke 10:1-12 and 17-20, Jesus sends out the 72 to do his work and assures them that their names have already been written in heaven for doing His work. I find this to be one of the sweetest promises from Jesus. However, if we take a closer look at the world’s issues, 72 workers trying to do Jesus’ work becomes laughable. Only 72? That’s not enough! We need more people to do God’s work.
It brings me back to my Christian roots where I was taught to pray unceasingly about the things that trouble me. And pray I did! However, it felt like my prayers were not being heard by God. No matter how hard I prayed, my Canadian employers still exploited me and asserted their privilege over me. They stole my wages by overworking me without compensation and at times, acted as if I was a unit of production instead of a human being. My going to church didn’t work either. The church was unprepared to help me and they suggested that I pray about it and bear with my situation because everyone else was doing just that.
The problem with praying is that it is an individualistic solution to a systemic problem. Undeniably, there is so much power in prayer because it can change our individual attitude. But is prayer enough to change a systemic problem? Is it enough to get the majority out of slavery and oppression? No. The problem in our society is not even about our individual attitude. The problem is more about who has power over who and how that power uplifts a few and subjugates the majority.
The whole purpose of Jesus coming into this world was to enable us to live life abundantly, so if we witness the majority of God’s people living life unequally, it should compel us to act.
We should not stop praying, singing hymns and holding Bible studies. We should not cease to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. But the Church must begin to know how to identify societal ills and be able to respond appropriately. We are being challenged in these times to answer to God’s call to extend his loving arm to the needy. And it takes more than just prayers to do that. It takes more than just an individual solution.
I realized that the work Jesus was talking about requires the Church to step out onto the streets and meet God’s people—the marginalized, invisible, oppressed and forgotten. When was the last time we heard someone’s experience of abuse and exploitation and did we think to ask why this is happening? Did we try to get to the root of the situation or did we just tell them to pray about it and hope that it would change that person’s predicament?
Like the 72 he sent out, it requires us to go out of our way and challenge what has become the norm. We are being asked to brave persecution for challenging the existing system, which truly causes oppression of God’s people. The 72 did not stay in the confines of a church building. They were out on the streets and when needed, they crossed borders to reach more people. They were migrants, too. In the same way, believers today are being asked to put actions into words in order to make it a material force to change the course of history. The Church is being challenged to stand at the frontlines of societal issues. We are being asked to make a stand for the poor, and stand we must! Only in doing so will we fulfill God’s work.