Our school located in the Northern Luzon, Philippines has a ministry activity called CELD. CELD stands for Christian Education Literature Distribution. The ministry works by hosting a monthly gathering to distribute Christian books and Sunday school materials that are donated in the U.S. to Churches in the Northern Luzon. People mainly come from that area, but some from as far a place as Manila, Visaya or even Mindanao. About 200 usually attend though numbers vary depending on the month.
My wife and I help with this project every month. Being involved in ministries such as this has given us insight into the people of the Philippines both in a good sense and a bad sense. Our main job is to sort out books and materials, check the local pastors’ ID cards, give them their assigned materials, and collect necessary documents. While doing this we help out by taking pictures as well.
It is often said that we Japanese, when getting together, act a certain way. The same thing can be said about people in the the Philippines. Our chapel, where people from more than twenty nations have services during weekdays, is filled with the Philippine people. In the midst of such a situation, we two foreigners, busy walking around; are exposed to their curious eyes. Often times people will stare at my wife and I because we stand out so much.
One of the favorite words of the Philippine people is “observe.” This is to see a person’s action and hear his words with attention when you see a stranger. They simply gaze at you. You can see a fully dubious expression on their faces, which is probably from their cautiousness. Their faces are expressionless and their eyes are sharp. When you find yourself stared at and try to greet them by smiling or moving your eyebrows (which is a Philippine way), they immediately turn their eyes away. The reality is that they will probably be gazing at you again after a short amount of time.
There is no reason that they have to be cautious around us. They are at least self-claimed Christians, many of whom are self-claimed pastors, and we are seminary students. They are at the chapel of a seminary in order to get some Christian literature. Nevertheless, they throw such a look at us foreigners. This is nothing but a cultural behavior that even the power of Christianity cannot easily change. They never think that such a behavior is rude. They just stare at foreigners, not greeting us with a smile or by shaking hands.
To build relationships in Philippine culture simply takes time. My wife and I have built up good ones with those who help us with the project, but this was a fruit that required months. The Philippine people who are just gazing at you now will eventually open their hearts and start smiling at you. Some people smile and come to you immediately, but such cases are rare. No matter how much they admire the U.S., most of the Philippine people cannot be so friendly as to say “Hi!” like many Americans do.
I believe, however, that once you become friends with them or they withdraw their suspicion, people in the Philippines are one of the most friendly and beautiful people in the world. Every day is an interesting but struggling learning process if you live in a foreign country. I hope that those Christian materials can help us build more good relationships with them while communicating the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ.