Because of stories I’d heard from friends living around the world, as we got ready to go to the States this past October, I prepared myself to be asked a variety of interesting questions. “How was your trip?” “Do you live in a hut?” “Aren’t you afraid of of being robbed/kidnapped/shot?”
As it turned out, not a single person asked me a question that made me feel misunderstood or like I lived on another planet. In fact, people asked really GOOD questions. Questions that helped me process my new life and gave me a platform to share my story. (I did also take the opportunity to share the correct pronunciation of the word “Tagalog.” Hint: it’s not like the Girl Scout Cookie.)
One of these questions, asked by a dear woman at our supporting church in Maine, has stayed in my heart as we returned to Manila.
“What is one thing the American church can learn from the church in the Philippines?”
The answer we gave is first on my list here and as I’ve thought more about it, I want to add a couple more. I can’t speak for the whole American church, but I can speak for myself and what I’m learning. So in my time here so far, here’s what I’m learning from the Filipino church.
1. Submission to authority
Within a few months, I noticed a theme in stories from friends. “What brought you to that decision?” I might ask. “My parents advised.” “My pastor suggested.” “My aunt/god father/ older sister told me.” My friends would make decisions based on the advice of people older than us. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. Pastor Peter preached that even if you don’t like it, your parents know you better than anyone. And, for example, if they don’t approve of your boyfriend/girlfriend, you shouldn’t move your relationship forward with him/her.
Like all things, this power can be corrupted. But in my own life, it’s challenged how I see my relationships with older people who know me well. While in the States with my family, I sat at the kitchen table with my parents and I whole-heartedly asked their advice. I wanted them to speak into my life and give sound wisdom.
I did the 30 Hour Famine as a teenager. But I’m learning here from friends and our church community the spiritual discipline of fasting. A few good friends, when sharing things they are struggling with, questions they’re asking God, will say, “I’m going to fast about it.” They petition God for wisdom and they see God work! We see prayers answered and wisdom given during these times of abstaining from food in order to seek God.
Many churches take a week at the beginning of the year to fast and pray. For our church, that’s this week. There are services each night where there is time for worship, for teaching, and for prayer. There are lists of what we’re praying for together (the upcoming year, the needy, the church, the country, our families) and there are resources for what kinds of fasts to have (liquid, one-meal, social media, etc) and how to stay safe while doing it.
I’m learning the power of petitioning God in community and of the fellowship that comes from abstaining from something together. I’m learning that fasting isn’t just a suggestion in the Bible, but a real and powerful spiritual disciple for tuning our hearts to God.
3. Prayer for the country
For the half hour before each service, our church has a prayer time. They display requests on the screen and a pastor comes to end the time in prayer together. A few of these prayers have really impacted me – how we pray for the Philippines and how we pray for our attitude toward the country. The pastor led us to pray for this coming election season and for wisdom in voting. He also led us to pray for our attitude toward corruption and traffic, that God would give us patience and wisdom.
At one of the fasting services this week, government leaders were invited to attend so they could be prayed for. Trent and I didn’t go, but a friend told us that they brought a group of leaders on stage and asked them how we could pray. Then they knelt down each with a pastor beside them who petitioned God on their behalf.
I’m learning that we can and should not only pray for our leaders, but also our own attitude toward our leaders and our country.
Sometimes the differences in culture can be hard and confusing. But sometimes they’re beautiful. Sometimes they challenge me to rethink my assumptions or experiences and many times the differences make me think about God in a new way. I think different cultures, and how different people worship Him, reveal different aspects of who He is. I’m thankful for the lessons in this new culture and for the good questions from people in my home culture.
* The cover photo for this post is from CCF’s fasting week video on their Facebook page.