This week we welcome Dr. Al Tizon back to the CAAC blog. Dr. Tizon is Affiliate Associate Professor, Missional & Global Leadership at North Park University. He is executive minister of Serve Globally, the international ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Theological education that equips the whole church to engage in the ministry of the entire gospel throughout the whole world which is integral to his approach to missional and global leadership. An ordained minister of the ECC, Dr. Tizon has served churches and engaged in community development work, church leadership, holistic ministry, advocacy, and urban ministry both in the Philippines and in the United States. He was formerly co-President of Evangelicals for Social Action, an activist think tank that combines holistic ministry, public policy, and scholarship.
This is Pt.2 of an essay based on a lecture given by Dr. Tizon at a CAAC Colloquium at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Bayan Ko (My Country)
I want to share a few lessons I learned along the way about my beloved Philippines. My intense learning about it really began while living there. I learned first that before it was the Philippines and before we were Filipinos, we were Bisayans, Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Kampangan, etc., island peoples separated by waters and developing into distinct cultures.
I learned the Spanish came with bad intentions in retrospect, to occupy and claim the islands. The first recorded attempt failed when in 1521 Ferdinand Magellan and his men tried to take Cebu; but it was there that Magellan was killed by Chief Lapu Lapu. It wasn’t until 1565, 40-plus years later, that Miguel Lopez de Lagazpi came with bigger weaponry and subdued us, confiscating lands, re-ordering the people, renaming some of the islands, and taking away the native names of the people and replacing them with Spanish names. For example, my name is Francisco Alberto Asuncion Tizon IV, which does not get any more Spanish than that. The Spanish occupied the islands for 333 years, imposing its cultural, political, and religious (i.e., Roman Catholic) will on the people.
Contrary to the reputation of Filipinos that we are a docile, assimilating people, resistance to Spanish rule began immediately. More than 300 rebellions and uprisings are recorded during Spain’s rule, amounting to an astounding one or more revolts a year. By the 1880s and 90s, the unrest of Filipinos had intensified to boiling point; they wanted to be free from Spanish tyranny.
Enter the United States, which at the time was at war with the Spaniards in other parts of the world, especially among cultures we now call Latin America. Filipinos asked the American troops in the Philippines to help them gain their freedom from Spain, and the Americans obliged. Filipinos and Americans fought side by side to oust the Spanish from the Philippines, and they succeeded. Jubilant Filipinos celebrated their liberation and declared their independence on June 12, 1898, inaugurating General Emilio Aguinaldo as its first president.
However, the Americans double crossed them, claiming all along that they weren’t helping them gain their independence; on the contrary, they intended to expand the American Empire and establish its presence in Asia. Thus was the beginning of the Filipino American War from 1898 to 1901, which was every bit as brutal as any war that has been waged. The Americans overtook with their superior weaponry, and they occupied the islands. Though its rule was not as overtly cruel as the Spanish, American occupation was every bit as condescending, paternalistic and culture-manipulating as the previous colonizers.
Then, in 1941, the Japanese brutally took over the islands, ousting the Americans and killing tens of thousands of Filipinos. They occupied the islands with a brutality that the people had never experienced. My parents told us stories of that time (bayonetting infants, imprisoning people for any act deemed disrespectful; and the Bataan death march were all part of this).
So when American General Douglas McArthur made good on his “I Shall Return” promise in 1945 to liberate the Philippines from Japanese rule, he and the United States, at least for the generation of my parents, were put on a very high pedestal.
The Philippines was granted its independence by the United States and became the Republic of the Philippines in 1946. But, as some have argued, the neo-colonialism continues to this day.
Toward Whole & Reconciled
I’d like to share a few missiological insights that I have collected through the years as I reflect on my missionary journey as a Filipino American Christian in a postcolonial world.
First, I need to embrace who I am. I love the Philippines. I will never understand me fully if I don’t fully understand my ethnicity and my culture. But I also love the United States. Maybe I should hate it as one who knows what happened to the Philippines at the hands of Americans at the turn of the 20th century, but I don’t hate it. I can’t hate it. By hating it, I would be hating myself. I call it an identity crisis and experience it as such; or I could embrace my Filipino-Americanness, on all the good and bad of that.
Second, I see how my culturally hybrid self is poised to challenge injustice. My culturally hybrid faith is distinctly shaped and equipped to challenge racism, classism, and other isms in the name of Jesus. Cultural hybridity positions us to challenge the divisions that mar our world; for if we don’t challenge these things, then we in essence are not living up to who we are as people who demonstrate how cultural differences can reside in unity in persons. As the world looks desperately for answers to its bloody, violent divisions, we can say, “Look at us whose very person contains multiple cultures; we are living proof that differences can live together harmoniously in one body!
Related to this, and thirdly, I’ve come to believe that the nations need each other. The Philippines needs the United States, and the United States needs the Philippines. The nations of the world need one another to be the world. It is more than simply tolerating each other; we need to see the interdependence of nations to be a healthy world. The church can be such a witness in this regard. I see how crucial it is for the global church to be the global church, coming together to engage God’s mission together.
Oh, if the church could lead the way by demonstrating the power of the gospel by being a black, brown, Asian, and white global church, we could point the way to a better world in Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, it’s important to acknowledge that we indeed live in a postcolonial world. Acknowledging this regularly reminds us that we should go about life, church, and mission postcolonially. No kingdom except God’s kingdom is over us; and we should minister accordingly in our communities and beyond. I don’t want to continue the colonial legacy in any way, shape, or form. I’m hyper aware of this, and I urge us all to be as well. What this means is that the gospel to which we bear witness must always be experienced as “good” news to the lost, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the traumatized. In a postcolonial world there should no longer be victims of the Great Commission! Whatever we do in the name of Jesus in the Philippines or anywhere in the world, we must retain the goodness of the good news.
Lastly, our postcolonial world is a fractured and fracturing world in need of healing. Colonialism—and its consequences of racism, classism, genocide, wars, distorted boundaries, and gross power imbalances—has left the world in shambles. As representatives of the kingdom of God, the global church’s mission is to be reconcilers—proclaimers of good news, champions of justice, healers of the wounded, and peacemakers between tribes and nations until Christ returns.