It’s been over a month now since I returned to the United States. I’ve been bouncing around so much, however, that it still feels somewhat unreal.
When I first got back, I was asked to speak and share my experiences during the Sunday service. This bit of public speaking was recorded, and I invite you to click the link and listen to my reflection. In the mean time, you will find an assortment of yet-unrevealed photos below.
Thank you so much for following along with me this past year!
Happy New Year! Merry Christmas! Happy Thanksgiving! Whew, it feels good to clear out the holiday backlog! I’m sorry for the big time jump since my last post. As of last week, I have been living in the Philippines for 4 months and counting, and this entry is dedicated to playing a bit of catch up whilst recording some self-reflection.
As it happens, these two dedications share a strong commonality that you might remember from the wrap-up of my first blog: what is it that I do again? That’s what this all comes down to, I think. What have I done? What will I do? What is expected of me? These are the questions I intend to clarify, alongside their progenitor question: what does it mean to be a missionary?
A simple truth is that I am many things to many people, and my role in the life of one person can be vastly different than my role in the life of another. A simple truth it may be, but I think it is the root of a stump I’ve been trying to pull for a while now. The issue arises that several distinct roles in my life all come with the same job title—missionary—which can get pretty confusing. I am a missionary for my congregation and others in the United States, I am a missionary for the ECP and E-CARE, and I am a missionary for the community of Hugpong Kalinaw. What I’ve been subconsciously trying to do is merge these three roles forcibly into one, only to be repeatedly surprised and disheartened when they don’t mesh.
So, with that in mind, what have I been doing these past few months (with a touch of why)? After being assigned to the Philippines, the details of my placement were handed off to the wonderful staff of E-CARE. They chose, after looking at my resume, to send me to the Visayas Missionary Area with the budding concept of starting a tree nursery here in Hugpong Kalinaw. HK, as it is commonly referred to, is where I lay my head to rest. It is a housing community built following the devastating Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 (or Typhoon Haiyan, as it is known to those outside the Philippines) and is comprised of some 70 duplex-style homes outside our local Barangay.
Starting a tree nursery here is an awesome goal: there are a few open lots available and activities are community driven; it will help provide some extra income for the participants; and it has the potential to combat larger issues like deforestation, erosion control / landslide prevention, and typhoon buffering. However, setting aside the surmountable misunderstanding between my experience with invasive plants and the task of growing trees, the truth is that this project doesn’t take a lot of my time now that the ball is rolling. After researching the topic, visiting functioning tree nurseries for inspiration, and discovering new vegetable garden possibilities, there hasn’t been much for me to do. When the weather holds, and people are available, we work on the nursery-garden at best two days a week, which leaves me with the open-ended question of how I fill my time (namely with something meaningful and not self-interested or frivolous). What does it mean to be a missionary?
Given my role in YASC, this is a question I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating about, even before my departure. Hyperbolically I now think to myself, “Ben, this thing that you’re doing here…does this even count as missionary work?” To which I cautiously respond, “Well, I mean it has to right? As a missionary, everything I do is technically missionary work.” This answer, of course, is a trap (“It’s a trap!”). Without understanding my role here—what I expect of myself, the motivations for seeing it through, and what I personally hope to accomplish when all is said and done—it is all too easy to think in circles and learn nothing. And the thing about questions that one can’t answer right away is that they tend to brew. You forget about them for a while, but then something you see or hear sparks new thoughts and emotions. Eventually, it all comes to a boil and you know the answer is there even if you can’t put words to it yet. That’s where I am right now, with this question.
A few years ago, I was visiting a friend who lives in another state. He was still in school at the time, but we had a week or two together to hang out over Spring Break. We didn’t do anything particularly wonderous (just checking out his campus, catching a movie, etc.), but one of our idle conversations has stuck with me. We were walking from his dorm to grab lunch at a board game café nearby and took a shortcut that heads out from behind the building. At the end of the way was a side street, and since it was empty of cars my friend started to cross. Once on the other side, he looked back in surprise to find that I wasn’t beside him. Without thinking about it, I had instead taken a left toward the main road and the crosswalk there. After catching up with him, he laughed and asked why I bothered when there weren’t any cars coming. Given the spontaneity of the action, I took a minute to figure it out for myself, and told him that it was for the sake of anyone who may have been watching.
To paraphrase, I said something along the lines of, “We are constantly being influenced by the people around us. The things we see and hear happening in the background help to form our opinions and inform our actions. I guess I wanted to do a small thing to help keep others safe when crossing the street.” This, for me, is what it means to be a missionary.
Something I learned during my missionary orientation is that the full name of the Episcopal Church, as a corporate entity, is the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America”. By the umbrella of names and titles, every member of the Episcopal Church is a missionary, even if (like me) they didn’t know it. We live our lives—setting goals, having fun, loving our friends and family—while simultaneously, and usually unintentionally, being a living example for others. When I chose to be confirmed as an Episcopalian, by far the biggest factor in my decision was the sense of love and community I found there. I saw it in my friends, I saw it in my mentors, and I saw it in my family. If I had not found this love in the Episcopal Church—if I had not seen it in the life and example set by Jesus in the Gospel—I would not be an Episcopalian today. This idea, the way in which a community has guided me simply by being, is the core of what I mean. While reflecting on new ways to invest myself, I feel better in the knowledge that my words and my deeds can be small representations of my faith in the world.
This written expression has been cathartic, and I thank you all for being on this journey with me!
Welcome! Welcome to the start of something new. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Ben Hansknecht and I am serving as a missionary to the Philippines. This year of service is through a program of the Episcopal Church, the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC for short). I have the pleasure of living out this work thanks to the love and support of many people back home: family, friends, and well-wishers alike. It is thanks to you that I am here!
This is the first of hopefully many blogs, recording and reflecting on my experiences here. Some of them will be focused on a specific topic, sharing what I’ve learned and discovered. Others, such as this, are to be event-driven and will consequently be in need of some exposition.
I have been in the Philippines for three weeks now, having arrived in Manila on September 6th. In that time, I’ve undergone E-CARE orientation, extended my tourist visa at the Bureau of Immigration, been shown around Manila, left Manila for Tacloban, visited my long-term residency near Ormoc, met some of the partner communities throughout the Province of Leyte…*takes a deep breath*…learned that my role here is different from what I thought, started moving into my placement, learned that the new understanding of my role was also inaccurate, traveled back to Manila, participated in a two-day meeting of E-CARE staff from across the country, sent my Mom a singagram-esque happy birthday video from the staff at the post-meeting party, traveled back to Leyte, and and and…and I think it’s fair to say that a lot has happened in three weeks!
To be totally honest, I wanted to send this out a while ago. The idea was to detail my arrival, while it was still fresh and the above list was truncated. Alas, it was not to be. A large part of this can be laid at the feet of the internet. My access to Wi-Fi has been limited to specific places, such as the National Office. Additionally, my data plan, although purchased and at the ready, has very poor signal strength once entering more rural settings. This should be resolved soon; we already have an antenna and need only a Wi-Fi router to hook it up to.
That aside, there are some basic things that you should know going forward (names, places, acronyms, etc.):
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) – Although the Episcopal Church has had a presence in the Philippines since 1898, when the U.S. Armed Forces occupied Manila during the Spanish-American War, the ECP has only had autonomy since May 1st, 1990.
Episcopal Community Action for Renewal and Empowerment Foundation, Inc. (E-CARE) – This is the development program for whom I now work. Originally created under the name Community-Based Development Program (CBDP) as a part of the ECP, they have worked independently since they re-envisioned themselves nearly 10 years ago. Still working closely with the church, however—they’ve been known to have clergy on staff—their primary office space occupies a floor of the ECP’s National Office in Manila.
E-CARE currently structures itself into 4 regions, divided amongst Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The Province of Leyte, where I live, is in the Visayas and placed in Region 3. Region 3 also includes Metro Manila and the staff at the National Office.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) – A policy of E-CARE, ABCD represents a change in thinking for the organization, namely a switch to identifying and uplifting the strengths already present in a community, rather than following the widely used “needs-based” approach.
Receivers to Givers (R2G) – R2G is a program of E-CARE designed to provide support to its partner communities throughout the Philippines. Instead of applying for traditional grants, these communities apply for loans via R2G, known as grant-backs. These grant-backs, once repaid, do not go into the operating funds of E-CARE, but are set aside to be loaned again to another community. When possible, E-CARE encourages a hand-off ceremony where the previous recipient of the R2G funds passes it along to the new community.
Communities can reapply for this grant-back (or a larger one) as well, effectively handing it off to themselves. Upon doing so, they complete their first cycle of R2G. Sequential cycles then also ask for an additional 1.5% of the grant-back to be garnered: 0.5% to be donated to the local congregation, 0.5% to be provided to E-CARE, and 0.5% to go back into their own community.
I have more to say about most of these topics, but that can wait for another day, another time.
Fun fact, as I was writing this, a man just went by my window riding a water buffalo. That’s a first! Usually people here get around on mopeds or motorcycles, as far as personal transportation goes. To be fair though, he wasn’t just riding it for fun; the animal was harnessed and pulling a sled behind it. But then again, why not walk it instead?
And I think that about wraps things up! As both a reminder to me and something to anticipate for you, here is a list of some future topics for this blog:
What is it that I do again?
Good times in Manila
Season’s Greetings, It’s already Christmas Time in the Philippines
Fort Santiago and José Rizal
Jeepneys and Trikes and Bikes, oh my! Transportation when you can’t drive a Manual
The Installation of a new Prime Bishop
Signing off with a few more photos, thanks for tuning in!