This week, Kevin draws parallels between first-century Palestine and the Philippines today, finding hope in the One who has also experienced refuge-seeking, internal displacement, and premature death at the hands of unjust power. Originally from Hong Kong, Kevin now lives, studies, and teaches in the Philippines.
An archipelagic republic in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines consists of 7,640+ islands organized into three geographic regions: Luzon to the north, the Visayas in the middle, and Mindanao in the south. For over 300 years, the archipelago was colonized by Spain until the 1898 Spanish-American War. Although the Philippines declared independence, the United States annexed the islands, establishing control after the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). After WWII, the Philippines gained independence in 1946. Decades of dictatorial rule, political corruption, and recent human rights violations against drug users and street children cast a shadow over the newly industrialized country and its emerging market. Today, the Philippines is home to over 109 million people, of whom 89% are Christians (predominantly Catholic) and 6% are Muslims.
Kevin is pursuing a PhD in Counseling Psychology at De La Salle University in Manila. His research focuses on trauma-informed and community-based mental healthcare for vulnerable people at society’s margins, including refugees from the Middle East and East Africa. Kevin’s doctoral work will not only hone his clinical skills but also inform his integration of spirituality and psychology in caring holistically for suffering people.
Since 2020, Kevin has served on the faculty of Asian Theological Seminary (a client of the Vital SustainAbility Initiative) in Manila. He is part of the seminary’s strategic faculty development plan and continues to teach there while completing his doctoral studies. Kevin also works part-time as a counselor at Lifespring Counseling and Care Center, based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Kevin shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
Christmas in the Philippines
I grew up in a very secular family, so Christmas was not a big thing for us. Now that I am in the Philippines, I cannot stress enough that Christmas is the most anticipated time of the year!
Amid the hot summer here (in the Philippines, our two seasons are hot summer and hotter summer), Christmas tunes reverberate through the streets during all the “ber” months, beginning in October. Decorations slowly follow. By early November, one cannot help but notice Christmas trees in major malls and special lights blinking around town. Traffic also picks up, as people go gift shopping.
The most memorable part for me is the thoughtfulness that goes into getting gifts for family, friends, and extended family. Christmas is a time to celebrate the ties we have. It is a time to have reunions with those whom we don’t usually get to see. It is a time to show our love in the most concrete ways.
These traditions have crystalized for me the image of Immanuel as God with us. We have God, we have each other, and we have life. That is worth celebrating.
Hope amid Displacement
Christmas is set against the backdrop of migration, which has always been a big theme in the Philippines – and throughout the world! The “great joy” (Matt. 2:10) of the magi as they discerned God’s will was accompanied by a warning against the one in power (Matt. 2:12). The flight of the newborn and His family as refugees to a foreign country ensued (Matt. 2:13-14). With no definite end in sight (Matt. 2:16), homecoming was only possible when the tide turned (Matt. 2:15).
I remember an ate (older sister) I once interviewed in the Philippines. She was 56 years of age and had worked in Hong Kong for 28 years – longer than she had ever lived in her own country. When she first graduated, she sought work in a relative’s business, but that did not sustain her. Eventually, she became a housekeeper in Hong Kong, earning money to support her sister, then her brother, and then the sons and daughters of her siblings. When her father got sick, she returned to care for him. Migration was not entirely voluntary for her. For many, migration felt like the only lifeline for their families.
God’s warning to the magi was warranted. Herod killed boys out of fury (Matt. 2:16), leaving many to weep and lament (Matt. 2:17-18). The power of one man was preserved at the cost of innocent lives.
In the Philippines, a terrible plight also befell some who lived in dark city corners. Strong men and women were hired to shoot and kill wherever drugs were thought to be found. A good number of city dwellers perished, often to the joy of the wider public, who believed drugs to be rampant and saw drug users as evil. Many forgot that there is a system in place that works against the vulnerable, leaving them very few options. A simple, dualistic narrative from the powerful had rendered lives so cheap that crying seemed extraneous.
After Herod died (Matt. 2:19), Jesus and His family returned to the land of Israel (Matt. 2:21), settling in Nazareth (Matt. 2:23) to avoid the king’s heir (Matt. 2:22). Though internally displaced, they could experience a sense of safety. From there the story continues with Jesus growing up and dying on the cross after repeated clashes with unjust power.
Likewise, in the Philippines, one strong man left at the end of his term, and another has come. As citizens, we may be safe from one harm while being subject to many other perils willfully perpetuated for a certain clique’s gain. A sense of displacement exists deep in the heart. This is our home, but it is not totally safe from both manmade and natural disasters. Death seems destined to come prematurely, one way or another.
Refuge-seeking, internal displacement, and premature death are themes that resonate from the land of revelation in ancient days to the land of a thousand islands in the current day. These themes are so disheartening that we may be tempted to find off-the-peg answers, offer quick comforts, and stay falsely assured.
Jesus was not disillusioned. He embodied the kingdom of new ways (Matt. 4:17) by living out what He preached (Matt. 5:2-12) before perishing at the hands of those who wanted to preserve what has been. We know the story is still unfolding. Once again, this Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the Son, the coming of His Kingdom, and the will of God over all that is to be.
I am a faculty member in the Counseling Department of Asian Theological Seminary in Manila. I teach two courses per semester while working on my PhD in Counseling Psychology. Our campus may be smaller than a high school, yet our accredited postgraduate programs and non-formal extension programs reach around 300 students from Asia and beyond.
There are just a few of us teaching, and some key members are going through major surgeries. I give thanks for the empowering community we have built after going through difficulties big and small. As I take up more responsibilities as a representative of the “younger” generation, please join me in praying for wisdom to navigate a complex system with varied expectations.
As an adopted son of the Philippines, I take joy in this vocation of empowering believers to be present to the other, especially those at the margins.