On the morning of 7 November 2013, Regina Mondez, along with most people of the Philippines, was anxiously tracking the radar images of a massive storm heading directly toward them. Even before super typhoon Haiyan slammed into the islands of the central Philippines, with wind speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, she and other members of Peace Church, a small house fellowship in Manila supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, were thinking about how they would need to respond.
When the typhoon made landfall several hours later, the destruction of the storm’s wind, rain, and tidal surge defied description. In addition to the 6,000 reported fatalities, an estimated 14 million people, including 1.8 million children, were displaced by the storm, with hundreds of villages devastated and a major city, Tacloban, nearly completely destroyed. As the Filipino government struggled to respond, millions of people in the region – living without power, shelter, food, water or security – grew increasingly desperate.
By all objective measures, the Mennonite presence in the Philippines is tiny. As the world’s twelfth most populated country, the Philippines is home to nearly 100 million citizens – 80% of them Catholic. Mennonites, by contrast, number a mere 1,000 souls: around 200 from the Church of God in Christ, Mennonites; another 150 affiliated with various conservative or plain fellowships; and the rest associated with the Integrated Mennonite Churches (IMC), whose 21 congregations are scattered around the central island of Luzon, a region not directly affected by the recent storm.
Yet Regina and the volunteers from Peace Church were undeterred. Within a few days, they joined a team organized by PeaceBuilders Community, and headed for the city of Ormoc on Leyte island. There, working closely with local pastors, they helped to establish a network for the efficient distribution of relief assistance that was just beginning to arrive.
Regina Mondez is the face of a new generation of Mennonites in the global church. In the early 1980s, her parents joined the Conservative Mennonite church in Lumban, attracted by its biblical emphasis on peace and a strong sense of community. Though the family eventually left that congregation, frustrated by its restrictions on education, Regina recalls the church as her “second home – it was my family.”
During her studies at the University of the Philippines, Regina became more aware of the deep-seated realities of poverty and injustice in her country, and dedicated herself to working for social and political reforms. Immediately after completing a degree in Development Communication, she moved to the island of Mindanao, a region devastated by poverty and decades of guerilla warfare and inter-religious violence.
For the next two years, she worked as a volunteer with PeaceBuilders Community, an organization supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, that has trained hundreds of local pastors and village leaders in the basic principles of conflict transformation and restorative justice.
That experience restored in Regina a deep appreciation for the Mennonite church and the theological roots of her peacemaking activities. “I had a weak grasp of Anabaptist teachings growing up,” Regina said. “But as I heard peace advocates, government workers, and even military officers express appreciation for the Mennonite witness to peace, my understandings of faith began to deepen.”
For the past three years, Regina has served as IMC’s national coordinator, supporting the work of the Board of Trustees and Board of Bishops. She is a charter member of Peace Church, a newly established congregation in Global City, Manila that is bringing a vigorous peace witness to the heart of Manila’s military and political establishment. In 2010, Regina wrote a history of the Mennonite church in the Philippines as a chapter in the Asia volume of the MWC Global Mennonite History series; and she currently is serving as the Research Associate for the MWC Global Anabaptist Profile in her country. Regina, who also has a full-time job, is 23-years-old!
In recent decades, the Mennonite church in the Philippines has suffered a number of divisions that have left some of the young people disillusioned. “I want to help our church become a family that is not divided by culture or ethnicity,” Regina reflected. “I want to help our church live out its understanding of the gospel in a more powerful way.” She dreams one day of helping to establish an Anabaptist school in the Philippines “that would enable IMC to develop more leaders who are reliant, efficient and successful without losing the particularity of their cultural or ethnic identity.”
The magnitude of the challenges facing the small Mennonite churches in the Philippines – whether that be disaster relief, peacebuilding, or church renewal – can seem overwhelming. But I am inspired by the witness of Regina Mondez. Pray for her, and the community she represents. Pray for Darnell and Christina Barkman, pastors of Peace Church; pray for the leaders of the Integrated Mennonite Church; pray for the work of PeaceBuilders Community in Mindanao; and pray for the people of the Philippines, devastated by typhoon Haiyan, who are searching for hope and a future amidst the rubble.
Article by John D. Roth of Goshen, Indiana. Roth teaches history at Goshen College and is also secretary of the Mennonite World Conference Faith and Life Commission. This article was first published in The Mennonite, 1 January, 2014.