The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church (COB) has issued a statement calling for the immediate release of three young UMC missionaries who are being prevented from leaving the Republic of the Philippines by the country’s government. The missionaries are Tawanda Chandiwana of Zimbabwe, Miracle Osman or Malawi and Adam Shaw of the U.S.
To exacerbate the situation, the young missionary from Zimbabwe, Tawanda Chandiwana, has been detained at the Bicutan Detention Center in the Philippines for more than six weeks.
“It is unconscionable that Tawanda has been held for six weeks,” stated Thomas Kemper, general secretary (chief executive) of United Methodist Global Ministries, the worldwide mission agency of the denomination with 12.5 million members in the U.S., Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. “We are respectfully asking that these young people be allowed to leave.”
The COB took the unusual step of calling upon the government of the Republic of the Philippines to expedite the release of the missionaries after learning about the repeated bureaucratic delays that have caused Tawanda’s much prolonged incarceration.
In addition to petitioning the Philippines government, The Council of Bishops is also calling upon United Methodists around the world to pray daily at noon, wherever they are, for the three missionaries for as long as the three are held.
According to the COB statement
, Tawanda was arrested and detained on May 9 in Davao City where he was held until June 4 when he was transferred to the BIWF Bicutan detention center in Taguig City Manila. He was initially charged with overstaying his missionary visa, although he was attempting to change his status to a tourist visa since he was nearing the end of his mission service in the Philippines; the charge was expanded when his name was found on a “watchlist” of alleged subversives. He denies any wrongdoing and faults a delay in filing visa paperwork.
The passport of Miracle Osman was confiscated while she was applying to extend her tourist visa and waiting for her missionary visa to be approved. Seizure of her passport has made it impossible for her to leave the country voluntarily. She has requested a return of her passport, which is the property of the Republic of Malawi.
Adam Shaw has been informed that an order to leave is imminent but it has not been served.
All three were detained at police checkpoints in February while taking part in in international ecumenical fact-finding investigation of alleged human rights violations in the southern Philippines area around General Santos City. The area is under martial law in response to disputed reports of terrorist activities.
The Council, and the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, the agency from which Tawanda Chandiwana received his Christian commission, are launching a worldwide campaign to call public attention to the plight of Tawanda and two other missionaries who were in the country fulfilling their commission to show God’s love in the world.
Despite continuing efforts by the staff of the local regional United Methodist conference, Philippines-based attorneys and officials with The United Methodist Church, all three of the young missionaries have experienced repeated difficulties getting the legal documents and clearance they need to leave the Republic of the Philippines.
“We vigorously protest this treatment of our mission personnel, placed and supervised in collaboration with The United Methodist Church in the Philippines,” said General Secretary Kemper. “We are and will continue to call for their immediate release as well as pray for them and the government of the Philippines until this issue is resolved.”
On June 26, the full Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church joined their episcopal colleagues in the Philippines and Global Ministries in appealing to the Philippines’ government to free and allow Mr. Chandiwana to leave the country. They also asked for immediate action by the Bureau of Immigration that would allow Ms. Osman, and Mr. Shaw to leave voluntarily.
The bishop’s appeal pointed out that “Global Ministries has enjoyed cordial relations with denominational and ecumenical organizations in the Philippines for many years. We have placed young adult missionaries in Mindanao since 2006. We hope to continue to work productively with Filipino partners.”
Mr. Chandiwana and Ms. Osman are Global Mission Fellows. These missionaries are young adults from all over the world between the ages of 20-30. They are sent by The United Methodist Church to serve for 20 months in works of justice and mercy through participation in such ministries as peacebuilding, creation care, English teaching, human rights advocacy, and social work. Many Filipino young adults are part of this program, serving in such places as Japan, South Africa, Ireland, Barbados, and Uruguay.
Mr. Shaw is a former Global Mission Fellow in the Philippines who now serves there as a global missionary with The United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is an organic part of the denomination, represented in the legislating General Conference by lay and clergy delegates. It has three episcopal areas in the country in Davao, Baguio, and Manila.