Ariel Siagan raises awareness about the situation of Filipino migrant workers in Canada and calls on the church to respond.
The Bible is full of stories of sudden exile and migration. Rarely a choice, mostly a tactic of survival, the biblical stories are lived over and over every day across the world. It’s my story also. As an international student in South Korea, Hungary, and now in Canada, I have experienced the gnawing feeling that I do not belong. It was difficult to build a sense of belonging since most locals are either uncomfortable and threatened or find me inferior because of the colour of my skin or the sound of my English.
While I have certainly experienced discrimination in many different ways, none of my experiences can be compared to the horrors experienced by Filipino migrant workers. Definitely, one of these is not having guaranteed social safety nets that makes them more vulnerable. At least for me, I have my school and the church I go to as sanctuaries. Thankfully, I have not experienced life-threatening incidents. But migrant workers are more vulnerable to abuse because of the absence of social safety nets.
I had the opportunity to connect Filipino labour contract workers when I attended a gathering of the migrant-advocate group Migrante Ontario. A Filipina narrated her experience of working long hours on a farm in Ontario. She was in tears when she said they were housed in dilapidated buildings, and that their employer refused to justly compensate their long hours working on the farm. As a temporary foreign worker, her visa might not get extended, if she complained. It had already cost her thousands of dollars in visa fees, the “recruitment service,” and air fare. If she was sent back home early, she would never recover the money. She blurted, “where will I get the money to feed my children and to pay for the medicine and high cost of hospitalization for my ailing father?”
She isn’t alone. The government of the Philippines made a national industry out of the bodies and skills of Filipinos by sending them abroad to work, mostly domestic workers and laborers. Migration is forced for the majority of us. Before the pandemic, almost 6,000 Filipinos a day flew out of the international airport in Manila to provide cheap labor in many countries.
One may have the impression that since a migrant escaped poverty at home, a new life here would almost always be better than what was left behind. But chasing the Canadian or American dream is not at all sunshine and butterflies. Even though, the contributions of Filipino immigrants is noteworthy.
Churches can learn more about the situation of Filipino labourers by watching our video and reminding ourselves that many passages and stories in the Bible have upheld the just treatment of migrants, strangers, and foreigners. For example, in the book of Exodus, it says, “do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). With this, the Pentateuch or the book of laws contains a comprehensive prescription for how to treat migrants.
Similarly, the gospels emphasize treating a stranger as if it were Jesus you were serving. One of the parables of Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:35). In the concluding statement of the parable, it says that whatever you did to the least of your siblings, including strangers, it is as if you did it to the King. Furthermore, the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us “to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. In the biblical imagination, migrants or strangers are embodied as images of God and angels.
Perhaps we need to consider offering our buildings (when we reopen after the pandemic) as places of sanctuary for migrants. Let us reflect on whether our churches can become a true sanctuary for them. Why not use the video and these questions at your next online or in-person gathering?
- Do the dynamics of our church polity and programming enable us to host and provide safety for migrants, or are they hostile to them? What can we do to foster safe space and belonging?
- Outside the four walls of the church, have we advocated for migrants, or have we been complicit in the injustices done to them by our silence? What are the organizations that can help us better understand the experience of migration?
In the light of these scriptures, our theological and ecclesial responsibility toward migrants becomes clear: we cannot be quiet and indifferent to their situations of precarity, instability, and exploitation.
—Ariel Siagan is a doctoral student of theology at Trinity College of the University of Toronto. He is an ordained minister of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en Las Islas Filipinas (IEMELIF) or the Evangelical Methodist Church in the Philippines. Prior to coming to Toronto, he was a staff member of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines where he assists on programs related to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and indigenous people’s concerns. He currently chairs the newly established Filipino Network in The United Church of Canada.
The video, “Fresh Off the Boat,” was co-produced by Ariel Siagan and Ming Yung (Ibi) Chuan.
Ming Yung (Ibi) Chuan is the minister of the Cranbrook United Church (Cranbrook, BC), and has served there since 2017. He is an aboriginal from a tribe called Bunun from Taiwan. Ibi has a unique background and has known multiple languages and cultures perspectives. Ibi is inspired daily by his family and life experiences, and enjoys learning skills on leadership to contribute to the exciting ministries in the United Church.
Below are a few online resources which be useful in raising our own consciousness and in helping us to participate in the larger social movement which is advocating for better conditions for migrant workers.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.