Advocacy + Outreach

Finding Grace in the Philippines

Three stories about our mission partners.

Sally Harwood (center) with Dessa Palm and members of YATTA, February 2019.

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church created the Mission Partner program in 2013. The idea was to focus our benevolence grants on a select group of organizations whose missions aligned closely with ours. The hope, too, was that, through volunteer activity and collaborative ministry, powerful bonds would grow, connecting our people with communities in other parts of the city, and other corners of the world. In this series of articles, three members of the congregation talk about their close, personal ties to three of our mission partners. See also Valerie Krepp on Holmes Presbyterian Camp, and Sally Harwood on the ministries of Cobbie and Dessa Palm in the Philippines.

What a warm and welcoming country is the Philippines, especially when our mission partners, Cobbie and Dessa Palm, act as tour guides.

In February my husband, Ed, and I visited the island of Negros and were blessed to share a “day in the life” of Cobbie and Dessa, who are mission co-workers for the Presbyterian Church (USA). We enjoyed a trip to beautiful Apo Island for some scuba and snorkeling fun with sea turtles—but we were also treated to a firsthand look at the transformative work Cobbie and Dessa are doing with the Filipino people.

Cobbie took us along on a water delivery run, providing purified water produced by the Silliman Water Ministry to folks in the mountains. This has become a necessity due to a thermal plant nearby depleting traditional sources of clean water. Cobbie is a go-between, helping to ensure that the fresh water produced at Silliman University in Dumaguete gets to the isolated communities that need it.

In one of these villages, women (most of them mothers) have organized themselves into a task force for water distribution. We met two of these women and heard their stories. We were amazed at the challenges they face simply to provide clean water for their children, and inspired by the joy this work brings to them.

Cobbie and Dessa Palm

Dessa then invited us to dinner with YATTA—Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts. YATTA was created in 2005 by a group of students who had come together for a theater workshop focused on the issue of child trafficking. The workshop taught them the power of the arts to educate and raise awareness about the rights of children and young people who are too often the targets of exploitation.

We were incredibly impressed by the number of advocacy plays YATTA has produced, showcasing such issues as human trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence. We then heard the personal stories of members of the group.

Junsly Kitay was one of the founders of YATTA. He was living at the time with his family in Looc, a barangay, or barrio, reputed for poverty and drug trading. His father was in the trade, and had been arrested twice and put their family in danger. Junsly witnessed how the drug industry had destroyed his family (and many others) when the value of quick money became more important that the welfare of all.

Many of his peers are now dead, in prison, or still part of the problem. But YATTA has helped Junsly break the cycle. He now teaches at the local high school. He’s married to Elizabeth and the father of a five-month-old son. For many young people like Junsly, YATTA has become the family they never had.

I have been involved, and continue to be involved, in several of the international ministries supported by Fifth Avenue—Ministry of Hope in Lesotho, Dan and Elizabeth Turk’s work in Madagascar, the Haiti Reforestation Partnership. Each one is special to me in unique ways. What particularly touches me about the work that Cobbie and Dessa are doing is the grace with which they deal with all those they encounter, and how that makes everyone who knows them want to demonstrate that same grace in their lives.

Ed and I were sorry to leave. We would have loved to become a more integral part of the Christ-inspired, life-changing work that our mission partners are doing in the Philippines.

Cobbie once described his call to serve with these words: “I look into the eyes of an impoverished child, and I am told silently by that face of anguish that God demands that I care enough to give my life to building a world in which each child has a future.”

It means so much to know that my church cares enough to support Cobbie and Dessa in building that world.

A longtime Outreach volunteer, Sally Harwood has been a member of Fifth Avenue since 1981. She is a member of the Mission Partner Committee.