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Plenty in common: Sharing Sexual Integrity in the Philippines

 
by April Ponto, Ministry Services Specialist

When I arrived in the Philippines, just one day before the start of Heartbeat Asia’s annual conference, I was bombarded by a number of cultural differences.

While merely standing in the airport, people stared.

I became keenly aware of my comparatively pale skin and my head-and-shoulders height above most of the other people. As I left the airport, more differences emerged. Differences such as: roosters in the streets for cockfighting, disregard for traffic lights and signs, trees decorated with lights for no apparent reason, and an incredible number of people out walking around even though it was nearly midnight.

Eventually, though, my initial culture shock wore off and by the end of my time in the Philippines, I was able to see a greater number of similarities than differences.

The most recognizable similarity was our shared goal of bringing the message of Sexual Integrity to people in need.

Heartbeat Asia’s conference, “PureHeart,” was held in Manila and based on 1 Timothy 1:5, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

I had the honor of sharing with clergy, doctors, and volunteers from local parishes practical means to implement the message of Sexual Integrity in their lives and impart it to the people with whom they are working.

Prior to arriving in the Philippines, I was aware that Filipino Christians face unique challenges to implementing the message of Sexual Integrity, challenges different from ours in America, but I did not understand some of the specific obstacles engendered by their country.

Within a day of arriving, for example, I learned that some doctors are rewarded government money for inserting IUDs in women who had just given birth—without the patient’s consent or knowledge. Since abortion is illegal, herbal abortifacients are sold directly outside of church doors with the church having no recourse.

Most recently, though, the Senate of the Philippines passed the Reproductive Health, or “RH Bill,” allowing—among other things—government-funding of contraceptives and sex education classes. As a result, Heartbeat Asia has implemented the Sexual Integrity Program.

Sharing the four pillars of our sexuality with men and women as well as how to live and walk in health and wholeness circumvents some of the thorny reproductive issues we’re confronted with on a daily basis both nationally and internationally.

Amid all the troubling reproductive health issues surfacing in the Philippines and surrounding countries, there is hope. I met many women dedicated to teaching natural family planning by going door-to-door to reach those who otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn. At the helm of support for these women teaching natural family planning is a very proactive and involved Catholic church.

Priests, laypersons, and medical professionals are all working together to promote Sexual Integrity and eliminate the need for government-funded contraceptives and sexual education.

During my short time there, the cultural differences that had hit me so hard when I arrived eventually gave way to understanding all the things that made us similar, in particular our desire to teach the message of Sexual Integrity. Although the Philippines faces an uphill battle with the passage of the RH Bill, Heartbeat Asia is proactively stepping in to help women and men before they are in crisis.

If given the opportunity to return, I’m certain that cultural differences such as cockfighting and erratic driving will still challenge my paradigms, but I’m equally certain that the message of Sexual Integrity will continue to provide hope for the people of the Philippines.