Thursday, September 14, 2023

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana: A Journey of Solidarity: Ruth and Naomi’s Story, Part I

Today’s post is by Deaconess Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana. Marquez-Caramanzana is an Area Liaison for Asia and the Pacific with Global Ministries. It is the first of two parts. This post was originally developed for the World Methodist Council Consultation on Migration.

In 2013, Joanna Demafellis’ home in Leyte was among those torn and decimated by Typhoon Yolanda (Hayan). The raging flood stripped down the family home to its frame. In 2014, through the help of an aunt, Joanna was able to fly to Kuwait to work as a domestic helper. As a domestic helper, she was promised a monthly salary of $400. Under the kafala system, foreigners entering Kuwait need sponsorship to act as a bridge to the country. The employer got to keep her passport and confiscated her mobile phone, and she was only allowed to use it every 3 months. In 2016, her family sensed a problem when they couldn’t find two of her Facebook profiles and her roaming number became out of reach. In 2018, Kuwaiti authorities found Joanna’s body by chance, kept in a freezer of her second employer.

Jullebee Ranara was a domestic worker. She could not send her 4 children to school because she was poor. In her desire to offer better lives for her children, she decided to work abroad. Perhaps also a victim of illegal recruiters or human trafficking, she ended up working for a family in Kuwait. On January 21, 2023, she was reportedly raped, murdered, burned, and thrown in the desert. News reports would point to her employer’s 17-year-old son as her tormentor and killer.

We remember their stories as we engage in Bible study on the Book of Ruth. I would center our thoughts on the part of the Book of Ruth that is focused on Naomi and Ruth’s relationship.

Ruth’s story resonates with me as a deaconess engaged in mission work through Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. How does her story deepen my commitment to be in solidarity with those who need our significant presence, and what is the role of mission agencies as people journey in risky situations in foreign lands?

Ruth’s story also resonates with the many women, like Joanna and Jullebee, who leave our country everyday by the thousands to find a greener pasture in foreign lands so that their families here in the Philippines may live.

Naomi’s family, along with daughters in law Ruth and Orpah, left Judah to go to Moab because of famine. In Biblical narratives, the most common consequence of famines is involuntary migration. This was evident in the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel and their sons. They would usually migrate to Egypt to seek food, even if it meant being subjected to exploitation by Egyptian masters and rulers. Most of these people’s lives were turned upside down by the realities of famine during their time. Their stories speak of the vulnerability that migrants face as they rely on the mercy of people to help them and yet are in turn subjected to abuse and exploitation of those in power.

Mijal Bitton, a teacher, writer, and leading thinker on questions relating to Jewish American identity, pluralism, gender equity and sociological diversity asserts that “starvation is not a function of scarcity, but rather a function of how societies distribute food.”[1] This is confirmed by economist and philosopher, Amartya Sen whose “work demandsthat instead of examining food availability, we should be investigating whether individuals can gain access to food and control food resources. This shift is borne out by the Genesis stories. The Mesopotamian region and neighboring Egypt could potentially feed everyone. But Abram, Sarai and their children must fight to get access to food, and must confront the dangerous vulnerability embodied by economic migrants.”[2] This is also the same context that prompted Naomi’s family to move from Judah to Moab.

As I reflect on the stories I earlier shared about Joanna and Jullebee – I can’t help but also point out that if we talk of resources, my country, the Philippines, has enough resources to feed and provide for all of its people. But the question remains: why do people need to migrate, and why are people poor?

Let’s go to Ruth . . .

In the story, Ruth showed a deep faithfulness to Naomi. In losing her husband and two sons, Naomi is resigned to the kind of life awaiting her. She knows that nothing is left for her but to wallow in poverty and shame. She blessed her two daughters-in-law and sent them home. Orpah obliged. Ruth did not. And to this Ruth pledged to never leave Naomi and spoke of a beautiful, poetic commitment:

Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried (v.16 NIV).

As for Mijal-Bitton, “Ruth’s persona is intersectional: she embodies the vulnerabilities of women, of widows, of economic migrants, of foreigners, of stigmatized strangers (she is a Moabite).”[3]

In their time it was not easy for Naomi, Ruth and Orpah to lose their husbands. They have to bear the brunt of a difficult life in a patriarchal world – without property, without status, without economic power, non-existent.

When Ruth decided to leave her all and be with Naomi, she put to risk her own life. Her decision meant that whatever happens to Naomi would also happen to her.

This story raises questions for me: How did Ruth embody solidarity with Naomi? How does this solidarity challenge us as churches to do our ministry with struggling migrants and immigrants? How do we see the image of God in Ruth’s decision to accompany Naomi? What image of God do we want to profess or give witness to as we engage in ministry with migrants?

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