Witness workers embrace Indigenous names, identities

MC Canada to add names to covenant, future communications

May 18, 2021 | Web First
Mennonite Church Canada
Lakan Sumulong (Dann Pantoja) and (Joji Pantoja) have served as Witness workers in the Philippines since 2006. (Photo courtesy of Lakan Sumulong and Lakambini Mapayapa)

Dann and Joji Pantoja, Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in the Philippines, are embracing their Indigenous names and identities. In a statement published on their website Waves.ca in March, the Pantojas explained the colonial history their birth names represent and why their Indigenous names are significant to them.

“We, Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja and Joji Felicitas Francisco Bautista-Pantoja, are from the Tagalog tribe of Southern Luzon, the region where Manila is located.

“Our Tagalog tribe was used by the Spanish and American colonial powers in their wars to fight against the tribes of Mindanao—both the Islamized and non-Islamized Indigenous Peoples. The Tagalog language was eventually imposed as the Filipino national language throughout the archipelago, ignoring the varying concerns, and later resentment, of other Indigenous Peoples.”

As part of their decolonization journey, the Pantojas went to Tagalog elders and requested Indigenous names. Dann was given the name Lakan Sumulong, which means “a proponent of progress.” Joji was given the name Lakambini Mapayapa, which means “a woman of peace.”

Using their Indigenous names has been important in the relationship-building and peacemaking work they do with Indigenous tribes of Mindanao.

“Our Tagalog elders appreciate that we identify with our Laguna-based culture, yet [are] willing to engage with other Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines to advance peace and reconciliation,” they write.

Embracing their Indigenous identities has been a “redeeming factor” for the Pantojas in healing their own being; in helping them prioritize nonviolent action in their work; and in guiding them in their goals for seeing growth in peace-and-reconciliation communities across the Philippines.

To honour the Pantojas’ statement, MC Canada will add the Pantoja’s Indigenous names to the covenant the Witness workers have made with the nationwide church. Future communication about the Pantojas coming from the nationwide and regional churches will also include their Indigenous names.

“We are all on this journey of decolonization, as colonizers and colonized,” says Jeanette Hanson, director of MC Canada’s International Witness program. “We need to support our Witness workers and each other on this journey.”

Lakan Sumulong (Dann Pantoja) and (Joji Pantoja) have served as Witness workers in the Philippines since 2006, when they were commissioned by Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond, B.C. They are the founders of Peacebuilders Community Inc. and Coffee for Peace.

Lakan Sumulong (Dann Pantoja) and (Joji Pantoja) have served as Witness workers in the Philippines since 2006. (Photo courtesy of Lakan Sumulong and Lakambini Mapayapa)

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Years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Lakan and Lakambini personally in my work as an instructor. While I am not a regular, I do continue to follow their work in the Philippines on FB from time to time and am always encouraged by its openness and innovation, and their clarity as followers of Jesus. I am grateful for their long-term work in the communities of Mindanao and their deepening faithfulness. Thank you CM for sharing their story, and thanks be to God.

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