By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — The dusky and beautiful Esther Faith Batino was in her senior year in a Catholic university in Cebu City in central Philippines, taking up preparatory course for Medicine when she changed her uptight religious upbringing.
She came across some missionaries of the then fledgling Unification church, founded by the late South Korean leader Sun Myung Moon, right inside her campus. The manner of educating curious denizens was attractive to Esther Faith, who said she would have wanted to be nun.
The teachings on peace principles and the daily morning prayers were convincing enough for her. “I was particularly struck by the principle that we are one human family under God. I became a constant guest. I finally grew confident that I can speak about the principles myself. That was how I got involved,” she recalled.
Esther Faith spent much of her missionary work around Asia for 10 years. In the winter of 1990, she was the first Asian to be sent to the US for missionary work.
She said she was humbled to have come face to face working with the founder Rev. Moon, who had painstakingly sown the seeds of his philosophical doctrines on family and peace from remote villages in many countries worldwide up to the halls of the United Nations.
The Unification church, although having its own share of controversies, stands on 5 principles of peace, explained Esther Faith. It does not ask its recruits to give up their religious beliefs. It instead allows them to continue practicing their religions vis-a-vis education and internationalization of its own philosophy for world unity and peace.
Hence, moving into the Unification church was not really a big issue in the Catholic family of Esther Faith.
The Sun Myung Moon-established church views that humanity, regardless of religion and race, is one family under one God. It also regards men and women as equal and are both responsible in creating families that should be the “school for love and peace.” The Unification church has also made its way to the United Nations in trying to establish a peace committee that promotes dialogues among different religious groups.
I didn’t just join a peace movement. I found a family, Esther Faith joyously declares.
After spending three years in Manila for mission work, she returned to the US in August this year and lives in Boston with her husband, Eduardo. They have three daughters, all of them are so much into singing while finishing school.
Excerpts of our interview:
1. You are one of the most active women leaders that the Philippines and the US could ever have. What issues and concerns are you most passionate about and why?
As a mother, what is dear to our hearts? The future, the joys and happiness of our children and peace and harmony of world citizens. I want my children and grandchildren to inherit peace.
I joined UPF since I was appointed as an Ambassador for Peace in Boston in 2003. I was already part of the Unification church at that time.
I truly believe in the five principles of peace that it promotes. My main concern is how I could substantiate these principles, especially the principle of living for the sake of others. It is not an easy task but I am passionate about. How I can embody the great job of living my life in constant service for others is the source of my energy and vitality.
As an appointee, I went to South Korea and spent a couple of weeks in a village of Pusan, Kangsugo, and Kangdongdong to do evangelical work.
When I returned to America, I was a different person, because I now have a tool to bring people to work together.
Regardless of religion, ethnic background, cultural orientation, country of origin, the one principle of peace that we are one human family created by God will make us realize that we have to work in harmony and understanding.
I also believe in the principle that peace, which is our most cherished hope, happens through dialogue, cooperation and principled action and not through division, creating factions, war and persecution. That is what UPF hopes to bring about and as a peace advocate that is also my passion!
2. Spiritual enlightenment happens through a personal and unique experience. In your case, how did you become part of the Unification church?
My spiritual experience in the 1980s led me to get involved with the Unification church. It was a very interesting time of my life. I didn’t sign anything to be a member of a church. It was not a regular and usual church that I joined in the first place. I don’t remember attending any ceremony of baptism too.
I simply did normal activities like raising funds to finance our day to day living as volunteer. We trained and educated members about the peace principles.
I came from a Catholic household and later in high school, I was exposed to the Seventh-Day Adventist church. My exposure to religious studies made me search for religious and spiritual philosophies more than a typical teenager would.
The in- depth study of the divine principles in the Unification movement led me to a deeper quest of my life of faith. From that day in 1980 in college until now, I am still discovering and learning many of God’s plan and will.
Many of my questions were answered, not because of the excellent lecture presentation given to me or from a wonderful book that I read about the Movement and the life of our founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. These questions were answered by the daily activities I did and the prayers I make in responding to spiritual challenges. A spiritual life is continuously unfolding.
3. What does it take for a woman to be a spiritual and community leader, and at the same time function as a mother and a professional? How are you personally able to do that? What are the challenges you face?
To be a woman and a leader has been a challenge for me from the beginning. I remember growing up in an environment where I am always the leader of the pack – the key person, the natural central figure, even when I was a child.
As the oldest child in my family of five and with a mother who is the oldest in her family of 12 children, I grew-up to be someone who set precedence in a lot of things in my family. I was the first grandchild who studied in a private high school and the first member of our clan to enroll in a Catholic university in Cebu City.
There was a lot of pride in that, and pressure too, to not fail family expectations. And I did what were expected of me. Life was serious even when I was single.
When I got married and had children, life was more challenging. (Laughs)
The only advantage was that I married a man who was also an evangelist like me. Because we were both missionaries in our youth – we had many things in common and we had the same heart, when it comes to community service and mission outreach.
I’m usually in the front-line while my husband takes care most of our financial needs. When the children were born, our lifestyle revolved around community service and teaching the word of God, not just in a formal setting, like a workshop or seminar but, living our daily lives.
My children are my buddies in many of my spiritual outreach and evangelism. We are a team. My family is my strongest supporter in all that I do.
4. There is chaos and misunderstanding everywhere. What does the group UPF have to offer as peace advocate?
UPF promotes a strategy of peaceful reconciliation. We are following a set pattern of principles of peace which have been tried and proven to be successful. If we internalize the core values that we are one human family created by God; that the highest achievements of men and women are rooted in spiritual and moral development; that the family is the “school of love and peace”; that peace comes from dialogue, cooperation and principled action; and that service to others is the foundation of the good society. How can we fail?
I have faith in the movement of peace. It starts from our heart and extends in our family and community with these core values.
We just launched the Asian Affairs Peace Embassy in UPF-USA. This is a good start of the community-based peace advocacy efforts.
5. Peace starts with the individual and extends in the family. How is the Filipino International Community in America actualizing a life that is peaceful, just, and supportive of growth?
Its goal, in general, is to help and support its membership to see it that the principles for peace are actualized and practiced. This means we practice the teachings of our founder, the Father Sun Myung Moon – that we are all “One Family Under God.
We make our family as a “School of Love and Peace.” Every FICA member’s home is where we ourselves and our children practice how to receive love and give out love in return. When we go out of our homes, we carry this loving attitude with us.
We create a cycle of loving and sharing. We have to actively and passionately start these practices of sharing, loving and serving in our homes, as it is the well-spring of love that we carry and share when we go out of it.
Our families are truly the base for all members to be an advocate of peace, harmony and love.