After reading Don Richardson’s Peace Child, Sherelle Cotecson M.A. ’10 felt called to full-time tribal ministry in rural settings. Eyes wide, she knew she wasn’t signing up for a life of comfort and ease. In fact, for those who think they have a rough commute to work, Sherelle pretty much has them beat.
As training program head of Tribal Mission Foundation, Int., in the southern Philippines, Sherelle has a trek to work that involves bus and motorcycle rides, river crossings on foot, or miles of hiking on sometimes barely discernible, muddy, or rocky paths. “But the most exciting part is the bamboo raft rides,” she says. “We consider them a treat.”
Fresh from seminary and a short stint of teaching, Sherelle began working for Tribal Mission Foundation in 1996.
“When I read Don Richardson’s book, I realized the excitement of the call was not really on us to take the gospel to another culture, but instead to find the footprints that God has already left on a certain culture, those which we just need to uncover,” she says.
To illustrate, Sherelle recalls a visit to a remote village in 1998. Someone was supposed to meet her and her coworker to escort them through the muddy terrain. But there was no one. So the pair began hiking on the only path they could see.
Twenty minutes into their hike, they ran into someone who was able to lead them to their destination. “When we got there, it was as though God had prepared the whole community.” Before the day ended, they had established four literacy classes and found four pastors to teach the classes. In a matter of months these pastors had formed churches. “Of course it was a hard hike going in, but once there, we felt like we were walking on paved road,” she says. Everything does not always work so smoothly for Sherelle and the nine other full-time staff whose work involves training others to empower their own people by giving them skills and tools to help their communities.
In fact, the areas where they work were once a hotbed of Communist insurgency in the southern Philippines, and these small communities at times still harbor undercurrents of fear when rebels threaten to attack.
In addition to actively working with about five tribal communities, the Foundation also partners with a ministerial association to develop oral mission education material and holds holistic training sessions for community leaders at the mission headquarters.
When Sherelle was about ten years into her work, she met a Wheaton alumnus who encouraged her to pursue graduate work in intercultural studies. “The theology courses I took at Wheaton have helped me as I develop a framework for how to train others to teach theology in the context of their own cultures,” she says.
This cross-cultural framework is being used today to train tribal churches to do missions to Muslims. Says Sherelle, “There are hostilities toward Christians, but somehow, the same Muslims are more welcoming toward the highland tribal people.”
*Don Richardson, Peace Child. Regal Books/ Gospel Light, 1976.