by Gracia Kibad

Columban Lay Missionary Gracia Kibad was assigned in Ireland from 1996 until 2014.  She moved to Hong Kong in 2015 when she became the Coordinator of the Lay Missionary Central Leadership Team. 

In my past ministry I had on numerous occasions listened to migrant workers share their stories. Some were wonderful and inspiring but sadly some were not so happy. I have witnessed some of their successes. Some their failures. One thing that is most important and is truly close to their hearts are their families back home. Whatever it is they are undergoing they have their loved ones in their hearts always as their motivation and inspiration.

On the bus one Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago as I sat myself the conversation of two passengers behind me became audibly noticeable. Judging from their conversation they are domestic migrant workers. Not that I was eavesdropping but their voices were really loud enough to be heard at least two seats away from where they were seated. 

Nearly every family in the Philippines have at least a relation working overseas. The economic migration is such a phenomena in the Philippines that it is affecting hundreds of thousands of families back home. At times their children are the most vulnerable in this situation. People at home too are feeling the void created by the absence of loved ones working overseas. Time spent apart loving each other in ones absence can never be mended and the human heart still long for the lost time. Human relationship is meant to be spent together with those we love. However choices at times bring people to live lives apart from each other due to search for greener pastures overseas. The immediate question is how can the ‘wall of absence’ between loved ones left at home and those who are working overseas be bridged when reunion finally comes? 

Foreign Domestic Workers in Hong Kong on Sundays (http://hongkong.coconuts.co)
We do not really know the heart of some migrant workers because at times family members are blinded by their misguided perspective. At times family members want to in a way ‘punish’ them thinking ‘they deserve the money they are asking in exchange of their absence at home’ or that because ‘they chose to leave the family and spend their life somewhere without their loved ones’.
It was obvious that the conversation was an exchange between people undergoing different struggles. The two people in the story above found in each other a listening ear. In sharing their individual stories they would have found support from each other, even from a new acquaintance on the short bus ride to where they were going to. Like any human beings they needed to talk and needed someone to listen to them. Their burden may have been lightened as it is shared with someone who listened... Some migrant workers could be most vulnerable especially because they do not have easy access of family or community support around them when they are overseas. Some are not so lucky to have their immediate family around them like the hundreds of migrant workers here in Hong Kong. People like them are the ones who needs much support.

At times in my past experience that is just what I did. Being present to people whenever they needed help or when they needed someone to talk to. At one time when I was in Ireland I offered shelter to two newly arrived nurses who have been promised a job that was not there in the first place but luckily with their qualifications they have landed a job pretty soon after their ordeal.

While most stories of migrant workers are good, at times we heard stories that were not so pleasant. Some were much worse than the other. At times they suffer in silence. They sacrifice for their loved ones at home. On top of family concerns they may have at times needed to deal with difficult work situations and sometimes would have suffered abuse from their employers. Some verbal or physical. Worse case some experienced sexual abuse. Some even lost their lives to escape danger or violence.We do not really know the heart of some migrant workers because at times family members see them like 'banks' with whom money can be drawn anytime it is needed. It is at times forgotten that their homesickness, tears and sweat are its equivalents.

We do not really know the heart of some migrant workers until we understand some of their sadness, loneliness, difficulties and pains that are at times camouflaged with beautiful clothes or jewelries they wear. . . For some of them, their day off is a time to feel good about themselves and they put effort in dressing up well. We can’t fault them in that because week in and week out their job is to clean the house, or look after a baby or a bunch of kids, take care of an elderly or sick person, ... doing menial jobs that allows them very limited time to spend for themselves, like doing personal things i.e. brushing their teeth, combing their hair, etc.. because of the endless jobs or errands they need to do to look after the needs of their employer’s family. Their time is often spent for others of which they are paid for but never spent on themselves.. Normally their day off is a time to put on their best to feel good and look good. So if you see their FB photo posts don’t conclude that they are living luxurious life away from you just because they wear fashionable clothes, faces covered with make-up, or their bodies adorned with necklaces, bracelets and earrings. .. Although some are lucky, with good jobs and enjoy a reasonably comfortable life overseas, and at times with their families with them, some are not fortunate.

When they come home RECEIVE them with open arms and SPEND TIME with them. LISTEN TO THEIR STORY: Take interest in their life and story, ask them how it is as a migrant worker, draw them out with your questions because they need to tell their story (although at times they do not feel their story is worth relating) but do not push. Give them time and be patient with them. They are at times embarrassed to share their stories that may include their ordeals because at times they feel they need to protect you from their difficulties. TAKE CARE OF THEM: When you feel they are distant show your care for them because at times they feel guilty having been away. At times they do not know how to make up for the lost time without you in their lives. At times they feel they lost you from being away from them and they feel you may be better of without them. Unfortunately they just do not know how to reach out to you. But LOVE them just they way you need to.

One thing they have in their hearts is: They are coming home to the ONLY home they know, where they feel LOVE is waiting and where the people THEY LOVE DWELLS.

They dread every goodbye they needed to say and even though they are faraway, you as their loved ones are never far from their memory, because you are embedded in the most special corner of their hearts.

For varied reasons people chose to work overseas but I believe they chose it NOT because they want to be away from their loved ones.

Vocation Story of Marea Lyn Almirañez

by Marea Lyn Almirañez, Columban Lay Missionary

Columban Lay Missionaries's photo.My vocation story started in my early childhood years when I met Jesus (The Eye) hanging on our bed room wall. Every night my parents sat in front of the image praying to Him for thanksgiving and asking for guidance and good health. They said that Jesus was called “The Eye” because He knows everything and sees everything. This was the first catechesis I got from my parents. I remembered one night I looked at him and silently asked Him, “Who are you? Why are you always looking at me?” 

My parents are both pious. They helped me to know God by telling us stories from the Bible. My father was a painter in San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila. During his break time, he usually made canvas of Jesus and Mary and put these images on the walls of our house. I saw the image of Jesus not only in our bedroom but also in other corners of our house. Eventually, He became my invisible friend.

Time passed. I went to school, met people and made friends. I started to talk to Him just like my parents did every night. Every time He looked at me, I felt He was inviting me to talk to Him. I talked to Him when I was happy, sad, frustrated or disappointed. Also, I shared my secrets with Him because He would not tell these to others. This conversation became my habit.

San Sebastian Chapel, Manila, April 29, 2016: Parents of Marea

I became a church goer. Every time I saw young men serving at the altar during Mass, I had a desire to be like them. But they didn’t accept women as altar servers then. When I entered college in San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila, I saw some students (men and women) were active servers in our chapel. The desire of serving Him was intensified. So I joined Campus Peer Minister, the extension arm of the Campus Ministry Office. I became active and enjoyed serving in the Mass as well as assisting in recollections and retreats. I found joy in doing this kind of service.

Ate Fe, staff in the Campus Ministry Office at that time asked me what my plan was after graduation. I told her that I wanted to be a campus minister just like her because I enjoyed doing this work. She encouraged me to apply at Mother of Life Center, a graduate school for professional catechists. After a series of examinations, I was accepted and underwent a live-in formation. At Mother of Life, I learned many things and was formed to be a catechist. This was my first job. I was invited to teach in two parochial schools in Pasig. This was difficult for me because I had no experience in teaching. I realized that serving God was not always happy and joyful like what I experienced during my college years. There are struggles and difficulties involved in serving and that’s the reality I have learned and needed to accept. Nevertheless, I enjoyed being with my co-catechists. Later, I resigned and worked as library assistant at Mother of Life. I stayed there for two years and later accepted the job as office support staff in San Beda College Benedictine Foundation, Inc. (SBCBEFI). I stayed in the foundation for two months and transferred to the Campus Ministry Office of San Beda College (SBC). I enjoyed being with my co-workers in the Campus Ministry as well as other workers in San Beda College. Also, I enjoyed facilitating retreats and recollections.

"The Eye"
Monaliza Esteban, my classmate in Mother of Life was on the Orientation Program of the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM) during my second year in SBC. She invited me to apply to the CLM but I declined her invitation. I thought that time that I was already doing mission in my own country. I stayed in the Campus Ministry for two years and went to Singapore to help my sister. After only two months, I came back home to the Philippines. I became a resource speaker in retreats and recollections in the Campus Ministry of San Beda College. At the same time, I was still an active volunteer facilitating retreats and recollections in San Sebastian College. After a year, I accepted the job in San Beda College Alabang as Pastoral Associate in Catholic Benedictine Formation Office (CBFO). There I got to know Violeta “ate Violy” Villaraiz, a Mother of Life graduate and a returned Columban Lay Missionary from Korea. She became my close friend and big sister in that school. Indeed, I was happy to be a Pastoral Associate but I felt something missing. Then, ate Violy encouraged me to apply to the CLM. 

 At first, I was hesitant to apply to the CLM because I was afraid to be a missionary. For me, it is a very challenging call and I felt I was not fit to be a missionary. Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge because it was the second time I was invited to join the CLM. I attended the “Come and See” and later the accompaniment program until I took a series of tests and had my interview with the Admission Board. I was accepted and underwent the CLM Orientation Program. 

CPE Graduation, December 2015, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Quezon City
During my Orientation Program, I learned many things. It quenched my thirst in learning new things. I discovered a lot about myself (during pastoral work, Clinical Pastoral Education, group processing, accompaniment and recollection/retreat), social issues and mission (during studies and exposures in Columban Ministries particularly in Negros and Mindanao Exposure) which I didn’t experience before. These were not easy experiences but I felt joy in this kind of call. Here I found satisfaction in life. The experiences I encountered were meaningful and fruitful. I found myself renewed and my relationship with God deepened in a different level. Thanks to Jesus for guiding me in my journey. He knows everything and sees everything. He really knows me. He led me to the path where I found my heart’s desires. He gave me some people who helped me to know myself, life and my vocation. I am happy to be a Columban Lay Missionary and I want to share these blessings I’ve received through mission and become a living witness of God’s love.

My Vocation Story

by Febie M. Gonzales, Columban Lay Missionary to Taiwan
I am the 4th of the 5 children of Romeo S. Gonzales, Jr. and Linda Manantan Gonzales, from Upper Dado Alamada Cotabato. I was born on February 9, 1987. I am 29 years old. I took up my Elementary and Secondary Education in Upper Dado. I graduated from Notre Dame University in Cotabato City with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Financial Management. The spark of my desire to be in a religious life began when I was in high school. This was deepened when I was in college. After my graduation in college, I decided to respond to the call to join the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus (FMIJ). But during those times I felt that I didn’t have enough courage and strength to fully submit myself to my chosen vocation. I saw that my family needed my financial support in sending my siblings to school. Eventually, I decided not to pursue my missionary desire with the Franciscan missionaries. However, I did not lose hope that someday, somehow, my dream will become a reality.

I worked as bookkeeper of Libungan National Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative for almost 4 years. In 2009, I took up my second course in Accountancy desiring to become a Certified Public Accountant someday. I stayed at the residence hall of the Oblates of Notre Dame in Cotabato City. I was exposed to the life of the sisters and saw how they formed lay people. I lived with them and I was happy listening to their different missionary life stories, especially those assigned in remote areas and those working with the indigenous people. I got interested about their life. And came the time when the sisters asked me to work as Finance Officer in their project on Peace Governance in Mindanao in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services. I took up the challenge and explored Mindanao through social services and I soon discovered that I love this kind of job with the OND SPREAD Peace team headed by Sr. Telma Argate, OND. At the same time I worked as part time bookkeeper of Notre Dame Center for Catechesis with my direct supervisor Sr. Teresa May Salazar, OND. When the project of CRS with OND SPREAD finished, another dream came true. I transferred to the Cooperative Bank of Cotabato - Isulan Branch, in Isulan Sultan Kudarat. I was assigned as accounting clerk for almost two years while keeping connected with Notre Dame Center for Catechesis. 

One day a friend of mine, Ms. Devie Enguito, a mission partner of Notre Dame Center for Catechesis (NDCFC) from Ozamis City texted me an invitation to join the accompaniment program of the Columban Lay Missionaries. Without second thought I replied, showing my interest in joining the group. I was then introduced to Ms. Aurora Luceño, CLM. She accompanied me in my discernment process and facilitated my application to the Columban Lay Missionaries until my acceptance to the CLM nine-month orientation program. I was so happy when I received the letter of acceptance to the orientation program. I finally decided to take the risk of giving up my work & slowly detach myself from the family and friends to fully embrace the world of uncertainties during the orientation program. I went for a retreat and sought God’s guidance and direction in my new journey towards becoming a Columban missionary, to know myself and the Columban mission even more deeply and to continually discern every step of the fulfillment of my missionary dream.

Mission Sending of Febie on April 10, 2016, Immaculate Conception Parish, Alamada, Cotabato
Overtime, my experiences in the orientation went beyond my expectation. Many ups and downs were encountered. I also experienced difficulties which made me think of quitting and going back to the corporate world. Tough experiences taught me to appreciate the value of surrendering everything to God. However, all of these made me realize that in the different stages of my life’s journey God is always here at my side, my partner in my discernment and in many ways He showed me the purpose of my life. He molded and formed me accordingly. He revealed to me His will and granted me my heart’s greatest desire. I found peace, joy, happiness, contentment and fulfillment in life. I bloomed, physically, emotionally and most of all spiritually. The joy of deeply knowing myself in the orientation program led me to fall in love with my God, inspired me to go out from my comfort zone, to reach out to the poor, the marginalized, the dying and the dead and to take care of His creation.

Ask, Seek, Knock

By: SunHee “Sunny” Kim

Since January 2015 I began a new ministry in Payatas known as the second Smokey mountain. I am assigned with CBR (Community Based Rehabilitation) center for special children. In the center, the physical therapy and learning program are offered to the children three times a week. In assisting in the program and spending time with the children in their activities, I found out that many of these children are underweight and undernutrition. I felt there was a need for a feeding program for the children. I was worried about having a stable financial resource to start the Feeding program. I took the initiative to ask around, approach the people that runs a feeding service and share with them my intention and sought their advice. In my search, I got to know about the Joy of Sharing Foundation in Korea. Through a series of processes, and reflection I came up with a scriptural phrase “For everyone who asks, receive; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew: 7:8)
I applied and submitted the proposal for the Feeding Project of the CBR Centre.  I was grateful to receive good news from the foundation that they have decided to support our project for one year.  

The application and donation worked out well with the support of my home region, Korea and region of assignment Philippines. More surprisingly, the Chief Director of Joy of Sharing Foundation was visiting places they have funded in the Philippines. He had the opportunity to visit our CBR Centre to see our children.

At first, it all seems hard to find ways to have a common point of view of the project. However, if I ask, find and knock to God with trust, the way is shown. Nothing is impossible. God knows everything about me; what is necessary for me; what is the best thing for me. He prepares everything and does not force me. God waits for me until I ask, seek, and knock, he will help me.

Thanks to the donations, we have started the feeding service to twenty special children since October 2015. The children have gained weight and the parents are satisfied with the feeding service.  Praise and thanks be to God!

Renewal of Commitment

November 5, 2015

"Go in peace. Go in kindness. Go in generosity. This is a new opportunity. Remember that God loves you and that God is very pleased with you." These were the words of Fr. Dan O'Malley on his homily during the Eucharistic Celebration on the renewal of commitment and signing of agreement  of Marjorie Engcoy, Liezl Ladaran, and Mona Esteban for their mission in Fiji, and Nani Mounga for her long term commitment as Columban Lay Missionary in the Philippines. Nani signed her contract in Fiji prior to returning to Manila.  


Is There Hope

by Gertrudes Samson, Columban Lay Missionary
Britain, October 2015

For us Christians, we believe in Resurrection. Resurrection is coming back to life after being dead. Jesus died on the cross and was laid on the tomb, but after three days he resurrected! Because of that victory of Jesus over death, us Christians are filled with hope that there is no such a thing as a dead end situation. Thank you God, there is Resurrection! Therefore there is hope in every hopeless situation. But then, I must admit, there were times that I asked God: “How about for those asylum seekers seeking refuge in UK? Can I see hope for them?” Several months, prior to the end of my first three year-term in 2013, I remember myself starting to discern whether I would come back to Britain as a lay missionary to renew for another term. As I discerned, I said to God, “You know God, this help that you are asking from me seems endless... the number of asylum seekers (seeking refuge in UK) is not decreasing, and in fact they are continually increasing as war and conflict increase in different parts of the world". Aside from the news evidence, I myself could attest that indeed the statistics were increasing because I was in charge at that time of the statistics of asylum seekers availing of the services in one of my ministries. Many are not new, but in fact are waiting already for a long time to have "Leave to Remain" (legal status to stay in UK). Some have even been waiting for 10 years already. I recall them crying because of the difficulties and challenges of their situation. Though they know I am a Catholic lay missionary while they belong to another faith, still some of them say to me, "Sister, please pray for me I am having this problem..." Of course, in the Bible, as Christians we are instructed to pray at all times for every concern (Philippians). But, it also reminds us that we should accompany our faith with action (James). And we should show hospitality to strangers, because by doing this without us knowing it, we might have entertained Angels (Hebrew). I do pray for them, but I still try to match my faith with actions no matter how small it might be in the eyes of others. Mother Teresa said that, "not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love". Many asylum seekers thought that after they successfully completed their life-threatening exodus from their county and reached the UK, they were already in the Promised Land. They soon realised it would just be the start of another form of struggle towards their freedom. What are the challenges then of the lives of asylum seekers, and how can we respond? Actually, as I continually get involved in various charities and churches in Birmingham that are assisting them, I would say there are many challenges and my list is becoming longer.

Plan for Peace

by Jonah Jane Enterina, Columban Lay Missionary
Britain, October 2015

To be cared for
This verse has always been my guiding light since my college days. I regularly come across this verse in one way or another, especially when I feel the need to ask the Lord where I am heading. I just feel amazed at how time has flown by since I started at the Springfield Project, St. Christopher's Church. I volunteer for the ‘Crafts and Chat’ Women's group every Monday. I am blessed to meet women, mostly Muslims, who come to the group to relax, chat and mingle with other moms sharing about their families, children, and life in general. There are various activities we do. They range from doing arts and crafts to gentle exercises, cooking, knitting/crochet, sewing - to name a few. And through these activities, women find the time to do what they want and are very welcome to share their talents and abilities with the group and make it even more fun! I am thankful that for more than a year now, I have gained friendships with these women and I feel privileged when they invite me into their homes. We have table fellowship among different women coming from different faiths and backgrounds. It is nice to hear stories from other cultures and traditions. I would not have experienced this if I was not living here in a multicultural setting. I see myself at ease and at home because, I feel, they have welcomed me into their lives. I can remember one encounter I had with one elderly lady from Bangladesh, who told me while we did our knitting, “You can call me Grandma and I am happy to hear what you have to tell me”. At that moment I felt so grateful that even though I am far away from home, I realised that I do have a home here too.

To be accepted
Let me share the first time I went to volunteer at Stone Road Hostel. This is where asylum seekers live while waiting for their status to be assessed. They are here in the UK seeking refuge because of fear of persecution in their own country, unable to live safely. I knew that I was called to come and work here. I felt that I was drawn to go into the deep. I remember feeling scared when I entered the building, seeing people from different countries like Pakistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria and Afghanistan among many others. I had not felt before what it was like to be in this place, feeling the air of uncertainty, boredom and anxiety. There were men and women with children. What I see everyday in their faces is the question about where they will be after their stay in the hostel. One day, I and a co-volunteer for the Women's group challenged ourselves to knock on doors, hoping that we could invite more women to spend time with us as we distributed information about education and health which might be useful to them. For me, it was another spiritual encounter as I knocked on doors. I remember Jesus knocking on our doors. I was humbled at the thought that God called me to knock because there are people inside their rooms feeling depressed, with no friends and, despite my own fear of being ignored or not being invited into their lives, I still continue to ask the Lord to give me courage to do it. And now, every time we knock on doors, we are confident to call and invite them for we know that we are extending help in our own little ways. I feel inspired to continue doing the work God has given me because my heart leaps for joy as I see women and children leave the room with smiles on their faces after we have done activities together, like card-making or colouring books. I have read in newspapers how some people are not ready to mingle or welcome migrants maybe perhaps out of fear, but, to me, I would recommend taking courage and going into the deep and see, feel, witness the lives of these people. It may look really hard but I am blessed as I can relate to them. It gives me joy.  


Souvenir shirts for sale....shirt has soft cotton material and cool on the skin.

For details, please leave comment on the 'comments' section. Thank you.

October 12, 2015