Leaving Familiar Shores

by Marjorie Engcoy

 July 24, 2012. It was the day of our flight to Fiji via Incheon, South Korea. I was filled with a mixture of starting to miss my family, anxiety, and thrill. Having the thought of three years straight without going home started to get to me whilst on flight to Incheon; but, I was, on the other side of the coin, assured that they were in good hands and they will be taken care of. I started going through the list of family events that I will be missing while I am far away. However, the reality of easier communication brought by enhanced technology of this generation made it easy for me to deal with it.

            In as much as I was thrilled about the new adventure that I was into, I could not deny the fact of the uneasy feeling – it was like my insides are turning inside out – I was really nervous about heights. It was the day that I made a pact with myself to accept the fact that my fear of heights will have to be faced as I respond to this calling of being a Columban Lay Missionary.

            At that time, it felt surreal. I could not believe for myself that I was finally doing mission; more so to another nation with its own unique culture, tradition, and language. As a child, I had been fond of reading stories about missionaries living among people of different culture, tradition, and language from them. It made me curious. Now, I am writing on the page of my own mission story.

Coming to a New Land and Deepening the Call

            “Bula!” greeted the Fijian airport personnel pushing a wheel chair towards the tarmac. I said to myself, “I’m really in Fiji. This is it. There’s no turning back.” I looked around it felt a bit strange. I felt that I am indeed in a new land; the land that God had chosen for me.

            Going inside the airport, the passengers were greeted with this wonderful singing trio, dressed in their colorful Bula shirt, and playing their guitar. That’s when I felt really vulnerable; out of my comfort zone. Another chapter is about to begin.

2015, Unleashing our carpentry skills
            Coming to a new land also means the start of other important things.  These are learning the language, culture and tradition of this wonderful land and its friendly people. Going though all these was very humbling.  Whilst learning the language, I felt like I was a child who was just starting to communicate. At first it was fun, but then frustration started kicking in. I felt frustrated during the times that I wanted to relate but could not say the words I wanted to say. There were times that I felt bad when I was not understood. Despite all these, I was very thankful for all the people that were around me at the time. They made a whole lot of difference during my stay.  God sent them to me to help me understand what’s going on and to help me communicate. I owe them a lot!
With the youth

As I respond to this calling of being a Columban Lay Missionary through my ministries it has deepened overtime through the varied dynamic experiences and acquaintances during my first three years in Fiji. Through these, I became more and more grounded in the spirit of service for others despite cultural and language barrier. There is this one family who became close to my heart within the couple of years I spent in my mission area. Within a few days after our first “hi and hello”, I gradually became part of their family. What was so amazing was that they have not known me fully but they accepted me whole heartedly. Overtime, they became my source of strength and support just as my family back in the Philippines was. It did not matter to them that I am a foreigner; I became part of their family. Their concern, love, and support for me are very inspiring. God showed me the perks for trusting him, for having faith in him. They reminded me all the time that my calling is not easy and whether I like it or not, I would face and will still face the difficulties in the journey.  But they assured me that I have them; I can turn to them. This isn’t just true to one family I met, but to most.

            Yes, when I left my country, I left my family, friends and comfort zone and stepped into a country I never set my eyes before; but only to find more families, friends, and establish a new comfort zone. It is in love that crossing boundaries becomes possible and life-giving.

Published: 06 June 2018

Learning the Local Language

by Haiti Muller

We arrived at the Lay Mission House in  Manila on December 28, 2015. This was not my first time in the country. I was a novice with the Little Company of Mary in Quezon City few years prior. This was not also my first time in the Lay Mission House because I used to visit Naanise Mounga, a fellow Tongan. But it was my first time in the Philippines as a Columban Lay Missionary. I felt overwhelmed and thanked the Almighty God for giving me this privilege to be in the Philippines as a Columban Lay Missionary. I felt it was a blessing to be able to respond to God's call.

After just a few of days to relax and get familiar with our new surroundings, we flew to Davao for our six months of Cebuano language studies.  I really enjoyed the first day in the language school meeting new people of different nationalities which inspired me to do my best. I really admired them when I heard them try to speak Cebuano. I thought to myself, they are foreigners like me but they are able to speak Cebuano; I wonder if I can do the same.  The days turned into weeks and I found myself really struggling to learn the new language.

I did not give up that easily. Instead I continued to try my best to learn Cebuano and after two weeks, with the the help of my language teachers, of course, I was able to speak a few Cebuano words and phrases which really made my days. Slowly, I learned a lot more about the grammar, pronunciation, etc. This really helped me not only to understand the language but also to know how to communicate with the locals.

Learning the local language is really important. From my experience, I realized the local language is one of the important ways to reach out and engage with the local people.

I would like to thank my companions for their support, my teachers for their help, and my fellow Columban Lay Missionaries for their prayers. May the Lord repay you for what you have done.

Published: May 25, 2018

Not Mine but God’s Blue Print

By Lilibeth E. Sabado

 I was 33 years old when I joined the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM). When I was young I had my life all planned, graphed with timelines that started from high school and college graduations. My childhood blue print includes finding a stable career, how much money to save, owning a house and cars, when to settle down, number of kids to raise with their possible names, where to reside, where to retire, what to do during retirement, etc. Abandoning that childhood plan and leaving my family and friends were difficult at first. Making a decision can be compared graphically with that act of stretching an elastic band. Yes the elastic band. Two forces pulling both hands to different directions, the two opposing pressure had led me to let go and follow just one and that is the ‘road less travelled’ as described by many.

It was said that “God isn't looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him."  Following that ‘call’, that ‘restlessness deep within’ was worth it all, I realized. Through time I got to understand the great paradox of ‘abandoning’ my comfort zones and the familiars; from dying to birthing; that light is worthless if not seen; that we cannot influence the world for good if we remain hidden, etc.  I found it profoundly affirming what was written in Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything shall be added unto you.” Indeed, everything has been added unto me. I now belong into many and bigger families where I experience the same love of parents and siblings, relatives and friends, my home are all over the globe and across cultures.

Marawi City, 2002, Me (2nd from right) with my team mates RP12
The experience of mission over the years has brought me to deeply discover His presence in me. The deeper I dig into it, the more I realize how little I know. There were times when I had to ask what I have gotten myself into especially whenI plunged into an unknown and overwhelming territory. The experience has put a flesh on my existence understanding that as a baptized Christian, life has two aspects, one internal and the other external. The internal aspect has to do with the call to personal holiness, growing out of selfishness and more into selflessness. The external has to do with the call to service and mission. One is about how we live as Christian, and the other is about what we do as Christian. One is concerned with faith, the other with works, loving God and loving neighbormust go together.

During an advocacy activity for migrants in Taiwan
My journey as a lay missionary, has led me to an awareness, consciousness and involvement with issues concerning justice, peace and integrity of creation. I have understood and appreciate religious and cultural differences by having a complete head to heart conversion. This involved a process of changing my long held perspective of seeing God as associated with Church and primarily with Christians, to seeing God as a person who is present to all peoples and present in all religions. I firmly believe that our differences must not divide but unite us and therefore must be celebrated.  Our differences of beliefs should not be the basis for defining who we are, but, rather should be a space in which to understand and respect one another. This is one of the significant contributions of the CLM in the life of the Church. We offer ourselves by crossing boundaries of cultures, creed and race. We became a bridge connecting the gap caused by ignorance and injustice. 

I believe that the experience of mission has led to the evolution and development of the role of the laity in the participation in the Catholic Church but this, as well, is packaged with challenges that vary across cultures. 

It is my hope that one day people will call each other by name and not by labels of creed and race. In my journey as a Columban Lay Missionary and my experience of cross cultural mission, I see God as - no limits, no boundaries, but a Being who is present to everyone, and in the midst of every group, regardless of ‘tribe and tongue, people and nation’ (Revelations 5:9).  Following God’s blue print is enriching and fulfilling, I cannot ask for more. I am forever grateful for the gift of mission through the Columban Lay Mission.

Nov 2017, Me (3rd from L) and my fellow Columban Lay Missionaries at the Columban Regional House in Singalong,

Mission is an Act of Love

by Gilda Comayas

Love is the measure of our faith and the inspiration of our obedience to God. We do it because we have something meaningful that motivates us. The decision to serve will shape the spiritual journey of our missionary work. I started my mission in Chile last May 2015. 

I was assigned in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, North of Chile. Some people don’t like the place because it is a desert. Green trees do not grow here, only palms and a few plants. But I see the beauty of the place where we live in. It’s not the physical aspect that I see but the beauty of the people around me. Most of the people who are living here are migrants. They come from neighboring countries looking for greener pastures. They believe Chile can give them a good life. 

My work is not only concentrated in the parish. I help animate the mass, teach children and adults who are interested to play instruments such as guitar, tambourine, bongo, etc. I also teach catechism in the school and teach English to those who are interested to learn. Together with a Columban priest, we visit sick people and families in the community and celebrate mass in a squatter settlement called “La Toma.”

We also go out of Iquique, they call it “anterior” to do a mission together with the priest and nun or sometimes with the permanent deacon. We help animate the mass and at the same time visit the natives (Andinos). It is in this place where we see the beautiful Anden Mountain and wild animals such as llamas, deer, flamingo and sheep.

Since majority of the people I worked with were not from Chile, each has their own ways of doing things. From the manifestations of their faiths, not to mention their cultures and ways of living are different. 

When I started my ministry work, I’ve had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to do for them, but I would end up feeling frustrated because my plans won’t work out the way I expected them to. This was where my struggle started. 

Parishioners found it hard to commit in the activity of the church. So what I did was to always go out, meet new people and friends and go with the priest to visit families and the sick. I also asked questions to missionary nuns who have been here for quite some time. 

It was a big challenge on my part to learn their language. Eventually I managed to understand their culture and their attitudes. I became mindful not to have high expectations anymore. Generally, Chileans I’ve met are loving people and most of them are laid back and just want to enjoy the moment. I learned to just ‘go with the flow’ and continued to pray for my work and the people.

It was then that I began to enjoy mission and value the things I took for granted before like the concern parishioners have for one another – whenever someone arrived late for an activity, they won’t complain, instead, they would thank God the person arrived safely. 

With this experience, I discovered how to be more patient with others and not to be disturbed whenever people do not arrive on time or do not even show up. 

I have learned a lot in my mission. I’ve learned to extend my patience in waiting for others, to be more creative, to appreciate other cultures as well as my own, to count my blessings and stop complaining; but most of all, I learned that I am truly dependent on God. He alone can give us the wisdom to accept the things which are hard to understand and to love those who are difficult to love. 

Indeed, love is the root of mission. Out of this love come certain sacrifices from us which bears fruit in the works we do in mission.


by Lorna Cañete 

Over the years, the Columban priests have established three parish communities in Iquique, Alto Hospicio. Two of these parishes have already been turned over to the diocese. The community I worked with was under the parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus where the Columban priests continue to work. Columban missionaries, lay and ordained work together in various parish activities.

The locals consider this area as a ‘dormitorio’, a place to sleep in, since majority of the people living in the municipality work in Iquique which is the nearest city by the coast. In the area, there are many migrants from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Haiti, India, some even come all the way from China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. A number of them work in mining industries since the northern part of Chile is very rich in minerals. 

I was assigned in ‘Tomas’, one of the squatter settlements in the area. Here, we visited families at home and celebrated mass. But I also went to other communities with my fellow lay missionaries to visit families in their homes, teach catechesis to youths to prepare them for sacraments, as well as to help the choir in preparing for the Saturday and Sunday masses. My ministry also involved giving guitar or piano lessons to those who wanted to learn, young and old; crocheting and making handicrafts made of recycled materials with the elderly; and facilitating Lectio Divina for families. 

Indeed, life was never boring with all these activities. Through our lessons, gatherings and work together, I was able to get to know more people and deepen my relationships with them. I did these things as a way to reach out to them and be part of the community. I was able to know more about their culture and traditions which helped in understanding the needs of the community better. My experiences with them helped my eyes to see clearly, my heart to feel, and my mind to gain a better perspective. It is because of them that I’ve had a beautiful and unforgettable mission experience in Chile. Indeed, my life has been enriched by the diversity of race, culture and tradition among the people I’ve journeyed with in Chile.

Commitment to Justice

by Michael Javier

Language is a basic skill we need to communicate, to express our feelings and to understand others. But we are divided by different languages used in nations or cities. We can easily say what we want to say to others if we are in our native land, but if you are a migrant seeking a good life in another country and you are not familiar with the local language, how can you express yourself to the locals who do not understand your own language?

This challenge of dealing with language barriers reminded me of a migrant, named Jamby, whom I met in Chile. Jamby is a 45 year old single mother, a Muslim from Zamboanga city, Philippines.

Before going to Chile, she worked in different countries to provide for the needs of her child. Her experience in previous countries was not met with any difficulties. But it was when she arrived in Chile in 2015 that she faced struggles. It was her first time to go to a Spanish-speaking country and she cannot speak the language. Jamby’s first job was as a housekeeper. It was her first time to work in a household. Her first employer didn’t give her the chance to practice her religion. After two weeks into her job, she asked if she can have at least 20 minutes each day to pray. Because of this, her employer terminated her contract. She had to find another work and was hired a second time. But her new employers were very strict and didn’t give her enough food to eat. So she decided to leave and look for another job.

Eventually, she was able to find a job to work for a family of five, a couple with their three children. They were also foreigners who migrated to Chile. At first, they were very good to her. There was a time when Jamby had an accident and they took good care of her in the hospital. She became closer to them as she took care of the children. Although she began work in January 2016, the contract they gave her stated her employment began in August. Jamby did not question her employers because of the kindness they showed her. But then, her concerns didn’t stop there. Whenever the parents went out and returned late in the evening or sometimes until early morning of the next day, she would take care of the children. But she never received overtime pay with the extra time she worked. There were also times when her salary was deducted for different reasons, a stain not removed from washing their clothes or whenever there was an increase in their electric or water bill. Each time, she noticed her salary decreasing. Although she was recording the amount she received, she still didn’t say anything to her employer. Three months before her visa expired, she informed her employer that she needed to renew her status to permanent visa. But her employer refused to process her visa and gave excuses every time she asked until she was left with one week before her visa expired. Jamby was only allowed to go to the immigration to process her visa application a day before her visa expired. She was told that her visa cannot be processed because her employer didn’t pay fees for her health insurance and security system. These were part of the requirements for her application. When she informed her employer about the requirements and the penalty fee, her employer forced her to make a voluntary resignation by signing a paper saying that she has terminated her employment. Jamby knew that if she left without legal papers, she wouldn’t be able to find a new job. No one will hire her because her visa has already expired. Jamby did not sign the termination paper because she’ll be left with nothing to help her find a new employment. This happened late in the evening and they’ve told her to leave. Jamby had to plead with them to let her stay the night because she had no place to go.  

Early the next morning, her employer brought Jamby to town with all her belongings. Jamby met with a friend whom she called for help. They went straight to the Department of Labor to file a formal complaint against her employer. It is fortunate that migrant workers are protected by the labor law in Chile.

Since Jamby can’t speak Spanish, she was asked to find someone to help with translating when they set up a meeting with her former employer. I was approached by a common friend if I could help. Without thinking twice, I said yes. It was when I met with Jamby that I fully understood her situation. I accompanied her on the day the meeting was scheduled but her former employer didn’t show up. The Department of Labor then decided to bring her case to the court. Jamby was provided a lawyer to represent her pro bono. I was asked to be the interpreter for the duration of the trial. The court proceedings took several months. During the trial, her former employer gave her own version of what happened, but because of the strong evidence against her, the judge decided in favour of Jamby. Her employer was required to pay everything she owed Jamby during her employment including the penalty to the government.

Indeed, justice was served. Winning this case not only gave Jamby stability and security, but it also brought back her dignity which was taken away from her for a long time. Now, Jamby has found a new job. Although she is only working part-time, she has a good employer who helped her in getting a permanent visa and a contract covering her health and security insurance. 

Jamby with her new employer.
 Like Jamby, there are times we face hardships. But with the help of others who give us hope, we can continue to walk through life. Being a voice for those in need is a big help to them. This was not the first time that I was asked to be an interpreter for migrants. I also help in processing papers for those who cannot speak or understand Spanish. Mission is not limited to serving those within our own religion. This was my way of crossing boundaries to reach out to others.

I am very grateful to be a part of the Columban Missionaries. They are the ones who have molded me. They gave me the opportunity to study and learn Spanish. Knowing the language is the key, not only to learn more about the culture, but also to be a voice for the vulnerable and fight for each person’s rights. Although we have different languages, the most powerful language is still love. Fighting for what we believe in is right and just, but we should always do it out of love.

Welcome Home PH22

After 3 years of mission in Chile, Gilda Comayas, Lorna Canete,  and Michael Javier are now back home in the Philippines for their much needed holidays.  We wish them well as they re-connect with their family, friends and other Columban Missionaries in the Philippines.  Likewise, we also wish them well as they discern for their future.

Be Kind

by Ma Fe Corazon Arienza

Good morning everyone! CPE taught me that the fountain of any relationship must spring up in the heart. And because today's the end of our 10 weeks stay as associate chaplains here in Philippine Heart Center, this heart of mine is feeling the separation anxiety.

Nonetheless, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the patients who welcomed our presence in every on-call duty that we had and in every round that we did for our mini-parish. You did a lot of help to us than we to you. In every pain and struggle that you shared with us, you taught us how to care, and to be kind and to love unconditionally. You taught us how to value our stories and embrace and appreciate what we have. More than that, you enabled us to meet God in the flesh everyday.

To all the doctors, nurses and staff, thank you for accommodating us and for being our link with the patients.

To all of us gathered today, let the words of Mother Teresa, "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile" stay within our hearts and radiate through our actions. And so with this, I would like to make an appeal. In every difficult person we encounter, be kind; for every patient we attend to, be kind; for those who are suffering from loneliness, be kind and for those who are on the process of finding themselves, be kind, for in every human being we meet is Christ. So be kind.

What we are having today is just a  culmination of the CPE program but not our learnings. For us the brave hearts family, what we have learned through this journey will have no end.  WE wll carry these experiences with us ad wull continue to be God's heart and body here on earth that others may expeirnece God's goodnes as well through us. Isang mapagpalang umaga po sa ating alahat. Maraming salamat po!

Music Eases My Journey

by Vasemaca Ratu

Learning a new language is really difficult. One has to become a child again. It is like entering a new culture that you are not born with. But the question most people always ask is: WHY LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE?
During my 6 months language studies, I really struggled to learn Cebuano. My brain was suffocated with new words, grammar, etc., every day. Sometimes I felt like quitting but I realized only losers quit. My body would react also to the change of climate, culture and language. Well I thought that I have a goal to achieve so I did SELF-CARE in order to continue with my journey.
Va sings her original composition "Bisaya" during the centenary celebrations in Cagayan de Oro City, 

Upon reflecting on this, I realized there are several methods which I can use to smoothen the rough road. So I tried practicing with the children in our neighborhood but they wanted to speak in English so that didn’t work for me. My conversation with people daily was an awesome experience. Then I realized since I love music why don’t I use this method to ease my struggles. So I started listening to Visayan songs mostly, hits by local artists, Yoyo Villame and Max Surban. Well their songs may be old hits but the lyrics were understandable.
Va with her Muslim friends
Once I heard a song sung by Max and one of the lyrics was …”dili kana ang problema, just relax and enjoy…” at that moment I felt like he was talking to me. So I decided to relax by writing a poem or song every day in Visayan. I was able to compose a song entitled, “Bisaya” expressing my feelings during my 3 years in mission. In English, the lyrics translates to: “He will be my  compass, my captain that will take me around where ever I go. He will be my yesterday, today and my future. He is my love and my world.”
This song was included in the Columban Lay  Missionaries book entitled, “SALAMAT” (which means, thank you). It was launched during the Centennial celebration of the Columbans in Cagayan De Oro. I was happy to be able to sing it on that day. 

Now I realized that in learning a new language, I gained more confidence when I get positive feedback from the locals. I became friendlier to them when I speak the native language. And also it keeps my mind young and active. So listen to that classic jazz and just relax and enjoy to your music, it’s a stress reliever. 

Vasemaca Ratu is a Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji who came to the Philippines in December 2015. After 6 months of learning the Visayan language, she was assigned to work in Barra sub-parish, Opol, Misamis Oriental, doing  catechesis with the children. She is also involved with the women’s ministry (livelihood) and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC), and with the Youth ministry.

Grace Under Pressure

By Ma Fe Corazon Arienza
CLM Trainee

Azon, from Cabadbaran City, Agusan Del Norte, is one of two currently in orientation with CLM Philippines. 

When you ask God to do something for you, be prepared for His answer. You might be surprised on the funny ways He will reveal it to you. That’s what happened to me. As I look back from four months ago, I can’t help but remember the reluctant girl who came in the Columban Lay Mission (CLM) house. I was debating with myself if I am making the right decision to join the program.

The orientation program for me is my second chance to life, a second chance to create a better version of myself. When I started my CLM journey, my first prayer to God is for him to mold me to a person He wants me to be as His and I got my first lesson in humility few months after. People who knew me back home know that I am not a forgiving person. In fact, I was often viewed as arrogant, bossy, proud and stuff like that. That experience I have had on humility was really tough and I cried so much for it. I cried because it was so much harder to fight against yourself. That feeling when you wanted so much to retaliate because you felt that you were wronged but said “I’m sorry” instead. It was never easy, but I’ve grown to embrace the beauty of becoming at the receiving end because you get to test where your limit is and you felt good in the end knowing that you have won over your greatest enemy----yourself. I guess what helps me to have won over myself is that I bear in my mind and in my heart that it was me who asked God to mold me into His liking. He only responded so I have to do my part of being open for the fulfillment of His task.

During a mission promotion in Olongapo City
And another few months after, the lesson on being selfless was revealed to me. As the youngest in the family, I am used to having all of the attention and provided with all of my wants. When I came here there are a lot of things that I don’t understand. There are a lot of people as well that is hard to understand. But God revealed to me that the people I encountered are mirrors and they are a reflection of myself. I am also the type of person who’s hard to understand and perhaps they’re struggling also to do the same. I learned that we came to hate people because we failed to understand them and we don’t like how they remind us of ourselves. We failed to get to know who they really are because we are selfish---I was selfish. I only accepted situations when it’s not difficult, I only like people when they’re of the same interests as mine. In here, I came to appreciate the beauty of diversity and individuality. That what bridge the gap between my uniqueness and that of others is our respect for each other. That we cannot ask somebody to change for us because that is beyond our control but there is that one person that we can get a hold of and that is our self. Lesson; change must come from within.
With classmates during Integration Day at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies

Perhaps the hardest lesson I’ve ever encountered in the orientation program is forgiving myself. I never liked silence. I’m uncomfortable with silence because in silence there are a lot of thoughts that enter my mind and mostly it goes back to confrontation with myself. In one of my reflections, I realized that I never knew how broken I was until I chose to confront my past. There are a lot of things that we have done in the past that we are not proud of. There are situations that we let ourselves into and wish we hadn’t gone to that stage. These are the hardest to let go because you felt that you are unworthy to experience happiness. And for me to be tied to my past is my way of accepting that it might be my punishment so I have to carry it with me. But God revealed to me that I am not defined by my past. I was not my past. Just like what 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” That’s why we were given every new day to remind ourselves that God is giving us another chance to redeem and revive ourselves. 

I know I will have more of these learnings, lessons, revelations or whatever they are called as I continue on my quest to becoming what God wants me to be. There will still be lots of happy moments to experience and challenging ones too. I will still come across with difficult situations and difficult people but I know in my heart that If I keep on reminding myself that it’s God who holds the biggest space in my life, no disappointments could ever make me turn my back on Him. I’m glad I said YES!