Sunday, September 8, 2019

Communicating the Gospel

By Luda Egbalic 
Columban Lay Missionary, Korea


“A church that sees itself as missionary through and through – always going out, reaching out to the margins [is a church that] lives and breathes a ”culture of encounter“ in order to communicate the gospel. “ - Pope Francis

I have been sincerely trying to live out those words of Pope Francis. I would say my mission in Korea has been really inspiring, life-giving, self-transforming and truly challenging. I always claim that I am an introverted person who becomes an extrovert when I am on my mission. I cannot simply hide in my comfort zone just because of the language; I need to encounter people of different nationalities and lis-ten to their beautiful, sad or happy, life stories whether in Korean, English, Tagalog or Cebuano. I am so humbled by the trust they had given me and am forever grateful.

In my previous ministry in Bongilchon Parish, I had been teaching catechism classes to the youth group. My real challenge was how to journey with the group whose primary concern was their studies and would consider attending the youth mass as an option. I asked them what they do every day and what they consider special about it. One answered “Well, we go from home to school, then to another school, and then back home again. Nothing special” The rest nodded their heads in agreement. I acknowledged their answer, and encouraged them that by coming to church every Saturday, reading the Mass readings, serving at the altar and singing in the choir for our youth mass is indeed doing something special. I received smiles from their faces as we said our closing prayer thanking God for all the special moments in our lives. I hope that God will increase and strengthen their faith as they continue their service to God.

With Overseas Filipino Workers during Migrants Day celebration
I also facilitate an English Bible Sharing with a few parishioners in the parish. We would read the gospel in English, and during the sharing, they can speak their own language. On one occasion after the sharing, a woman came up to me and said “Thank you Luda, you give me hope for my husband. I will never cease praying that eventually, he too will worship God with me during the Eucharistic celebration.” I was moved by her deep desire for her husband to know God and I pray that God may strengthen her and for her to continue to be inspired by our bible sharing to live out her faith.

 Earlier this year, I was assigned to St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon parish, Ui-jeungbu diocese. With the support of our parish priest, Fr. Joseph Jang, and the parishioners I am peacefully and joyfully serving God’s people. During weekends I spend my time at Paju EXODUS Migrant Center relating to the migrants and our multicultural families. It has always been a blessing for me to be with them. Every person I meet inspires me, especially on how to live–out that “culture of encounter” faithfully.

With youth from different Korean parishes attending the peace education
One day, I was asked to meet with a migrant couple who came to Korea for work. The wife was pregnant with their second child and, due to their difficult family circum-stances, was considering terminating her pregnancy. That situation brought me back to my own, very personal, experience when my mother, due to financial instability, had also considered aborting me. Thankfully she changed her mind and was very happy when she delivered me. Sharing my very own experience and faith in God with them, I was able to help them reflect very carefully on their decision and other options available to them, and look beyond their current difficulties and see Gods greater plan. Just 2 months ago, they gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Praise God!  

I'm mid-way through my second term, but it feels like I haven't accomplished all I had hoped to do. I feel like I always begin and never quite finish.   It is a constant challenge. But God's words from Acts of the Apostles, "When he came and saw he grace of God, he rejoiece, and he exhorted tham all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." comforts me and empowers my zeal to communicate the gospel to God's people. My heart has felt how much God appreciates my simple acts of love and to Him, I am forever grateful. Amen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My LMLT Experience

by Fr. Leo Distor

In 2014, Fr. Leo Distor said yes to be an ordained member of the Philippine Region Lay Mission Leadership Team (LMLT). As he ends his term in the LMLT, he shares his reflection.

Looking back upon my missionary journey which began even before I joined the Missionary Society of St. Columban, it was the joy of being a ‘lay missionary’ to the Filipino tribal groups in the areas surrounding my hometown and whose cultures were so much different from mine, that paved the way to my Columban Missionary life. From that time on I never had really detached myself from my ‘lay missionary’ identity. And how could I? In my Columban seminary formation in Manila, I was introduced to a community where Koreans, Irish and Chileans, mostly women, were part of the Columban Lay Mission Program then. Lay Missionaries have been an integral and significant part of the Columban Society in the region in doing mission. They are generous, courageous and joyful in responding to God’s mission, crossing boundaries of culture, gender and faith traditions. 

In the course of my Columban missionary journey and minis-try as an ordained, while in Korea and in the US, I had grown to have a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the gift of lay missionaries, living a simple life and selflessly journeying with the poor and the marginalized. I could not shake from my memory the picture of a lay missionary who had to take out her bike and attach a go-cart to it, collecting vegetables and food items in establishments around her to feed the homeless. Such inspiration and lived out commitment among the lay missionaries encouraged the shift from being a mission program into a full part of Columban life as missionaries.

In 2014 when I was invited to take on the role of priest representative to the Regional Lay Mission Leadership Team (LMLT), after thinking about it, I realized that it was a delight, a privilege and a challenge. It was delightful on my part to take this opportunity to be involved with the Columban Lay Missionaries in such a capacity for it was sort of a clear affirmation of my lay mission experience where I started from and also of my heart for lay mission. It is also my way to manifest my conviction and support to our Columban Society’s commitment to partnership with lay missionaries in “reaching out in love for the life of the world”, as Jesus calls us. It was indeed, a great privilege to have my time of five years with the CLM-LMLT in the region that works closely as a team for the viability of the Columban Lay Mission, to care for lay missionaries and to ensure that Partnership is truly a way of being on mission for us as a Columban Society. It is an honor and a good learning for me to have a role in the Lay Mission Leadership Team and to also acknowledge the challenges, demands, struggles and the need for a much deeper commitment and faithfulness to God’s mission in Christian leadership. And this leadership builds good relationship and cares for the well-being of others. In reference to the General Council’s revised booklet for new leaders in the Society, “Christian leaders should accentuate the goodness and gifted-ness of each individual rather than nurture memories that could negatively color perceptions. The focus of leadership is on the strengths of the other rather than on the weaknesses and avoid any tendencies towards blaming others.” 

 
My experience of being part of the Lay Mission Leadership Team in the region has truly afforded me the opportunity to witness to and benefit from the Lay Mission Leaders that make up the team. Their generosity, deep commitment, strong sense of mission, and their good leadership skills are creative, supportive and empowering others to live out their mission with the mind of Christ and for the life of the world.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

True Love From a Distance

By Ana Flores
Columban Lay Missionary from Peru

I first arrived in the Philippines in December 2007 and have been assigned in Mindanao ever since.  I am currently engaged in a resettlement project for the victims and survivors of typhoon Sendong (Tropical Storm Washi) that caused catastrophic damage in late 2011, based in the Mother of Divine Mercy Village in the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro. 

I feel at home here and have considered the village my second home. There are 540 families living in the village. Having been here for many years has made me recognize that every family has their own problems and struggles. These problems are basically due to lack of opportunities for the families to earn a living.  

My work involves regular house visitations. During my visit to these families, they share their life struggles. It is heart-breaking to see children increasing in number not having the opportunity to go to school because they lack financial sup-port and their significant others lack empowerment. We have initiated a livelihood program where women are taught to sew clothes. The sewing project is helping some mothers who are willing to learn to acquire skills and be em-powered to earn a living. While some women choose to be part of the project, others decide to leave home and try their luck working abroad. It pains me to see that their children are left in the care of their fathers and other relatives while they are away.  

The women at the sewing project.

It is sad and difficult to see the ladies leaving home to work abroad. Some of them don’t even have the money to travel to the capital to process their papers. Instead, they rely solely on the employment agency and are subsequently indebted to them for a huge amount of money. Most of the time the money they earn abroad is not enough to pay the exorbitant fees these manpower agencies demand from the workers.  

Most women feel that they don’t have any choice except to leave home to work abroad because their husband’s income isn’t sufficient to sustain the financial needs of the family. 

While the ladies are abroad, the husbands are working as tricycle drivers or in the construction industry earning an in-substantial amount of money, not nearly enough for the whole family. The children are often left on their own while the adult supervisor is outside earning a living to survive for the day. This is a sad day-to-day scenario in my ministry. Seeing the children alone is disheartening and most of the time I just look up to the skies to utter a prayer for them.

Aerial view of the housing project at Divine Mercy Village

Because of the advances in technology, I still have communication with the ladies abroad through social media. This is a good avenue for us to catch up and sometimes give an update on their children. Parenting their children from a distance requires a lot of responsibility, perseverance and a lot of trust, especially when a family member or a relative would pass away or multiple problems concerning their children would arise. All they can do is cry and continue to thrive on, again and again. I must say that I admire their courage and resilience. These women are very brave. They are risk-takers.  

They give their lives for their family and their children, even-knowing that when they return home, they will be different, some may even be gone. For my part, I only share with them my presence, I listen to their stories. I put myself in their place and empathize with them. At the same time, I am praying for them that God will give them more courage to continue living.  

Ana at the housing project

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

MY COMPANIONS IN MISSION

by Evangeline "Jinky" Ucol
Columban Lay Missionary in Fiji

With children from Navala Community
After 10 months of language studies and cultural exposure in the village, I was sent, finally, to my mission assignment at Christ the King parish, Ba in the western side of Fiji. It is the hottest part of the island. It takes six to seven hours travel by bus from Suva, its capital city. The parish is in the middle of the town, close to the school, market, mosque, establishments and bus station. The Lay Missionary house is inside the premises of the parish.  The parish is divided into 3 different areas with six communities in the town,   another six in the coastal area and still another six in the highlands. When I started to visit the communities and villages I could really experience extreme heat that easily makes me feel weak and tired not to mention the rough and dusty road. This is the kind of weather that the people endure for a long time which I heard from them is getting worse every year. The weather is extreme. When it is hot it is really scorching. When the rain comes it pours causing the river to overflow which in turn causes soil erosion and flood especially at the lower parts of the communities. 

When I saw some villages especially in the coastals and highlands, and experienced the kind of road and transportation going into the place and the kind of life the people live, I can’t help but really admire the first Columban Missionaries who were able to reach the village, live with the people, evangelize and put up school and churches. And to think that during the old times, there were no buses yet nor good road. They could only use horse as means of transportation. I can only imagine how hard it was for them but they never gave up.

I came to the parish last August 4, 2018. After the usual ritual of welcoming and introduction, I started to get to know the people, make friends and familiarize myself with the different structures, ministries and organizations in the parish. The biggest help for me to involve myself at the beginning was the support given to me by the Columban Companions in Mission in the persons of Vaulina Sakulu, a former Columban Lay Missionary assigned in Chile for more than 3 years,  Miliakare Nawalu, a widow with 3 children, and Sereana Tobeyaweni, whom I fondly called “nene” which, in my own language, is a term of endearment meaning mother.

Planting 100 plants of  “VoiVoi” used for mats making at Christ the King parish compound.
Last year on September – a Season of Creation and at the same time a period of centennial celebration of Columbans, I encouraged the CCIM to do something in connection with these celebrations. Climate Change or global warming is a reality that we truly experience. It affects the life of everyone and every creature. It causes suffering, loss of livelihood, and loss of people’s life and marine life. In February 26, 2016 when Winston, the strongest tropical cyclone, hit the island, many of the villagers lost their houses. Their crops and livelihood were destroyed. Even up to now I could still see and feel the aftermath of that event. I thought maybe whatever small effort we can do would make a difference. Thus, I challenged myself and the CCIM to come up with something like tree planting to raise an awareness of the season of creation as well as to celebrate the centennial of the Columbans. We agreed to plant 100 mangroves, trees and plants in some villages as a sign of gratitude to the Columban missionaries who came to the parish to serve. Around the parish we also   planted more than 100 plants which can be used to make mats for the future livelihood program of the women.

Vaulina Sakulu And Miliakare Nawalu, Columban Companions In Mission
 In Fijian culture, there are many protocols. When you want to do something you have to speak to the head of the village. But first, the “Sevusevu” must be offered. Sevusevu is a ceremony of greeting to welcome guest or visitor followed by drinking kava, a non- alcoholic drink which is Fiji’s national drink. When we first came to Navala, a small village located in the interior of the mountain and known for their strong belief and culture, we followed the usual ceremony. Around the “tanoa”, a bowl used for kava, I introduced myself as a Columban  Lay Missionary  and explained to them about the season of creation in connection with the centennial celebration of the Columbans.  I felt nervous then because I was seated in front, surrounded by men from the village whom I only met for the first time and I was still grappling with the Fijian language. I was a bit anxious if I could explain well our intention of visiting their village. It was good thing that Vaulina was there to explain in Fijian what I was trying to say. Maybe because of my fear and worries how to encourage them to participate in the Tree Planting, I did not notice anymore how many cups of kava I took that day. I usually take small amount of kava only to show respect to their culture because I am not used to drinking.

I was really amazed how they organized themselves and planned what and where to plant and who will prepare the food of those who will join the activity. Early in the morning, during our day of planting,   I was awaken  by the voice of spokesperson in the village or the “Turaga ni koro” announcing to the whole village about what is going to happen that day. He was calling the attention of those men assigned to prepare and get seedlings from the bush and hills and bring them at the side of the river where we are going to plant because large part of the soil is eroded due to the strong current of water from the river when Tropical Winston struck the country. Then, I saw some men going to the farm with their tools. Some men dug the holes and others including us, helped in the planting.  The kind of grass we planted is good to hold the soil and the same material they use for making “Bure”, a Fijian traditional house. We ended with a simple lunch and before we left we did the “iTatau,”  a ceremony to express our thanksgiving. The plants  are now growing and they will forever remind us not only our responsibility to care for mother earth nor the  work of Columban Missionaries   but the spirit of community we had shown that day which was  witnessed by the children and others in the village.

Children From Nawaqarua Helping in the Coastal Clean Up
When I saw the men, women, youth and  children planting tress and working together, it reminded me of what   Pope Francis   said, “ Humanity still has the ability to work together to build our common home.”

This kind of initiatives opened my eyes into a new light and hope. When your heart’s intention is good and sincere, you know how to relate with the people, you are sensitive to their culture and you show great respect, and be authentic you will also gain their respect and cooperation. Sometimes, I am worried how to deal with people and communicate properly.   I realized that just simply being me and allowing God to let His shine through me, then things would be possible. By allowing God to touch my heart with my daily experience and encounter renews my energy, strengthens and transforms me slowly as a missionary in a foreign land. I learn to live each day with a grateful heart and openness for whatever the Lord allows me to experience. Through the people who accompany and journey with me I discover my own grace and giftedness. They are like Jesus to me in disguise who journey with me in every step of the way.

There were only four of us when we started our planting project but as we continue we were able to convince more parishioners and even children to participate.  I would like to thank Vaulina, Auntie Mili and Nene and the other Columban Companions in Mission for their continuous support, love and concern for a missionary like me who is always struggling yet hoping and believing that God is the purpose, the beginning and the end of everything. To God be the glory! 

Communicating the Gospel

By Luda Egbalic  Columban Lay Missionary, Korea “A church that sees itself as missionary through and through – always going out, reach...