A Marathon of Goodbye

by John Din, Columban Lay Missionary


18 years of working as missionary in Brasil and Peru, it is now time to move to a new home, my other “home”, my country the Philippines. I was almost seven years in Brasil and 11 years in Peru as Columban  Lay Missionary.

Before my departure I had the chance to join a marathon  together with thousands of runners from all ages.  This being a 21 km marathon is called a half marathon.  This is my third since last year, my last marathon in Peru. Before the beginning of the marathon, I had the feeling that I was in the right condition to run. Considering my own feelings, my physical state seems to be promising, and so I was very confident to finish the race. I always told myself to finish the race in my own time.


L-R:   Columban Fr. Bernie Lane, John Din, Columban Fr. Tony Coney
I think it is the same with going on mission, I thought of the passion I had when I left the Philippines in 1993. I was very young then, full of ideals, faith and desire to share, to learn, to change, to fight, to fit in, and to live in a new place that one day will also become my home.

When I reached 10 km I  felt that I have sufficient energy to continue and finish the race. Part of my satisfaction is to see the sign posts of 5km, 7km, and 10km. These convinced me that I was moving in the right decision. I suppose the same is true in my experience of mission. There were sign posts that indicated me to the direction of where I was going.  In Brasil, the sign post was  the pastoral afro and theater where I finally  assumed the JPIC office in my last three years.

In Peru, the sign post was the hunger of the young people to something that gives meaning to their lives. They are looking for the church, looking for meaning, for the sacred, for the transcendence in the midst of poverty, violence etc. One is challenged to try ways to provide young people a space to meet each other, and why not use art, theater, music as an instrument for this search of meaning. Peru has made me discover my yearning for music, desire for encounter with the sacred with the traditional instrument from the Andes. I learned their music by teaching, and the music stayed.

The other sign post was the desire of Peruvians to be missionaries after receiving so much from generous Columbans who were here before us. They see something different with the Columbans, their closeness with the people; I have been a witness to that in so many ways. It has challenged me to do the same.  It was helpful to see the different points where people serve water or energy drinks for all the runners.  Faces of people continue to flash in my mind; Peruvians, fellow lay missionaries, Columbans ,  who have helped me replenish my energy.

Not to forget the positive effect of running together. Many times I ran with unknown companions of different ages. I could hardly talk with my co runners. However, one does recognize the look of solidarity. I was not alone in mission. I came with a group of four and finished with a group of two. I have found more groups all through the years.

On passing 15km I have started to feel the demands and the cost of nonstop running for more than one hour now. I have started considering the possibility of stopping and just walk. I know that if I give in to stopping it will be hard to start again. I had walked and then run again but never stopping except in places where one replenishes energy. I know that there are six kilometers more to go but it seems eternity when one’s energy is pushed now to the limit. I started saying to myself that this run is dedicated to all the Peruvians; my gratitude for all that has been and for all that will be from now on. At this point in time, faces of people flash in my mind. There were many of them, people who made impact because of their generosity, of their spirit of service, of their hospitality, openness to welcome strangers, resilience against hardships during difficult times and the spirit of gratitude as expressed in the way they celebrate. At this moment, it is like leaving the familiar to go back to another familiar.  It is about going to another home.


At this point in time, memories of my families came too, everything that happened in the last 18 years that I was away from them. Gratitude for God for keeping my family not away from difficulties but for providing with means to go through difficult times, as he has done for me as well.

There was in the many memories a gratitude for all the Columbans in Brasil and Peru. If it was not for them, for those who have touched my life in different ways, some in positive ways, others not so, it would have been impossible to be me now, more trusting, faith in the spirit that breath where he or she wills. The spirit has breath the Columbans and will continue to breath where she wills.  Gratitude for the trust they placed on me, on my capacity, as a lay missionary and as person. Gratitude for Columbans who see the best in every person, I have learned that grace too.

Peru,  John with staff of the Happy Earthworm Ecology Project
All these memories have helped me go through the most difficult times in the marathon, especially that the last kilometers was a struggle uphill. It has taken its toll on my energy. Then I found myself that I was already passing the 20km mark towards the finishing line. This is my third marathon, the first two was very difficult, but this time there seems to be a difference, not that there was no tiredness and exhaustion, there was an extra strength fruit of the preparation that was taken,  that still left on me to increase velocity and finish the last five hundred meters.

My missionary journey was not just a jump into the unknown, there was preparation there and it did work. It was hard to know what part of the preparation works, I think it was the sum of all the efforts to prepare and the accumulation of all the experiences in life that helped me cross the boundaries. I finished the 21 km at two hours and twenty six minutes.

May, 2011

John Din wrote this as his despedida article / reflection before he left Peru to be the coordinator of CLM-Philippines.  

1 comment:

AM said...

Where is Tony Coney now? He was at school with us back in Belfast in the late 1960s?