Voyage to New Hello

by Marjorie C. Engcoy
I was scanning one of my favorite books in my bookshelf hoping to find inspiration in writing my own life’s journey when I was led to the page of the fifth installation of C.S. Lewis’s children’s stories, the famous Chronicles of Narnia. It was the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this story, two of the Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy, with their cousin Eustace came back to Narnia unexpectedly through the picture on the wall. This story tells the many adventures of the children with the then Prince Caspian who was on a journey to find the dispersed lords of Narnia. Some of these lords met terrible fate and some fell into spells. They met unusual creatures like poor Dufflepuds who were made invisible and scary because of a spell cast unto them. The children also met once more an enemy of the past that lured Edmund to betray and turn against his siblings for some Turkish Delight. Then lastly, at the end of the journey they had to say goodbye to a dear friend who had been loyal to the first kings and queens of Narnia. Reading this story again for the “Nth” time reminded me of the many adventures that I went through in life. Alas! I found my inspiration and so I begin.
I am the eldest among three daughters. Most of my childhood was spent playing alone but growing up I spent it in vocal rehearsals getting ready for singing competitions during weekends. Eventually, I was lured to church activities and landed myself as one of the choir members of St. James the Apostle Chapel. It was then that I learned the value of the real sharing God’s given gifts to glorify Him in return for all the blessings that I received. I enjoyed the membership because I love to sing. And when I sing during every mass we serve, it has become my special way of establishing my intimate relationship with the God that I trusted and have faith on. It was also during these times when I met Columban Lay Missionaries assigned in my community. They would join us during the mass or in our prayer services, talk to us and share to us some experiences in their ministries. I thought it was a wonderful cause to be helping those who need help, listen to those who need to be listened to, and to uplift those who needs lifting up.
But the tides had changed the course of my ship when I had to think of getting a job after college. At first I decided to work far to taste what real independence means and looks like. I liked and enjoyed the feeling of being independent and out there in a foreign place all by myself. It was then that I saw myself in my limitations and capabilities and in my strengths and weaknesses. Contented with what I saw and experienced, I came back home to practice teaching. Fortunately, my alma mater took me in and let me teach in the college department. The following year, a co-teacher invited me to volunteer at the Night High School department of which I gladly accepted and rendered two years. While teaching both in the college department and Night High School, I was also busy taking my graduate studies. There were times I could say that I’m enjoying what I was doing most especially when I see the faces of my students at the Night High School who had to work during the day and study during the night. Somehow, I saw myself in them and that’s why I gladly accepted the invitation. Personally, I always believe that once a person dared to dream something for his or her life, he or she should take on the courage to make that dream come true despite the odds. I admire their hopeful dreams and schemes in life just as I admired those who had been true to help them lift their lives up.

It was on my fourth year of teaching when a sudden storm hit me that once again changed the course of my ship. One of my subjects for the first semester will be joined by eight special students who are hearing impaired. I first thought that it will be a great struggle for me because of the great language barrier; I do not know their language, so how would I understand them. It was later that I realized that I had the slightest edge and probably that’s the reason why they were with me; I know a bit of sign language. After days and weeks spending with them, the fondness of being with them grew within me. Language wasn’t anymore a barrier; it has rather become our way to establish a new friendship. It was then that I remembered my favorite philosopher’s line, “Using no way as way; having no limitations as limitation”. I thought there was no way of understanding them and making myself understood. I thought that given the ability to talk gives me all the means and ways to be understood. In the end, God was working out means for us to meet at a common point and later guided us to move forward together. I thank God for that wonderful experience because that led me back to the sight I laid my eyes on before but put it off for years; the eyes that looked at mission. Once again I heard the knock through the Columban Vocation poster in school.
It took me a couple of years to ponder to finally make the decision. I thought of the comforts and benefits that I would be leaving behind and the uncertainty of the tomorrow that I’m about to face. It required a great deal of courage to tell myself that in no doubt I can and the confidence to face the consequences of the step I am to take. And I was in full confidence to trust in God’s ways of making things happen. Detaching from all those that I was comfortable with was difficult but knowing and trusting that tomorrows bring new wonderful beginnings, I finally let go and let the winds blow me willingly.
Marjorie with team mates Liezl (L) and Monaliza (R)
The orientation program graced me with opportunities to gain new awareness and new perspectives, face the dreadfulness of my past and welcome it as it is part of me yesterday, today and tomorrow, and the new friendships. It further made me see how God has been preparing me for this life—lay missionary life. The desire must have been put off for years for me to be prepared and be ready. I was not just very keen to see it happening in me all along. It was also during those nine months that I had to face the doubts of others. Their doubts together with my hesitations and own doubts made me strong in prayer as I continued discerning. Thanks to these doubts, but all the more thanks to those who keep me encouraged to be more open in things that are yet to come. The Columbans, priest, nuns, and lay alike, were very generous as they share their life in mission. Their smiles, time, and guidance kept my inspiration burning. My life at the Lung Center of the Philippines during my Clinical Pastoral Education for ten weeks was painful. Came with my desire to free myself from the bonds of the past is the pain. But I’m truthfully happy of the result of my group and my own efforts; I’m grateful of the self-awareness I gained. Thanks to the patients who became the instruments in seeing myself through my encounters with them. Moreover, I’m also happy to have made new friendships in the persons of those who have known me and my story.
The Mindanao exposure gave me the taste of the missionary life: moving from one place to another, living with people of different cultures, listening to them in their quest to be heard as they relate their problems and concerns in life, being with them in prayer and in their hopes for better life, respecting cultures, affirming them, and sharing my faith experience and how God has been working in me through my experiences. My birthday celebration in Marawi City brought me to a different kind of happiness that are beyond my words of describing. In my own words, it was the weirdest birthday I have ever had; but weird in a good sense. I was not and am still not able to explain it well. In great happiness I thought that my “thank you” was not all enough. It also showed me the respect that they have for me as a Christian celebrating my birthday. It was indeed a humbling experience I would not forget and I would keep on telling this story in the hopes that this too will inspire people just as it had inspired me in one way or another.
Letting go for me is one of the difficult challenges in life: leaving behind all the things I held preciously in my hands. I thought I was being foolish to courageously say YES to this missionary life I’m taking on and confidently say that I can do this. But as foolish as it may seem, I would love to trust my heart’s desire and respond to the call of being a Columban Lay Missionary in Fiji.
I have my frailties, my limitations, and wounds which pain I can still feel and remember. Despite the scars they have imprinted, it will constantly tell me of God’s undying presence and unconditional love for me. Further, God has assured me that my readiness is paired with the talents and skills that He has gifted me with. All along He had been honing me in my use of them. As I trust His wonderful plans in me, I constantly pray for His constant guidance and affirmation that He called me for this life. Lastly, it wasn’t only my decision to be treading these waters but also His, that we are partners in this voyage to a new hello.  

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