Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Maybe God Speaks Good Chinese

By She Capili
      Columban Lay Missionary, Taiwan

Welcome Mass, Taiwan, June  2011
When the Taiwan Mission Unit (TMU) welcomed our group in June 2011, part of our 3-year commitment as Columban Lay Missionaries was to take a full-time language class for a year to prepare for our ministries.  Until now, I am still in awe on how I was able to enjoy my Mandarin learning and survived the challenges that go with it.  Now I feel less nervous in conversations.  I feel more courageous in speaking and less afraid of making mistakes

As I am about to complete six months of being involved part-time in the migrants ministry, our God of surprises continues to shape my heart for the upcoming months when I would be starting to work full-time in January.  Each day, I discover more about my gifts as well as my weaknesses.  Being away from my family and friends, as well as leaving behind the kind of lifestyle I was used to when I was in the Philippines, entailed a lot of coping to be able to adjust in this new life God leads me to.  Now that I am beginning to realize this big shift in my missionary journey, I feel how God moves me from being just 'self' centered towards being 'other' centered.

When I was having my exposure to the ministries of other Columbans, I never imagined that I would find myself looking after the needs of the survivors of human trafficking living in our Hsinchu Catholic Diocese Migrants and Immigrants Service Center (HMISC) female shelter.  I thought that I would be working with the indigenous people in the mountains, but I was told that it is necessary to learn how to ride a motorbike if I want to work in the mountains.  After a few attempts at riding a motorbike, I never found the courage again to try to move the motorbike even just a few meters forward.

I did not get what I wished for but clearly, God sends me where He wants me to be.  I remember what one of our Columban priests would say, that “it is not our mission, it is God’s mission.”  Living with the ladies in the shelter, finding meaning and inspiration in visiting fellow Filipinos detained at the local detention center, and having joy in assisting our English teacher-volunteer for our English class program with the female detainees from Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, are God’s greatest blessings for me on my fresh start in mission.

A “mother” of 28

At first, living together with around 20 Indonesians, a few Filipinos, and one Vietnamese was overwhelming for me.  We come from different countries, have different religious beliefs and practices, have different personalities, life experiences, challenges, and we speak various languages.  It took me several weeks to be able to finally remember their names and their faces.  It would be the same challenge whenever a new group of ladies would arrive.  There was even a time when I’ve mistakenly thought a fellow Filipina to be an Indonesian.

With Filipino and Vietnamese volunteers 
I was a bit nervous on how to relate with some ladies with very strong personalities.  I have experienced getting reactions during the first time I tried organizing their schedule for the household chores.  I realized that it's because I was introducing a new and different way compared to what they have been used to.  This was among the many learnings I've had since I started -- I learned that it is important to first, observe, build relationship and trust among them, before slowly suggesting some ways which I think would be helpful in getting things organized for us to live harmoniously in the shelter.

Our common language is not English but Chinese.  Most of the ladies speak very good Chinese because they have worked as caregivers for years living in the homes of their Taiwanese employers.  I have to try hard to stretch the little Chinese that I know every time I ask how they are, call their attention,  remind them about policies in the shelter, and conduct our regular meetings.  Fortunately, they are very patient with my limited Chinese, but at times I feel sorry and frustrated for them too.  There was one time a lady approached me and expressed her anger towards another resident in the shelter.  She was speaking very fast with so much energy and feelings, and all I can do was look at her and wait for her to finish.  Maybe she knew that I didn’t understand everything she said. When she was done, I just gave her a pat on the shoulder, and she took a deep breath and thanked me for listening -- and I thought to myself, how God works!  When I share my challenges with my companions, they would always say that sometimes words are not important…that one’s presence is enough.

WE have many funny moments in trying to understand one another.  I remember wanting to express how irritated I was with some not-so-good habits the ladies have.  I was trying to formulate the sentence in my mind and because it took so long for me to get my Chinese organized, my anger was already gone by the time I was ready to say it out loud.  My friends would tell me, that perhaps God was teaching me not to say things which I would regret in the future…that God holds back my Chinese tongue so I can take things slowly and be mindful of the things I say or do.

Listening to the sentiments of 28 different personalities is not simple.  At times when I don’t know what to say and do, I would find myself casually asking God, “what shall we do about this?”  Despite the challenges, I feel joyful and fulfilled journeying with them.  I am thankful for the gift of time when I get to sit down and have meals with them, watch television together, go out for a walk at a nearby park, and listen to their stories of struggling, surviving, and moving on.  They teach me life lessons.  I feel sad whenever somebody’s time to go home has come, but there is even more sincere and deep happiness to realize that their going home means freedom for them and another chance to have a better life.
Witnessing Jesus behind bars….

For a few months, I had the opportunity to go with our Filipino social worker to the foreign detention center in Hsinchu City.  Every Tuesday morning, we visit the undocumented Filipino migrant workers detained at the center, follow up on their cases and assist them whenever possible, and listen to their concerns.  All of them came to Taiwan as documented migrant workers and for various reasons left their legal employment and became undocumented workers.  Some of them were caught by the immigration officers in common places such as the train stations and public markets, while others chose to leave their illegal employers and surrendered voluntarily to the immigration police.

I have met many Filipino migrant workers, young and old. I have heard stories which I thought could only be seen in movies. When they shared their experiences, we would share them both in tears and in laughter. Their faith inspired and moved me having witnessed how they can be Jesus to one another in going through this difficult moment in their lives. I hope that they can go home soon and try other means to provide for their families.
 A detention cell has around 40-50 detainees of different nationalities.  There is an overwhelming number of Indonesians and Vietnamese.  One time, I was able to go inside one of the cells.  I saw that they share in a common bathroom and a couple of double-deck beds.  They have a fixed wake-up call and specific time for taking a bath, brushing their teeth, taking an afternoon nap, eating their meals, etc.  They each have five minutes every day to take outside calls.  They need to observe the rules or else they would be reprimanded or even get an extended time in the detention center as penalty.

Practicing conversation skills
Aside from the visits to the Filipinos, I also have the opportunity to meet the Indonesians and Vietnamese in a 2-hour English class every Thursday morning.  Every week, an average of 20 ladies attends the class facilitated by our Canadian teacher-volunteer, Laurence Dean.  We are grateful to him for giving his time to volunteer --precious time that could have been spent with his family or possibly earning additional income.  I assist him in guiding the ladies to read English books and to practice their conversation skills, and here, my Chinese would again be stretched to its limits because the only way to explain to them what a particular word or sentence means is by translating it into Chinese.  When I run out of Mandarin, we would just resort to making facial expressions or acting the words out to be able to understand one another and we would end up sharing a good laugh.

I am not an English teacher, but I hope that, more than correcting someone’s spelling or grammar or pronunciation, being with them for at least 2 hours in a week can make a difference.  Whenever we have a more relaxed time in class, I also get to know the ladies and listen to their concerns.  I would always hear from them how boring and depressing it is to stay inside their cells, how they miss their children and how they worry about their families’ financial needs.  We end each class by singing a few English songs they like.  As I look at their faces while we sing together, I would always see signs of hope in their eyes and their smiles.  Most of them are Muslims but I never felt I was different from them.  We would talk about praying and never stop hoping that soon they would go home.  When the class ends, I would always tell them how I desire not to see them again the following week because that would mean they have already gone back home.

It always amazes me when I’m able to go through the day surviving the different challenges, most especially in dealing with the language.  I believe God speaks very good Chinese through the people I encounter each day because despite not getting fully what they mean, at the end we are still able to understand and relate with one another with love and respect.  I look forward to the coming months of witnessing more of how God’s love is present and I am excited to share my own experiences of this love to others.

The author is from Cavite, Philippines. 


arlenne said...

thanks, she, for sharing and to mavic for posting. reading this is inspiring enough to keep on moving forward and believing in God's goodness and living it.... arlenne

link for familycare (FCF) said...

Just passing by to say Congrats! I was glad you have you in the service of God.

God Bless!

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