Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Journey

by Irma Lara Cantago

I am a high school teacher by profession and was teaching for 15 years while being involved in the parish, helping out with the catechist and the formation of the lay leadership. I had the passion to serve and be with people even before.  Such was my experience which deepened my faith and made me reflect to leave the school someday and be a parish worker.

I was accepted for the orientation to the Columban Lay Mission program in 1992 with five other lay people. Before saying goodbye to everybody I did an act of letting go that was very difficult to do then, i.e., burning all my school notes with a light and a happy heart. I believe that my 15 years experience as a teacher and as as a volunteer parish worker prepared me to answer the call of God to be a Columban Lay Missionary overseas; to learn, to continue my formation, and to share my faith and life.  I was happy with my decision but I was facing another difficult situation to leave my mother along with my six brothers and sisters.  Since the death of my father and being the eldest girl in the family I became the right hand of my mother.  The first time that I explained everything to my mother and expressed to her my love and passion to become a Columban Lay Missioary, she did not say anything and I knew it was hard for her to me go.  But later on she told me to go and not to worry about her and my brothers and sisters.  I thank my mother, my brothers and sisters for the support, though it was not easy for them to see me go to a faraway land.  It was not easy for me either to leave them for the first time but I strongly believed that time that God won't leave them alone.  If it is His will then everything will be fine and He will allow me to reach the place where He wants me to be.  

Ozamiz, 2016
I, together with three other lay missionaries, was appointed to Brazil in 1993. It was the first time for me not to see my family for a long time and be in another country with different culture, people, and language.  There were a lot of adjustments to make even to my co-lay missionaries and the Columbans.  I had to face and live with that challenging reality for three years in a faraway country, far from my family and friends, and up rooteed from my comfort zone.  It was not that easy facing the uncertainty of what will happen ahead in the journey.  There were a lot of emotions including the  fear of traveling by plane for long hours.  But the excitement and the feeling of a dream and the desire coming true helped me a lot to be strong to continue and be firmed with it.  My faith that if it is really God's call He will take care of me and bring me to Brazil safely When God calls there is always the grace to make one strong and free to venture to the unknown.  This is very true that God is always giving me the grace to continue and to be strong in a foreign land, the grace and energy that helped me to continue to the second country where I did my mission in Lima, Peru.  It was the same when I arrive in Peru I did start all over again, learning new language, adjusting to the culture and the people, with co-lay missionaries and the ordained Columbans and associates.  The only advantage was I had my mission experience already from Brazil.  It is still in Latin America so there are some similarities in some aspects in the culture and language though there are a lot of difference even in their life-style and ways for celebrating life. It is not easy to live in a new reality that is not your own your own.  It is where your faith, patience, humility, openness to learn, acceptance of new ways of doing things, and one's listening kills are challenged.  I did learn how to listen and be flexible in ordeer to understand and be a part of their culture.  The people of Peru taught me a lot to learn their own language, jokes and even how to live in their own land.  They taught me to celebrate life in the midst of the of their poverty, dancing and enjoying the most of the time with a hungry stomach.
Renewal of Contract, September 2015
The different ministries I had both in Brazil and Peru with different age groups helped me to be more creative, open to learn in order to persevere with the difficulties that I encountered and love the life as a missionary.  The openness and acceptance of my presence by the different groups gave me the strength and the confidence as a person and as a missionary to continue to tell Christ's story to the people.  There were a lot of frustrations, confusions, changes and new realities on the way that were not easy to deal with in the community, and with the Columbans and the region.  Not all were happy moments but I learned to see those moments as new realities that I have to live as a person and as a missionary, a care take and be responsible for myself and all creature around me.  Those experiences made me reflect more, drew me closer to God , to the Columbans and to the Peruvians who were with me in this journey. God was with me in all these years revealing God's self in many ways in the different experience I went through.  I was inspired every day to continue living the life of a missionary.  One of the greatest gift that God is giving me  is the passion and the grace to go on.  God knows what is best for me and will be always be with me and the people I left behind. I believe that my presence and my journey with the people as a person and a lay missionary made a difference. It was and is an affirmation that every lay person is a missionary to their own family, neighbors, their own parish and the society; an inspiration for lay people to be involved in mission.

Indeed, to be a lay missionary is a call and challenge to value and defend the life of all creatures.  Recognizing the presence and the face of God through my experiences with the people of different cultures and ways of celebrating life is a gift. I am evangelized by all who journeyed  with me . The treasure that is apart of em and I will be bring it where ever God wants me to be to continue to tell Christ's story.  The uniqueness and beauty of the different cultures, realities and the people that I encountered and who journeyed with me teach me to appreciate and value your own culture.  yes, life is a mission where everyone is challenged to take care of one's life in order to take care of  others and the life of the earth.  God is giving us the gift of life and the life of the earth in order to live and enjoy the beauty of His creation but with th responsibility, to take care of it, this is mission. I am very thankful to God for giving me the gift to be in mission and the passion and the energy to continue this journey to be a lay missionary.  A million thanks to my family, friends, Columbans and he people of Brazil and Peru for this enriching experience and the sacred space of being partners in misision.  I am what I am now because of all of you. There is always something to learn that prepares us  for the next day.

CLM International Meeting, Tagaytay, July 2011

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