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! 

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