Thursday, March 21, 2019

Following Fr. Chapman's Footsteps

by Haiti Muller

Coming back home from visitation in prison, I felt the beauty of nature, trees so green with cool breeze, birds singing loudly and the heaven starts to open with its blessing of rain making my tiredness go away, hoping that my brothers in jail would feel the same experiences that I have; my heart melt and my tears dropped. I miss them. My mind and heart are restless but how can I help them? What can I offer them? Or is it enough just to give them hope? I failed to find answers to my own questions so I kept quiet and said, “Lord, I need you. I can’t do this alone. Please be with me.” Then slowly some answers came to mind.  Matthew 25:36 said, “I was naked and you clothe me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” This verse in the bible touches my heart to love and give my time fully for the inmates.

Today is my one year and two months of being a missionary volunteer in the male prison. As I reflect on my journey, I remember that on my first week, I was so nervous knowing that my Visayan language is not good but I was challenged by my coordinator to speak it. One day, we went to jail to follow up on the profiles of the inmates. My coordinator told me to interview some of them. At the thought of hearing their stories, I was excited to meet them but at the same time I was nervous. When the first inmate came and sat beside me, I was confident enough to greet him, “maayong buntag kuya.” He responded and I again said, “kumusta?”  He started to talk in Visaya but I only smiled because I didn’t introduce myself first because my Visaya is limited.  When he heard me talk, he knew that I was still struggling with my language so he started to talk to me in English. I was so happy that he can speak English but when my coordinator found out that we talked in English she told the inmate not to talk to me in English saying further, “speak Visaya to her so that she can practice too.” I laughed and tried to talk in Visaya again. It made my day.

(picture used with permission)
Day after day and week after week, I see in myself the joy every time I encountered them even with my limited Visaya. Laughing and smiling together through the pain they face in jail make them feel light.  Some of their stories are really sad; some are neglected and abandoned by their own families but they still have faith in themselves. After hearing their stories, I came to realize how difficult it is to cope inside the jail which is so crowded with 2900 inmates and the space for them is very small.  But they always find space in the chapel to rest and sleep at day time. The chapel is a place for them to have space and have activities like mass, spiritual workshop, counseling and also a place where I can give them my time.  However, the joy I encountered since my first time in prison slowly faded away because of the heat. I respected the law of the prison not to take anything inside. When we started to talk with the inmates I could feel the heat and I started to fan myself with my hand without knowing that one of the inmates excused himself and went looking for fan. When he handed me the fan, I started to be ashamed of myself and tears started to fall from my eyes realizing that I shouldn’t do that in front of them and realizing too that I was just there not even a month but I already started to show signs of giving up just because of the heat and here they are struggling for many years already but they still manage to smile. They taught me a lesson.

Every time I come home, I always go to the chapel and offer my day of joy and pain in front of the Blessed Sacrament and pray for the inmates and also for me to be strong because this helps me to be relieved. I take as a blessing every experience.

In the jail chapel, there was a painting of a priest.  Every time I visit the jail, I always pass by it. So one day I asked one of the inmates who the man in the painting was and the inmate answered, “You said you are a Columban Missionary but you don’t know him? He is Fr. Chapman, a Columban priest. He loved us so much. He used to hear our confession, gave us food and he built this chapel.” I was so amazed upon hearing Fr. Chapman’s story. His story gave me courage to give the inmates more place in my heart. From that time on, I didn’t want to live a day without visiting the jail. However there were times I have to attend to other duties so I am unable to visit them which makes me very sad.

Haiti learned candle making so 
she can train former inmates.
Eight months through being a jail volunteer, I started to reflect and think of what I can do to lessen the heat in the chapel. Through the help of my coordinator, we were able to come up with a renovation plan which was partly to put an insulator on the roof. So I started to save a bit of my own money although I know it’s not enough to start the work. Through our prayers and trusting God that He will do the rest, we were able to find some benefactors who helped secure materials for the renovation. Likewise, my ministry coordinator also helped financially so our dream could happen. The inmates helped with the labor and the renovation went well. Every day, I visited the construction and I can’t help but admire the inmates for helping one another in order to complete the work. The renovation works started in September. It is now the 23rd  of October and it’s now done and beautiful and I could feel the heat is less.  I fell silent and thank God for what he has done for the sake of the inmates through the generosity of the benefactors. Now we are preparing for the coming Sunday 29th October which is prison awareness Sunday because the chapel will be blessed to God be the glory.

It’s truly a blessing. Words are not enough to express my gratitude. I thank God for making things possible through the generous support of our benefactors, families and friends. I also would like to thank the life of Fr Chapman who inspired me to give my life fully on mission. I salute my ministry coordinator for mentoring and challenging me each day to do my best and give God the glory and put my trust in Him. To the inmates, thank you for giving me  joy and helping me grow each day to  be a good missionary and being patient with my limitation of Visaya. To my Columban family especially my fellow lay missionaries in Mindanao, thank you for being with me here always especially when I feel that life is difficult. Last but not the least I would like to thank my dad for always listening to me, to my mom who is now in heaven for praying for me, and to my siblings for always providing for me when I needed something on my mission. To my nieces and my nephews thank you for always making me smile and happy when I am down. To those who are part of my life journey and those who pray for me, thank you for everything. Without you all I know I won’t make it to be who I am today.

 Haiti, Vasemaca and Liliani

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