Friday, October 21, 2022

My Vocation Story

 Fanning the Flame of Faith

By Mereani Nailevu 
Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji

   

  Everyone’s journey is different. When I reflect and think about my own, I realize that I have come a long way from my life as a young girl in my village where technology is not yet a norm. In my village, people visit each to stay in touch and the only means of news was through the radio. At night we gather together with a lamp and old people would tell stories to the young until it was time to go to bed.

    My journey as a lay missionary began when I was asked by our village catechist to visit the sick with him. Although  he was too old to walk by himself to the communities, that did not stop him from ministering to the sick.  Sometimes, we go by horseback which was the only way to reach other villages.  He loved horseback riding and telling stories about his childhood and early adulthood memories on the farm where he grew up in, while I enjoyed listening. Little did I know that from that day forward, I would spend a lot of my childhood accompanying him to the different villages.  It was through him that I came to meet some of the Columban lay missionaries who accompanied the priests whenever there’s a mass in the village. Their stories of struggles and the joys they shared with the people opened their hearts to extend their hands to those in need. After listening, reading and observing the work of the missionaries, accompanying our village catechist to his ministry was no longer something I just do and move on.  I became more intentional with it. When I see the faces of the sick light up upon seeing us, my faith in God is even more strengthened. This value of spreading and living the word of God seared into my heart.  Growing up in that environment taught me a lot about who we are called to be in the body of Christ. Although I felt that my faith journey is an on-going process, I also believed deep within me that I was on the right track.  I have a better understanding of my faith and my God. I believe that God planted a seed of faith in my heart and all I have to do was to water it with my prayers.

    During my last year in my primary school (Class 8), my interest to join the Columban Lay Mission grew.  One of the requirements was a Form 6 pass with good English mark which I thought I could not accomplish because of financial constraints.  So I made up my mind to give up school and help my mom meet the school needs of my younger siblings. But God had other plans for me. With the help and financial support of my parish priest and his family in Limerick, Ireland, I was able to complete my studies and all the requirements to join the accompaniment program for Columban Lay Missionaries. This strengthened my faith and gave me hope to serve His people. So I went to Suva, the capital of Fiji, and met the coordinator of the Columban Lay Missionaries.

Mereani (R) with her team mates during their orientation period

    Moving out from the village and coming to the city for my nine months accompaniment program was not easy. I tried to adjust and fit in with my new environment where the use of technology and gadgets is a normal way of life.  I was surprised to know that people in the neighborhood don’t know each other. I compared my village life with city life but somehow I realized that cities are only dwelling places for hundreds of thousands of working people making it impossible for them to know each other.

    After completing my nine-month accompaniment program, I was asked to wait for two years for a new group because my companions in the accompaniment program did not make it to the end. I patiently waited for another two years while I worked and provided for my family until I was told that the Columban Regions of Fiji, Tonga, Australia and New Zealand have joined to become the new Oceania region.  From this union came three new candidates for lay mission. That’s when I resigned from my work and joined the orientation program (JSOP) for nine months.

  

Mereani (front) with Columban Missionaries taking the boat to Rabi Island, Fiji for an ordination

    Living and fitting in with a multi-cultural group (Malaysians,  Tongans, Filipinos and Koreans) under one roof was very challenging. I had to come out from my comfort zone to blend in. I had to learn their values, manners, decision making practices, way of communication, and most importantly discover more about myself in the midst of other cultures. Being brought up in a small village, I really didn’t have much knowledge about being in a cross-cultural environment. Everything was new to me even the cooking and eating practices. I remember that during our first community night at the Regional House in Suva, I was told to sit among the priests and use fork and knife to eat. I nervously sat with them as this was my first time to use fork and knife. The culture of “respect” towards the ordained was so strong in me. The most embarrassing moment came when I started digging in my food with the fork and knife and half of my chicken meat flew over to the other side of the table. However, I did not give up. I took my time to learn new ways of doing things and allowed myself to make mistakes and learn from them as I went along. 

     My culture is the very fabric of my being that I cannot separate it from myself. At first I compared everything new to my own culture but this caused misunderstanding and created barriers among my group mates.  While I wanted to preserve my own culture, letting go of some of my own traditions and adapting to a new way was necessary and symbolic as part of the transitions I was going through. Although living with a multi-cultural group was challenging, it has also helped me understand them better and helped me to see my own culture from a different perspective. Despite our differences, we were able to build a bond not only as a team but as a family.  Conversations with someone from a different culture sometimes is difficult but this is normal. Despite this, I have learned that adding humor in our cross-cultural situation makes everyone feel at ease and happy.

    I arrived in the Philippines in February 2020. My more than two years in my mission area in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental has not been easy. However, I believe that the Lord has prepared the way for me. I thank the Columbans in my home region for being there for me in times of difficulty. Although I’m already thousands of miles away from home, I still feel the sense of belongingness. I also thank the Columbans in the Philippines for providing programs which helped me broaden my knowledge and use my potential to be God's living witness to His people.

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