I would like to share with you my missionary experience here in the land which I am present now. The land which I can’t tell you where, and I even can’t tell you who I am writing this. This perhaps sounds to you ironic, right? But for you to understand and to question me WHY? Just continue reading and perhaps you might understand the reason why.
I’m Thalia (not my real name). I’m one of the young missionaries of our congregation. When I was asked for this assignment a year ago, I didn’t think twice to say Yes. Even though my father was ailing, I gave it in to go and widen my perspective as a missionary. I was preparing myself spiritually, physically and emotionally for this mission. I knew from the beginning that it would be different settings from my previous missions where I have been. We are sent here in hiding, we are not free to show our own identity. And this is not an easy task when beliefs and creed can’t be just revealed to others… There comes the challenge… Being a missionary is not only about adaptation to culture, food, climate, language, and traditions. However being a missionary is being ready to face the challenges of being “sent”. In a situation like this I always remember the first Christian community that hid their identity as Christians, because when their identity was revealed to light, the oppressions of Christians followed. There might be no persecutions that will happen, but there might be other consequences that might happen when our purposes are revealed. But how do we live like this…? The answer is PRUDENCE. To be prudent in what we are wearing, be prudent with what we are saying, be prudent in where we are going. We have also to consider prudently the use of social media, for we have to limit some areas of ourselves because of a danger of being controlled.
Even in my class no one knows who I am, I have to tell “white lies” about myself and my purpose here. I just tell that I would like to look for a job here, perhaps teaching if there are opportunities, and they are satisfied. One day as usual in our previous lessons we have to write our opinions about life. I wrote my opinion in English and I ask one of my sisters in community to translate it for me. When I arrived in the class the teacher asked me to read my work. After reading my assignment suddenly without any hesitations the teacher asked me “are you a sister?” OMG! My heart beat so fast I didn’t know what will happen next… but I just looked at him and say “No”. But he had a follow-up question “but are you a Catholic?” I say confidently yes, and I told him that 85% of the citizens in my country are Catholics. After that scene I was asking myself what was the translations of my sister that my teacher asked me that question? And I found out that the word “grace” captured the attention of my professor leading him to ask me. It’s really a grace living between the truth and the half truth, though it pressures me. I did a lot of effort motivating myself that I have to accept this kind of reality that we are in.
Though our realities is unique, our community strive the best to make each one experience the normality of life as a missionary. Fortunately I did only few days of adjustments, through the help of the sisters in the community I was able to adjust easily. One of the best adjustments I did was crossing the streets; I gained the talent of crossing the streets here. I learned to cross the busy streets flooded of different kind of vehicles and motorcycles. I thought I can not do it by myself, my first days I was accompanied by one of my community member to cross, but it will be too much if everyday they will do it for me. I have to try and do it on my own. At first, I told to myself “no, I can’t…, I will not cross…” but how I will arrive to my destination if I will not overcome my fears crossing these busy streets? The cars will not stop, until I learned doing it. It’s really a talent to cross and avoid them.
Food is not a problem for me, my palate can easily adjust to the different flavors of the food; spicy, very spicy and too spicy, sweet and not so sweet, and the tangs of different kinds of “grass” and herbs. It’s a matter of adjustments, adjusting my taste buds to the food that the people usually eat.
Two days after landing, I started studying the language: the four hours intense classes. Before coming here I learned some basic words but not enough to survive. Its quite difficult, maybe not for those who learn fast because they have a special tongue gift in language. Most of the time my tongue twisted pronouncing the words with the many ups and downs intonations. Often times I pronounce the words incorrectly and I just laugh on it, even though I was the only one laughing (‘sounds crazy’), but in case of emergency break the glass. When I can’t read it properly I just ask the teacher to read it so that they will understand it. For that reasons I never give-up… the more I take it easy, more patience in remembering the sounds, in writing, in reading and in speaking. Thankfully I have had a good group of companions and professors, and learning together became lighter. Until the end of my classes no one knows my true self, except of one of my converted Catholic friend who knows about us and became our benefactor here. My professors may sense the truth about me, but it will continue concealed to their eyes beyond their understanding of the “real me”.
In this situation perhaps you will ask me; “how is the mission and apostolate of our community?” We do several apostolates visiting the sick, visiting hospitals, meeting pregnant women, assisting in one institution for the children, teaching English, and all the possible ways that we could encounter the people. And more you will continue asking “how about vocation campaigns, meeting the young people?” We have to ask help from parishes, priests, brothers, and lay persons to recommend to us ladies who are incline to this life. It would be a risks to accept ladies without any recommendations. All of these we are doing under the shadow, we can’t expose ourselves in the heat of the sun, “we might burn immediately”. We must walk without being noticed by others. It’s quite disturbing but as long as we are doing it with prudence and not doing things that will catch the attentions of others we are far from any danger.
Nevertheless we live here with regularity, we can go to mass, we can go to market, to shopping centers, we can use public transportation, we can attend our classes and meeting our friends and other communities. We can smile, laugh and sleep peacefully; we make our life here as normal as possible. Fear visits us once in a while but thanks God fear only visits and goes.
My missionary journey here is not a perfect one. I have a lot of flaws and limitations, but I am trying to let my flaws and imperfections teach me to become a better individual and missionary. Being a missionary is not about survival, but bringing the person of Christ in the midst of limitations and boundaries.
Our existence in this land is just like in the Gospel of Luke 11:33 that; “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, that those who come in may see the light.”
The light which we are bringing is flickering finding the ways to spread in the midst of obscurity and uncertainties. That perhaps in these ways we are safe through the covering of the basket, that if it will be taken away our light might extinguish and we lose sight. Our light is too small in the midst of darkness. Certainly, the only thing that we could do, for who are reading this, is to pray unceasingly for God’s merciful and constant guidance in letting us exist, letting us announce God’s beauty in this land. Like our Father founder says that “prayer is the only medicine left for the Church”. We have to take always this medicine to keep us courageous and alive.
I hope reading this you may be able to understand and guess who I am, and where I am now. No need to say it or write it. Just keep us in your heart and say a little prayer that our mission here will last until we will be able to confidently take the cover of our lighted lamp so that others “who comes may see the light”.