Monday, March 9, 2009

Missionary Life 101

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Over dinner, a good old friend asked me, "Em, do you want to be a missionary for one week?". I looked at her. "What exactly do you mean by that??"

It turns out, she really meant it in the truest sense of the word. On she goes recounting the story of last Holy Week when she and a bunch of other young women went off to an island to preach the Word of God while really living with the locals. No aircon, no cellphone signal, no showers! (I can already hear a lot of you going yikes!)

Yes, it's a scary challenge, especially if you've been a city kid all your life. But according to my friend, it's a lif- changing experience for those who dare to take it. I was actually thinking about it, but my parents said we're having a family thing over Holy Week so I'll have to skip this year. I wouldn't be honest if I say I didn't feel a sense of relief! But part of me is itching to jump on that boat with them and see what life is like over there, and what kind of a difference my presence can make on that island even if it's just for a week.

After all, only a couple of years ago an invitation was extended to me to do an immersion with Gawad Kalinga. It was with mixed emotions that I decided to sign up for the one week live-in program. Yes, we slept on straw mats on the floor, climbed scaffoldings, painted walls and wooden fixtures, handled tools we couldn't even name... But when we came home, it wasn't those things that left deep imprints on our minds. It was the friendly faces of the neighbors, the warm welcome from the community, the genuine delight that the kids showed in the fact that they had new "ates" and "kuyas" to play with, the heart-to-heart talks with the mothers in the community about how their lives and their pride were radically uplifted by their experience with GK.. those were the things that we still remember so vividly.

So yeah, I'll keep thinking about it. I've got til next Holy Week to make up my mind (or rather, I think my mind's been made up, it's just a matter of mustering up the courage to say yes and sign up!)

But for those of you who think this is something exciting you're ready to do right now, I'm extending the invitation to you!

What: Holy Week Missions When: April 6 - 12, 2009
Where: For Boys - Tingloy Island, Batangas. For Girls - Pilillia, Rizal.
Who: For young people who are interested in trying out what it's like to be a missionary.

How do I sign up / get more information?
Call: Andres at 0915-6273892 for the boys' mission. Isabel at 0929-3246416 for the girls' mission.
Visit for more information.

Let me end this post with a testimonial from one of the girls who joined it last year..

It all started with a Plan.

My Plan was simple. It involved me, a tired and relieved college freshman, spending the three weeks of my Semestral Break as (for lack of a better term) a human vegetable: sleeping at midnight, waking up at noon, and lounging around the house for the rest of the day.

My Plan was also very tempting. After a whole semester of chasing after deadlines and losing hours of sleep, I wanted nothing more than to lie down on the nearest bed and stay there for a few weeks. If there was something that I badly needed back then, it was a long and restful vacation to recharge myself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Everything was all set: the break, the bed, and the soon-to-be-human-vegetable (yours truly). All it needed was a Go Signal from God.

But as it turned out, He had a different Plan for me.

At first glance, His Plan was not very appealing. Plucking me from my wonderful comfort zone of a home, He plopped me (and thirteen other young women) down into the middle of nowhere... namely, a remote and sleepy town called Agoncillo in the
Batangas Province. There, my fellow missionaries and I were to spread His Word to the residents, and in the process, immerse ourselves in an environment that was a far cry from the securities of Manila. Tap water was unheard of in that town, so we had to bathe ourselves using a small bucket and several large tubs of water. In the afternoons, when we were done with the day's quota of missionary work (catechizing the kids, visiting the households, and helping with the community Mass), we would drag our sweaty and grimy selves back to our lodgings at the Mayor's house. And at night, we were always on guard for the sudden appearance of a strange bug or two in our bedrooms.

His Plan was not simple either. During our door-to-door visits, not all of the residents were open to what we had to share. One man even drove us out of his house, saying "I don't need to hear any of that!" Handling the kids was easier, but it was still quite a task because of our limited supplies and the sheer number of children in the community (we were effectively outnumbered, 14 missionaries to 50 kids). We had to disinfect scraped knees, carry around lost toddlers, and coax the more bashful children to join the games.

His Plan took away from me five days of my much-awaited vacation. His Plan took me away from my home. His Plan took me away from everything that I considered restful and comforting.

... But then again. It was His Plan that led me to Agoncillo, the place where I discovered the joy of genuinely sharing yourself with other people. It was His Plan that showed me the beauty of children's smiles. It was His Plan that made me realize that "rest" does not necessarily equate to "idleness," but to "service." With every child that I carried, I felt my weary heart grow lighter and lighter. With each house that we visited, I found myself feeling more and more revitalized. It was as though my joy was being magnified through them in a most awesome way.

In the end, my Plan to become a human vegetable was effectively ground to dust by His Plan. Going along with His Plan did not only give me my much-wanted rest, it also gave the opportunity to lighten the burdens of other people and share with their joys. Joining the Semestral Break Missions was a life-changing experience, one that continues to affect me even after two months since we departed from Agoncillo.

... And, as a sidenote, I'm pretty sure that I would have made a horrible zucchini. More the reason to be grateful for His Plan.

Glory be to God.

Mari Kaira Ong Leal

Manila, Philippines


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Em. hope you could join us next year! It's true that we used to take showers via the local poso in our big shirts (and at night so the locals wont see us)and it was quite an experience :D this year though, there'll be showers in Rizal so it wont be that extreme.