Welcome back to lay missionaries
4th November 2013 - by Nathalie Marytsch
Three Filipina Columban lay missionaries – Ger, Jayjay and Rose – returned to Britain on 2 October to begin their second term as lay missionaries. Here, they share what led to their decision to return to the multi-faith communities of Sparkhill in Birmingham.
It’s been really great to be in Britain and I feel blessed and privileged to be able to insert into a multicultural place. We were assigned in Birmingham, which is such a place. When I arrived in Britain, I was asked to live with a Chilean. It was great to live with another culture and living with another culture is mission in itself for me because being a Columban is crossing boundaries, gender, creed and culture. However, when I was asked to live with a Chilean and she was 10 years already in Britain and I was new, at first I was hesitant and I asked myself if this would be too big challenge. But I appreciated living with another colleague. It was great. Living with a Chilean gave me the opportunity to learn another culture, another language, another “everything”. This is what I appreciate in being a missionary.
I joined the Columban Lay Missionary programme because somehow it grasped my charism as a Christian. I was involved In the Philippines in Catholic activities, so leaving my country I was guilty about leaving the catechetical center where I used to work as a religion teacher. But I realised that the work of the Church is not only in the Philippines. The work of the Church is vast. So the idea of this exchange of missionaries is really great. People are going and coming, learning another culture.
The key reason that made me want to return to Britain is that I have the opportunity to celebrate with people of other faiths and culture. In the Philippines, I do not have the avenue to do that. We are 80% Catholics and I was always surrounded by Catholic people. I missed that faith and cultural mix when I was back home. But in BritainI am always with people of other faith and culture and it is interesting to be with them. I think this is the challenge. The Church is not only a group of Catholics. So it is really great. So now that I am going back to Britain, I am happy and I am proud I am a Columban and I thank the Columbans for having me. I am learning, I am growing here and I am happy.
When I reflected on this, it seems like God reminded me that those things that I used as excuses not to come back are the same excuses I used when I was about to enter the Columban lay mission programme. I was really thinking, “Lord should I really enter or not? I also have my own plans you know.” But then God made me realise that His mission is more important. I don’t know if you want to know my excuses but maybe I’ll mention some of it.
One, I said “I want to do further studies. I want to do my PhD.” God replied, “Everything will pass away but my words will not.” So I realised that of course studying is important, but studying the word of God and sharing with others is important too.
And then next, “God, I think I am already old now. I am already 40.” Ten years ago, I wanted to enter the Columban Lay Missionary programme, but I delayed. Then the call returned and then it seemed like it was telling me to do something new, something that I had never done before. More recently, I said, “Lord I think I am already old now. I am ten years older than before.” But then God led me to the story of Abraham. Abraham was 75 when God called him. Okay I am younger than Abraham. I am just 40. So okay.
And then I said, “O God I still want to have my own family and have my own children. It would be too late if I postpone it.” And He led me to the story of Sarah. Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac.
And I am starting to get scared. “Lord is it really you speaking?” Maybe I am just imagining things or is it just coincidence. And then He led me again to the story of the disciples wherein they were so scared because they saw Him and they thought He was a ghost. Do not fear. It is I. Okay. You are really calling me.
When we had our re-entry back to the Philippines, these same things came back to me, same excuses. God made me realise that He had already answered those things. And this is the same thing that I hold on to as I decide to renew. Of course there are many concerns like my mom is already old. But then my younger brother volunteered to live with her so she will no longer be alone in the house. So all my excuses? God took care of it. Even the further studies I would like to do. There are several people calling me, “Can we have a copy of your powerpoint presentation of your thesis. I would like to include to my presentation for my further studies.” It seem like God is telling me that He had assigned some people to take care of that and I should not worry about those things until I came out with nothing anymore to say as an excuse. So I said I would finalise my decision one particular Sunday. I would try to find out what was the gospel and the message of God to me. And the message was Jesus sending out His disciples two by two. And so I said “So it is really you speaking and telling me to go back.” And as I recall His reply, I also recall His faithfulness, this is why we were also able to return on mission to Britain.
I am holding on to that faithfulness of God, his reply to me and also to His continuous assistance and support and guidance as we go to mission. I know it is the same God, the same faithful God, who will be with us in the next three years.
My initial response was “Actually I do not want to go back.” But then God is so faithful that I heard God speak in my heart “Jayjay, are you sure you do not really want to go back.” And it made me reflect again and it brought me to the many wonderful and enriching experiences I had here in Britain, with the people I had met, the many friendships and relationships that helped me deepen my relationship with the Lord. So I guess that’s what pushed me through to go back and ride the plane again.
But I am really thankful to God for all his blessings because at first when I left the Philippines my traditional thinking of being a missionary was go to Britain and teach about God. But when I reached Britain, God was already there before me. And I learned so many things even in the face of my Muslim brothers and sisters. I remember one instance when a Muslim woman said “Jayjay, you know what? The bible is the best book that you can read.” And I was struck with that coming from a Muslim woman.
There were many memorable experiences in Britain during my last three–year term – especially the hardships of people especially coming from different countries, especially those asylum seekers who were seeking a good life but when they reached Britain they felt so lonely because they had left their families back home and it was not easy for them to go back to where they came from. And so it touched me because it was an invitation for me to be a family, to be a sister, to them.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Columban family for their prayers and support. I am inspired to see former lay missionaries who are here, and Columban sisters, my friends. It gives me the strength, the courage that this is really God’s mission and you’re all there through your prayers and support. I would like also to thank my family back home – my parents, my brother and sister. I know they are also part of this mission for sending me and the parish people. Thank you and please continue praying for us.