It’s been five years since I arrived here in Korea as a Columban lay missionary from the Philippines. After nine months of language study I started my missionary work with an AIDS community. I remember my first day in the community as a mixture of excitement and fear. I felt excited because it was my first time meeting people living with HIV, and I was curious to know how they cope after they learned that they are HIV positive. Fear because at the back of my mind I’m thinking I might get the HIV virus through them since we eat at the same table, use the same toilet, talk to each other and so on. But throughout the years my thinking and feelings changed, not only about them but also about life, about people, about myself and about my God. My experience of being a missionary involved in AIDS ministry helped me to grow as a woman who is called by God to be a part of His mission. And throughout my journey the prayer that helped me a lot and has a new personal meaning to me is the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Our Father, in Heaven, Holy be Your Name…
I grew up in an environment where most people were Catholics. But when I came to Korea most people have a different religion and also most of them have no idea what a lay missionary is. I remember there was a time I chose not to say that I’m a lay missionary not because I have a problem with it, but because I had a hard time trying to explain it. Not only did the Koreans have difficulties understanding the word “lay missionary” but so did most of the Filipino migrants that I met. The first thing that comes to their mind is that either I’m a nun or I’m a migrant worker that uses a missionary title in my visa! At first this kind of thinking made me sad; I felt that lay missionaries have no identity of their own, and it really frustrated me. When I began to ask myself about my frustration, I found deep in my heart I have this tendency to be attached to a title that can put me on a pedestal. This awareness helped me to always remind myself that every time I think of myself as a lay missionary it is through God’s grace and trust that I became an instrument of His love and because of this it is He who is to be glorified. And whenever someone calls me “missionary” it is not me they recognize but the ONE who called me on mission.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…
I remember during my first year in the community, I experienced confusion because I was doing the same chores cleaning, cooking, and attending to the needs of the patients every day. There was a time I asked myself: “what am I doing here? I’m a missionary, not a migrant worker, so why am I cleaning toilets?” Time goes by and nothing changes, I’m still cleaning toilets and doing household chores or doing the laundry. I asked myself again “what am I doing here?” Then I realized that’s where God helps me to grow.
Some of the people living in the community that I accompanied have passed away. But some of them are still alive, living their lives to the best of their abilities. I remember when a HIV positive mother with a newly born baby stayed in the community there was a different dynamic. The presence of the baby gave more life to the community. We were so thankful when the baby’s test result was negative; it meant that he was HIV free.
Then another woman with a baby joined the community, but this time the baby was HIV positive. I was so happy when the baby arrived. I didn’t felt sorry for him when I first heard that he’s HIV positive, because I could only see a beautiful healthy baby.
But then when his mother started to give him medicine everyday he would struggle and cry a lot. It was then that I felt sorry for him, his tiny body was receiving a lot of strong medicine that he has to take for the rest of his life.
I asked God “if you love your children so much why do you let this one have HIV?” God didn’t answer me back. But it reminds that I’m only a human being who is frustrated to know all the things that are hidden away from me; I have no control over things that happen to other people, and I have no idea of what God’s plan for them is either. Even though He hasn’t answered me back, because of all the past experiences I had in life, there is one truth I always keep in my heart: God never abandons His children.
Give us today our daily bread…
Every morning when I open my eyes, the first thought I always have is “I’m not dead!” Then I will say “thank you God I’m still alive” followed by the question “but why?” Then little by little I started to understand that in His grace I always wake up in the morning and receive so many gifts. I am able to witness the life of the patient in the community and see the hope in their eyes. I see the beautiful smile of our beautiful baby. I receive snack foods from the patients that are so willing to share. I receive help from the patients who have energy to participate in the household chores. I am given beautiful compliments from the patients who never get tired of saying positive things about me.
Then I consider the patients and how do they feel when they first wake up; I wonder how they react to knowing that they are alive for another day. I’m happy every time I see them in the community gaining their health and energy. But sometimes I felt sorry for them because they need to always take their HIV medicine. Sometimes because of depression they just stay in their room sleeping or they hardly talk. I said to myself “they have a hard life but they still choose not to give up on life.” And every time I witness this it nurtures me and gives me new strength to face the new day that awaits me. Sometimes, seeing them in their lowest point made me feel so helpless because there is nothing I can do to ease their suffering. And it reminds me that all of us have hunger in our soul that cannot be satisfied. Yes, the community can provide them with a place to stay, food to ease their physical hunger, friendship that can make them feel welcome, but it is still not enough to ease the pain of their suffering. This helped me to acknowledge the importance of letting other people experience their own pain. It helps them discover in their own heart a hope that is continuously flowing from the strength of their own soul. This is the most important grace any person can receive.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, do not bring us to the test but deliver us from evil…
A continual struggle for me was accepting gifts from the patients in the community. Not because I’m not comfortable with receiving, but because I’m thinking about the other patients who have no means to buy things. And also at the back of my mind I wonder if the patient expects something in return. When they really insist, I received their small offerings but there was always some hesitation on my part. However sometimes I said “no” and it resulted in misunderstandings. If they kept insisting I felt hurt and angry because I felt that they had crossed a line. But every time I felt like this I didn’t say anything. I just asked another person to be a mediator so that the patient will know what I felt, because I can’t say to their face that I’m angry. So I learned not only to forgive them for hurting my feelings but also forgive myself for not being brave enough to tell them personally. And I’m continually learning from it. I think forgiveness means having my principles and beliefs about life but also being willing to learn from others.