Good morning! These are two words that made a big difference in my missionary journey in Taiwan. On the first day of my Mandarin class, I went out early that morning to my teacher's house. I walked slowly while praying the rosary. There were a lot of people I met on the streets. I smiled and bowed my head to greet them even if I didn't know how to say good morning in the local language. Some people responded back the same way and some did not. When I learned the Mandarin word for "good morning," I greeted people saying "zao an."
One day a woman I frequently met on the street approached me and made friends with me. I didn't understand what she was saying at that time because I didn't know the language, and she spoke and understood very little English. However I recorded what she said on my phone with the intent of asking my teacher what it meant. To my surprise I learned that the woman gave me her contact number which I then added to my contact list.
From there our journey in friendship began. Her name is Rainbow. She is 53 years old, married and a mom of three children. She is a Buddhist. She works as a baby care worker. She loves to cook too. At our first meeting she invited me to go to her house and visit her family, but I declined because I still didn't know her well and the place at that time. Every Friday afternoon we meet at the park to get to know each other and have a conversation to practice the language. As our friendship grew I felt comfortable with her, and I enjoyed her company. During my visits to her home, I felt welcomed. I felt happy to have met and known her family and them getting to know me as well. She also introduced me to her friends, so I gained more friends.
We spent time together sometimes for dinner and at times recreation like watching a movie or doing some exercises. She brought me to different places in Hsinchu, and one Sunday I brought her to a Mass because she was interested to attend. She showed me her motherly love and care and comforted me many times. She knows when I am happy and sad. I shared with her my ups and downs in life through my limited language. In the same way she would share about her life, and in my limited language I was able to listen and understand her sharing.
After the full time language course I moved to Zhongli due to my involvement with migrant ministry. However, due to the need to attend part-time Mandarin classes I traveled to Hsinchu regularly. With this I usually had the chance to visit my friend Rainbow and her family in their home. Taking the train back to Zhongli, Rainbow would usually accompany me to the train station. Mama Rainbow as I call her, will always tell me, "take care, my girl and come home again."
My experience with my Mama Rainbow opened up my being. I learned to reach out and befriend others without fear like those who I meet on the streets, anywhere and everywhere. Friends are the golden treasures God has given me. They listen, strengthen, love, care and comfort me. They continue to inspire me every day.
In John's Gospel, Jesus called His disciples friends. Moreover it also reminded me that the road to new friendship is to give a smile and be kind to everyone especially strangers. As Jesus said in Mt. 25:35 "I am a stranger and you welcomed me." Being a stranger in a foreign land, I feel blessed, thankful and fulfilled with my mission journey here in Taiwan with the gifts of many friends who warmly welcomed me into their hearts and homes.
Columban lay missionary Febie Gonzales lives and works in Taiwan.