Working with our lay partners, the Columban Lay Missionaries can be both enlightening and a joy. I find their observations and experiences quite insightful, especially when they write and tell me about their mission work. Your support of the Columban Lay Mission program makes it possible for dedicated and inspired lay people to be part of God’s mission to the poor and marginalized in our world. I want to share one of those stories with you here.
Columban lay missionary Sheryl Capili wrote to me recently and expressed something that I have found to be true of nearly every situation when we dare to walk in another’s shoes. Sheryl stated simply that “presence matters”. Since our founding nearly 100 years ago, Columban missionaries have endeavored to live fully with, and in the same manner as, the people we serve. Sharing both their joys and sorrows as well as their triumphs and their disappointments. It is not an easy task, especially when you are immersed in a culture other than your own.
The first day was a big shock for Sheryl when she discovered she was to handle the class alone – without any formal lessons or materials. She was nervous and uncertain because of language fears. She felt somewhat embarrassed and even frustrated at first – that is until she saw the cute, angelic faces of her students. Sheryl realized there were so many things that she wanted to share with them. It was at that moment that one little girl asked in Mandarin, “Does Jesus also like bad people?” At first, Sheryl was surprised at the question but tried her best to answer. What perfect timing for the first lesson on Jesus love for all sinners! The little girl seemed satisfied with the answer, too.
Weeks passed, and Sheryl adjusted to her new experience. She is more confident in conducting the class and is learning right alongside the children. Sheryl recognizes how the Holy Spirit is at work in her to get the message across – even if it’s in Mandarin! And at the same time the Holy Spirit is at work in her students as they exhibit patience and understanding with her.
Sheryl concluded that most of the time, words are not as important as being present to others as a living, breathing sign of faith, compassion and love. As missionaries, our presence among the poor, the forgotten, the immigrant and the sick, is made possible by people like you, our partners in mission. On behalf of all our Columban priests and lay missionaries like Sheryl Capili, thank you for allowing us to live our lives alongside those we serve, to be present to those whom others do not see.
Sheryl recently returned to Taiwan as a second term lay missionary. She was very excited to resume her work in the migrant ministry where she had dedicated the previous 3 years of her missionary life. She had a new assignment, however, which was to help conduct the Chinese catechism class among the children of the Filipino immigrants living in Taiwan. For Sheryl, it was a great opportunity to practice Mandarin. Teaching catechism in Chinese requires some experience and of course, knowledge of the language. This is especially true when one must use the Church’s terminologies in a way that children will understand. Sheryl hoped that her young students would not be too critical of her language skills, but also gain something from the lessons she taught.