In my eleven years of ministering to the Atayal people of Miaoli County in Taiwan, I've listened to numerous stories about how God makes His presence felt in the lives of others. One story that touched me and left a deep impression in me is that of Yada Umon. Hers is a story that has really inspired me and others in the parish to live our faith and become more active members of the Church.
When I first met Yada Umon, I learned that she was a baptized Catholic but for some reason did not go to Mass, house prayers or other church activities. Although her daughter and grandchildren were regular churchgoers, she never went with them. Her reason was that she was busy with her fruit and vegetable farm. On weekends she also went to the village market to sell her produce, so she did not have time to come to church. When I started working in the parish in 2006, I never saw her join any of the church activities except for the Christmas Mass and party. I do not remember having conversations with her whenever I went to the village market nor seeing her in her daughter's house for house prayers.
In 2012, the parish organized a pilgrimage to the Philippines. Since she never went to church, she did not learn about this until registration was already closed. She wanted to join, but at that time we had already reached the maximum number of participants. However, one parishioner decided not to go due to health problems so Columban Father Andrei Paz, who organized the pilgrimage, told her that she would be able to take the other parishioner's spot as a participant in the pilgrimage.
I was in the Philippines at that time for my home holiday, and I was surprised to see her when I met the group at the airport. During the pilgrimage, we took them around the churches in the northern part of the Philippines. They were all in awe of the big churches, the miracle stories of Mary, the patron of the most churches we visited, and the number of Filipino parishioners who attended the Masses. Yada Umon was very grateful with the experience. She was smiling all the time and kept telling us about how happy and honored she was for being a part of the pilgrimage.
After the pilgrimage, Yada Umon began coming to the church regularly and also invited parishioners for house prayer in her own home. On weekends, she still goes to the village market but this time, she goes only after attending the Mass. She said that even though she would be in the market village at a much later time than the other farmers, all her produce would still be sold out. She said that after her experience in the Philippines, and after becoming active in the church, she has become happier and more content with her life. She also encouraged her relatives and other parishioners, who like her stopped coming to church, to attend the Mass and house prayers. Some of these parishioners came to me and told me that Yada Umon visited them and shared about her experience during the pilgrimage that they too were encouraged to come to church. Her story inspired them to seek God.
Yada Umon's life reminds me of the story of the Samaritan woman. After talking with Jesus in the well and drinking the living water, she was transformed. Just like the Samaritan woman Yada Umon has also encountered the living water in her experience of the pilgrimage. She drank the water that Jesus offers, a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, and she too was transformed. Yada Umon was filled with the fullness of God's presence in her life that she happily shares this wonderful encounter with others. Now, Yada Umon is one of our active parishioners. She is also very generous with her fruit and vegetables with others. She sometimes gives me a box of fruits and vegetables to share with the migrant workers who are staying in the shelters.
Her conversion story has not only inspired a lot of people in the parish but also encouraged me to continue to be transformed by my everyday encounter with God through His people.
Vida Hequilan is a Columban lay missionary living and working in Taiwan.