Connected with God
Time flies! As I write this, it is October again, but I did not notice since the time passed by so quickly. By now, I am already almost one-and-a-half years in my country of origin, the Philippines. Actually, it was not part of the original plan of the Columbans that I would be here. I should be on my mission assignment at the Region of Britain at this point in time.
In October 2016, I applied for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, or what is commonly known as British residency, in the view that I could remain doing my mission in Birmingham, UK. However, the maximum stay in the UK under my visa category is a total of six years. At that point, I must either apply for residency or subject myself to a one year “cooling off” period and leave the UK. But after six months of waiting the application was refused, and I had to return home to the Philippines.
It was May 9, my birthday, when I departed voluntarily and boarded the plane upon the advice of my immigration solicitor. What used to be a day of joy and celebration, became a day of sorrow for me for as I had to leave the mission that I had loved for the past six years yet could not continue.
A Blessing in Disguise
Of course I asked, “God why did you pull me out of my mission?” Then suddenly I remembered that when God takes you out of a place and takes you to another place, He wants you to do something. So I started asking instead, “God what would you like me to do?” I did not realize the answer immediately, but it unfolded to me little by little as I go through the days of my stay here in my country.
Now, as I looked back, my soul rejoices to God. What is written in the Bible is true indeed: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Indeed, it was a blessing in disguise, for God turned my sorrow and desolation into joy and thanksgiving. God opened up wonderful opportunities that opened my eyes, widened my view of things, further deepened my faith, and taught my heart to continue to love and be full of gratitude. As I looked back in my stay here in the Philippines, I am full of wonderful memories that I treasure, and I am very grateful to God for it.
Reconnecting with My Roots
The Bible said “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) I realized that this time that I am here in the Philippines, is the appointed time of God for me to go back and reconnect with my roots. There is a saying in the Philippines, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” In English it means, “Those who do not know how to look back to where they come from could not get to where they are going.” It is simply trying to remind us that wherever we go, we should never forget from where we come from, we should also look back or come back to help and pass on the blessings and support we received during our humble beginnings.
During my stay here in the Philippines, God gave me various opportunities to do this, and to reconnect and establish closer relationships than before with other Columban missionaries, staff, and mission partners working in the Philippines. I also developed a deeper appreciation for their commitment and all the efforts that they are doing in my county. This is also true with my own family, relatives and friends.
Last Christmas was the first time since I entered the Columban Lay Mission in 2009 that my mother, myself, and all my siblings,were all together as a family in the Philippines. My appreciation to my family was also deepened and became stronger. Truly, my stay in the Philippines feels like a series of reunions with those that I love and I knew before, with bonus “hellos” to new missionaries and friends that God brought to me on the journey.
These were just some of those opportunities I have had while I have been back at home: I accompanied the team of two lay missionaries during their Columban Lay Mission (CLM) orientation as their group facilitator, and was also a member of their review panel during their orientation assessments. I also helped promote vocation and mission in the Philippine Region and participated as one of the representatives of CLM Britain in the CLM International meeting. I also had exposure in Mindanao in different ministries in Cagayan de Oro and nearby places. I joined the Columban network on Inter-Religious Dialogue where I attended the Interfaith forum for Peace Meeting and helped conduct activities in the evacuation camps of displaced refugee families from Marawi. I also helped organized the opening of the Columban Centennial Celebration and book launch of Columban Lay Missionaries in Mindanao, and participated in the campaign of the Columbans and partners for the environment by joining the “Walk for Creation,” and more.
An Opportunity to Sit and Learn at the Feet of Jesus
My six month course at the EAPI (East Asian Pastoral Institute) called “Pastoral Leadership and Management for Mission” was one of the big surprises, and a gift from God to me. I was advised to take a short course while in the Philippines but since my stay there was not part of my original plan, there was not much budget for the course. But it was amazing, how God provided for my needs! EAPI granted me an 80% scholarship assistance because they had available funds at that time. Because of this, I was able to attend the course and it was a great opportunity for me to sit and learn at the feet of Jesus.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Our group was multicultural and diverse in composition. There were 46 participants, 23 males and 23 females, from thirteen countries of origin, from fiteen countries of assignment, and from 36 religious groups! Six were Diocesan, with only four lay persons including myself. I was the only lay missionary in our section.
Many of them, including some of our resource speakers, were amazed to meet a lay missionary, for many usually assumed at the beginning that I was a Sister. The course became a great opportunity for me to see the work of God on a global scale, and at the same time how my humble contribution is a part of global solidarity response of the church to the challenges that are going on in the world. I realized that we were making a difference, and no matter how small or slow it might be, it was like a leaven or yeast that was trying to make the dough rise to change things for the better and make the will of God prevail in the world.
The course was full-time, and was designed so that we all live together as a community in the campus. And so whatever we learned in the course was applied to our lives as individuals and as a community. We prayed together, ate together, studied and worked together, and cared for one another like family.
We all took turns with the different tasks that needed to be done so that our community would function to its fullest. We were divided into four teams, and I was grateful for the opportunity to serve as a team leader for the entire six months. Although I was the only lay missionary on our team, and the majority are priests plus two Sisters, they trusted me as their leader and gave their full cooperation on everything that needed to be done as a team, or as a community.
Truly, I felt blessed and learned a lot while leading a team that was full of wisdom, knowledge, and skills, and yet full of humility in spite of their high positions in their respective congregations or religious orders, just like many Columbans that I know.
At EAPI there were so many things I learned and insights I gathered about leadership, management, faith, and life. It is hard to put everything into words! All I know is it transformed me in so many ways, it is hard to measure and to pinpoint all the aspects and how, but it was comprehensive and holistic in scope. Some were insights while some deepened and affirmed what I already knew so I could practice it with conviction that I am doing the right thing.
The following were just some of the things that I learned: I have learned in a deeper sense the state of Ignatian/spiritual indifference which is the willingness to let go of attachments to be able to respond to what God wishes us to do and go at a particular point in time. To continue to love though we might get hurt for love is the queen of all virtues and sin is the failure to bother to love for as written the Bible in the end three things will remain faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love without it we gain nothing.
I also learned a new definition of being holy which is being open to love and be loved by God and other people and to always pray and consult God at the beginning, and every step of the way, and in the end, which is the secret of many Biblical leaders. To be thankful to God for everything—not just for the joyful part but also for the challenges for those helped in molding me into a better person. The importance of accepting our past and forgiving those who hurt us, including ourselves, for healing. Shared leadership principles and community leadership principles where everyone should be part and do their roles like a family equally seated together at the table. Leadership is not just servant leadership, it is actually pastoral leadership just like the example of Jesus who guides, provides, and protects. The process is part of the goal itself, and therefore whatever we do should make the team or the community stronger and our relationship closer with one another and with God.
I also learned that the use of Biblical stories is to inspire people, for the Bible is full of leadership and management principles. I also learned the importance of believing in transformational change, that the Holy Spirit has the power to transform people and situations in God’s time and much more!
God’s Answer to My Question
One day towards the end of our course at EAPI, God made me realize His deeper answer to my question, “God what would you like me to do?” At that time, I was asked by one of my co-participants in the course who is a priest and friend of mine, “Ger, I am going to say the Mass tomorrow, would you like to do the faith sharing?” The title of the Gospel was “The Vine and the Branches. ” (John 15:12-17) In that reading Jesus said, “I am the vine you are the branches. As long as you remain in me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus mentioned the word “remain” six times in the said Gospel, to emphasize the need “to remain with God and its importance.” So, I realized that to remain connected with God is what He would like me to do.
As I stressed in my faith sharing at that time, looking back at my past, I believe that it is what sustained me in my six years of mission in the UK and also during my stay in the Philippines, and in fact during my entire life from childhood to the present. Especially in times of challenges, I remain connected with God in words and in deeds.
While awaiting the result of my new visa application to UK in the hope that I could continue working in my mission assignment, I wondered whether I would get a visa or not. Only God knew the answer to that question, but there was one thing that I was certain of and it was this: even if my mission changed or my role in life changed, I would like to remain connected with God, and I would like to remain connected with Jesus.
Based on my experience, I believe that is what He would like me to do, or keep on doing despite what my role in life might be. He wants me to remain connected with Him, for with God nothing is impossible, but apart from Him I can do nothing.
How about you? Have you decided to remain connected with God?
Update: Good news! Thanks be to God! After all the challenges, Ger finally got her UK visa and is now back in her mission in the UK.
Columban Lay Missionary Gertrudes “Ger” Samsom lives and works in Britain.