Life is always a journey of knowing ourselves which hopefully leads to knowing God. Along the way, we can encounter difficulties, trials, challenges but on top of that, there is also joy and fulfilment. The important things to remember in journeying toward missionary life are open-mindedness, keeping the interest alive and acceptance.
As of this writing, I have been in Pakistan for my First Missionary Assignment for eleven months now. I can say that like other people who are undergoing a transition, my journey is not that easy. At the beginning, I had difficulties in dealing with the food, the language and the culture. I felt like a plant uprooted from my comfort zone and transferred to someplace unknown. The adjustment period for me is difficult, but it is also a moment of grace because I know that God is with me in this journey. Those difficult moments were grace-filled because they made my vocation deeper and gave me the drive to pursue my missionary journey here in Pakistan.
One of the realizations that made me continue my journey here was an insight that I heard. In 2017, I was deeply struck by a powerful speech from Fr. Louis Mascheranas, an OFM priest who is celebrating his 60 years as an ordained minister. In my recollection, he said, “maybe some of you would ask me: how do you achieve those years of giving service to the friars and to the Catholic Church?” He answered it with two things: “Always keep an interest to your vocation and embody the religious life—both the joy and hardships—that this life offers.” Reflecting on what Fr. Louis said, I realized that these two things are necessary in my missionary journey and vocation. It dawned on me that if I keep on being interested in my prayer life, in learning about Pakistan, and being of service to the Church and community, this will guide me in deepening my faith and knowing myself all the more.
If I wake up in the morning and ask myself what are the things that God has in store for me today, those answers would give me the drive to go on. Losing that interest would also mean losing the sense of why I am here. For me, it is good to keep on being interested in knowing God, the people and all of God’s creation. Furthermore, it is also good to look for the things that can sustain that interest because vocation is also looking for the call within and being interested would help me know why God is calling me to this kind of life.
The second part is quite a challenging one, because acceptance is involved. Living in a community where there are differences can create tensions and arguments. However, in order to transcend from that situation, the embodiment of this kind of life is important. For me, the moment I accepted that doing missionary works would help me to understand my situation I was able to let go of my resistance. This embodiment entails compassion and humility.
Without those two important things (keeping interest and practicing acceptance), it is hard to stay and live in one community. Fr. Louis said that “community life is not perfect. There are always conflicts, challenges and misunderstanding but it doesn’t end in that way. There is also joy in the mission field.”
I believe that dynamic interests me all the more, and that life is balanced. For me, it is good to stay grounded to the fact that community life is not like heaven where everything is good and perfect. Nevertheless, the joy in the missionary life is always present. By accepting that life is imperfect, I am now more receptive to God’s grace and more open to see the goodness of other people.
Open-mindedness is also important in journeying especially the missionary field. By keeping an open mind, I am able to gradually adapt to the culture and learn from their way of life. For instance, in the beginning I found it noisy to have the Muslim prayers every day, but when I looked at it with an open mind, I realized that I could integrate it into my prayer life, too. When the Muslims started their “Azan,” it was also a reminder for me to pray. Open-mindedness resulted in transforming what might be a negative view or thought into a positive one.
Through these realizations, I am able to shift the focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. By focusing my interest on others, I can now see vividly that my mission here is to serve the children of God and enable me to minister to the the poor, the illiterate and the sick that comprise the broken body of Christ.
This challenges me to respond through my God-given gifts. I am now able to channel my energy to our missionary works here and also to remain in touch with my own feelings. This experience made me learn that practicing acceptance and developing interests are necessary ingredients in the missionary life. Having those feelings in my heart gives me fuel to continue to work in the vineyard of the Lord. I am now more courageous and excited as I move forward in my Columban missionary life here in Pakistan.
As I move forward in my assignment among the Parkari Kholi tribal people in Khipro parish in Hyderabad Diocese, I will bear in my mind that great lesson, and I will also openly and wholeheartedly accept the mission assignments given to me because behind those tasks are grace-filled moments as well.
Columban seminarian Elbert Balbastro is doing his First Mission Assignment in Pakistan.