Choose Life

It’s not a sin to have big dreams for yourself and your loved ones while still living here on earth. Since dreaming is free, then why not dream big? When I was younger I dreamt of having my own house, my own car, and an orchard for my children. Thanks be to God I was able to get a “secure job” when I left college and my dreams were about to become reality. Alas! It was not to be. I ended up quitting my job to say “Yes” to the maker of all our dreams. He has the best dream of all for me and for the time being, I am willing to let go of my own personal dreams.

6 years ago I was sent to South Korea as a Columban Lay Missionary. Until now, I am still happily and meaningfully doing my mission in Bongilcheon Parish and in the Paju EXODUS Migrant Center as a second term LM.

During my first 3 years, there were lots of struggles, both within me and with others. Perhaps brought on by my difficulty with the Korean language, culture shock, individual differences and family upbringing. I felt extremely dumb and silly for not being able to learn their language quickly. Nevertheless, Koreans are a beautiful people when you get to know them well and when they see your sincerity, they will give you their respect, warmth, support and generosity. That was how I experienced their love.

I came back on my second term with more vigor and optimism. I was more confident that I would conquer all my fears, insecurities, and struggles with the language. By God’s grace and in unique and unexpected ways I believe I have outgrown my negativity and immaturity.

Being assigned to a new Korean parish inevitably left me feeling apprehensive. However, thanks to my new parish priest, Fr. Joseph Jang and the parishioners, who were very supportive, I gained more self-confidence and grew spiritually. Once a week I would read the readings in Korean during the mass. I felt awkward doing so yet grateful when they congratulated me afterwards. If you were to ask me, what in particular was my main mission in the parish, my answer would be ‘My presence’. Just being there with them in whatever way I could and support them whenever they needed me.

During my first meeting with our parish priest, he said to me, “Your mission is to support this parish.” Listening to his words, I imagined he expected big things while being anxious of my Korean language. Eventually, I came to realize that in mission I am not being asked to do impossible things. Doing mission is by just being there with my true self. I honestly haven’t done anything great or exceptional. I gave them my imperfect being and they accepted me. My proud self at times thought that when you do mission, you need to accomplish more and talk lots but NO, that is not the case. It is more about ‘Doing’ what you are supposed to be Talking about. So as I carried out my work with them I would hum and sing softly, sharing with them my sincere smile and gentle touch. This didn’t go unnoticed and they would remark “I will miss you sonkyusanim (missionary) when you leave. I love you.” I felt grateful but more importantly I hope and pray that they see God in me.

On weekends I would spend my time in Paju EXODUS Migrant Center where I helped the Filipino community for their mass preparations and facilitated some formations. As a fellow Filipino, it was not hard to adjust. In our relationship, language is not the barrier but rather individual differences. If I see myself superior or inferior to them then it won’t be a beneficial relationship and I would lose the essence of being a missionary. I felt humbled, grateful for their trust and friendship. They taught me not to become judgmental but rather be more open-minded and gentle when listening to their life stories, stories of their agonies and joys, successes and failures, as Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) and wives living in this foreign land.

Both the Korean and Migrant communities are very precious to me. They have made me feel so comfortable and at home, loved and accepted.

During a retreat in May last year, while meditating, I felt God asking me “ Luda, how would you feel if one day you will leave those whom you love in mission? ” In the silence of my heart, I pushed the thought aside and refused to listen. I did not take it seriously instead concluded my reflection.

Time has passed and I am about to finish my second term. In the silence of my heart God said “Luda, I need you to prepare yourself to let go.” I responded a little bit angry, “Couldn’t I just stay where I am Lord? I am happy, comfortable, and stable here. I am getting older. Maybe, it is time to make my other dreams come to reality.” Somehow, my faith wavered.

After all, who wouldn’t think of their future stability? Who wouldn’t think of living comfortably as you get older? Then God spoke within my heart, “Are you doubting me and my generosity?” I couldn’t answer Him. God knows me already. Our God whom I feel has great confidence in me gently saying “You are mine. I am with you always. Mission is not just about comfort and stability. It is all about my people who are most in need of my love. I have never failed you, have I? Believe in me.” And it’s true.
Looking back, God has never failed me. I may not be rich but He has been my great provider all my life.

Believing that this is His will for me, I chose to let go and obey. Although uncertain of my future, I feel more at peace saying “Yes” again. Soon, I will be back in my home Diocese of Malaybalay in the Philippines where I will serve our very own indigenous peoples with God’s love.

To my dear Columban family and to all the communities I have journeyed with, I thank God for putting you on my path on this beautiful mission. I will always bring you in my heart as I embark upon my next journey. Unworthy as I am, you have made me feel and own this identity, that truly “I am God’s lay missionary.” I have loved you all but God has loved me first. I just have to continue choosing life (GOD) first and prosperity will follow.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” –

1Peter 4:10