The sunshine of the missionary

by Guest Contributor

Elbert Balbastro is a Columban seminarian currently living in Pakistan. He explains how important our mission partners and benefactors are in helping the Society proclaim the good news to the marginalized and the poor.

Our mission partners and benefactors are very essential in the day-to-day life of the missionaries. They play a significant role in helping the Society proclaim the good news to the marginalized and the poor in the form of prayer, financial support or words of encouragement.

Most Columban mission partners live ordinary lives. They are simple people living on a meager income while trying to raise their children and support the family. I was amazed and inspired that despite their simple lifestyles, they still continue to support the Society of St. Columban with joy in their hearts.

One experience in Pakistan reminds me of the generosity of our mission partners. I was assigned to a village for my pastoral exposure in order to know more about our parishioners and experience their daily living. In one of the villages that I was assigned to, I lived in a small mud house. Usually, I would stay in that village for a week; and the villagers would arrange for my meals. In that village, the Parkari Kholi tribe don’t eat breakfast. They usually eat at 11:00 am for breakfast and lunch, then dinner at 6:00 pm. Every day a family was assigned for my brunch and dinner. I remember one Monday when I ate brunch and dinner with one of the families in that village, and we shared stories and experiences.

Elbert working with children

As I listened to them, I was amazed by their resilience, because despite the hardships in life they continue to live happily. The following Tuesday evening, I was with another family. On my way back at around 8:00 pm, I met the son of the family who hosted me the day before. After greeting each other, I asked him, “Have you already eaten your dinner? He replied, “No Brother Ji.” To which I asked, “Why?” He responded “We have no more flour, and my father will borrow from the landlord tomorrow.” Upon hearing that I felt so sad. Here I was with a full stomach and this young boy was suffering from hunger. I did a little bit of probing, and I discovered that the family who hosted me yesterday budgeted the flour for their family for a week. Since I was their guest they prepared a good chapati (unleavened flat bread) for me using all the flour they had budgeted for the week. It is a heartbreaking reality that this family would sacrifice their welfare and go hungry just for the sake of accommodating me.

Reflecting on what had happened, I realize that our mission partners and benefactors are doing the same. They are willing to sacrifice something–like eating in a fancy restaurant or going to the zoo–just so they can allot a portion of their money to support Columban mission. Their generosity is commendable because they are willing to let go of things they like in order to help. For me, they are the “saints next door” as Pope Francis has mentioned. They know for a fact that they will not get something tangible in return but still they continue to give. One of the benefactors at one of our mission partner gatherings said to me, “I believe that you are doing God’s work so I will continue to help; and this is my response to God’s graciousness to me.” Those realizations made me appreciate our mission partners and benefactors, and to be grateful to them for all their sacrifices, support and love. They are the sunshine of my life which inspires me to continue this vocation.

Amidst all the difficulties and challenges I know they are at my back tapping me, saying, “You can do it, brother, we are here to support you.” Their graciousness and concern for the mission is tremendous and with that, I continue to remember them in my prayers, thanking God for these good people who energize me mentally, spiritually and physically. “It’s tough in the mission,” is what Columban Fr. Tomas King said, but that toughness is bearable and manageable because of the support, care, love and empowerment that our mission partners and benefactors provide.

family faces looking into the camera in front of a pakistani home
Elbert and Pakistani family

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