Written by Bae Sihyeon
My name is MaHong (an aboriginal name). I live with the indigenous people and have been engaged in missionary work in Taiwan for 5 years. When I say I’m living with the indigenous people, my friends and acquaintances are amazed, imagining me living with Bushman like in a tribe somewhere in Africa. So I always tell them, ‘they are not at all like what you are imagining. In my village, they even have internet.’
Currently, there are about 16 indigenous tribes in Taiwan, and the tribe in my area are the Atayal people (Taiya泰雅族). I live with them in the mountains where farming of fruits such as persimmons and tangerines, growing various seasonal vegetables, especially bamboo shoots, which are dug in March and April, are their source of income. The persimmons are bigger and sweeter than the persimmons in Korea, so it became my favorite fruit even though I don’t like fruits much.
Are you a foreigner?
A 5-year-old girl once asked me, ‘Are you a foreigner?’ to which I answered, “Yes, I am”. “Can you speak English?” she asked, and I said, “Yes, I can speak a little bit.” She preceded by asking me to speak English. So I made a brief introduction in English. Then the child tilted her head and asked again, “Are you really a foreigner?” Perhaps the foreigner that the child thought of was a person who has white skin and can speak good English.
She and her friends would come to the church, join the mass and play with me and when I pronounce a wrong tone or say the wrong word, they kindly correct me. The children are my little teachers and I am enjoying learning from them. In my entire missionary life, I’ve always been interested to be with children, teenagers and young mothers because of my long Sunday school experience in Korea.
Don’t be late.
There is a shy young girl (Xiao En) and after many years of spending time and talking with her we are now close friends. I learned that she hadn’t received her first Communion despite having a grandmother who is a loyal church goer. I gently encouraged her to have her first communion, but she told me, “I’m happy and satisfied with just attending Mass without the communion.” I was speechless for a moment, so I explained that receiving Holy Communion is the most important thing in Mass where we fully unite with God. Eventually she decided to take catechism class and I had to accompany her because she was so shy to go by herself.
For them, the idea of time is different from mine. When I say 8 o’clock, I often have to wait for more than 10 to 20 minutes and sometimes even more. Perhaps they leave home at 8 o’clock. But no one says anything. It was a challenge for me, but it was one in their culture that I have learned to accept .
I’ve I’ve asked the young girl several times not to be late for her catechism class because I wanted to let her know the importance of being on time. For a few months, the catechism class at 8 a.m. every Sunday was not easy for her, but she did a good job and received her first Communion last Christmas. It was a most joyful experience and a grateful moment that let me feel that it was not only as a result of my own efforts but that was God with us.
Lokah! (‘Cheer up’)
One day, I heard that a parishioner was sick and had a hard time at home, telling people, “I don’t want to live anymore.” I went to visit her together with our parish priest, local catechist and parish secretary. We prayed together and the catechist and secretary talked with her comfortably in their indigenous language. Before leaving, I wanted to express my feelings, so I hugged her, saying, “Lokah!”. Then she burst into tears. It must have been very hard for her… it broke my heart that she had to suffer. I was grateful that there was something I could do for her. It was just a short moment of hugging but I’m sure that the Holy Spirit was with us at that moment and this experience gave great strength to her as well as to me to continue being a missionary.
One of the most important things in the indigenous people’s ministry is family prayer in the home. Every household takes turns hosting the family prayer during weekdays where parishioners in the village attend. During house prayers, although they have problems or pain in their lives, they always start the prayer by thanking God and then sharing their personal struggles. When a neighbor or one of the people in the village is sick, they include that person in their prayer and are deeply concerned for the person. Through those parishioners, I feel the living God and learn to share His love.
When we leave, we always say ‘God bless (天主保佑)’ and pray to each other for God’s blessings.
I pray that God’s grace will always fill your lives.