Doing God's Mission Has No Age

As a staff member of the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM), I have heard many of these stories, some of difficulty and danger, some heartbreaking, and others of disappointment. However, these stories are outweighed by stories of hope, inspiration, joy, gratitude and love.

 Doing God's Mission Has No Age 

 by Mavic Mercene

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 Mavic Mercene, office staff of Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM)-Philippines for 27 years now.

More than twenty-seven years ago, I arrived at the Columban Lay Mission House in Quezon City, anxious but hopeful that I would be able to complete the work assigned to me in two months. I arrived in time for the welcome mass of the second group of lay missionaries (LM) who just arrived from Korea. Less than a month later, the second team of Filipinos (RP2) also arrived for their orientation.

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Mavic (wearing a bracelet) with staff and lay missionaries from Korea, China, Taiwan and Ireland

The average age of both teams was around my own age. I thought, “I could have been one of them.” Although I never doubted my faith, I was also never particularly religious and never knew the Columbans and their work until I met Fr. Mickey Martin in 1990. I definitely never dreamt of becoming a missionary because I was aware that their way of living is a difficult one. One of the many images I had of missionaries were of the CICM priests from Belgium who worked in many St. Louis schools in Baguio and Benguet. The convent where they lived was furnished, but I was astonished by their very simple, spartan, way of life. I knew two of them while I was in high school. They came to the Philippines when they were young and saw their family perhaps once or twice only for over a span of 10 years. They missed family gatherings especially those happy moments like weddings and baptisms because travel then was long, arduous and costly.

One of the exposures for the newly arrived LMs that I joined was in Dakota of Malate Parish, where the population was approximately 2 persons per square meter. The walkway was very narrow but it was where many women did their laundry. I could hear loud music playing from all directions but everyone seemed not to care about the noise at all. We were introduced to a few people who were active in the parish and they welcomed us into their homes, sharing what little they had. But no hut could have shocked me more than the last one we entered. There was no door, only a light, see-through curtain. The shack was 1.25 x 2 meter in size, with a floor of raw earth, and a plywood wall to separate it from other rooms. On an elevated bed covered with a cardboard box and a thin cloth, was a new born baby snuggled in its sleep. There was a sleeping woman whose head was resting on the bed. She was awoken by our movements and smiled when she saw one of the Korean LMs from the parish who regularly visited her.

This experience in Dakota left me with my heart shattered into pieces and gave me many sleepless nights. My life in Benguet was without luxury and excess, but I could say that we at least enjoyed the basic necessities of life.

I also had the opportunity to visit Payatas where another LM worked. The LM’s house, one of the better constructed homes in the area, had a separate bedroom and toilet, a small receiving area and a kitchenette. There were closed windows too. I asked our host if I could open the windows and she said only after we had eaten our snacks. No sooner than we opened the soda and the biscuits, a swarm of flies flew in. Now I know why the windows were closed.

These were my first experiences of what a missionary life may entail. Since then, I have admired the missionaries for their courage to be exposed to the harsh realities of life and to live with the society’s marginalized. In recent years, I have noticed that Columban lay missionaries are getting younger. But some things never change. It doesn’t really matter whether one is a baby boomer, gen x, xennial or millennial, a Columban lay missionary’s heart is always the same. Whether they work with prostituted women, prisoners, indigenous peoples, victims of natural hazards, people living with HIV/AIDS, and other people on the margins of society, it cannot be denied that their love and concern for people, while expressed in many different ways, is born out of love. They do not go on mission to teach or proselytize. Rather, they listen to the stories of the people. They live with the people as a sign of their solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. They also cry and laugh with them, and sometimes a part of them dies too when their friend in mission dies. They are compassionate and are willing to give a part of themselves in order to make someone whole once again.

Columban lay missionaries have different personalities and come from multicultural backgrounds but these differences never deter them from building and sustaining a harmonious relationship in their community. They laugh generously at jokes, disagree and argue but they never lose respect for each other because they are brothers and sisters in God’s mission. They encourage and sometimes challenge one another to be a better person, while remembering to relax and laugh a lot.

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Mavic (holding the picture) with Filipino lay missionaries

As a staff member of the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM), I have heard many of these stories, some of difficulty and danger, some heartbreaking, and others of disappointment. However, these stories are outweighed by stories of hope, inspiration, joy, gratitude and love. Through them, I have been touched and immensely enriched too. I also believe that the Columbans’ kindness and generosity have made me stay and have sustained me in my work far longer than the two months I had initially planned to stay.