We were eager to serve but everywhere we went we were stunned by the extravagance of the hospitality; we had to allow them to serve us. Upon reaching Long Banyok we were greeted with music and villagers bedecked in full traditional garb! Everyone wanted to shake our hands and we were ushered to a food-laden table where the elders of Long Banyok themselves served us our dinner. In another community, Apau Nyaring, an older lady informed us that rice was hard to come by in their remote village near the jungle; after which they proceeded to serve us rice with every meal for fear that we would not be used to their own traditional fare which consisted largely of tapioca and wild boar.
There were many moments that we encountered the Lord through those ten days. Drawing pictures with little children in a swaying longhouse. Shaking hands with laughing women and having them teach us to dance. The silence of a chapel far from our homes as we knelt in daily Mass and Holy Hour. Sharing our faith with the people we met who were so happy to share right back. Watching a tiny boy pray over a grown man while he in turn tried to pray for someone else. Eating a meal cooked by women who forbade us from helping because they saw Christ in us and wanted only to serve. Adrian Ilod from UTM Skudai reflected that ‘If we are to walk with God, everything happens for a reason.’ His fellow Sabahan and university-mate, Daryl Nicholas also shared, ‘I learnt to surrender my day to God; even though I’m tired on some particular day due to heavy work, I managed to let God heal my wounds and gave me rest’
One evening we went to a small Indonesian settlement on the edge of a sprawling oil palm estate. I found myself in awe of their faith upon laying eyes on their humble chapel, so painstakingly and lovingly bedecked with whatever ornamentation they could afford. We were ushered into prime seats near the front while the other villagers stood faithfully outside, happy just to be near the Lord in His Eucharist. After Mass, we were asked, in separate groups, to visit a home and pray over a little baby and his parents as the child, Ayifan, was ill and had an oversized head. The father, tiredly smiled as the mother, cradled a son she knew was born to a difficult life. None of us could fail to see the Holy Family mirrored in that humble home as prayer flowed in tongues, tears and whispers of praise.
Another memorable God moment was when we prayed over a blind man in Sungai Dua. ‘The Holy Spirit was so present in the room and I could feel it shaking. This experience left me full of awe in the power of God’ recounts Aoife Ong from Ampang, KL.
Something that struck all of us hard was the difference in addressing physical and spiritual poverty. Simple, concrete tasks like painting a Church, clearing out an old shed, mixing cement and building a basketball court were gladly welcomed by our team. After all, it only took sweat and some elbow grease. What do you say however to a little girl whose only wish was to see the inside of a real church? Or to a man with a tired smile confessing that the faith in his village is weak and he feels helpless in the face of it? The woman in an empty house asking that we pray for everyone who left? The little girl who never had someone teach her the sign of the cross before we came? The teenager who gets to celebrate Mass once a month if the priest can make it to her village that month at all? All of us expected to be materially better off than a lot of the villagers but we were stricken with the realization that simply by virtue of getting to be in a church for an hour a week made us more fortunate than half the people we met. It would be a mistake however to say that it meant our faith was in any way stronger because of this privilege. The faith we found here was almost child-like in its purity, its simple belief and reverent joy at the chance to confess and be reconciled to God in the Eucharist. It was truly humbling and an honor to bear witness to the love for the Lord we found here.
Saying goodbye was so bittersweet. We were plied with handmade gifts and food contributed by what felt like every family in the community. There was music and praise, dancing and hugging, laughter and tears all around. Fr Kris, a newly ordained Mill Hill missionary priest from India, summed up our experiences in this way: ‘Every human is born into this life with a few basic colors. Every new experience, every new friend gained along the way is a happy mixing of colors to see what wonderful new colors emerge. Saying goodbye may hurt but it leaves us with the beauty of new colors to add to the masterpiece we are all called to make of our lives. Also, while we may think that we have better colors than some others, God has a funny way of showing us that they can have colors we never knew we lacked.’
For Justin Goan from Melaka, this mission trip really changed him to surrender and sacrifice to pray and do God’s work, “Fr Andy Lee taught me how to give all the space in my heart to Jesus. Not giving him the rest but the best’.