The Story of the Early Times of the Mission: Between Colombia – Nicaragua
Benedictine Monasterio – El Rosal, a place away from the crowds of people, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, I spent a whole week on vacation. In the serene atmosphere of the Benedictine Monastery, enveloped in the frigid air, I spent part of my time reflecting on this journey: about the path of a mission. I bring back in my memory every process that has been passed, every experience of joy and difficulty that has ever been experienced. Behind these experiences, I try to reflect on the meaning of a mission and see what strengths one must have when carrying out a mission in the context of a completely new social and cultural life.
As I look back on this journey from the initial preparations until now, I feel that this mission is challenging, but I have to live it with joy. At least, this is the impression experienced during the first few months. And for those who call themselves “the missionary” or “the one sent”, the experience of being “challenged” is at least something normal. There are new things that we face that we never expected before. Experiencing it, it's as if life has to start all over again: learn to speak, learn to understand things, and say wishes. The new situation made me feel like I was born again. In this context, mission land entered me into an atmosphere of self-improvement once again. The mission land is a “classroom” (field) and I came, entered it,
Missions are part of a Montfortian's calling in life. As a Montfortian priest, the time has come for me to take part in a sent-out journey. After going through a 'honeymoon' as a newly ordained young priest, on August 27, 2015, I arrived at Profinsialat's house, Bandung. There, Father Zakarias Beong, SMM, had arrived a month earlier. Father Zakarias, SMM, and I will both be sent to Nicaragua, one of the countries in Centro-America, Latin America. Nicaragua is a small country with a population of approximately 8 million people. Like several other countries there, Nicaragua uses Spanish as its National Language. The context of the social, cultural, and linguistic life of the people who live there in the field in which we carry out our mission as Montfortian.
Before we enter into the context of life in Nicaragua, we need a stage of self-preparation. We passed this preparatory stage in New Manila – the Philippines, between October 05-December 28, 2015 in the community with the Monfortians who were there. For us, this opportunity is the first moment to learn about life, especially when we are out of our land and nation. There, not only English is learned, but also a way of life when the people around us are no longer the same language and culture as us. So, after three months in the Philippines, the mission is certainly not for a vacation (killing time), but a mission for self-adaptation.
For most missionary priests who go on a mission abroad, the challenges or difficulties they face are often not just about the new life situation in the missionary place. The first difficulty that is sometimes encountered is the length of time it takes to process a work permit document (Work Visa). And for those of us who will work in Nicaragua, the big difficulty we will face is when Indonesia and Nicaragua do not have direct diplomatic relations. To find a solution to get a Work Visa, we spent three months. So, three months living in Bandung is a time to wait while hoping for a solution.
The first solution we received from the Colombian Provincialat in March 2016. Fr. Gonsalo Tabares, SMM (Provincial Montfortian Colombia) invited us to come using a Tourist Visa (temporary residence permit). They are willing to act as intermediaries to get a Work Visa to Nicaragua. Therefore, on March 3, 2016, we left Bandung for Bogotá – Colombia. We arrived in Bogotá on 04 March 2016, to be warmly welcomed by Fr. Gonsalo, SMM. While waiting for the necessary paperwork at the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we spent two months on a Spanish course (at the International House).
After several months of waiting, Provincial Colombia's assistance as an intermediary (making a Work Visa) to Nicaragua failed. This failure was caused by the unfavorable political relationship between Colombia and Nicaragua. Due to these difficulties, we decided to enter Nicaragua without a Work Visa as originally planned. With Fronteriza Visa, we get a temporary residence permit for 30 days, which can be extended to 90 days. We arrived in Managua (the capital of Nicaragua) on June 11, 2016. At the airport, we were greeted by Fr. Alonso, SMM, and Fr. Harry, SMM. In a fraternal atmosphere, we enjoyed a welcoming dinner at a restaurant in Managua. And moments later, we continued our three-hour journey to Saint Thomas – Chontales,
Three months is the time allotted for us to apply for a Work Visa at the Nicaragua Immigration Office. While waiting for the work visa process, we took part in parish work in two parishes (Santiago Apóstol and María Reina Parish) to gradually understand the culture and social situation of people's lives. And after three months passed, it turned out that we also failed to get a Work Visa. Went in and out of the immigration office, but there were reasons from the immigration that made us fail to get a work visa. With some disappointment, we had to return to Colombia. We left Nicaragua on 06 September 2016, with the hope that one day we will still return there.
Returning to Colombia certainly did not dampen our enthusiasm and hope. We continue to hope while doing what we can while in Colombia. Between October 2016 – and January 2017, we served in the parish with the Montfortian Colombians. Father Zakarias, SMM, helps with parish services in a parish in the City of Medellín and I help with parish services in a parish in Acacias City. Because it is not yet clear what the next process will be, with a lot of time that has passed to wait, we finally decided to apply for a Study Visa in Colombia. We got this visa with the help of Father Jorge Hendrike, SMM (Assistant General), and is valid for two years. With this visa, we were able to stay in Colombia while looking for other solutions to get back into Nicaragua.
This is a long process towards a missionary place with all kinds of difficulties (challenges) experienced. We're not there yet and working as expected. We are missionaries on the way. From the whole process that we have gone through so far, there are some important things that I ponder and can share on this occasion:
Missionary: one who is ready to be sent
When I look back on the formation days (the novitiate and the philosophy-theology lectures), I realize that I have gone through a long journey in establishing myself as a missionary. My small hope was that it was enough for me to become a priest for my fellow countrymen and countrymen. During these times, almost every year we were visited by missionary priests. Among them, some serve domestically (Indonesia), and some work abroad (in several different countries). They tell their life experiences pastoral in their way and style. More than just telling about their struggles, of course on such occasions they want to instill a missionary spirit in those of us who are currently in formation. Whether later on a mission in the country or abroad.
For me, a domestic mission is my choice. The interest to go on a mission abroad never occurred to me. I know the extent of my ability, especially in foreign languages. This is my reason for choosing to do missions for the people of my country and countrymen. My focus is more on how I understand the social and cultural life of my countrymen. Wherever I was sent to, the language remained the same there. Likewise, about food, there is not much difference from where I come from. Thus, it is not a challenge for me to live it.
Regarding the mission of a Montfortian, to decide which area to work in, it turns out that it does not depend solely on personal will and interests. In this context, one must still have a free-will attitude: a willingness to be sent anywhere (free as a cloud). At least follow Mary's example, with the fiat she gave to God's call. And this time, Mari's fiat became my fiat too to say about my willingness to the Union's mission. In October 2015, during an interview at Deo Soli (Putussibau), Father Kasmir, SMM (Provincial Montfortian Indonesia), asked me to take care of a passport. My "yes" answer is certainly not easy. Just as fiat Maria is accompanied by small questions just to clear up confusion, I also have small questions because of my confusion.
I don't know… and certainly doing a mission to Nicaragua was never unexpected in my mind. I never dreamed of doing a mission with long-distance travel like this. I once had the desire to avoid a mission outside Indonesia. However, God had another will for me to fulfill. My will is sometimes not in line with His will. Nicaragua is a country I haven't heard of in daily conversation. However, whatever the circumstances, the language, and the living situation of the people, I decided to be ready to be sent. I had to overcome all my human considerations, especially the long-distance and the difficulties that came from within me.
In addition to the difficulties from within myself, the situation at work with many new things that I face sometimes becomes a challenge for me to be able to do many things. But whatever the experience, from this mission there is always something interesting to learn. For example, during a month's stay with the elderly Montfortian in Choachi, from their lives, I saw a lifelong loyalty to consecrated life. All of their energy and youth have been exhausted in the various missions they have carried out. And now they are old, enjoying the days while waiting for death to come. When I heard their stories, I said in my heart: this is the time for me and I hope I can carry out this mission wherever it is sent.
Apart from experiencing life with the elderly, I have also been involved in several parish missions. Involvement in parish work further enriched my experience as a young priest. We live in one community (international community): 2 Colombians, 1 Congolese, 1 Indian, and 1 Indonesian, and work in two different parishes. An experience that I never thought would happen, namely when on an occasion for the missionary activities of the people, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in the Indian Tribe community. About the Indians, I used to only hear and know through school textbooks, but now I can be among them and celebrate the Eucharist with them.
Another interesting experience when celebrating Christmas with the people in the oil mining area. This area is far outside the city and can be reached in 6 hours by car. What happened there, for the first time in my life, was celebrating Christmas mass without singing (Christmas carols). Ah… how unsatisfactory this celebration is, I thought to myself. Whether it's the fate for me to not be able to sing well from a long time ago, I don't know either. All I know is the fact that every yes answer is accompanied by various experiences, both happy and sad. However, whatever the experience, they are all accepted as part of the missionary story, as part of the self-giving story. And whether I realize it or not.
Where there is hope, there is a way
Hope is a virtue to have amid every difficulty, especially when I want to do more. Giving up on a difficult experience is the same as turning off the fighting power that is within me. In the face of every difficult experience, I always hope that Allah will always give the best for me according to His plan. I truly believe in His inclusion, especially when I realize that this mission is not my human will or ambition or the will of the leadership alone. This mission belongs to Allah, and I am only the executor. So whatever difficult situation you are in, He has a way and a way to overcome it.
A missionary is synonymous with a warrior. So as a missionary, I struggled to come this far because God put His will for me to do. It works in me in many ways and through many people. There are many people I have met and they have helped me in their way. Through the help of my confreres, as people who have been moved or inspired by the same spirit, I always find support to keep my spirits up and keep going.
In carrying out this mission, even though there are so many difficulties, I still try to never forget to be happy. I feel happy not because I can give something to the people who are served. There are so many people looking forward to the presence and ministry of the priests, that's my reason to be happy. Not a few people in their daily prayers, pray specifically for their priests. And especially for those of me who have just arrived, some people spend a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament praying for them to stay healthy and adapt to their culture and language. This is one of the ways and ways that God has given me so that I can continue to love this service, and always hope in Him, no matter how difficult the experience is.
The Context of Mission Land Demands Never to Stop Learning
A work of mission is never separated from the context of the social and cultural life of the people who receive it. And even missionary work must be born and grow in the real experience of local people's lives. From this understanding, it becomes clear that mission activities from one place to another are not the same. With the different contexts of missionary work, it becomes a requirement for me as a missionary to never stop learning. Madre Teresa de Calcuta says “Tómate tiempo para leer (estudiar); es la fuente de la sabiduría”. From the thoughts of this saint, it becomes clear that a missionary becomes wiser, knows what to do, and knows what the people's needs are by reading a lot, learning directly from the real life of the people every day.
The pastoral context in Latin America (Colombia and Nicaragua), seems to me personally to be a new school where I have to step in and start over again. This is a school of life where the way of life of the people, its culture, and language is something I have to learn and will become my way of life, culture, and language as well. I cannot do pastoral work among them and with them if their way of life, culture, and language is not part of my life.
The culture of life that has been ingrained in me is inevitably very different from the culture of life of the people or people that I am dealing with. Likewise, the language used is very different, a language that has never been touched before to be learned. And regarding living culture, there is a tendency where at certain times I am more proud of my living culture. There is a challenge to love the culture of life where I come from. In terms of the language used too, sometimes I am challenged by the thought that the language I have is easier to learn than the language here. However, because of the demands of missionary work, in certain cases, I must be able to "empty myself". The different context of the mission land required me to put aside all my pride and love for what I had before. This kind of awareness helps me to be able to learn many things and enter into the cultural context of the people's lives here.
About "self-emptying", as lived by St. Montfort in all his mission work, this is the basic spirit that moves the steps of a missionary. By "emptying oneself", then a missionary is willing to be sent anywhere. Sometimes the mission is very different from expectations and even contrary to personal desires. However, this call comes from God accompanied by a 'yes' answer. God calls, God also sends. Thus, the call to mission is a continuation of the mission that God gave to His Son, and then Jesus passed it on to His disciples. This is the form of my yes answer to God's call: to take part in the missionary work that Jesus Christ gave to His disciples. So, in all the forms of experience, I have encountered, all I have is an attitude of surrender as in fiat Maria. I would not have been able to accept this mission were it not for God in the guidance of His Spirit to guide and move me to keep fighting, to learn and understand many things.
Fr. Jefro, SMM