Having been to the Philippines numerous times, I came onto this mission trip with a specific mindset, and that is to get challenged and go through the trip with a different pair of eyes. Within the two weeks of the mission immersion trip, we met and visited numerous places and people from the children of Manila and Bataan, the prisoners of Dinalupihan, and the children at the orphanage in Pampanga. The stories and experiences that the children, families and the prisoners have shared has allowed me to reflect on the life I have in Australia, and how I am very fortunate and grateful for what I have, especially the things I unknowingly take for granted. The mission trip has also given me the opportunity to have a deeper connection with God through what I have witnessed and experienced during the mission trip. What really made a significant impact towards me was witnessing God’s work and love through the amazing work and commitment of the members of the MSSP, the volunteers, the children and the families of the Bataan Orchestra, and lastly the generosity and love of our communities. I will always talk about my mission immersion experience for the years to come and I am very grateful and blessed that I was given the opportunity to take part in a life changing mission trip and journey both physically and spiritually.
So many things I could say but will just reflect on a few.
My experience was joyful, tearful, sad and happy and confronting. The smells, the filth and the poverty. I witnessed injustice. John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” What does this really mean? For me being spiritually full and all the rest will fall into place. Not so easy to do. Journeying with my daughter was a wonderful experience for us to share. The here and now is important but things will emerge as time goes on and the sharing of the memories-the emotions.
Father Joe’s work – he has created a loving caring environment. He has created a safe community that enables children and young people to grow by developing their gifts and talents—he empowers them—this is not charity but love—God’s hands and feet. He works with such humility but is tireless and relentless with his focus always on the children.
We are created in God’s image—I heard this many times but I doubt that I have lived it when I have gazed into the face of another. I had an aha moment in the jail. Listening to the inmates stories for the first time I felt it and understood it. But the challenge is how do I live this out in my day to day life?
I loved the experience at Mother Theresa’s. Two phrases from the house: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” and “I thirst.” It sure was clean there. The elderly were physically well cared for and no doubt emotionally. The “I thirst” that was in the chapel really impacted me and I think I carried this with me and still do.
We all thirst but how do I quench this thirst. The children I met were thirsty—thirsty for knowledge, thirsty to engage with others—they appeared so happy. Father Joe in many ways offers opportunities to quench their thirst-empower them. The experiences stay with me. I want to go back. What that would look like I am not sure. I have more to share but it is difficult to express!
I thank you for such a great opportunity. I thank God for the health and moving me to do this.
On the 2nd of January 2020 we departed Melbourne to head for Manila in the Philippines. Before leaving I felt excited about what was to come but also a bit nervous not wanting to feel like a tourist. All my nerves went away as soon as we landed and was greeted and welcomed like family by the MSSP at the International House of Formation; the feeling was repeated when we had arrived at the Jose De Piro Formation Center in Bataan. During our mission we were blessed to witness and journey with the families in 13th Street, Mother Teresa’s homes for the disabled, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, St Catherine’s parish, Mother Margarita School, Pagalangang State Primary School, Batiawan Primary School, Bataan Prison and Lubao orphanage. I felt humbled to share in the strength and devotion of faith in all the communities that have been touched by the Paulist missionaries. Coming back to Australia initially was quite difficult. Seeing the devotion that the people of the Philippines share with each other made me want to give more of myself to my family, friends and the Church community.
The Mission Immersion 2020 – Philippines was an experience of the Filipino culture and a witness to the great work the MSSP are doing in building communities on the peripheries. This Mission was not a holiday nor was it the type of mission trip where the westerners aimed to ‘fix’ a foreign country. On the contrary, I felt that I learnt more from them, than they did from us.
On our last night in the rural province of Bataan, Philippines, I asked Fr Joe to tell me his story and it was incredible to hear of his investment in this province: to sleep for 18 months in the attic of a rural church, and the tireless efforts to provide opportunities for long term employability to the local community. To arrive in a foreign country and dedicate yourself to building up a community, in both physical and mental infrastructure requires a great level of dedication that can only be accomplished through his humble, selfless and faithful ways.
Highlights of my experience, in addition to Fr Joe’s journey with the Bataan Community, include: spending time in pure joy and exhaustion with the kids in the orphanages we visited, sharing stories and dancing with the prisoners, sharing life with Russell’s family who I stayed the night with and the powerful moments where I felt uncomfortable and seconds later I found certainty in my presence. From being uncertain how I can entertain the kids to staying up in the early hours to be present for another. These are moments where I was called to be, and I will never forget these incredible experiences.
As l packed my bags in readiness for Mission 20, my mind kept wandering back to Mission 19 and the experiences and l couldn’t help but wonder how my two daughters were going to react to the sights, sounds, challenges and overwhelming poverty we were about to experience.
My Mission 20 was wrapped around the girls and their reactions and l could not have been more proud of them. To watch them accept people for who they were, not what they have; to see them embrace the gospel in their lives and truly attempt to live out the word of God in their dealings and thoughts with other people, was truly a blessing to see, and l only wish all parents could experience the joy l found in this.
Mission 20 was such a wonderful success, blessed with a fantastic group of young adults who live the gospel and truly evangelise through their actions and their thoughts.
I know l am blessed to have experienced this twice and l can only thank God for allowing me to do so with the MSSP’s and the lay people.
The dictionary states that an ‘immersion’ is deep mental involvement in something. I would add that during both of my mission immersion experiences to the Philippines my ‘heart’ has also been deeply involved. It was a privilege to journey with the MSSP’s and to meet the vulnerable people they seek to love and accept as Jesus does. These people are often living with very little other than their faith. Every encounter in the Philippines reminded me that my faith is not about the building I worship in but rather that I AM church and therefore am called to be a witness to Christ every day.
The smiles, courage, faith and even tears of the beautiful people I met will remain etched on my heart forever.
Last January I had the opportunity to participate in Mission 20. I was given the absolute privilege of meeting many people with endless stories, love and hospitality to share with our group and the unending kindness that was offered will stick with me for many years to come. Throughout this trip I was able to rediscover why I am a Catholic and see God working throughout many people, especially the MSSP priests and brothers in all the work they do in their communities. The Mission Immersion has altered my perspectives and I hope to retain these throughout my normal life back in Australia.