Our poor people’s home in Mongolian, with only one door and a toilet outside. The nomads can easily untie the tent and move to another place to camp. Photo by ACMA
Pope Benedict XVI: Already today, in the contradictions and sufferings of this world, there shines the light of hope for a new life … “The Church’s mission is to ‘infect’ all peoples with hope”
Snippets of letters from some of our Singapore missionaries scattered across three continents.
Frontline: Africa – Sister Calista Ponnudorai, FDCC
AS A NEW Missionary in 1988, exposed for the first time to African culture and environment in Nairobi, I went through various cultural shocks and adjustment to my lifestyle in view of what was a new culture, a new language, a new people with their own African identity, traditions and way of life. I discovered, however as hard as I tried, I would always remain a ‘foreigner’ in their midst and I had to accept this image they had of me. While I tried to familiarise myself with the African culture in so far as it was advantageous to my mission, I tried not to take on meaninglessly some aspects of the local customs… which did not mean much to me.
I learnt I had to recognise and retain my identity as someone who was there with the main task to prove to the people among whom I lived and served, that God had sent me in their midst with a message to convey – ‘that He loves them and I was there like other Ad Gentes Missionaries to prove it’ – with our solidarity with them in all life events, their joys, sorrows, successes and hopes. It did not really matter what I was sent to do in their midst… everything leads to just one thing… bringing God’s compassionate and merciful love to all whom we encounter.
Frontline: China – Irene Tan
JULY MARKED THE end of our two-and-a-half year Catechist Formation Programme and it was timely to bring our catechists on a pilgrimage to Nu Jiang Valley where early missionaries had planted seeds in good soil. One of the places that made a great impact on me was at Gongshan.
Why is Gongshan church different from any other in Yunnan? Much is due to the zealous work of an old man, Zakaria, who fled to Taiwan with his eldest son during the Cultural Revolution leaving the rest of his family behind. When China re-opened in the 1980’s, he returned and started building the church. House to house, village to village, he went proclaiming. At the age of 100 when he could not walk as far, he would ride his horse accompanied by his grandson to visit the villagers. He died at the age of 104 in 2004. At the time of his return to Yunnan only three of the early church buildings were left and now there are 15 parishes.
Frontline: Africa – Sister Jacinta Kow, FMDM
LUBWE – ON COMPLETION OF my training I was called ... to go to Lubwe Mission Hospital in Zambia – I remember my excitement and my still very naïve romantic ideas of missionary life – I came down to earth when I saw ants coming out of the tap, electricity that went off especially in the height of an emergency! Fleas straight from the ground... the whole cultural differences of a Singaporean over-organised in her ways and always nearly five minutes ahead of her schedule and our African way of interpretating the clock...
KASABA – Being our first mission station, Kasaba by 1990s was in dire need of repair – the termites and white ants had eroded much of the buildings, doors, walls, etc. and the male ward ceiling literally collapsed under the weight of the bats droppings... it was through the generosity of ACMA then under the direction of Father Renckens, who first donated a very generous sum of money for the repairs of the hospital. We will always be so grateful that the necessary repairs and face lift could go on for this hospital to be taken over in good condition by the local “Sisters of Mercy”.
LUSAKA – In 1995, I was asked to work in Lusaka as the HIV/AIDS pandemic came in huge waves... there was very little help at that time as shame, denial and stigmatisation was very prominent. The poverty of the Compound and the open sewage and the smell and flies when the weather was hot was a challenge I never bargained for but the people living there, about 42,000 then – how did they bear it so patiently day after day? I saw young children, even my sick patients lifting 20-litre containers coming or going to other water sources to collect this precious gift we take so much for granted! It was again the help of Father Renckens that enabled us to run Garden Compound Home Base care and to hand over after seven years, leaving it very manageable to our local people and nurse at this time of writing. n
Frontline: Canada – Sister Lee Foong, MC
MAY ALL THE members of ACMA be filled with the love and peace of our Saviour... Many many thanks for all you are doing for us – the foreign missionaries. Your sacrifices and love in bringing us close to home with news of the Church in Singapore certainly makes me one with the Church there.
I have much to thank God to be chosen to represent and to be His witness here in Canada. In this land, we are the migrant church. Many Asians are here and we bring the love and compassion and the knowledge of God to these unbelievers. The most receptive among them are the Chinese from China. Many of the older Chinese had once been taught by missionaries in China and so they understand straight away when we speak about Jesus. Unfortunately none of us speak Mandarin and we always need an interpreter. But we try, with the help of God in our little simple ways to bring God’s message through our works of mercy and let them see the difference.
We encounter many older folks who have fallen out of church and are now sick and old. With the help of God we try in gentle ways to lead them back to the Sacraments. And in our little after-school programme, we have migrant children who do no know basic English or Mathematics, so with the help of college students we help these children and at the same time, insert a little catechism.
Frontline: Mongolia – Sister Marie of the Cross
GREETINGS TO YOU and your ACMA staff, from the icy land of Mongolia. Here we have two big double-storey bungalow houses. The upper level is for Sisters and the lower, a temporary home for children aged 12-20. The other house is for apostolate, soup kitchen, dispensary, classes, store room and Sunday Mass we have with the people. This year, after six years of opening this house our first baptism will take place this easter. Our Bishop is Filipino, we have two Religious Institutes, no nuns or priests as yet from here; all are foreigners. Ask you people to pray for holy family so that Holy Vocations can come by.
But very sadly, the Catholic newspaper is my only source of keeping in touch with Singapore Church news. I am already feeling homesick with so many copies missing since December. So please I do hope to get my copy in Mongolia. Thank you very much. When you are far from homeland you hope and wish to get at least a little letter from home.
Frontline: Indonesia – Father Henri Jourdain
IN AUG 2007 ACMA Secretary, Christian Kwan first received an invitation from Father Marcel Gabriel from the Diocese of Pangkalpinang to visit and help restore a remote mission station in the Lingga Archipalego of Indonesia.
“The last mentioned area (Ujung Beting) to be visited is one of the most challenging mission we have in our diocese. The diocese has started the mission there since 1990. A school with dormitory for the children of Ujungbeting and the neighbouring island was built there ...” noted Christian.
The St. Carolus School and Asrama is one of very few Catholic mission stations in the Lingga Archipalego. It is one of many schools founded by Father Henri Jourdain, MEP in the Riau Islands, to provide basic education for children in remote islands. It had, in good times, an enrolment of more than 60 pupils. However, the closing down of a sawmill has affected the livelihood of the community badly and in the last couple of years they were unable to raise enough funds for even teachers’ salaries and basic maintenance of the buildings.
In July 2008 Christian received an urgent letter of appeal from Father Jourdain regarding the condition of the school and Asrama. “The building needs a serious restoration; holes in the roof (result of coconuts crashing from the trees). The rotten doors and plywood ceiling have to be replaced, also the rusty Nako windows... The whole building has to be repainted. The crumbling wooden kitchen has to be rebuilt.”
In response, Father Kenson Koh, Chairman of ACMA channelled funds to help restore the mission station at Ujong Beting. The kitchen has since been rebuilt, the doors replaced and the building repainted.