Mission Adventure Beyond the Beyonds

By: Emma de Guzman, ICM

Time: August 4, 1974
Place: Manila International Airport
Event: First Departure for Africa

Plane Roared Off
That warm August afternoon in 1974, I boarded a Sebena DC 10 for the first time in my life. Destination: Cameroon, Africa. The tear shed by my family (and mine) were drowned away by the planes roaring off into the skies in what was still the Manila International Airport.

Daring Spirit
Time flies so fast, as if it was only yesterday (yet it’ll be 20 years next). My young daring spirit, impassioned by the love for the Gospels to be a missionary in far away lands was stronger than the fear of the unknown. And unknown it was then, as I was the first Filipino ICM assigned to Cameroon.

No Blue Skies
First, I had to learn French in Lille. Everything was so new. Lille in the north of France especially during winter, was a place and environment I was unprepared for. I missed the daily rising and setting of the sun, the blue skies and most of all the familiar language I could communicate in. It was like being a child again grasping to understand and learning to speak. However, the cultural shock in Europe was tempered by my desire to reach African soil which was real destination: realizing that language study is a temporary situation that prepares me for my new mission country somehow made easy the complicated twangs of the language of Moliere and Voltaire.

Spent the Night with French Pilots!!!
Eight months after that French interlude, I took the plane (again alone) for Douala and to Yaounde. It was an experience I well never forget (not because it was the first time but because of the extraordinary welcome I received as soon as I landed of African soil); having spent the night in a military base in the city of Douala. I was met by a co-sister on her way to Europe and she had to spend the night in Douala too, we were joined by a young French girl who did not know where to spend the night. A gentleman officer offered us the barracks reserved for French pilots (an air-conditioned room with faulty door locks). But as soon our kind host was gone, we were welcomed by a drunk French pilot who insisted on sharing the hospitality of his bed (surprised I suppose, to see three women in their barracks). My first night on African soil was spent keeping vigil (the three of us taking turns) so that our air-conditioned room with its broken locks, reinforced by our suitcases will not be invaded by hospitable drunk French pilots. This chapter can be entitled:  “First night in Africa in a French military barracks.” I still laugh when I remember that.
Starting From Scratch
My first assignment was in Okola where I dreamt of working with catechists, teaching religion to children. But this dream had a slight detour as we had to begin from the beginning: publish new catechism books adapted to children and train young mothers who can use them. The real catechists existing then are all men (some old enough to be my grandfather) whose catechism dates back long before Vatican II was ever dreamt off.

New Catechetics
I was not yet two months in Okola and I was already asked to go beyond its boundaries, and before I realized what was happening to my first months in Cameroon, I was already hopping to all the Catholics primary schools of the diocese with Bother Rock (that La Salle brother with whom we’ve published the new catechetical books for children complete with visual aids). It was quite new and revolutionary at that time as we were passing from the question and answer style (Baltimore Catechism) to narration of the gospel stories with life applications adapted to children.

Young Mother Catechists
Later, I had to do it on my own, after being appropriately introduced to the different parishes (an its kinds of roads). And so I find myself answering to the needs of training young Mother catechist, beginning from my parish in Okola and beyond to the other parishes as well. Msgr. Zoa, our bishops had appointed me to be a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Team, and later I was answering also to the needs of catechetical formation on an interdiocesan level.

In 1983, when the Better World Movement started in Cameroon, our Diocesan Pastoral Team appointed me to take part in the first sessions given in Yauande by a team coming from Zaire, and later on we had to repeat the training seminars in our diocese (Signs of Times, Church in the World, etc.)

Renewal Seminars
1983 to 1993 is of course ten years. The different contacts and experiences in the training of Mother Catechists was like a stepping stone to further their training by the Better World Movement seminar opening their visions to the teaching of Vatican Council II
Three years ago, I was elected National Coordinator of the Better World Movement on a national level. Soon we were giving renewal seminars on a national level and beyond, to priests, religious, even Bishops in collaboration with the union of Major Superiors and the animating arm of the National Bishop’s conference.

Pan-African Mission
In January this year, during our hour interAfrican meeting in Burkina Faso (for French speaking in Africa), the coordinating team had to be renewed. We were fifteen delegates from six French speaking African countries. I am not quite sure what the other delegates saw in me but I was one of the chosen candidates after the whole day’s process of discernment. You are familiar with the way it works definition of needs; criteria, mandate, qualities of candidates to fulfill the mandate, names proposed and voting by secret ballots. Before the voting, each candidate may speak (a real democratic process). When my turn came, I give several reasons why I can’t be qualified: I am not African and my French is not “too French” for French speaking Africa. (An also, but I did not say this: I am not a priest and therefore no degree in Theology to boot). Anyway, my expressed opinions put me in the bag where I did not want to be. An African Colleague, a Zairean diocesan priest disqualified my major argument by saying that my experience, dedication and concern for the formation of Africans to self-reliance and auto-sufficiency makes me very African. (Mind you, I was so touched I almost cried which made me momentarily forget we are having an election process). That’s the first time in my whole apostolic endeavours that an African collaborator affirmed in public what for me was normal: education and formation of animators through renewal seminars for the self-reliance and growth of the church. His counter argument was ended by an applause and I just to shut up (I couldn’t speak anyway with the lump of my throat). The secret ballot voting ended the discernment. Unbelievable, but it yielded 14/15 votes for me. (Buti na lang, I did not vote for my self, I wouldn’t, of course, but I still get the creeps when I think of it). Anyhow, this event in my missionary life was like a gentle touch of God assuring me to keep on, in spite of all odds. In this kind of election, 3 approvals are needed: the assembly voting, the person voted for and the Superiors of the voted person. As of now, the blessings of the local ICM superior has been given and this is the last step to a new beginning of another call BEYOND.

Where Did it All Go?
And now, it is August 1993. Where did time go? What has happened to that young, daring first Filipino ICM missionary in Cameroon? What has happened to that almost 20 years on African soil? These all sounds like the questions of “growing old people”. Someday. If I’ll be asked to write a book on my mission adventures, this chapter shall be entitled Beyond. Yes, Beyond, as I realize that my missionary endeavours bring me to all sorts of “going beyonds”.

I missed the daily rising and setting of the sun, the blue skies and most of all familiar language I communicate in.

“A Zairean diocesan priest disqualified my major argument by saying that my experience, dedication and concern for the formation of Africans makes me very African.”