I’m A Missionary And I’m A Lay Person

By Jhoanna Resari

This article first appeared in the 25 October 2015 issue of Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly of the Diocese of Hong Kong and is based on an interview with Columban Lay Missionary Jhoanna Resari who is now based in Hong Kong as a member of the Lay Missionary Central Leaderships Team. She worked in Taiwan from 2005 until 2014 and has featured on MISYONonline.com a number of times.

Jhoanna Resari at an exhibition of her art work

HONG KONG (Mabuhay): Jhoanna ‘Jao’ Resari is a fully-fledged missionary, but she is not a sister. She is a lay person and that is what she wants to be, but she also wants to be a missionary.

‘But I did not always know that,’ she admits. ‘While I was studying in Manila I knew I was looking for something I could not quite define, but I did pray to God to help me find a way.’

She received her reply when, for a reason she cannot remember, she went to a different church one Sunday where a large banner was proclaiming something about lay mission. ‘I thought that’s the answer to my prayer and wanted to sign up straight away.’

Gracia Kibad, Lanieta Tamatawale and Jhoanna Resari, Hong Kong
Gracia is the Coordinator of the Lay Missionary Central Leadership Team. From Bauko, Mountain Province, Philippines, she worked in Ireland from 1996 until taking up her present position in 2014. Lani, from Fiji, has worked in the Philippines and in Fiji.

But God’s ways are not always simple and she needed three year’s work experience to be accepted. ‘So I took a job as a graphic artist and joined a volunteer group, spending my free time working in community projects and disaster response teams,’ she related. But the feeling did not die and when the three years were up, she retrieved the pamphlet and contacted the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLMs).

That was in 2005 and Jao describes her experience since then as a voyage into a world she could not even have dreamed of.

‘We had nine months preparation. We had modules on Scripture, sociology, missiology, history and all sorts of wonderfully interesting things. I did three months of Clinical Pastoral Experience (CPE), accompanying patients in hospital and had an experience in the Muslim-majority Marawi City, as well as in Cagayan de Oro.’

CLMs from the Philippines in Taiwan L to R: Joan Yap (Ipil, Zamobanga Sibugay), Sherryl Lou Capili (Silang, Cavite), Reina Mosqueda (Los Baños, Laguna), Jao Resari

Then she went to Taiwan, where she lived with other lay missionaries and began learning Mandarin, and how to care for children and adults who are living with HIV/AIDS. ‘But I also learned about the stigma,’ she said. ‘So I started an education campaign in parishes and other communities for awareness and prevention.’

Jao said this was where her preparation began to make real sense. ‘I remembered that we had studied The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) of Vatican II.’  It emphasizes the universal call to holiness, which applies to all the people of God—clergy, religious and lay people. It states, ‘all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society’ (No 40). Lumen Gentium further says of the laity that ‘they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world,’ (No 31).

In March 2014, Pope Francis, in a message  to a conference on’ The Lay Christian’s Mission in the City’, referred to Vatican II saying that ‘the lay faithful, in virtue of their Baptism, are protagonists in the work of evangelization and human advancement’.

While there have always been lay missionaries in the Church, in the second half of the last century the vocation became better recognized, and stronger structures and support mechanisms were put in place. Often programs are built on skill-sharing and people go to foreign lands to share, not only their faith, but also their professional knowledge.

Today, most countries where the Church is well established have national lay mission societies, as do major mission congregations. ‘But I joined the Columbans,’ Jao said. ‘This year we celebrate 25 years. We are a mixed group of women and men from several countries; single persons and married couples with children, who feel called to respond to God’s mission.’

She describes the way lay missionaries give witness through living simply and being with the poor, the marginalized and the exploited earth, as a great joy. ‘It was my first time in a country where Catholics are a minority and local people asked me lots of questions about what a lay missionary is,’ she said.

‘All I could say is I am happy with my vocation as a lay person, but I do want to respond to God’s call to mission and be involved in building a Church that is part of the lives of the poor and marginalized. I learned over time that living close to people whom society has rejected, says more of what it means to live the faith I grew up in.’

Jao and Lani in the hills of Hong Kong

At present, there are 49 lay missionaries from South Korea, Fiji, Tonga, Chile, Philippines, Ireland and Peru. They serve in eight regions around the Asia Pacific area, in Britain, in Ireland, and at the El Paso / Ciudad Juarez border between the USA and Mexico.

‘We live out our spirituality in the Church and in the secular world. We immerse ourselves in justice, peace and integrity of creation issues, interreligious dialogue, as well as work with youth, indigenous peoples, parish communities, migrants, victims of human trafficking, asylum seekers and refugees,’ Jao explained.

Ten years ago, Jhoanna signed on for three years, but as her life attests, there is always room for three more years . . . and three more years...

In 2014 year she signed on for another six.

Lani Tamatawale speaks about her experience in the Philippines

Interested in knowing more about the Columban Lay Missionaries? 
Email Gracia Kibad in Hong Kong: clmcltcoordinator@gmail.com or Arlenne Villahermosa in Quezon City, Philippines: clmssc_phil@yahoo.com

You will find Columban Lay Missionaries – Philippines (CLM-P) on Facebook here. The CLM-P blog is here.