Home is Where I am Sent

By: Fr. Eduard Orilla, MSP

“Where on earth are the Solomon Islands?” Such a reaction is the usual follow up inquiry of friends upon hearing and knowing about Solomon Islands. But in order not to give you any additional school or home work, dear readers, Solomon Islands are located somewhere in the Central Pacific Island below Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. There are 900 islands comprising the Solomons and are full of exceedingly beautiful lagoons, white and silver beaches, undenuded forest, coral reefs and clear see water. Some of the islands are volcanic, however.

The Solomon Islanders live along the coastal areas, their houses made of palm leaves. They speak a musical language GARI (sounds familiar?). Their primary foodstuffs are ‘kamote’ and fish most of the time. There is no ricefields nor corn field. They do not consider rice as part of their daily meal nor a necessity for existence. They rarely eat rice –if they have the money to buy and if there is imported rice from Australia or New Zealand rice serves as a dessert for them! At times they go hunting and catch wild pigs, wild birds and crocodiles for meat. They have little very little money or none at all, (they do not need money anyway), but they are very rich. They own the land, the sea, the lagoon, the environment. If they need food they just go to the sea, lagoon or river, and catch fish, lobster or prawns just name it and they have it in abundance; or they just go their gardens in the bush and dig kamote, cassava or any other kind or root crops, vegetables and fruits. For cloths they prefer to be topless and they use bahag. They do not use home appliances either, such as television, radio, refrigerators and the like because there is no electricity in the islands and villages.
Among the very memorable experiences in my missionary life in the Solomon Island was my first sea travel to the Island riding in a speedboat and the islanders manner of welcome and reception when I first arrived. It took almost four hours of sea travel from Guadalcanal’s main island to the islands, gliding at times on smooth and gentle ripples but at other times being splashed by rough waves because of strong winds and the  nearby coral reefs. Now and then there were strong currents coming from the mouth of big rivers and the natural whirlpools. Before the ride to the islands I was jokingly warned to say my Act of Contrition to keep my mouth shut.

The beauty and the contour of the hills, mountains, island and beaches were exceeding amazing It was just too good to be true before my naked eyes. Rainbows appeared on the splashes of water coming from the speeding boats when the rays of the morning sun fell on it. But all the way it was not smooth sailing. Because we were traveling on the open sea, big and rough waves collided with the speed boats a and I firmly clasped my Rosary beads, so much more when the boat began to swerve and seemingly flew and  dived and bumped as if to break down. Eventually completely drenched and teary eyed with the salt water, the speedboat pilot with a pregnant smile on his face pointed his finger to a island.

We reached the shore and anchored near the crystal-clear lagoon. Suddenly I heard whistles, horns blowing and shouting. To my surprise, warrior-like-people people emerged from behind the branches of trees while from nowhere others appeared carrying spears, bows, arrows and shields. They were running, leaping and shouting at the same time pointing and thrusting their weapons at me. “This is a fresh catch direct-from the Philippines!” they seemed to say. I would have run back to the boat if I did not notice some of them smiling. Those mysterious smiles assured me I was in God’s hands. Coming from nowhere, the islanders emerged, while young girls gracefully approached me with multi colored garlands and flowers in their hands. I noticed that the flowers in their hands. I noticed that the flowers strewn along my footpaths were orchids of diverse colors. “Kanugon!” I silently commented. Then they sung a hymn which I could not understand.

The islander were all there standing, wondering, staring at me which almost melted me, (if stares could melt!). Then came the elders slightly bowing their heads while reaching out and kissing my hands. They were followed by ladies dressed in blue- the local Daughters of Mary Immaculate sister. Then came the young people, with the boys on the left side and the girls on the right. They are shook my hands and later and later walked in procession with me to the newly built church accompanied by a group of local panpipers. This islander had not seen a priest for years and some of them were not yet baptized even in their late age a I later learned.

Slowly but surely I learned to speak their language, to live their lifestyle, to eat their food, to sing their songs, to play their games.

Certainly missionary life is tough. Very tough! But for those who are called and willing to offer and spend their lives, there is no better way. I for one, among many missionaries who have been and are still in the missionfield have learned to love the mission. Indeed to “go and proclaim the gospel to all nations” (Mark 16: 15) is worth dying for. Where I am sent becomes home. I am willing “to gladly spend myself and be sent.”