by Fr Maurice L. Galasa CICM
Fr Maurice L. Galasa CICM is from Bontoc, Mountain Province, in northern Luzon.
One beautiful morning, while on my daily routine of gardening, a beautiful butterfly with different colors, carried by a cool wind from the east, landed on my shirt. I gazed at this magnificent creature before it flew off, again heading westward. I noticed that it landed on one flower after another. This experience led me to reflect on the CICM missionary presence here in Zambia.
Zambia wasn’t my dream country so why did I end up coming here? It was a blow when I received my letter of assignment asking me to go to Zambia. What I had in mind was the USA or Japan thinking that after nine years of intensive studies, I should be in a first world country. Why suffer in a third world country like Zambia? I almost gave up my dream of becoming a missionary because the things I wanted weren’t granted. God was silent. But a simple prayer inside my room, reflecting on Mt 26:39, ‘My Father . . . not as I will, but as you will’, changed the whole story. I gathered again my shattered self, gaining confidence and hope in trying to see where the wind was leading me. The future in Zambia was unclear because of malaria, the Ebola virus, HIV, and CICM missionaries coming home. Maybe one step forward could make a difference and become a hundred steps of successes. The first step I took was to say with conviction, ‘YES! I go to Zambia’.
My experiences as a butterfly called by God and guided by the Holy Spirit started with a humble beginning of not knowing anything in a new country. ‘Stop, look and listen’ were my jumping board in gaining knowledge and asking people about unfamiliar things in order not to be ignorant. Children, the best teachers, made a great contribution to my integration process. They taught me how to interact properly in the community so that I would avoid cultural shock.
One example is Massage Therapy. For Zambians massage is like caressing and not a healing therapy. Sometimes the people understand massage as a form of witchcraft with the intention of killing someone. One of my parish involvements with the youth was teaching them how to massage for a livelihood. I tried first to explain clearly that massage is a form of therapy, a healing process of becoming relaxed, and not a form of witchcraft or something done with wrong personal motives. These therapies I taught were all new to them and because of their enthusiasm, it was a successful endeavour though some criticism came from elders in the community. I realized that my talent in massage was a useful skill in my ministry.
Our parish is in a compound similar to a squatter area in the Philippines. For Zambians a compound is a place of suffering where one expects to find thieves, prostitutes, carnappers and the like. Poverty is one of the factors that tempt people to participate in these activities. On house visitation to our parishioners I heard painful stories about the plight of children, especially abandoned ones. They eat once a day and sometimes in their fight for survival they drink water just to survive.
I couldn’t just close my eyes and pretend that this was OK. I tried to raise funds when I went back to the Philippines for my ordination. But looking for resources to feed these vulnerable children was a challenge. I was glad to raise PHP100,000. With a group of women in my parish, we started feeding the children and after three months had spent PHP38,000. I was wondering how to make the program self-sustaining. So we used the remaining PHP62,000 to construct a building for poultry and to buy things needed to raise chickens and pay the carpenter’s salary.
It was a successful endeavour because after six months we had an income of PHP80,000. We used this for the feeding program and an income generating project. These realities inspired me to affirm all who had raised funds for this missionary work. God used them to become part of His Mission. I realized that giving is not losing, but gaining God’s kingdom for the children when they say ‘I am satisfied, I am full, I am happy’. These were the fruits of giving and sharing of people at my ordination. They were part of this ministry and an encouragement for us to give hope to the hopeless. They cannot come to Africa to share their joy but they are there morally, financially and spiritually, supporting God’s mission through us whom they send to be with the Zambian people. This is important for those who need help and we thank all who contributed. We remember your good deeds for the mission of Zambia!
I tried to bring the children to an environmental consciousness through organic farming. I convinced some children to help me in the garden. We collected animal manure for the corn field. They asked me why we used manure and not fertilizer. I explained that fertilizer destroys the fertility of the soil and can make us sick. The company from which we buy the fertilizers is the same company from which we buy medicines. We are helping them to become rich. Teaching these children to touch the soil is teaching them to become one with mother earth, the soil that is the source of food we need to survive. A child who cultivates the earth will know how to live in the future. At the end of the day, we taught them to reap what they sow.
We also teach the children how to become resourceful and self-reliant through carpentry. Some of the out of school youths helped me build a chicken house. I taught them how to grip the hammer when hitting a nail, how to handle a saw properly, how to mix cement and how to place roofing sheets. Though the project isn’t perfect, at least they learned and it also strengthened our friendship.
My life is like a wondering butterfly flipping from one place to another guided by the direction of the wind and attracted to different flowers. As a missionary, I was directed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit like a wind to another country and was attracted by these vulnerable children. The butterfly gives life to a flower as we missionaries give life and hope to different people who need us.
I realized that it is possible to be here in Zambia in spite of my homesickness, amoebiasis, malaria and scorpion bites because of Jesus who empowers us by his words of life. The worst sickness a missionary can experience is ‘Being Afraid’. It closes other possibilities of encountering challenges in life. Courage is the efficient factor for surviving here in Africa because it leads to a positive response in faith to God. Like a butterfly, the missionary does not mind the danger that lies ahead but is always moved by the wind to go further helping in the pollination that brings new life into existence.
My reflections deepened and brought me to John 15:5, ‘I am the vine . . . whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit . . . without me you can do nothing’, an inspirational prayer in my faith journey as a ‘butterfly’. To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given me my missionary ministry of love here in Zambia.
God Bless Us All!
You may email Father Maurice at firstname.lastname@example.org