“Land in the Wind”

Missionary Journey in Retrospect

By: Sr. Tess Espina, FSP

Appointed to Sabah
A few years ago, I was appointed to Sabah, in Malaysia. While waiting for the approval of my visa, I already experienced fears and anxieties. What would life be like in Sabah? A non-Christian frontier. Shall I go or not? Trusting in God’s love which is as certain as the dawn, I let go of my fears of personal inadequacies, of loneliness and hardships. I took a leap of faith and together with Sr. Margaret ventured into my new mission land SABAH, the ‘land below the wind,’ so called because it is never visited by typhoons.

Jaruk, Tuhau and Tapai
According to a Sabahan priest, one should do three things in order to appreciate the Sabahan culture, namely: First, one must learn how to eat “jaruk”, a fermented fish which is equivalent to our ‘bagoong.’ Second, one must learn how to eat ‘tuhau’, a jungle plant eaten as an appetizer. For a beginner, the smell and the taste are indescribable but once you’re used to its peculiarity, it proves to be the best pickle in the world. Lastly, one should know how to drink ’tapai,’ a homebrewed rice wine. Adjustment of the palate was difficult in the beginning, but gradually Sr. Margaret and I learned to eat and drink the Sabahan native delicacies.

Joining the Dance
The Sabahans and the Filipinos have a lot in common. They too are warm and friendly, accommodating and hospitable. They usually entertain their guest with their guest with their native dance called ‘sumazau’ which is accompanied by the beating of gongs and wooden or bamboo instruments. Sr. Margaret and I were not able to follow the proper rhythm, the Sabahans were happy that we gave it a try and enjoyed doing it.

Learning the ‘Bahasa’
To speak the language of the people is one of the best approaches to inter-religious dialogue. To learn others’ language is truly a challenge! A studying the language for three months, Sr. Margaret and I manage to speak a little of the national language-Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language). Some of the familiar experience we mastered are: Apa Khabar? (How are you?), Terimah kasih (Thank you), Sudah makan? (Have you eaten already?) See you (Jumpa lagi).
During our home visit to the families, Sr. Margaret, and I had to have translator because we could not express ourselves fluently in Bahasa Malaysia. Sometimes, however, there were families who wished to share their problems with us and they did not want that others would hear, so I had to let the translator step aside. I had to look at the dictionary every now and then to be sure that I was using the correct words. I was really tormented by this limitation of mine. SAYANG! There were many things to be shared but we were unable because of the language barrier.
In the bookcenter, when the telephone would ring, Sr. Margaret had to pray first the Litany of Saints so that she could get the message correctly. There were many unpleasant events that happened because of this problem.

We Get Involved in Lenten Mission
To prepare the people of Sandakans (the former capital of Kota Kinabalu, East Malaysia) for a meaningful celebration of Lent and Easter, we gave a series of talks on repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. We used slides/ videos to drive home the message more forcefully and to facilitate its assimilation.

We were Shocked
In the process we visited the people in their community halls where they were gathered. We were surprised to see thousands of Filipino there. Many where domestic helpers and laborers in construction. Some have become Muslims so had they can find better jobs. Some women were swindled and ended up as prostitutes. Some had live-ins, in some cases not only with one, but with multiple partners. There was widespread deterioration of Christian values among the Filipinos there. After meeting them and hearing their problems, I felt ‘sick’. My heart went out to them. We just did what we could. The parish priest said that the Filipinos are the ‘thorns of his flesh.’ He is deeply troubled by their spiritual life. He is grateful that Fr. Pigeon, CSsR, who is based in Singapore, visits them twice a year. He hopes that there will be a permanent Filipino chaplain for them.

Media Awareness Seminar
The media today promote values which are very contrary to the values of Christ. There is so much materialism and competition in the media advertisements. People are not aware the bad effect of media. If one is not critical, she or he can be seduced by media without being conscious of it. Her or his mentality and lifestyle can be shape by media.
Through media awareness seminars, people are taught to be selective and responsible users of media. Through group dynamics and sharing, they come to realize the dangers media pose to their children.  “If everyone is committed to the truth, the media can be life giving,” says one participant. After attending the seminars, the parents begin monitoring the programs their children are viewing and listening to.

Farewell Sabah
Sr. Margaret left Sabah last December 18 and I followed on June 5, 1992. Our visas expired and we had to go out of the country. Sabah is truly a mission country. There’s so much to be harvested but the workers in the vineyard of the Lord are few. “I’m praying earnestly that he will send more laborers in Sabah,” shares Sr. Margaret.
 I, for my part, am grateful to God for the opportunity He has given me to work in foreign mission; for choosing me as an instrument to bring out the best in people by virtue of my vocation. I always cherish our Pauline ideal, that of bringing Christ to all the people through the Media of Social Communications. Through our presence, our love and compassion, may people always find hope and discover the real meaning of life.