A Filipino Missionary In East Timor

By: Fr. Orlando Cantillon, cmf

Off we Go
After waiting for two years for our visa, the day finally arrived for me and two other Claretian priests namely, Fr. Manuel Sunaz and Fr. James Nadakal, to leave the Philippines and open up a new mission in East Timor Indonesia. On May 6, 1990, we finally set foot in Dili, the Capital of East Timor and to our great surprise the Bishop, Mons. Carlo Ximenes Belo, SBD and a couple of priests from the Diocese were at the airport to give us a warm welcome. It was a touching moment and a beautiful beginning for the three of us.

3 Years Have Passed
Some Years ago, I met a Filipino Missionary sister working in Papua New Guinea who shared with me the four moments of missionary life. As I see my own experience, these four phases have been verified. These are: 1) Missionary Honeymoon, 2) Missionary Cultural Shock; 3) Missionary Inculturation; 4) Missionary Integration.

Missionary Honeymoon
When I left the Philippines, I was full of missionary zeal convinced after a lengthy discernment that this is God‘s will for me. The whole congregation, especially the Claretian Philippine Province was giving us all their support and prayers. When we landed at Dili airport, the warm welcome given by the Bishops and the diocesan priest was beyond our expectation. What was most touching for us was when we went to the parish where we where to work initially. About two kilometers from the town, the people already waiting for us led by the town mayor, the chief of police as well as the catechists. There were more than 200 horsemen wearing their colorful traditional dress escorted us all the way to the parish church while the people were all standing at the road side to get a glimpse of the new missionaries. After the traditional welcome we were treated to a sumptuous dinner after which the cultural presentations were held. Then as we visited the different communities, the same celebration was repeated in a smaller scale. The first impression was that these people were hungry for the presence and services of the missionaries and we pledged our wholehearted commitment to serve them to the best of our abilities. Indeed, we were enjoying the honeymoon stage.

Missionary Shock
Like all honeymoons, ours was temporary and had to end. Next moment came the cultural shock. I came to East Timor bringing with me my own Filipino cultural and identity, my own experience of Filipino church, added to them my own language and values. And here I was in an entirely new situation and the unavoidable came to the fore: the clash of cultures and the conflict of values. I cannot help but compare the two cultures and because of personal bias I see my own cultural as much better. For example, I have been used to a participative church where lay people are given their rightful place and their valuable contributions acknowledged for the building up of the church and here I find myself in a church model that is too clerical and vertical, everything has to come from above and the people are there to receive and follow. This experience was painful, it was a moment of cultural shock. Another experience was the conflict between the tribal culture and my own city and culture. To cite an example, I was shocked with the prevalent practice of the dowry system. The family of the boy has to fulfill dowry requirement from the girl’s family which can vary from two cows up to fifty cows plus other material things like gold, traditional cloth or cash money. Without fulfilling dowry the boy can forget his beloved even though both of them are already of age and do love each other. Missionary cultural shock is a moment of inner and outer conflict, better it is a clash between the inner world of a missionary and the outer world of the mission.

Missionary Inculturation
If the previous moment was characterized by conflict, the next phase was a moment of dying to many things. First, a missionary has to learn the native language. For me, it means learning Bahasa Indonesia, the official and national language for the whole of Indonesia. We enrolled at Yogyakarta Bahasa Indonesia language course, morning and afternoon classes. Learning a new language was difficult but we had the advantage of strong motivation-for God and for the mission. After one month of normal study, we had to study and practice ourselves. An important dimension of Inculturation is the ability to speak and communicate in their own language and in East Timor aside from Bahasa Indonesia, they speak Tenun. The church celebrates all it rites and the liturgies in Tenun, so we also had to study and master Tenun. But by the grace of God and sheer determination and hard work, after six months we were already doing pastoral work: celebrating Eucharist, hearing confessions, celebrating baptism and weddings, giving recollections to high school students. The Filipinos, they say, have the facility to acquire new language.
Part of inculturation is understanding their values and practices and respecting them and the most difficult making their values your own. For example, The Indonesians never use the left hand to give something to others, for them to do so is an insult the person. Therefore I should be very careful with my left hand even though I am left handed and prefer to do things with my left hand. Inculturation is a process of dying and rising, better still it is Paschal mystery, I have to die first to my own culture and values and then to rise up with a new culture and values if I am to be an effective and relevant missionary. I have still a long way to go.



Missionary Integration
The next moment is missionary integration, also I do not claim to have reached this stage but I know that, that is my direction and I can see some signs along the way. For one, I am happy working as a missionary in Indonesia and I plan to stay here for many years to come. Secondly, I feel that I have found a new motherland, Indonesia, a new family, all the Catholics families I have encountered in my ministry, I have found a new church, the East Timor Catholic Church and I am proud to be a part of it. And as a missionary, called and commissioned to contribute to the building up of the local church of East Timor.

The Filipinos, they say, have the facility to acquire new languages.

The Indonesian never use the left hand to give something to others, for them to do so is to insult the person. Therefore I should be very careful with my left hand even though I am left handed.