By Columban Lay Missionary Jenanydel Nola
For more than a year I spent most of my time visiting the elderly. I would say that meeting the different types of elderly is interesting and enjoyable, but needs a lot of energy, and a peaceful mind and heart to be able to listen to them. Among the elderly people I have engaged with are:
- a woman who was left by her own family, and is now living alone;
- a woman who shares the same stories every time I visit her because she is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease;
- a woman with whom I have to converse through writing because she can’t hear;
- a woman who can hear but can’t see me because she is blind;
- a woman who has lots of regrets because she was not able to follow her heart’s desire because of fear;
- at least two who are sick;
- and at least two from N. Korea.
Due to their age and physical condition many can no longer walk far. Most of them just stay in their houses and spend time watching television. There was a time I caught an elderly person drinking makgeolli (rice wine) just to ease her loneliness. Some of them spend time sitting near the window waiting for the daylight to fade.
How did I meet them? One night, on my way home, I was in deep thought about my presence here as a missionary. I saw an elderly person standing along the way. As I came near to her, I greeted her with a smile, which she returned, and invited me to her house. When I went in I saw no one inside except her. She invited me to sit with her on the floor and excitedly shared about her life without even knowing me. It was our first time to meet, but she was so excited and happy to have someone with her. Since it was 9 o’clock in the evening I had to say good- bye to her and go home. As I walked towards the door she asked me to visit her, as she lived alone and had nobody with whom she could talk. And I did promise to visit her. When I was first sent to Bongcheon dong, during my free time I roamed around just to see the place. I hoped that it might help me understand my presence there. In doing that, I noticed many elderly people sitting on the street. As time passed, my face became familiar to them, and some knew me. I met some of them in the church, and after Mass I used to walk with them on their way home until I received an invitation to visit their house. Some were introduced to me by a nun living in the area. After more than a year in Bongcheon dong mission parish I decided to spend some of my time at GuRyong village. It is about 45 minutes away from Bongcheon dong. With the help of Fr. Lim Yong-Hwan (the Chief of the Urban Poor Apostolate Committee), I met Sister Lucia who is staying in the village. She introduced me to the elders with whom I now spend time.
In moments of doubt and uncertainty with the life I am now living, I could say that God is always there watching and guiding and leading me to situations that help me understand my life as a missionary. Life can’t be a happy moment all the time. Along with happy moments there will always be situations that I encounter which could hold me back from continuing to share my life spending time with some who are longing for someone’s presence - those who would love to have someone who could help them feel their value as an individual. At first, I spent most of my time helping the people working in the mission parish, and it was not easy, especially when all of them were mothers and some were already grandmothers.
What did I do during my visitation? I played the guitar and sang/learned Korean songs at the start of my visitations. When needed, I massaged their shoulders, back or aching legs. I held their hands to let them feel they were not alone, while I listened to their own stories and complaints. I assisted them when walking. I shared my own stories, despite my imperfect language, which made them smile or laugh. I was with them silently while we watched together their favorite TV program. That desire in my heart to reach out to them so they may feel comforted and loved made me forget my own need. Unknowingly, they had reached out to me as well. Truly, “We are not held back by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not extending in the present. (Marriane Williamson) As a Columban Lay Missionary, I recognized that my limitations and weaknesses to share God’s love have always been a challenge.
By God’s grace and mercy I finished my first term mission on May 20, 2017. It took courage for me to say Yes to God’s call as His lay missionary. Truly, “Whatever is to make us better and happy, God has placed either openly before us or close to us.” (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) I made a choice that brought me to my one of a kind and more meaningful adventure. My heart sings joyfully to our loving and merciful God, the Trinity. Unworthy as I am He has bound me in His love.
I heartily thank all those with whom I journeyed with during my first term mission especially my mission family, CLM / Mission Society of St. Columban.