Coming back to Taiwan as a second term lay missionary, I was very excited to go back to serve in the migrant ministry. I have a new assignment which is to help out in conducting the Chinese catechism class among the children of the Filipino immigrants. I was looking forward to being with these children, whom before I would only meet on special occasions. I was told that for the first few months, I would observe how Ms. Chen (a Taiwanese volunteer teacher) and Sr. Imee (a Filipino Carmelite sister) facilitate the class and to assist when they ask me to do so. Doing catechism in Chinese requires experience, and the knowledge of the language is necessary, especially the terminologies used in the Church in a way that children would understand.
It was the first day of the Catechism class. It was a big shock for me. Our catechists got so busy and suddenly I was asked to handle the class by myself. I started to panic because I did not prepare anything, or maybe it is more accurate to say, I had no idea how to go about it. After three years of living in Taiwan, that was the first time that I would be with Mandarin-speaking children, not just for a small talk but to conduct Catechism. I felt shocked and anxious.
For the first few minutes I was speechless. All I could do was to smile at the cute, angelic faces before me while thinking about what to say to them. I felt sorry for them because if I will not handle the class that Sunday then their coming would have been in vain. I realized that I need to play a part to remedy the awkward situation. At the same time I wished that I was in a situation where I could speak the language fluently.
During our orientation program in the Philippines, I did part-time apostolate in Malate Parish every Saturday morning. There were around 30 kids and teens between the ages of five to fifteen. They would attend the Catechism class regularly. I was grateful for that experience, because I realized that I can share my faith experience and love to those children. I was full of joy being with them. I didn’t feel anxious because I knew the language they speak and communicating with them was not a big concern for me. But this time I was faced with the challenge of speaking in Mandarin.
In being with these children little did they know that they are helping me to improve my ability to speak Mandarin.
At the beginning there were so many things that I wanted to share with them, but most of the time I felt anxious and uncertain about how to say things to them. I was concerned that they would not be able to understand what I was trying to tell them. One girl asked me in Chinese, “Does Jesus also like bad people?” When I heard her question, I felt anxious. Not because I do not know what to say, but how to answer her in Mandarin. Nevertheless, I still tried my best, and I think she was satisfied with my answer.
A few more weeks have passed, and I have slowly adjusted to this new experience. Gradually I am gaining more confidence in speaking Mandarin. I continued to conduct the Catechism classes by myself. In being with these children little did they know that they are helping me to improve my ability to speak Mandarin. More importantly I am enjoying my time with the children. As I manage to overcome my frustrations and expectations of myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work. Every Sunday is so special for me because it is a constant call for me to continue to recognize how the Holy Spirit is at work.
Like the situation where I am at the children seem to understand what I am trying to teach them, even with my limited Mandarin. The children have been very patient with me all this time and this has been a humbling experience for me. I realized that in doing mission, most of the time it is not the words that are important but our presence.
Columban lay missionary Sheryl Lou Capili lives and works in Taiwan.