I remember how I silently uttered a prayer to bless me in my desire to become a missionary when Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines in 1985. Years later when I watched a movie about Mother Teresa’s life I started to feel remiss about something. I had always thought that by virtue of our baptism we are all missionaries wherever we may be. Being a teacher was my mission, and I loved it for the almost ten years during which I taught. However, in 2010 I dared to risk and started journeying into the unknown entrusting myself to God who faithfully loves me.
At this point, I have been involved for the past nine months doing mission at Nengguk Church, Uijeungbu Diocese. During that time I have received much support from parishioners, Sisters and priests from the parish. Here, I wish to share a few of my missionary experiences. One afternoon two Korean kids from my English story reading group greeted me on the street. When I invited them into my house to give them some chocolates and lollipops, on hearing that I was living alone one of them exclaimed, “How lonely!” The retort made me smile. For me loneliness adds another colour and dimension to my life.
My favorite ministry is visitation of the sick and the elderly in their homes. Because of my limited Korean language at times I often find visiting to be a challenge. As a result, sometimes I experience rejection or misunderstanding, yet my heart never ceases to give thanks for the gift of understanding I so frequently receive. It is heartwarming when, with a smile on their faces, people tell me, “Take care of your health and come again.” Although learning the Korean language is truly important, it is the language of the heart that has made me more confident and compassionate in my ministry. Even if I spoke Korean fluently, without love I will not be doing mission.
I spent a previous Christmas Eve with a grandmother, aged 73, who had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis causing her many health problems. I went to the hospital to collect medication for her and when I returned she thanked me, saying “Luda, the Lord has graced you so much.” I acknowledged this and knew that I had just received God’s blessing through her. Later when I arrived home alone I was not lonely.
Sometimes I also serve a 52-year-old paralytic woman in her home. She has been paralyzed for almost twenty years as a result of a car accident. While washing her hair one day she exclaimed, “I am happy. I love Jesus.” I was amazed at her faith. As she spoke she told me, “Luda, you are God’s angel sent to me.” Words uttered with such simplicity and humility that they truly touched my heart. I replied gratefully telling her, “I see Jesus in you as well.” I have received special gifts from God through people who are in pain but carry with them a strong faith and courage.
“Have I chosen love?” Ironically, I ask myself this question. I believe God has created me because of love. Thus, everything that I am and do is about love. To choose love is the most complicated but also wisest decision of all.
When I chose to live the Columban lay missionary life, I knew I had to leave my comfort zone. Being assigned in a beautiful country like South Korea is both exciting and interesting but at times not easy. This has forced me to broaden my vision and contemplate my vocation, it has also taught me to fully entrust my family to the care of our loving God Moreover, when I came to realize, in my early 40s, that I truly loved someone the words of a song came to mind, “We have the right love at the wrong time….” Learning to let go of this special person has been painful. I have learned that it is not too late to love but too late to commit. I had chosen my first love, namely mission.
My life as a Columban lay missionary is filled with varied experiences: learning a complicated language; offering a short prayer during visitation; touching the hands of a forlorn grandmother; reading English stories to children; exchanging smiles and chitchat with young people. Along with many more experiences I have learned that all these things are without worth if there is no love.
If it were not for love I would not be here in Korea. We have simply and spontaneously shared our lives with one another. This has been yet another chapter in my meaningful life. When I say meaningful, I refer to something beyond happiness, loneliness and the fulfillment of one’s heart’s desires. It has created a more beautiful person within me. For this I am forever grateful.
To my mission parish and Columban family, our loving God continues to grace you with your needs. Life offers a lot of lessons, surprises, complexities and hardships. All of these are opportunities for growth. I believe one healthily grows when in each moment of life we choose to love.
Luda Luminhay Egbalic is a Columban lay missionary currently living and working in South Korea.