Columban Lay Missionary Febie M. Gonzales shares her mission story.
It all started with a dream. I came to Taiwan in June 2016 for my three-year term as a Columban Lay Missionary. This was my first experience of cross-cultural living. I was so excited. At the beginning life was great. Then I began to study Mandarin Chinese. My class was on a one-to-one basis two hours daily. My program of study was divided into four parts: listening, speaking, character reading and writing. As I write, I am in the listening and speaking parts.
Mandarin has four tones. It challenges me and was eager to learn. At our first meeting my lăoshī (‘teacher’ - 老师 in Chinese script) said: ‘I want you to be relaxed and calm. If you want to learn the language, do not be afraid just let go, have self-confidence and trust in God’. I kept pondering on that statement and, over time, discovered that it was not easy to learn this language.
My experience was tough and I shed many tears of frustration and felt very vulnerable too. To listen is easy but to imitate is very hard, especially in connecting the tones. I felt I was tone-deaf. When one tone is wrong the whole sentence is totally wrong. I felt so pressured and nervous that I could not relax. Every day my assignment was to listen and imitate, practice, record my voice and listen again, identify my mistakes and correct them. Correcting myself many times gave me the confidence that I was getting the tones right only to find out my lăoshī would always say, ‘Repeat. Be natural and have Chinese feelings, relax and have self-confidence. You can do it’.
Almost every day was the same. However, I did not give up, I kept on trying to listen and to imitate like a little child. In time I learned to trust myself. When I did so a ‘mysterious change’ came and I gradually overcame the most difficult part of my language study.
Taiwanese people are so polite and friendly. I reached out and made some new friends. These janitors, fruit vendors, vegetable vendors, waiters, and the community at Mass that included Filipino caregivers. Every day, I found opportunities to say, ‘Ni hao! Ni hao ma?’ (‘Hello! How are you?’) I could talk and understand others with only a little Chinese but this little made me more determined, inspired and courageous enough to learn the language and put my heart into it.
One day during our retreat I humbly asked God for humility, perseverance and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to submit my whole self to Him and embrace the process of learning like a little child, to listen and imitate with a pure heart, to be simple and not afraid to commit mistakes, willing to be formed and molded in His ways. I trusted and believed in Him that my language journey was part of a process of entering into the deeper me, knowing and accepting the inner core of who I am, the real authentic me in the eyes of my Master. From then on I have happily grown and bloomed.
I am living my dream of becoming a missionary, a challenging life that is full of treasures, meaning, joy, peace, love, satisfaction and fulfillment. Moreover, I am happier to accept the challenges that await as I serve God, to witness, to walk with, to live with people, to listen and imitate like a little child. ‘Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it (Lk: 18:17).
Febie M. Gonzales is from Alamada, Cotabato, and graduated with a BS in Accounting and Financial Management from Notre Dame University, Cotabato City. She is currently studying Mandarin Chinese full-time in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, and discerning a placement for ministry to start in July.