Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban
Being a stranger in a foreign land isn’t always easy in terms of learning and adopting not only the language and local dialect but also the culture.
I was thinking about this when I travelled from my homeland in the Philippines to Fiji where I came to serve as a Columban lay missionary. I did not know anything about the local customs.
My first few weeks were a real struggle as I wasn’t able to speak the local dialect and did not understand the local culture. My situation worsened when only a few months after my arrival I was sent to a remote area for a “family exposure” for two months.
I was assigned to stay with a family of six. A mum and dad who had two daughters and two sons. Both of the daughters were working in the capital, Suva while the sons were living at home. I was their new adopted daughter.
My first few days with my family was a real test of survival. Everything was new to me from the way they ate, to the way they did their daily household chores and even the way they treated women among men. I began to regret my decision to come to Fiji as a lay missionary and began asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” I could easily have chosen another way of life rather than enduring these hardships. However, I kept on telling myself that I had a mission that I wanted to fulfil. I asked God for guidance and enlightenment as I know He is the only one who can give me the grace of perseverance.
During the following days and weeks, everything began falling into place. I was able to get used to foods like cassava and dalo, which is an alternative to rice. (I did not mention that in all my previous life I had never missed a single day without eating rice). Almost every day they depend on canned goods to make up their daily meals that we eat while sitting on the floor.
I am getting used to helping my village parents to harvest kako, a root crop and taking it from the farm to the bazaar every week at the Nausori Market.
I love joining my family in witnessing their faith by attending the morning and evening prayer in the village, Sunday Masses, and weekly bible sharing. I have a great time joining the community meetings and gatherings and socializing during Talanoa (a traditional word used in Fiji and across the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue) sessions.
I have made friends with the children and have fun with them playing and swimming in the river. I teach them catechism during Sunday Masses in the village and together with my adoptive father, who is also a catechist, conduct para liturgies in other villages.
Each Tuesday, I go with my adoptive mother to a charismatic prayer session and on Friday afternoons I accompany her and other women from the village to the bazaar. On Friday and Saturday nights we all sleep on the veranda outside of the market and this has helped me to get to know them all.
With God’s grace and with my constant prayers, I am gradually embracing my new home.
Jennifer Lunor is a Columban lay missionary from the Philippines, who works and lives in Fiji.
Listen to "A stranger in a strange land"
- Read more from The Far East, October 2019