Sherryl Lou Capili (center) with Migrant Hope Worker Centre volunteers. Photo: Hope Workers' Center - Taiwan
Returning to Taiwan for a second term of three years as a Columban lay missionary I was excited to continue to serve in the migrant ministry. I had a new assignment to help out with leading Chinese language catechism classes among the children of Filipino immigrants.
I was looking forward to being with these children, whom previously I only met on special occasions. I was told that for the first few months, I would observe how Ms Chen (a Taiwanese volunteer teacher) and Sr lmee (a Filipino Carmelite sister) facilitate the classes and assist when they asked me to do so.
Catechism in Chinese requires experience, and knowledge of the language is necessary, especially using Church terminology in a way that children can understand. The first day of class was a big shock for me. The catechists were so busy and without notice, I was asked to handle a class by myself. I started to panic because I had not prepared anything, or maybe more accurately, I had no idea how to go about it. After three years in Taiwan, it was the first time that I would be with Mandarin-speaking children, not just for a chat, but to conduct a catechism class. It was a shock and I felt anxious. For the first few minutes I was speechless. All I could do was smile at the cute, angelic faces before me, while thinking about what to say.
I felt sorry for them, because if I could not handle the class their time and effort to attend would be in vain. I realised that I needed to do something to remedy the awkward situation. At the same time, I wished I could speak the language fluently!
During my nine months of orientation in the Philippines, I taught catechism on Saturday mornings at the Columban parish in Manila. There were around 30 children and teens between the ages of five and 15. I was grateful for that experience because I realised that I was able to share my faith experience and love to those children. I was full of joy being with them. I did not feel anxious at those times because I knew the language 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 the beginning there were so many things I wanted to share with the children during the Chinese language catechism classes, but most of all I felt anxious and uncertain about how to say things so they could understand. One girl asked me in Mandarin, “Does Jesus also like bad people?” When I heard her question I felt more anxious. Not because I did not know what to say, but because of my Mandarin language. Nevertheless, I tried my best, and I think she was satisfied with my reply.
A few weeks after that frightful day I found myself adjusting to this new experience. Gradually I gained more confidence in speaking Mandarin as I continued to conduct the catechism classes by myself. The children do not really understand how they are helping me to improve my Mandarin-speaking ability and that I am enjoying my time with them.
As I manage to overcome my frustration and adjust my expectations for myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work. Every Sunday is so special for me because it is a constant call to continue to be aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
The children seem to understand what I am trying to teach them, even with my limited language ability. They have been extremely patient all this time and this has been a humbling experience for me.
I realised that in being on mission, our words are not always as important as our presence.
Columban lay missionary Sherryl Lou Capili lives and works in Taiwan.
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- Read more from The Far East - August 2022