FOCUS American Missionaries in Miri

This year, for the fourth time around since 2016, 11 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) American Missionaries embarked on a mission trip to Miri, Sarawak from the 12th to 27th July 2019 and were joined by 12 Malaysian students from Malacca-Johore Diocese (MJD) and Miri Diocese to serve the underprivileged in the interiors and to become immersed in their culture.

Before the Malaysians met FOCUS on the 12th July 2019, these students that came from different campuses under MJD and Miri Diocese gathered in Miri on the 10th July for a 3D2N pre-orientation to bond through fellowships and to align them with FOCUS values. They were educated with scriptures on the purpose and challenges of mission; and equipped with the motivation to persevere through any potential difficulties. Fluidity is constantly reminded throughout the mission; which is the state of extreme flexibility by expecting changes and accepting unexpected changes. The openness to fluidity by the missionaries allowed them to be present at the moment and live each day spontaneously.

From 12th July to 17th July, the student missionaries were exposed to spiritual activities to better prepare themselves for mission in the interiors through sessions that were conducted by 3 FOCUS full-time missionaries, Emily Cates, Laura Kopp and Michael Hynes and a student leader who will soon become a full-time missionary, Peter Loesel. They guided the student missionaries in imaginative prayer, bible sharing, testimonies, reflections and also taught them mission facts and mentality, as well as the importance of authentic friendships and divine intimacy. This mission group also developed friendships with one another through recreational activities such as games, Praise Night, visiting beaches and exploring Gua Niah. By gradually becoming comfortable with one another, each are more open to share about their personal testimonies of encountering Christ and also their experiences as a student on campus to help one another on relatable issues that they are facing in their respective campuses. They were also prepped for ‘Gospel Presentation’ that revolves around the 4Rs (Relationship, Ruin, Restore and Response) as a simple guide to share who Jesus is to others. Emily Cates from Colorado, shared that “We can only spread God’s love if we have encountered His love ourselves”. Many of the intellectual and spiritual preparation not only focuses on the mission to the interiors but also calls each and every one of them to share their personal relationship with God back at home.

Missionaries teaching catechism class in Lapok.
Missionaries teaching catechism class in Lapok.
Missionaries learning ‘ngajat’ in Lg Loyang.
Missionaries learning ‘ngajat’ in Lg Loyang.

Throughout the mission trip, their day starts off with a daily mass and they usually end the night with night prayer and sharing of their “High Low God” moments where they reflect on the events that occurred in the entire day. They also set aside an hour every day to spend time with Jesus as we are all called to do so in Mk 14:34 when Jesus asked “Could you not watch one hour with me?”. Alexander Anderson from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) testified that “As I spent more time with Jesus during Holy Hour, it made me realise that I feel relaxed and calmed when ‘chit chatting’ with Jesus. The more conversation you have with God, the closer you are to God” and Darryl Aiven from UTM also shared that “The joy that I feel after Holy Hour really made me realise that I am worthy in His eyes.”

On 18th July, the missionaries left for Lapok for their kampong outreach and were under the care of the parish priest there, Fr. Andy Lee. Throughout their mission in Lapok, they had ‘gotong-royong’ with the people, fellowship with the villagers, attended Confirmation Mass at Rh Egang, and taught the children in Lapok catechism class. They also reached out to the villagers of Lg Sobeng, Lg Loyang and Lg Jegan through daily masses, holy hour and community projects such as painting the church, and even through simple events such as birthday celebration and enjoying a river swim together.

Missionaries painting church pews in Lg Loyang.
Missionaries painting church pews in Lg Loyang.

During the kampong outreach, the story of Mary and Martha were used five times by Fr. Andy in daily masses. One of the most notable points mentioned by Fr. Andy is “Most of us are called to be white martyrs - dying to ourselves by putting others before us. We are reminded to strike a balance by serving God like Martha and also listening to Him like Mary. It is good to spend time listening to God, but the truth must also be put into action!”. The missionaries also had the opportunity to pray over the villagers and this was life-changing for some of them as they step out of their comfort zone. After having experienced it himself, Arron Chan from Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM) noted that “Honestly, I sometimes have no confidence that God actually listens to me and will answer my prayers. But, when I was asked to lead the pray over, I had a little peek in mid-prayer and I can see myself from the villagers’ eyes that they could see me working in the Lord’s field, and that’s where I realised that God is always with me and I should not be afraid but to always put all my trust in God”.

In the beginning of their mission in the interiors, the heat was scorching and water was very scarce due to drought season. The people in the kampong depend on the rain to store up their water supply. Fortunately, prayers were answered, and it started raining when the missionaries advanced into Lg Sobeng, Lg Loyang and Lg Jegan! They were very blessed with sufficient water for showers.

As there is also no electricity supply in the interiors, the villagers have generators run by fuel for this necessity, Since it is expensive to keep on, they usually switch it off before they sleep to save money. The students had to sacrifice comfort by having no lights and no fans at night. Despite the students’ spiritual and mental preparation to serve the villagers, the overwhelming humility and generosity of the villagers resulted in them serving the missionaries instead. Hence, the missionaries further ascertained that the bigger part of this mission is learning to receive. Joanna Ling, former Campus Ministry Team of MJD, shared that “My foster mum is blind, my foster dad suffered a stroke before and one of their daughters is 6 months pregnant! They were struggling financially already what more with their health conditions. But, they were so hospitable, so generous to us. They gave us the best room, and they gave us the best mattresses! My heart broke when I saw them squeezing into the smaller room and sleeping on thin mattresses. I felt so loved and so unworthy of it. They were my Jesus”.

Fr. Andy, the missionaries and the dancers from Lg Jegan.
Fr. Andy, the missionaries and the dancers from Lg Jegan.

The missionaries headed back to Miri on the 25th July for mission debriefing. They recalled their encounters and experiences from the time they met, to training with each other and throughout the kampong outreach. As the two-week mission experience might pose as a difficulty on how to start sharing it with others, the full-time FOCUS missionaries also guided everyone to narrow down their wonderful mission experience into a 5-minute presentation as an easier way to share to their own communities back home. They were also empowered to continue encountering Christ through others and sharing Christ’s love to others once they are back to their everyday lives. Ruran Paul from UTM affirms that “I now understand that with the wisdom that only time and experience can bring, that my ‘yes’ to God to go on this mission trip is not a one-time exchange, but an ongoing, deepening surrender of every part of me” and Joanna Ling noted that “I was reminded that in our lives, not every day is going to feel like a dynamic ‘faith experience’ and that encountering Christ can happen in the simplest things in everyday life”.

As God constantly seek to encounter us in many points of our lives, we are also called to share the love that we have experienced from our many encounters with God, as the verse in Mt 10:8 says “you have received without paying, so give without being paid”. Anthony Jang Trinidad from UTeM said that “No matter who you are or where you came from or what your nationality is, we share the same intentions and that is to share God’s love and proclaim His Good News. Even though we are called differently, we are all One Body in Christ”. Every one of us are called to mission, and to quote St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Faith in action is love - and love in action is service”.

Written by: Jovina Ling
Edited by: Joanna Ling

Fr. Andy, missionaries and the villagers of Lg Loyang with soot on their faces as a sign of goodbye.
Fr. Andy, missionaries and the villagers of Lg Loyang with soot on their faces as a sign of goodbye.