On the Frontier

Reflection – World Mission Sunday 2015

Joeven MatugasFr. Joeven MATUGAS, sx

Fr. Joseph Patrick D. Echevarria, SJ, explains the difference between two words of the missionary vocabulary that could be easily mistaken one for another: “Frontier” and “Periphery”.  For him, frontier“referrers to a place where few or no one had gone before,” while periphery“is not of adventure and pride, but of humility and service. It implies not just that no one has gone there, but that no one wanted to go there.” The first word is to be understood in the context of mission.

The two realities defined are very much applicable and appropriate to the mission territory where we are sent.  Pope Francis is challenging us missionaries to go to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized of societies and give voice to the voiceless.

A 2In our Xaverian mission in Sierra Leone, many are not enthusiastic to be sent here because this country has been devastated by civil war and now hit by Ebola. The country is also economically poor. Mostly, people are living with low income and have no permanent job. Aside from this, we Xaverians are working in the northern part of the country which is a developing province compared to the capital city, the East and the South. Basically I would say that we are in the bush. In this particular area residents are strongly influenced by the Islam and the traditional religion. The missionary is perceived as one bringing development:  they expect from him the construction of schools, hospitals, churches and help for children, youth, etc.

Yet, the call of the church for us missionaries is to go to the poorest places where there is no missionary present and where people have not yet explicitly heard about Jesus Christ.  This is the invitation of the Holy Father for us to look at the poor. The people living in this area are the people that need to hear the good news of Jesus and be uplifted from their deteriorating socio-economic condition.

There is a need for a collective sense of discernment in our part.

I always put it my mind that the mission is primarily God’s preferential option for the poor because Jesus identified himself with the poor; that the mission of the church is always on the side of the poor, and we missionaries should carry out this immense task. The Melbourne mission conference in 1980 has put the poor at the centre of missiological reflection reminding that the poor are not basically the object of mission but agents, and that we need to be in solidarity with them. It means to say, that our presence is very important to them. We need to listen to their cry, be with them and work in collaboration with them. Our relationship with the poor people in our society and in the mission where we are, “is not about the question of social ethics but it is a question of the Gospel”.

Minda 2Many times when I shared and talked my experience I would always reiterate that to be in mission is difficult. I might have plenty of complains and questions to our congregation that our work is not done properly and orderly, but our attitude, our conviction should not be detached from the very reality of where we are. Just to see and look out from our windows and go down to the street, there we meet our people who are very kind and welcoming, willing to play with us, assist us and give help to us whenever weneed.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Though, it is always a challenge and takes time to immerse ourselves in a belief and a culture which are not our own and very unfamiliar.

Our Xaverian mission in Sierra Leone is one of the peripheries and of the frontiers of mission. In Kabala there are still many villages where people are willing to embrace the Christian faith but missionaries are not enough to cover such a large area and far distant places. Other villages are impassable by the vehicles. However, we are assigned here and work in this place, put ourselves at the frontier and the peripheries. We are here answering the call of Jesus to go to the poor in whom He is present.

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