SRI LANKA is a mainly Buddhist country off the south end of Asia. The rest of the population can be Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Catholics are the minority among the Christians. The island’s languages are Singhalese, Tamil, and English. The Institute has been present since 1886 with 17 communities. The fmm Sri Lankan province is rich as it welcomes many temporary and final professed sisters from all continents. They get the chance to live a missionary experience.
When my Provincial, Sr. Regina, told me that I was been sent to SRI LANKA for a mission, I remembered these words from our Constitutions: “For the mission and its risks, Mary of the Passion wanted us to be disponible and strong in faith, ready to leave everything and go wherever we are sent” (Const. 40). The words of the Gospel also come to mind: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” (Gn 12:1).
Despite an initial surprise, I was confident and like Mary, I kept telling myself: “…let it be with me according to your word!” (Lk 1:38) This attitude helped to let go of all fears while facing such unknown. The vista of a mission in Asia took shape.
Two days after my arrival, I head to NUWARA-ELIYA to spend 7 months and then unto HATTON for three months. I had the chance to study English in both communities besides our community activities. Then, I went to the communities of MUDALAKKULIYA and MAHIYANGANA. It was not easy at first as Sri Lanka and Congo are so different. The most difficult was communication as my English was so limited. I also did not know the other languages spoken. Over time, I did learn to adapt and was happy to share our sisters’ and the local population’s lives.
“The Eucharistic presence and evangelical life in fraternity,
prayer and the offering of our sufferings,
are our first form of evangelization and, at times,
the only one that is possible.” (Cs 38)
My life and mission in SRI LANKA?
My daily activities consisted of prayer, witnessing by my life, being present, and rendering various small services. This enabled me to live this mission in Franciscan discretion and simplicity. I experienced being powerless due to my lack of the local languages. I felt useless and so incapable on so many fronts.
Despite these struggles, I was happy. I understood that mission is not merely a question of doing, but also and primarily a question of living, being, and witnessing to my sisters and the people in our midst. With little grasp of the language, encounters were very rudimentary. The simplest greeting meant so much to them. I often only got out «Kohomadé» which means «How are you?» in Singhalese; «Hodaye» meaning «I am well» or else «Oyagenamemokadé?», «What is your name?».
I had the opportunity of making new acquaintances. In MAHIYANGANA, Mr. HARI, our neighbour, was very interested in universal mission and liked to hear about our African mission. We shared despite the language barrier. Communication flowed more through a smiling silent presence with spoken words rich in meaning.
While I was in Hatton to improve my English, I studied in a centre called HILL COUNTRY DEVELOPMENT. The teacher was Hindu and the students were either Hindu or Buddhist. I was moved by the way this woman greeted everyone at the centre even though she gave me special consideration and respect.
During class activities, she always invited me to pray despite our religious differences and my bad English. What generosity! She even did not accept the monthly fees. She finally accepted on the last day. Amazingly, she had prepared hors d’oeuvres to tell me good-bye. The students offered a lovely bouquet of paper flowers and other gifts. They expressed their joy of having me in their midst through a Tamil speech and a song.
I was delighted to be able to spend time in this centre where everyone had a different language from mine and in a country so embroiled in religious conflicts. It was a great way of learning how to understand and state that religion, language, and culture are not barriers between us. All anyone needs is love and consideration. I had always thought that we communicated only through language. I discovered that silent presence is louder than words. I felt that love went beyond our religious and cultural borders.
I was happy to share the mission of our sisters in this country with a very small Christian minority. I saw that their mission is quite delicate in the midst of this mostly Buddhist population. Our sisters try to reveal Christ’s presence and to strengthen people’s faith. I experienced God’s love through the generosity of our sisters and the people I encountered.
I liked my stay in SRI LANKA. It enriched my personal transformation. I also rediscovered God’s grace and presence in my life. My comprehension of the Charism was deepened through the joys and struggles. I once again appreciate the wealth of our missionary vocation despite its demands. This is the readon why I thank the Lord for my fmm vocation.
As a temporary professed, I have received much in my formation. I am grateful to the sisters in charge who knew how to lay out this opportunity.
Emma Ines YOMBO, fmm