When the Parish Mission in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur was being planned, our major concern was not on security because it’s a Muslim majority community and not because of restrictions of the health protocols. These were given situations already and necessary measures were already conceptualized. The major concern was, who will be part of the mission team? As a matter of fact, there were only two young Redemptorist Priests and one seasoned Lay Missionary and the possible participation of three seminarians. Yet, this number was not enough.
In order to respond to this major concern, we need the presence of Youth-Mission Volunteers. Why the young people? The young can easily adapt and mostly characterized by their readiness to learn and unlearn.
We have expected to have two or three Youth-Mission Volunteers. However, as soon as we have started the Parish Mission, we got two full time, two semi-full time and 2 part time Youth-Mission Volunteers. We have a total of six. This was more than enough.
Of the six, we have Mimi, a teacher by profession. She resigned from her online teaching career few weeks before the mission began. Mimi is an active member of our Redemptorist Youth Ministry who is already serving and assisting RYM-Iligan during her free time.
There was Pearllyn, known to many as La Ling. She’s a Tourism graduate, a choir leader, half Meranaw – half Christian and speaks Meranaw fluently. Herself and Mimi were our fulltime volunteers and the princesses of the team.
We have Charles, a college student and an incoming college seminarian of the Prelature of Marawi. He’s quite shy but bright, sensitive to the needs of the team and dependable. With him was Darwin, also a college student, who became a family decision-maker. He’s confident, and intelligent whose potentials and talents are about to be discovered. Both of them were our semi-fulltime volunteers. Though they were expected to join us on weekends after their online and modular classes but have been with us most of the time. This did not affect their studies though, but was able to manage their time well.
We also have with us two teachers. Sir Jeorge is an elementary teacher. He’s an in-demand teacher by the parents because of the quality of teaching he gives to his pupils. He’s gifted with patience and big amount of understanding. There was Sir John too, a friend during my novitiate year. He’s a former seminarian of the Missionaries of Jesus and now a Senior High School Teacher.
The 3-month Parish Mission would not be possible, lively and fruitful without the presence of these six gifted, talented and self-sacrificing Youth-Mission Volunteers. Each of them gave not just the best in them but the whole of their being for this mission.
Thus, being with them gave me such three wonderful experiences which I would like to emphasize.
First, it was a fun-filled experience being with these guys. Our group-study sessions, dishwashing and cooking assignments, practices and module simulations were filled with laughter. We always found the brighter side of our work and of our ministry. We were not only limited to giving sessions and prayer meetings and sacraments to the people, we have also spent time together picking young ferns for salad, digging sweet potatoes, opening up coconuts, eating, playing, swimming, singing and acting.
Second, it was a spirit-filled experience being with them. We know that the spirit brings creativity, freshness and youthfulness. There was so much creativity shared and being discovered even from the altar decorations to the presentation of modules and delivery of the talks. The very presence of these Youth-Mission Volunteers brings that freshness and youthfulness in the mission.
Third, it was a God-filled experience being among them. The mission itself with the presence of the people and of these Youth-Mission Volunteers, these were the very opportunities for me to encounter God. “God is young; He is always new”, as Pope Francis said. Even despite our limitations and imperfections, God makes wonderful things out of us. This was what I have witnessed being among the Youth-Mission Volunteers because of the desire for change, for spontaneity and for life.
Out of these fulfilling experiences, there are two lessons that I have learned as a missionary priest and as a youth minister.
First, to allow the young to speak and to speak their mind and their heart. This gives a space for the young to be creative, initiative and sensitive to his and her surrounding and community. Their thoughts and ideas, no matter how naive, lacking and limited, but those are ways to expand their horizon and discover more about themselves and others.
Second, to learn with them and to become a co-learner with them. This does not diminish the direction of a team leader but it rather enhances the process of learning and unlearning things. This helps one another to slowly unravel each gifts and talents, affirm and correct one another.