Anny Peña fi has just been sent to the Dominican Republic after living 7 years in Asia. She left her country in 2010. She lived in the Philippines for a few months and from there she went to Thailand and Myanmar. She tells us about her experience..
MY PASSAGE THROUGH ASIA
I thank God and Mother General for sending me to Asia.
Seven years in Asia have been a great experience. Years that like any day brought joy, sadness, sacrifices and, above all, much love. Love for people, respect for culture, open-mindedness is all that I have lived here.
I have learned that many things are relative in life. When I was in the Dominican Republic, I was short, big nosed, with ugly hair and dark-skinned. When I arrived in Thailand it turned out that I am tall (because my two Philippine sisters are a few inches shorter than me), with a fine nose, exotic hair and the only thing that did not change was being dark – well, yes, it changed to darker. And it is so with many things that we believe are absolute in life.
I have learned great values from people like simplicity, honesty, respect for the elderly, care for common goods, cleanliness of the environment, public expression of their faith (Buddhists)… I could give many examples, here are some:
• Something is lost in the street and there they leave it days and days and if not, they take it to the police.
• In the early morning when the monks go out to beg (they walk in a row on the street carrying a vessel), the people stop their vehicle, get down, kneel and give the offering to the monk, who in turn prays for them.
• There is no trash in the streets and not because there is no plastic (I think it is the country that uses the most plastic), but because citizens take care of their city.
In the Church I experienced how true and effective is the language of love. Being able to start a conversation with my few words in Thai and their few words of English and understanding each other, feeling connected and laughing together.
Working with refugees and with an NGO (Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS) was another blessing from Asia for me.
Entering the whole world of writing projects, reporting, planning activities, evaluating and, above all, working to empower the neediest, in this case refugees in Thailand and IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Myanmar.
What have I learned in community life?
I have learned that knowing, loving and accepting each other as we are is the key to a community life, which was not perfect but the best as we used to say (we are not a perfect community but we are the best). And not because we did not have problems but because we loved each other, we did not see ourselves as competition but with support from one to the other. We really lived what we say so much about but in general do not live much, Fraternal Help. And when a sister said something or I said something, we received it as an aid because it came from the sister. Living with the attitude of making the sister happy, the small details of each day.
We strengthened the sense of the universal body through our requests in community prayer and with the prayer of the Rosary every Wednesday for a specific community (from the catalog we read the information of each sister of a community and prayed for her and the mission).
The sense of Church also grows, on this side of the world, through the reading of papal documents, as well as praying at the end of our community prayer a Hail Mary for the Pope. Those details are an expression of faith; small, ancient, repetitive but nourishing and strengthening the spirit.
And we also grew in universalism when we prayed the Ave Maria in English, Tagalog, Chinese, Thai or Spanish. In openness and respect of what is different in the other.
In all this it helps to live in awareness that the work is of God. I am not the protagonist, they are – the ones I serve. I am only the instrument that sometimes lets Grace pass and at other times obstructs it. And that’s why our community prayers were loaded with our work.
And now I have to return to the Dominican Republic where, without counting my years of formation, I have lived for five years. And I return with the same enthusiasm with which I left, but now with a bigger heart, because of the names that are written on it; with a broader horizon, for all that I have received from Asian culture. I return with an immense desire to discover the will of God in my daily work, and for this I count on your prayers.