The Calling of a Young Christian Worker

Greetings to everyone. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to God, to you Reverend Fathers, Religious Brothers and Sisters and to everyone who is here at this Autumn Seminar 2019 for giving me this opportunity to share my discovery of mission in the lay context. I am 34 years old, a graduate AB Guidance Counselling at Father Saturnino Urios University, the Philippines. I have been self-employed, running a small family owned restaurant business named Shalom Beef and Seafood House in Butuan City, but at present I am working for the International Coordination of the Young Christian Workers (ICYCW) as international treasurer and development worker.

How did I discover my calling as a young lay missionary?

ICYCW 10th International Congress

It all started at the age of 14 because I wanted to join a choir group in our local church. Most of the members were my friends who sold vegetables, fish, fruits and other things in the market. These young people always attended the workers’ Mass on Sunday at 7:30 in the evening and were members of a local Young Christian Worker group in Butuan. The only reason I wanted to join was to sing in the choir. I was a very shy person then. I didn’t know how to communicate with people. I was afraid to express my opinion, and I didn’t care much about the people around me. But when I joined the YCW movement I gained lots of friends and became more outgoing. I started asking about things I didn’t understand around me. I became curious. I became confident in dealing with people. I became very active in inviting young people like me to take part in any activities we organized for young people.

The formation and training that I received helped me to face difficulties with confidence. During those days, we did the “Review of Life” in our group, following the method of See-Judge-Act; so we talked about what was happening in our life, our fears, our future plans, our difficulties, and family situations. This Seeing led us to the root of the problems we faced and was followed by the Judge stage which involved asking  what is right and wrong, first according to our human Judgement and then in the light of the Teaching of Jesus Christ. We then asked the Lord for guidance and decided how to Act to make a change in the situation.

What did lay mission mean to me?

This simple but effective process, See-Judge-Act, enabled me to have, as a young girl, my own idea of what lay mission means. I saw it as the calling of ordinary people who were not in a religious congregation, who were neither a priest, nor a sister, to carry out voluntary work out of love, where you were able to share things with others, people in need of your help, to do it with a pure intention without thinking of some reward. This was my simple idea.

My experience and responsibility as a young lay missionary?

My first responsibility was to become the leader in a cell group of the YCW composed of 3-5 members. This is where we did our Review of Life (ROL). I also became Vice President of the choir group. In this role I encountered simple difficulties which I had to deal with. It taught me how small things can be important for young people and to pay attention to these details. Next, I became the Diocesan President of YCW, where I had to handle bigger responsibilities which included making plans and decisions for the movement, looking for sustainable funds for our activities. This was a big challenge because I was expected for example to give a seminar outside of Butuan which turned out to be a joyful opportunity. In this role I was very close to the young people who shared lots of things especially problems with their parents or family members. I felt my mission was to find ways to help them, to try to understand both parties because many of the cases I encountered involved a lot of miscommunication.

My next step for me was to become National President of YCW in the Philippines where I experienced bigger and greater difficulties which I can really say helped me a lot to become a responsible and better person at the service of others. This time I had the responsibility to train young people who were new to the movement. But as a volunteer leader, I had to look for a job to sustain my personal needs and even financial support for some of the movement’s activities. I moved to the HQ in Davao City for 3 years and took part-time jobs on Mondays to Saturdays, this included being a fast food worker, service crew, mobile phone sales agent, house helper, selling things at the market or on the street. I always made sure to dedicate my Sundays and some evenings after work to the movement’s formation, training, and other activities and especially to sit down to do the “Review of Life”. Through this, in all these different jobs I also began to see lay mission in terms of knowing, supporting and caring for my fellow workers, a mission to be lived out in the circumstances of everyday life and not just as special activities around the Church.

What are your motivations or reasons to serve others voluntarily?

Serving others has helped me to become a fruitful person and more responsible in life. I always remember the words of our chaplain: “If you do not forget the work is the Lord’s work, He will never forget you”. and “you are not there just because you want to, but because God wants you to share the blessings and talents he has given to you”. This wisdom motivates me to offer my service because I know for sure that although my journey as a leader is not easy, I know God guides me. If I sometimes feel at a loss in making decisions, he sends good people to put me back on track.

I was trained in the YCW by our former leaders but I was also accompanied spiritually by our chaplain who always told me: “IDY listen to the Holy Spirit”, although sometimes I asked how can we listen to the Holy Spirit?

There came a time in my life when I felt confused, asking questions like, “Why am I doing this? I sacrificed being away from my family, working hard to sustain the young people around me, sometimes deprived of a good night’s sleep, conducting training courses, giving formation and other sessions, listening to the young people with their problems and helping them to face the challenges that they encounter, all of which I did voluntarily. But through this, the happiness I felt was unconditional. Without all those people, and all those experiences, I realize I would have been lost. My life had no direction and I do not know where I would be now if I had not become involved in serving others.

Give some Personal Examples based on your experience

Now I want to share my experience of mission in the other countries I have visited as a member of the ICYCW International team. It was amazing to learn how other young lay people serve their community and fellow workers.

My experience in Madagascar 2017

The first mission I did was very challenging. The person who should have welcomed us at the airport was not able to get there because there was a landslide. Then we had to change our plan and travel by van, because the internal flight to Diego had left already. We travelled 26hrs by van to visit the group of young people in Diego.

At the Review of Life a group of 4-6 young women who are involved in prostitution shared to me their stories. They were accompanied by one of the leaders and one of the chaplains in the parish who are trying to help them to make a change in their life inspired by the Teaching of Jesus.

I also got to know a young person who told me: “Here many of us wake up in the morning to go to work so as to put food on our table so that we do not sleep with an empty stomach”. I really felt the difficulties they experience in their day to day life. But even so these young leaders are able to contribute by helping others in need.

I also met Sig, a young leader who walks 200 kilometers to visit a group of young people to give them a training session and to motivate them not to give up even when life is very hard. It’s a huge distance mainly in the mountains and most of the time he walks barefoot to save his shoes. He does this 2 to 4 times a year during his holidays. I asked him why he did it and he said to me: “I was helped once and given training, and now it’s my turn to share what I learnt with others. He also added: “If I do not do this who will do it for them?”

My experience in Tchad.       

I visited a local group in Moundou 8 hours away from the centre where these young people are workers, working students, drop outs from school, unemployed, full time students. During the visit I was given an opportunity to talk to them, to listen to them sharing different realities. They especially like to hear about what is happening to young people in other countries and the challenges they face. I will never forget  a big young man, 19 year-old, asking me: “Idy, can you help me to develop my life?”  I wanted to be very honest, so I paused for a moment. I was a bit shocked and worried about what answer to give him. Then I told him to do the “Review of Life” in his local group where he could sit down to understand what is really at the root of the problem he faces and with the help of his group to make a reflection. Then to undertake personal action and to get involved in group action to see how you can support each other. And then in the next “Review of Life”, to make a review of your action.

What emerged from our sharing was that I got some key points about their struggle. It was not just about work and money. What they need is support from their family, friends and other people who have good expertise in IT, mechanics and other trades.

Some of the young people were also building things for the church, making a place where they can put the garbage and helping build a water station They were supporting lots of activities in the church.

 My experience in the Dominican Republic.

There I met a group of young people, many of whom are students and some are working students. They are supported and accompanied by their lay chaplain who helps them to organize activities to keep them active and involved, such as cooking. One of the big challenges the young people face is being too busy at work so that they no longer have time to be in the community. Because of this many of them are led into harmful ways, like taking drugs and some of them experience depression.

Others Experiences

I also met a young person who had no motivation in life. Even though she had a good education, a good job and a family, she had lost her purpose in life. She said: “I don’t want to wake up in the morning because I have no inspiration.” This is the very opposite to a young person who has to wake up in order to put food on the table.

A lot is happening if we have time to listen to the people around us.

Life in Rome:

To serve at the ICYCW I had to move from the Philippines to be based in Rome.

Life away from our country is very different: the food, the weather, the people, the culture. For the first six months I remember really asking myself: “Why am I here Lord?”. At that time we were just three young people at the international secretariat with no chaplain, and the three of us all new. We only spoke English and we were in Rome for the first time. Can you imagine? Yes, we have people supporting us from different countries but for the day to day we are all by ourselves. If we go to the market, or if someone calls the office, and they speak Italian we don’t know how to answer. We can only say, “Please send us an email so that we can use google to translate it”. Also living together in one house we experienced our cultural differences which was quite challenging, but I was happy that we have former chaplains who always gave their support and were willing to listen to me whatever the challenge. They helped me to see difficulties as opportunities. I can say my life in Rome is very colourful now.

In January 2018 our secretariat was finally complete. We have a new part time Chaplain from Barcelona, Fr. Joan Ramon Marin, a new secretary general Agnes Monica from Uganda, and our president Berhanu Sinamo from Ethiopia. We are coordinating around 54 countries with 200 thousand young people around the world.

Being a YCW leader is not just talking about the dignity of the young worker. We have to help them to understand that their life is of value and that God wants us to share that life with others. This is our mission. We value simple personal action, which is attainable and realistic. This helps them to develop their confidence, talents and strengths in a very specific way.

What are the challenges as a young lay missionary:

  1. Many young people don’t have any kind of training.
  2. Cultural differences need to be understood. Between Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, for example.
  3. Some lay people and religious don’t seem to know how to listen. It’s as though they know everything.
  4. Some don’t support an existing group. Instead of motivating and empowering these young people to grow, they create their own group, and so it becomes a competition.
  5. Many don’t understand leadership. We need to train someone because we want someone to replace us. Some do not want to give the young people responsibility. They hang on to their position.
  6. Some also don’t allow young people to make mistakes. If they find a mistake they don’t give them a chance to correct things.

ICYCW International Chaplaincy Training

What are the positive things?

  1. I have the opportunity to help and support others.
  2. I have met different people who have helped me to understand life and that happiness is not all about materials things
  3. Life became more fruitful

But the big challenges are still there today. I can still see in my own country and in other countries around the world that many young people don’t have the chance to develop their talents and understand the value of the life that God wants for them.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask you: Please don’t forget to put young people in your plans for the future!. They need help and support. Young people are not only the future of the Church, but also the present. 

Following God is not easy, but knowing Him helps me to think that every struggle in life bears fruit in goodness.

Thank you very much.

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