The day of Pentecost, 2009, was indeed a memorable one, the day I received my mission destination to be a missionary in Guinea Bissau, an African Country. A paradox knocked my heart with diverse feelings of joy as well as fear. In fact, it was a hard reality, the apprehension about Africa was overshadowing my ecstasy of going to the people of Guinea Bissau. It wasn’t easy to leave my home town, my native Country, my all, my everything and to go to the people of unknown land. At specific point, I did interrogate God, “why are you sending me too far and what am I going to do there…of course I love you Lord… but I can’t go very far leaving my family and country.” But that was only surface reality, deep in my heart I believed it to be the Will of God as He has gifted me with the missionary charism and that I should go to Guinea Bissau as a missionary. Young and timid, yet courageous and strong I wished to be while I was preparing myself to make my Final Vows and leave for the mission in 2011.
I was sent to Lisbon, Portugal for nine months to learn Portuguese, as it is the official language of Guinea Bissau. It wasn’t so easy, I recall the varied moments of nothingness that I experienced, while in a foreign land. Before long, I comprehended that for every missionary learning the local language is of para importance. Slowly and steadily, I started relishing not only the language, the culture, the tradition but the entirety of the new land. From Lisbon I took flight to Guinea Bissau my mission land. On my arrival, I met our sisters who are from Italy, Brazil, Cameron, Guinea-Bissau, Bangladesh and India. I never knew them but my conscience whispered that they are my family and together with them I am called to continue the mission of Christ.
In an instant, on my arrival, I realised that the Portuguese I learnt is for official survival, while the people speak the local language ‘Creole.’ A nightmare begun again to learn another language, another culture and another everything of the populace. While learning Creole, I was opened to a greater prospect of meeting and interacting with the natives. It facilitated me to respect and accept the people and their culture. It didn’t take much time for me to realize that these people always enjoyed happiness amidst their hardships, encompassing a simple life-style. Gradually I started to fall in love with this mission. I can pledge that not only me but anyone who arrives here would ultimately fall in love with these good-natured people.
The population of Guinea-Bissau, with a Muslim majority, is ethnically diverse with distinct languages, customs, and social structures. Music, dance, sharing, helping and genuine affection for each other are part of their life and culture. Elders both in the families and in the villages are given due respect. Women are hardworking and they struggle whole day in the hot sun to work, to feed their children, to provide them good education and ever generous to share their food and to reach out to other families in need. Women of this mission, I believe, ARE THE LIVING GOSPEL– who donate their entire lives for the good of the family and the society. Children are considered as blessing from God above. As a result they desire to have more children and take responsibility for their proper upbringing and nourishment.
Youth are the all-time available missionaries, with whose assistance I carry out my apostolate. In collaboration with them, I organise, the tuition to the children who do not have access to go to school or when the schools are closed due to indefinite strikes. Sensitizing the people about ecology, cleaning the surroundings to protect the mother nature, organising sports or games for children, teaching catechism, visiting the sick in the hospitals, Vocation and Missionary Animation are our day-to-day activities which we accomplish together. With my short stay with the people I realised that it’s enough to ignite a tiny spark of goodness and the fire starts by itself.
Recently, we wished to conscientize the people about global warming. We went around the town inviting the people to join hands with us in cleaning the surrounding. For our great dismay, we found that people from different walks of life such as police men, special security personnel of the nation, business people, red cross movement, government officialsand men and women irrespective of the religion and ethnicity, united with us in serving the locality by cleaning. There were some good Samaritans too who contributed enormously by providing masks, gloves, sanitizers, water, snacks, tools and even transport to move the garbage out of the town. Together with multitudes of people, we continued this task for three weekends. Everyone was delighted to be part of the campaign against global warming in our tiny way. This was an enriching experience, where I realized that with good intention and unity anything is possible. It also taught me that people are very cooperative and collaborative and work unanimously without any self-interest.
I recall another fresh incident of Guinean charity. Few months back a hardworking young couple wanted to tie knot in our Parish. They ran short of money as their income fell drastically due to pandemic. Owing to this, they went about prolonging their wedding, as they were not in a position to host a wedding feast by providing a sumptuous meal to their family and friends. According to the Guinean culture, hosting a wedding meal is the most important part of the tradition, which hardly anyone skips. The parishioners understood the struggle and decided unanimously to lend the helping hand to the couple. At last! The wedding was planned and everything concluded with a magnificent climax. I, who witnessed exclaimed, “God! you are so wonderful and so do Your creatures.” Secondly, to find such closeness of the parishioners in supporting and sharing altruistically made me realize that humanity is very much alive in this small part of the world and I felt immensely glad to be one among them.
Every day is a process of learning to me. Directly or indirectly, I observe something that touches me and makes me to grow. I also understand that there doesn’t exist a culture superior or inferior. Neither there is a religion above or below. Living amidst poor, fragile, humble and lowly people of God, I grasp at deeper level, what it means to leave behind my sandals. Often times, sitting before God in silence, I remember the emotions, sentiments, tears and pains I had had when I left India. Today the same moods and feelings have transformed into the moments of joy and contentment, dialogue and encounter, faith and maturity. I have become a new fabric, where every day, I try to beautify the designs on it, through new embroidery.
Blessed Paolo Manna, PIME – the inspirer of our Congregation says, “Our vocation is great, sublime and divine. There is no other which surpasses it in nobility, in sanctity, in merit; it is identified with the work of Christ, with the mission of the Church. We, however, are small and weak.” Yes! The Lord choses the humble, humanly speaking, the weakest instruments to carry forward His Gospel. This had been the tangible experience of our Foundresses: Mother Giuseppina Dones and Giuseppina Rodolfi, who at all times, wished, “God might make use of us rusty instruments to start a good work.” From our part we need to resign ourselves into His mighty hands, so that He can make use of us in the best way possible in spreading His Kingdom.
Inestimable are the experiences that I have harvested in my mission land. At the highest altitude stands God and His faithfulness. With Jesus – the Apostle of the Father- the first and the greatest Missionary, can we ever fail in our mission? Certainly not, for He has pledged us in Mt. 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of this world,” this becomes the daily source of my strength and cheerfulness amidst the people of Guinea – the mission I am called to serve. Long live the Charism of our Institute: “The Living passion to proclaim God’s Kingdom to all peoples,” which is instrumental in taking us to the most interior parts of the world, where Christ and His message is unheard.
Sr. Victoria Doraboina,
Bissorã– Guinea Bissau