Indian district sent three Dehonians to a mission place known as Odisha, an eastern Indian state on Bay of Bengal, is known for its tribal culture and ancient Hindu tradition. Manish one of the three pioneers of the mission explains his mission experience and life of people in Odisha.
I am sure many of you must have heard the story of the eagle that was raised among chickens. A great farmer found the egg of an eagle somewhere in the forest, only God knows how it got there; he placed the egg under his own chicken which was sitting on its own eggs. Fortunately the eaglet successfully hatched out of the egg through the others eggs of the mother hen hatched into baby chicks. Though the eaglet appeared bigger than the baby chicks and its plumage was different, but the mother hen raised it nonetheless. The eaglet mixed up with the chicks, ate chicken feed, cuddled with them snuggled under the wings of the mother hen for protection. It did everything as a chicken would do and it became more of a chicken than an eagle but physically it remained as an eagle. It soon grew and became markedly different from the chicken population. As an eagle, it was supposed to soar high and fly in the sky, but it totally had a chicken mentality. It ate, played and slept with the chickens, despite it was an eagle. Biologically an eagle but socially and mentally a chicken, a fool if I will say as it did not live up to potential. One day a great eagle flies and looks down and sees the eagle amidst the chicken. He comes to the ground and he says ‘what is the matter with you? Why are you roaming with the chickens? You are an eagle.’ The young eagle replied, ‘I do not know, I never realised my own capacity’. Then the adult eagle draws him into the world of eagle and teaches him how to spread wings and fly high.
The task of the missionary is to remind the people who they are in Jesus Christ; they are in fact the children of god. They are in fact destined to soar high. Their problems are like they spent their whole life as chickens and do not aim high. Jesus says, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. St. Augustine says, ‘God became man so that we might become god’. I think St. Augustine was speaking about the higher state of life that we are blessed with through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we are sons and daughters of God the father, we are blessed with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). Our experience in the mission plays is contrary, in the sense, thousands of people are deprived of abundance-filled life. They experience scarcity and poverty, they are not treated as god’s sons and daughters neither they feel too. As an eagle they are supposed to soar high and fly in the sky in every sphere of life. They totally have that chicken mentality.
Fr. Michael Benedict, Fr. Bhaskar and myself (three pioneers) who were privileged to be in Bisaguda (Tentullikhunti Parish, Odisha) for our mission experience. People have with them very minimum number of things, they do not go to hospital if they get sickness because they believe in black magic, and parents do not promote the education of the children as they think that it is a waste of money. As a result many young boys and girls are dropped out. Many youth are also addicted to drug powder, tobacco and drinking habits. They roam without vision and goals, though they are Catholics but they do not know Catholic faith as there is no Christian faith formation.
Our duty as missionaries and religious is to play the role of the adult eagle who notices the young eagle amidst the chicken who reminds him of his true identity, helps him to spread wings and soar high. We need to teach people who they are in Christ Jesus that they are the sons and daughters of God. We need to help them to come out from their chicken world through faith formation, social skills and educational help, they need to change their chicken mentality so as to dream high. We need to bring love humanity and faith wherever we go and to whomever we meet and not just focus on proselytesm.
In Bisaguda we did not do any great things, our fathers were not allowed to administrate any sacraments. If we focus on performances and doings then we will be unhappy, we come across certain mission places where we feel our hands and legs are literally tied as we cannot carry out our pastoral works because of the restrictions, rules and regulations of the place we are working. But if you know how to be with the people even if you don’t do anything, that is enough to plant the seed which can grow hundred fold in due course of time. We played cricket with them, we went for fishing, we went to mountain to collect fruits, and we gave them tuition during our free time. I never knew we were winning their hearts, we were planting seeds. The entire village was in a state of sorrow, tears. Men, women and children cried alike. So much of love and affection was pouring out from them for us, they flooded us with gifts. It is not because of what we did for them but our simple presence and availability touched them, our simple way of living among them made them feel as one among them. If you think mission is all about doing big things then we must remember St. Mother Theresa’s saying ‘Do simple things with great love.
A new team was formed to go to Umerkote after one year of mission experience in bisaguda.Fr. Mathew, Dn. Sajith and myself came to Umerkote on 1st September 2020. We have two Catholic Christian families living in Umerkote. However, they are originally from Kandhamal. We might get disappointed if we are so much number conscious. We have to serve joyfully whomever God gifts us because Jesus himself assures, ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name there am I.’ (Mathew 18:20). Our primary task was to find out the Catholics who have left the catholic faith and have joined other denominations. Jesus said, ‘for the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). We visit their houses and called them back to catholic faith, most of them are willing to return to the christian faith. We also do feeding ministry apart from pastoral work. Jesus continues to identify himself with the hungry, “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” (Mathew 25:35). We go in search of the hungry in and around Umerkote town and give them food, we can see the smile on their face after they receive food and that is how we proclaim the gospel.
Finally our experience will be like that of St. Paul who says, ‘’ whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of god.” (1Corinthians 10:31). We should always remember that mission is not our work but it is the work of God and we are his instruments. Our duty is not to be successful but faithful to the mission entrusted to our care.