An exploration: Sibu
Awakening the missionary spirit.
Ivan Fang mhm
The Christian communities of the local Church in the East Malaysian State of Sarawak have much to spark the interest of a visitor from Europe. The strong sense of community inherited from the age old tradition of communal living in longhouses, to name but one striking feature, stands in stark contrast to our Western individualist leanings. There is a contagious vibrancy in the way the Christian faith is lived and celebrated here. On a six week visit to Mill Hill missionaries active in Sarawak I was keen to find out how this vibrancy is shared, how in other words, it translates into a missionary awareness and outreach. The Missionary Community of Corpus Christi (MCCC) founded some years ago by fellow Mill Hill missionary Ivan Fang seemed like a good place to find out.
I arrived at MCCC's training facility at St Joseph's Mission Animation Centre in Sibu towards the end of a six weeks visit. This Centre was officially opened on 31 May 2014 by the bishop of Sibu, Rt Rev Joseph Hii, even though the building was not fully completed. In fact some of the trainees and staff still live in commercial goods containers handsomely converted into provisional living quarters.
In its advertising flyer MCCC defines itself as ' a network of small Christian communities linked by the desire to witness to the Gospel by a life of dedicated service at home or abroad'.
‘MCCC welcomes anyone to her membership, lay or religious, without any restrictions of qualification or otherwise. It aims at 'mobilising, facilitating and activating baptised Christians into becoming more aware of their responsibilities as disciples of Jesus. Witnessing to Jesus in one's daily life is paramount. You can do this by joining local unit or working as a missionary abroad’.
The MCC founder, Ivan Fang mhm, originally came to Mill Hill, London, because as a Brunei citizen he could not be admitted to the regional seminary at Penang, Malaysia. His missionary consciousness was kindled when a lecturer at the Missionary Institute London challenged him one day saying : "You are called to mission. China needs to be evangelized by those from the diaspora, like yourself ". He decided to join the Mill Hill Missionaries, was sent on mission to Pakistan, and through circumstance was called back to his native Brunei.
But the original challenge kept reverberating in his heart. ‘Lord, you seduced me, and I was seduced. You ·are stronger than I am, so you won’ (Jer 20:7). And so at the instigation of a council of committed lay people in Kota Kinabalu the idea of founding a community of lay missionaries was born. The ‘Missionary Community of Corpus Christi’ as it came to be called now has support groups in major towns in East Malaysia and The Philippines. Its aim is to awaken an outward looking missionary spirit of the Christian communities throughout the region.
Currently MCCC lay missionaries are active in various projects in China, Cambodia and among slums kids in Manila –Philippines. Plans are afoot to extend to missionary outreach to Myanmar.
“ Heavy rains have caused flooding in many areas in Cambodia over the past few weeks ever since the beginning of September. Even Battambang was inundated with flood waters in the earlier part of October. Mark, one of our missionaries in Cambodia, was able to organize the distribution of food to those badly affected by the recent heavy rains with the youth of St Vincent de Paul Society”.
“Through her many contacts with the local church in China, Anna was able to learn about the situation among the Catholics in many of the provinces in China. One such place is Datong in Shanxi Province. Her first visit there was in May when she took Dr Chao Tai from the Guizhou Rose Society based in Canada for a visit there. As a result of this visit it was planned that a free medical clinic would be set up in Datong”. (From ‘Missiocom’, the MCCC Newsletter).
Back at the training centre in Sibu I spoke at length with Priscilla Carriedo, a lay missionary trainee from Mindanao in The Philippines. A trained theologian she gave up a stable job in education to join the missionary training course in Sibu.
“I long to be of service and share my faith”, she told me.
The transition from her former position of independence to her current status as trainee living in community with others was not easy. “Here in Sibu I am learning to shed my former status as independent teacher and to stand with open hands, ready to receive what presents itself. It’s quite a challenge!” She hopes to be sent on mission to Cambodia or even start a new initiative in Myanmar. “What will be her specific contribution”, I wonder aloud? “I am prepared to do whatever presents itself. My hands are open”.
Fons Eppink mhm