When we first arrived on Camiguin Island with Mrs. Genie, who had come to install us on our first mission, we were all told to seek the Lord in His holy Word to see what He had to say to each of us concerning our task here. During my personal prayer time, I opened my Bible to Matthew 14 and I read about the feeding of the five thousand. I really focused on the words in verses 16-18: “Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me...” I felt the Lord saying to me that while I may not have much to offer in the way of ministry, if I give Him what I do have for His glory, He will bless it and make it into something that will really count. While I had this basic understanding at the time, I would not really know until now all that Jesus was saying to me through those particular verses...
Mr. Frank and Mrs. Genie Summers, founders of Family Missions Company, are fond of quoting St. Thomas Aquinas (I believe) who said that “grace builds on nature.” By nature, my husband and I are both introverts. In fact, when we bought the last house we lived in we did so with the intention of raising our children secluded from the outside world. We took the motto of St. Benedict “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work) as our own. I went so far as to copy his monks' schedule as best I could and incorporate it into our family life. While at the time it seemed to be God's perfect and final plan – one that suited our natures just fine - He confounded our pride and complacency, as is often His way, and called us to a much less private way of life.
Many of our doubts about missionary work had to do with our very natures. Neither one of us would be considered a mighty preacher like St. Paul, whom we studied in Acts of the Apostles during Intake. Neither did we have musical talent to enhance our ministry like many of the other missionaries in the company. Nevertheless, as Mrs. Genie reminded us before she left us to ourselves here on Camiguin, God has called the Alvarez family personally to this place at this time. He will use us according to His will, which will be in accord with the natures He has given us.
If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that it is in my nature to love children. I love being a mother and leading my children to Jesus. One of the ways I love doing this is through books. My children – even my oldest – love to read and to be read to. Some of our favorite times together are spent on the couch or bed, me with some wonderful story or other in hand and the children surrounding me to listen. One aspect of the Benedictine schedule that I included in our family schedule years ago is that of an afternoon rest period with spiritual reading. Each child is made to lay down quietly and look at or read a book about God or one of His saints. Before becoming missionaries we had a collection of many such books, but since then we have reduced the amount considerably, and at the moment we have in our possession only our Bibles and at most five picture books of prayers or saints.
Since a few days after we arrived here on Camiguin Island, the yard where we are staying has been full of children, all eager to meet the new American family. Many of the children come a little after dawn and don't leave until past dark. We have also seen these same children at Mass unaccompanied by any adult. The first Sunday that we attended Mass here, I heard whispering and giggling behind me. I turned around to see middle- school aged children eating cookies and carrying on. I smiled and handed them an illustrated Children's Mass Book. They took it eagerly and it held their interest for the remainder of the Mass. This was not to be the last occasion that I would have to do this. I have been surprised at the lack of discipline and attention of even the oldest kids during the Mass. It seems to be for them only a gathering to show up to, but I really don't think they know what it means and why they are there. I have been shocked too at the lack of attention the children receive from their parents. I have not ever even seen most of the parents of the children who hang around outside our door from morning til night. At first I thought it was only because the children had never seen foreigners and were curious; but a month later I now realize that this is the norm for them. During our first week here, we began to say the rosary with the children outside in the evenings. As time went on and I realized that the children would not leave all day, there were times when I wondered, Shouldn't they go home now? Don't they need to eat? Don't they need to see their parents, to help out at home, etc.? I remembered the Bible verses from Matthew and I could just hear Jesus saying to me, “You yourself give them something.”
Now, besides the evening rosary, we try to include the children in whatever we can that our daily schedule holds. We offer them snacks or food if they are here at mealtimes. I also read to them from the Catholic children books that we have. One day while I was reading a picture book about St. Joseph to my 3 year old during quiet rest time, I noticed that one little boy of about 10 or 11 had not left our front porch. We were inside the house, but he could see and hear us and was trying to listen to the story also. I turned the book towards him more so that he could better see the pictures. Even though it was a very simple story, he really enjoyed it. A few days later, he approached me with some of his friends and asked, “Tita (a term of respect which means Auntie), can we borrow that story book?” When I handed it to him, he and his friends ran off to read it under a tree. Another time, when my daughter Meredith was reading her Bible out by the seawall in our “backyard”, some of the older kids asked if they could borrow it when she was done. We have figured out that books, especially picture books, outside of the school classroom are extremely rare, if not nonexistent. There is no public library or bookstore that we are aware of anywhere on the island. Even though we only have a few books, we have much more than these children have ever seen! For this reason, Meredith thought it would be a neat ministry if we could have a small Catholic library in our new mission house. We could include a story hour with a teaching and prayer, etc. For this to work, we would need the help of our readers. If any of you have any used Catholic children stories that you would like to donate, please send them to the address below.
We also invite them to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3, explaining to them how when we truly love God we will be sorry for the wrong we have done and ask Him to help us because we want to please Him, Who has done nothing but loved us so much. I told them to think of something they may have done, like using bad language, that offends God. This was prompted by the fact that often times after the rosary, the children will stay to play with our kids in the yard and will use bad language as they do so. We were unaware of this at first because they were using their own Bisayan language that we cannot understand. However, it was recently brought to our attention by a young girl who is active in the church who stopped by to see our girls one evening. I asked Odilio to directly address this issue before the rosary the next night. He kindly told the children that Mother Mary is not pleased by bad language and please not to use it since we want to learn only “good” Bisayan words. We thought maybe we would not see them around so much after this, but they were very receptive to the admonishment and one of the mothers, who is the only other adult who attends the rosary, was very grateful, saying, “Thank you for reminding us about bad language. I will also tell the children again in Bisayan.” (!) Many times, Odilio gets the children to help clean up the yard by raking the many leaves that fall everyday. The children are truly wonderful, happy people who want very much to please adults, they only need a bit of guidance. We just learned that one of the boys (age 15) who comes everyday is not a Catholic and never had any intention of becoming one until he saw how our family interacts together. His cousin told our daughter that he likes to see us eating together, praying together, and having fun together. He now wants to be baptized and help as an altar server at Mass! He now has to convince his father to allow him this privilege. It is our hope that all the children continue to come around and that we will never run out of “food” to give them. Please pray that we will be open to what God is asking of us concerning His dear little ones, and that all that we teach them will take effect in their lives and last into eternity!
To send a donation of religious books or other materials:
c/o Holy Rosary Parish
Sagay, Camiguin Island