Marist Mission Ranong (MMR)

July 29, 2009

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit and be part of the The Marist Mission Ranong (MMR)  community during the month of June while on a 6 month Renewal Programme. I’m so lucky as a Marist Priest, after being on the road 15 years since taking Vows, and 10 years as a Marist Priest, we get the opportunity to have some time to be renewed and energised for the new challenges and adventures of the future. It has been an eye opening and heart changing experience.

Marists are called to be with the most forgotten and abandoned and I recognise in this little forgotten corner of the world, a great

Marist Hostel Students at Maera Moo Refugee Camp

Marist Hostel Students at Maera Moo Refugee Camp

‘Marist’ project and work is being done. Visiting HIV Aids patients and sitting on the floor talking to a guy who would most probably be dead if the MMR Health project had not found him. Visiting Burmese families without work and being forced out of their very poor housing is a shock to the system I have never experienced so immediately before. Seeing the joy of young disadvantaged children learning and growing and happy to be in a safe place has a deep sense of  the MMR Education Centre making a real difference against the odds. The totally committed and passionate staff and volunteers who work for little and give so much. The witness to prayer and hospitality and standing by the most marginalized that the Marist Community show has been an experience that I would like to imitate back home or wherever I’m sent in the world. Its been great and I’m very thankful.

I’m going to miss going to the local Market where pigs heads sit on the counter, eels wriggle around in the water in the plastic buckets beside the counter, dried fish hang in the air like clothes on a clothes-line, fish and fish and more fish, and there is interesting new vegetables and smells that get up your nose that you have never smelt before! Wow. Sensation overload! It meant a couple of times having to retreat to a nice little coffee place that had air conditioning just to keep an equilibrium! Ha. Ha. Ha.

English Language Camp

English Language Camp

One of the great experiences was to go to the Refugee Camps on the Thai/ Burma Border. The Marist Mission Centre Australia sponsor over 100 young people in 4 Hostels and help with a school in 3 Refugee Camps. Their stories and the drama of their life with the social unrest in Burma has moved me deeply. On leaving the students, all want to have a photo taken and they then say: ‘don’t forget me!’. It was also great connecting with other Volunteers who come to serve and help the Mission, like the 6 Irish Students and other MMR staff in the ‘English Language Camp’ for 2 days. As a native English speaker, one is made to feel almost like a movie star! We had lots of games and songs and attempts at helping kids learn English… and in the breaks the kids were all coming up to collect signatures and ask what is your favourite food etc! Oh to be famous!!!

Thanks for the glimpse into the great work and commitment to the Marist Mission in Asia. I’ll never forget it!

Fr Frank Bird

Volunteering Abroad

May 18, 2008

Volunteering abroad is a way to make a worthwhile contribution to another country while simultaneously broadening your life experiences.

Volunteering can be a life-changing experience. It provides substantial experience of the culture, people, and language. Learning them first shows to the people whole you deal with every that your interest is “them”.

Whether for a career break or just a mere vacation, being a volunteer in Thai-Burma border is the best place to go. The great beauty of Thailand and its environment, and the welcoming attitude of both Thai and Burmese people are one of many reasons why Thailand is an ideal place for volunteering as English teacher. Read more

Significant Impressions

April 19, 2008

Recently I visited a Burmese migrant couple in their mid-twenties, Myo Chi and Sandarhlaing. Sandarhlaing was suffering from AIDS, and I was struck by the beautifully attentive way in which she was being cared for by her husband. They had no family in Ranong, but Myo Chi’s salary was being paid by a generous friend of ours so that he could stay at home and look after his wife.And how wonderfully he did it. I was touched by Myo Chi’s love and courage, and, in the midst of this very sad situation – Sandarhlaing died two days later – by the warm hospitality he showed me.

I was accompanied on this and other visits by one of the MMR family, community outreach team leader Aung Soe. Aung Soe works hard at what I think most of us would find difficult tasks – visiting around the neighbourhood in the heat of the day, washing and feeding the sick and dying, negotiating with health officials, and so on. He does this with real care, respect and dignity – you could call it holiness. Like many of the MMR team, Aung Soe inspires me.

The next impression made on me was by a group of people I never met, though I do know many like them here in this town. You might have read on this website, or in the news, about the 54 Burmese who suffocated whilst being “trafficked” into Thailand through Ranong. Arriving at a pier near our Chanel Community Center under the cover of darkness, 121 men and women were crammed into a container which measured 6 meters by 2.2 meters. They were on their way south when the air ran out and tragedy struck.Life is desperate for many of the Burmese around us here, hence the desperate measures some will take to try to make a better life for themselves and their families.

During the recent Songkran festival, I attended a ceremony wherein a friend of ours, Somkeit, was received into a local monastery. A Burmese teacher in a local Thai school, Somkeit is a good friend of MMR and a well-respected figure around Ranong. Many Thai and Burmese spend at least a little time in a monastery at some stage of their lives. It’s school holiday time here at the moment, and Somkeit is spending one week of his vacation as a monk. Like Catholics, Buddhists acknowledge that good living begins with contemplation.

One of the big privileges of life here with MMR is meeting so many interesting people, and to see their goodness shine in the midst of trying circumstances.

Being “Kuru”

March 24, 2008

Teachers here in Thailand are addressed as “Kruu”. The word comes from the Pali language, meaning “knowledgeable, true and without blemish”. In the Thai social hierarchy of respect, being a teacher has the same status of a parent. It is the responsibility of the teacher to be a parent to the children; I guess this is true in every culture and nation.

I feel privileged to work as a teacher here. My colleagues are very welcoming. They always extend their help and guidance. They are all nice and welcoming, despite the difficulties in communicating, for most of them don’t know how to speak English. Communication is really difficult. All the documents and instructions in the school are in Thai language and script; it is a difficult language to learn. Slowly I’m learning to speak and read Thai.

I teach kindergarten, primary and secondary level. It is really a tough load, yet, I really enjoy it. I like to be with the students even if there are times that they are not that interested. For them, learning English is a bit of a burden. They often complain and comment that it is a very difficult language. I notice that some students are not interested to learn the language because they feel secure here in their own land. There is no need for them to go out from their own realm for they are sufficient enough. This is the opposite for every Burmese student. Burmese students really try their best to learn English in a hope that they can have a better life and leave their country to settle in other country.

As the academic year ends, I really hope that my presence in the school has made a difference in the lives of the students.

On being a Catholic missionary in a Buddhist land

January 19, 2008

Most of the people we live with, both Burmese and Thai, are Buddhist. There are also some Muslims here.There are very few Catholics here, either in Thailand or in Burma.

We are a Marist Religious community, a Catholic missionary community. Often we seem to locals like a non-government organisation (NGO) and much of our work does harmonize with theirs – health care, education, a “community centre”, and so on. But essentially we are different from the typical NGO in that our communal and individual motivation comes solely from the Gospel and the Tradition of the Catholic Church. We are a religious community rather than an NGO.

How do we live as missionaries among Buddhists who are generally wonderfully tolerant of Christians but often do not seem much interested in Jesus Christ or the Gospel? The belief in Thailand seems to be that all religions are good because they all help people to live good lives. To be Thai (or Burmese) is to be Buddhist. But if you are a Christian, that’s fine, too. Live and let live!

The key to mission in this Buddhist land seems to be “dialogue” – not so much by words but by actions. I am reminded of a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi which runs along the lines of: “preach always… if necessary, use words”.

We hope to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by what we do for the people here even though we almost never have the opportunity to mention the name of Jesus. If our work is genuine and generous we hope that sooner or later some people may ask us why we are making these efforts. It may take many years or even generations before this question is asked. But if or when someone finally asks us why we do these good works then and only then can we respectfully share our motivation and our faith.

Meantime we ourselves just keep living the Gospel as fully as we can. The most important and first “conversion” is our own. We become as involved in the lives of the poor as much as can. And we share in their experience, responding as compassionately as we can. We hope to be an experience of the “Good News” for the people even though this is not the time to express the good news in explicit words. The Spirit will guide us and the people to whom we are sent.

It can be difficult to keep going sometimes. Most people have no idea what a “priest” or a “religious” or a “lay missionary” might be. Most have never met a Christian. We ourselves can lose our own way. That is why it is important that we have a strong community and personal prayer life. As a Marist community we try to start each day with one hour together in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We also celebrate the Eucharist together every morning. This can be a challenge too as we seldom have people from “outside” to come and celebrate with us. It can be “heavy going”. But if we are faithful to the prayer life personally and communally we sustain our own motivation for mission, for dialogue with others.

Catholic missionaries have been in Thailand for a many centuries but there are very few Catholics here. Catholic missionaries would be known mainly for the institutions that have been built to serve the needs of the people, especially schools and hospitals. All this generous work over the centuries has built up a lot of good will.

But I believe that what will finally win the hearts of the people is friendship borne of working together to build the “reign of God”…a reign of healing and justice and peace.  This is the essence of “dialogue” between religions … Christian and Buddhist and Muslim working together to build the “reign of God”.  The rest is in the work of the Spirit.