The Best Christmas Gift: Finding Jesus in Unexpected Places

Slicing radishes for soup

Reflections after the SHS-HDJ Faculty and Staff Four-day Immersion Experience

In Maasin, Ilo-ilo and Guimaras [December 20 to 23, 2014]

Early this school year when our RCA first informed the teachers and staff about this four-day immersion to be held sometime in December, honestly, I was a little resentful and hesitant.

“Why does it have to be scheduled during our Christmas break?” I grumbled inwardly. “Four days? That’s too many days away from my family and during the Christmas season at that!”

Moreover, as the dates drew nearer, I dwelled on these emotions especially that the last two weeks were really hectic with rescheduled school activities compressed one after the other due to cancelled classes in the aftermath of Typhoon Ruby. Naturally I was so looking forward to the holidays. “Yehay! It’s the last day of school for 2014!” was surely the sigh of relief for all the teachers on December 19 – yet short-lived as the following day, it was early to the airport to catch a flight to Ilo-ilo for 22 teachers and staff, another group to Cagayan, and a third group to Davao.

For the Ilo-ilo group, the long waiting at the airport was the first challenge. The supposedly 8:20 am flight finally took off way past 12 noon. Now as I look back and reflect on the whole experience, from day one to four, from the moment I left the comfort and security of home, I realize now that the Lord wanted us to experience a different and more personal advent -- “Expectant waiting and preparing for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ…” and what would be the best way to do this? I believe He wanted us to empty our hearts of all worries and concerns, focus only on Him, His coming, His Presence… and see Him in all things and circumstances.

Thus I needed to be “removed” from my daily routine and environment, brought to an unfamiliar place -- uncomfortable and inconvenient at times -- so that I could have the opportunity to put aside my vanity and pride, selfish needs and wants, forget my SELF – and only then would I be able to find Jesus even in the most ordinary and unexpected places, events, and people.

I realize that I encountered Jesus many times, reminding me to look beneath the surface, see beyond the external and appreciate the person himself, the experience itself, the journey and not just the destination. He was the old taxi driver who drove me to the airport, with whom I had a lively and intelligent conversation that I never expected at all and he actually gave me a life-lesson or two. He was in the warm welcome and generosity of the HDJ sisters in Maasin, Guimaras and Ilo-ilo City; He was in the meekness and amiability of the people we met in the dorm and in the market place; He was with us as we quietly walked to the church to hear dawn mass; I felt God’s presence in my 7 roommates who showed me love and concern when I was ill. I saw Jesus in the warmth of Sr.Leoly, the gentleness of Sr. Fe, and the quiet presence of Sr. Emma. I found God in the mountains of Punong, in the arduous and rough ride, in the long walks on the muddy roads when our jeepney got stuck and broke down for the umpth time. He spoke to me through the wild flowers growing everywhere, the swishing of the tall bamboos, and the gentle breeze that cooled us after our climb uphill. Then I found Jesus in the home of my foster family…amidst the simplicity and poverty, in the happy faces of the children, in the joyful disposition of the mother despite the dire lack of even the most basic of things. I was humbled by the quiet dignity of the father. Although he said the least, he moved me the most – he would smile but his eyes were sad, and he came home from bathing his carabao and offered us a piece of guyabano as a gift. And there again, was another face of Jesus –

Finally, on our last day during our sharing just before leaving for the airport again, I marveled at how each one encountered Jesus in their own experiences and realizations. Indeed God is everywhere and He continues to communicate with us, but we need to look and listen, to pause for a while in the quiet of our hearts despite the noise around us. And where there is love and humility, generosity and sharing, joy and forgiveness, Jesus is ready to be born in our midst and in our hearts.

After saying our thank you and good-byes, we were off to Cabatuan Airport, and as expected, our flight was delayed yet again. But the gentle words of Sr. Fe came to me about living an interior life – “Whatever is happening around you, look into yourself as well and see how it is affecting you. Where is God, and what could be His message for you?” And I found the answer: the delayed flight allowed me to chat with a fellow teacher and get to know her more, and her words of wisdom about relationship and marriage were much needed advice. And she was someone whom I least expected to have a chat with! Ah! Another encounter with Jesus!

Now I am back home, appreciating the running water in my bathroom and kitchen, grateful for everything I have, realizing I do not need more; I have enough. And I remember what Sr. Tricia, our RCA, said when she gave us our plane tickets, “Think of this immersion as a Christmas gift. Not 4 days taken away from you, but added to you” and true enough, she was right! This is the best Christmas gift I ever received in my whole life!

A taste of the lavatory Battling with the heat and smoke

A taste of the lavatory ...                             Battling with heat and smoke...

Finally reached Punong

Finally reached Punong

Lunch in Guimaras

in Guimaras

Mr. Liporada in action

Mr. Liporda in action

Planting trees

Planting Trees

Walking made us see the beauty around us

Walking made us see the eauty around us.

washing pans outside

washing pots ad pans...