Overseas mission trips can sometimes be a controversial topic. Is it effective? Is it sustainable? Is it merely a “feel good” experience to check the personal achievements box? I, too, had some of those questions when I participated in my first A Call To Share (ACTS) mission trip back in December 2012. Truth be told, I was a hesitant and slightly skeptical participant. Only on hindsight did it become clear that that trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was part of God’s way of revealing my vocation to me.
Reflecting on the mission, I realised that what I did was far less important than the relationships I had forged with the people whom I had encountered.
My Mission Experiences
Mission week was spent in a school run by the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco (Figlie di Maria Ausiliatrice, FMA). I was assigned to teach kindergarten children, conduct catechetical sessions and paint wall murals. Reflecting on the mission, I realised that what I did was far less important than the relationships I had forged with the people whom I had encountered. The richness of my experience did not come from what I gave but from what I gained through the families we met during home visits, the sharings of the vocational school girls and my interactions with the little children. Significantly, beyond those, it was the joy and warmth of the Salesian Sisters that left the strongest impression on me. How much they loved the young, how much they gave of themselves, how they welcomed and treated us – the ACTS participants – like family. The Sisters touched a deep part of my heart.
I continued going to Cambodia with ACTS in the three years that followed. My initial questions about the usefulness of this short, once-a-year mission trip were answered when I witnessed how the educative and medical missions impacted the lives of the students and teachers in the schools and the people in the villages. What moved me most was the authentic friendships that were established – between mission leaders and the Salesian Sisters, the Singaporean and Cambodian youths, the mission participants and the local teachers… the list goes on.
Charlene (2nd row, 5th from the right )
Discovering My Personal Vocation
Personally, the significance of my participation in ACTS’ mission trips goes beyond helping others, evangelising and sharing the love of God. Those overseas missions changed my life because it introduced me to the Salesian Sisters and played a key role in leading me to discover God’s call.
About four years ago, God moved me to discern my personal vocation seriously. After a series of different experiences, I felt the call to spend a longer time with the Salesian Sisters in Cambodia. This led to a 7-month stint as a volunteer English teacher in their Don Bosco School, Phnom Penh in 2016. During that period, God knocked loudly on the doors of my heart. He invited me to take yet another step; to discern religious life. It was difficult saying ‘yes’ to enter the convent but Jesus’ patience and persistence won me over. I decided to leave the working world, where I had enjoyed nine happy years in the urban planning field. With the blessing of my parents – who were also ACTS mission participants themselves – I entered the formation house (Aspirantate) of the Salesian Sisters in the Philippines. 8 September 2016, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, marked the start of another chapter of my life.
Regardless of where my vocational discernment brings me in future, my heart will always be filled with immense gratitude – to God for doing great things for me in my lowliness.
My time in the convent has been one of joy and an unprecedented level of inner peace. Life is not always easy – it is much different from my previous life “outside” – but God has showered grace upon grace on me as He gradually reveals what truly satisfies my heart. Almost three years later, my religious formation and discernment continues. I am now preparing to enter the novitiate and into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Jesus.
Each time I look back at my journey, I am in awe of how God has worked so powerfully through the ups and downs of my life. No matter how many times I turned my back on Him, He remained steadfastly faithful and continued to shower me with His unfailing love. Regardless of where my vocational discernment brings me in future, my heart will always be filled with immense gratitude – to God for doing great things for me in my lowliness; to the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, for teaching me how to live a simple and joyful holiness through their spirituality; and to ACTS, for facilitating my encounter with the poor, in whom I experienced Jesus himself and heard the call to my vocation.
Postulant Charlene Chua
Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians
(Salesian Sisters of St John Bosco)