Across Cultural Boundaries
By John Wang Zongshe

John and Joseph Li Jiangan are the first seminarians from China to join the Columbans. After a year studying English in Manila they have just begun their spiritual formation year in Cubao, Quezon City. They told their vocation stories in our May-June issue.

John Wang on a carabao

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matthew 28:19-20, RSV CE). Inspired by this passage, missionaries have been trying to evangelize people in foreign countries. Through two thousand years of effort, people in most countries have heard about Jesus and some have believed in Him.

Three of us Columban seminarians were invited to experience life in Negros Occidental at the end of our studies for academic year 2011-12 at CICM Maryhill School of Theology (MST) in Quezon City. My companions were Joseph Li Jiangang from China and Emmannuel B. Trocino from Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. Before we went I knew this wasn’t simply to experience life. People had higher expectations of us. I felt pressured because I didn’t know what to say or how to act in a new culture since this would be my first time to visit Negros.

Redbelly tilapia, ‘St Peter’s Fish’

We stayed on the Negros Nine Organic Farm and saw carabaos (water buffaloes) pulling plows. We helped harvest vegetables from the garden, plant trees on the mountainside, catch tilapia in the lake, and sell organic vegetables in the market.

During Holy Week we stayed in the home of Lydio J. Mangao, ‘Kuya Boy’, and joined the ‘Apostles’ in visiting and praying in one house after another. We ate whatever each house provided and had a good time with the different families.

Joseph, John and Emmannuel (behind) at the statue of San Columbano outside the chapel in Purok Mahogany, Barangay Oringao, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, of which he is patron.

During our stay I was thinking how I should please people. I finally realized I should be my true self. As a foreigner, I wasn’t familiar with the Hiligaynon language. I tried to express my ideas with the help of actions. I bought things from the store on the mountain, washed dishes, encouraged people with my broken English, played with their children and sang some Chinese songs with my hoarse voice.

The people also had a hard time expressing their feelings in English, but we could feel they were happy to be with us. Through our sharing of life, we got to know more about each other and most of all about God. As a Columban seminarian, I don’t think it was our spoken languages that united us in our hearts but our sincerity. We had many weaknesses and limitations but these couldn’t stop us from loving one another.

Joseph, Emmannuel and John with new friends

We didn’t expect to get something from the people but simply wanted to be with them and accompany them on their spiritual journey. The key to crossing cultural boundaries is to have a genuine heart, a humble spirit and a devoted mind. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, may Jesus’ mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom be done by the will of the Father through our hands.