Starts with the Music

By Sr. Judith Malon OSA

The Mission: many of us have seen the stirring film, “The Mission.” The movie opens with Jesuits Fr. Gabriel climbing a waterfall where the hostile Indians live. He arrives exhausted; he takes out his flute and begins to play. The Indians hiding in the forest, ready to kill him, are touched by the music; they lower their weapons and the tragic Jesuit love affair with the Guani Indians of Paraguay begins.

Several hundred years later, a Filipino missionary in Taiwan, Sr. Judith Malon, OSA, tries the same approach. Read on:

Goodbye to Negros
“Start with music” were the word of Titay Hagad of Bacolod City to me during our mission-sending way back in June, 1983. That phrase was not entirely new to me. I had heard it from a Jesuit priest during our mission orientation in Tagaytay. Maybe the priest got the idea from the movie, “The Mission,” which is a true story of one of the Jesuit missions.

First Months: Terrible
Our Congregation responded to an invitation from the Bishop of Hsinchu, Taiwan, by sending two Sisters to Taiwan in 1981. After two years, another Sister and I followed the first missionaries. We came without any knowledge of the Chinese language, and the first months were terrible. We couldn’t communicate, and all we could do was smile. We couldn’t understand the Mass but we could follow by watching the gesture of the priest. To by the things we needed was difficult without the help of the two Sisters who had gone to Taiwan before us.

No more Piano
At first, I thought I would no longer be able to touch the piano. Our former Mother General, Mother Evangelista, who had sent me to study at the university, told me at my departure: “Sayang naman ang pinag aralan mo sa piano” (It’s pity that you cannot make use of your studies in piano). I then thought to myself: “The Lord gave me this talent; if He doesn’t want me to use it, that’s up to Him”.

Learning Mandarin
Our first two years had to be spent studying Mandarin. We studied at Fu-Jen Catholic University but went-home every weekend to Chutung where our two Sisters staying. They had just finished their Chinese language studies and were starting their apostolates. One took charge of the dormitory for aboriginal students while the other helped in the parish.


Parish Priest intervenes
When the parish priest learned that I had a B. Mus., he decided to buy piano so that I could teach some students. As soon as the piano was bought, I felt obliged to give piano lessons, although I was only in the second month of my Chinese language studies. It was a great challenge studies. It was a great challenge for me. the big question bothering me was how I could communicate and be understood by my students. I decided to accept those who had already taken piano lessons and could read notes. Then I had to master some words like relax, (fang, sung); wrong (pu twei); like this (jei yang).

Universal Language
These circumstances also gave me a reason to learn the musical terms in Chinese. At this point, I became aware of the importance of music as a universal language. Furthermore, through music I made many friends and improved my skills in speaking the Chinese language. my students, especially the intelligent ones, taught me the correct Chinese grammar.

Now the Choir
After a year I was given charge of the Chutung parish choir which, later on, received invitations from other parishes to sing at weddings, funerals and other celebrations. The parishioners’ caroling during Christmas became more alive with my guitar-playing and my portable-organ accompaniment.

A Child Speaks
Although two years of Chinese language studies are not enough, we had to presume a “piye” (graduation) from our course, because of our financial resources. Then I started handling beginners. I also helped in the grades V and also helped in the grade VI music classes, in the school choir and the art classes of the lower grades. One time when I made a mistake, a little Chinese girl said to me: “How strange! You are already old, but you still don’t know how to speak.” I just smiled at her.

Even Men’s Work
To work in this mission is really a challenge, especially with regard to using the local language wit which we are not familiar. We Filipinos, who are used to depending on others for all sorts of work, have to go everything ourselves, even things which are men’s work. Thanks be to God, He is always there to assist us, making us creative and resourceful in handling the day-to-day challenges.

I became aware of the importance of music as a universal language.