The Joy of Service
Erik John J. Gerilla, SJ (ETR)
I entered the Novitiate in Manila in 2003 and at that time I don't have any other inclination on what particular ministry I will be in except that I was hoping to become a priest someday and might end up in a parish. But little did I know that the apostolate assignments I was given as a novice and as a scholastic would eventually shape my interest and desire to engage in Social Apostolate for the most part of my Jesuit life. In the Philippines we have a wide menu of social apostolate where the Jesuits are involved. The Catholic Social Teachings and other tools I learned in formation has altogether primed up my desire to explore more deeply this often complex ministry ridden with a good mix of joys and pains.
As soon as I got ordained as a priest two years ago, my first assignment was immediately in the field I have learned to love. I was sent to Timor Leste where I also spent some good years of regency. For this mission, I was appointed director of the fledging group and newly established Jesuit Social Service - Timor Leste. When I came on board, the group has started some small projects and identified key priority areas. Since the group has gone through planning and discussions on various social issues that beset the communities they serve, it was rather easy for me to convene a strategic planning for the team. The result of the process led our team to continue what we have started but with more focus on four strategic issues this time. Our team is geared towards engaging our personnel and resources for the integral community development and this mandate is made more nuanced in our new strategic plan.
Primary to our concern is the welfare of the communities we serve. It may come too easy to keep that in mind but we have learned that as we go about organizing communities and rallying all the resources our hands can get hold of, we often missed the important consideration of where the people are and what do they have to start with. I tried my best to apply what I know about Asset-Based Community Development approach but it is rather too difficult and not that easy in the context of Timor Leste where almost everything is rudimentary. But to affirm that they do have resources both tangible and intangible is so important. Seeing their 'glasses of water half full rather than half empty' is quite key in winning their trust and making our work more effective rather than aiming too hard at shifting targets.
Our starting point in organizing communities for our integral community development agenda is our water projects in these communities. In areas where access to clean water is so poor, we embark on constructing a sustainable water system by boring holes for water pumps tapping the underground sources. Because water is a vital resource for survival it would rather be easy to organize them and to solicit communal action. The challenge lies on how to expand the vision of the target beneficiaries so as to draw out from them their own vision for the future. What they would like to see five to ten years from now and generate ideas on how to achieve them. Oftentimes we engage people who are rather short-sighted in their own vision given the lengthened struggle and protracted deprivations over long period of time. Prospects for a brighter future are often hard to conceive. I often find myself in that dilemma as well when faced with a complex web of issues where quick solutions are almost impossible.
In my few years of being engaged in social apostolate, especially in the context of Timor Leste, I have come to believe that we can only plant seeds and nurse the seedlings in our lifetime. Future generations will reap the harvest in due course. With that situation we are therefore called to be more patient with this rather slow moving ministry. In our water projects we have defined set of objectives and indicators that these objectives are met, however, we can only set objectives which are measurable and time-bound. Our best effort to encompass all possible impact from giving a community an access to clean water will always fall short of the immense possibilities and impact on the individual lives.
That's where the joy of serving the people comes. The smile on the faces and the enthusiasm of the people is so moving that draws us more to be more passionate about our work. We commit mistakes but we manage to bounce back because the learnings are opening doors for us which make us even more excited. It comes with a sense of confidence that we have done something no matter how insignificant or inconsequential. What we learn and continues to linger into is that thought that the future holds promise when we serve today with joyful hearts. There are struggles and daunting challenges to face but the joy of serving these people weighs in even when have doubts.