Sch. Amalan Thainase SJ
Regent,Jesuit Service, Banteay Meanchey,Cambodia
Life is a journey. Walking through it isn’t a bed of roses. There are moments of joys and sorrows, trials and temptations, ups and downs. All of these are part and parcel of life. Blessed are those who learn from it and never stop journeying onward. The course of my formation as a Jesuit brought me to Cambodia in 2012 to do regency in Jesuit Service, Banteay Meanchey. I live alone in a small Jesuit house without the spiritual and material luxuries of other Jesuit communities in the world. Initially, it was tough. But I moved. I moved with the spirit of Jesus all along the way. As the famous song of British singer Billy Ocean goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Living alone is a grace to meet Jesus and a chance to get closer to Him. I am happy to have met Jesus in my journey here in Sisophon. I meet him in my prayers, during the Eucharist and in the Examen of Consciousness before going to bed.
I travel a lot to villages to do “Need Assessment.” I do surveys of handicapped people affected by landmines, of the poor, orphans, and widows. I assess their needs and if possible Jesuit Service helps them to improve their quality of life. Meeting the poor, the handicapped, the needy and children has always been an occasion of encountering the God of the poor. I have learnt to receive happiness from simple, ordinary conversations with them. The gentle, beautiful smile they wear on their faces has always communicated and conveyed the contagious love of Christ to me. I learnt to smile back at my Jesus.
The Cambodians’ attitude of acceptance and encouragement is worth mentioning here. I know that I am dark, not so handsome, and speak Khmer with lots of mistakes. But during my interaction with the villagers, they have always told me that I am handsome and speak Khmer very well. They always encourage me and never let me feel that I am not welcome. I cherish their company and would like to acquire for myself this attitude of encouragement.
I have never failed to notice the beautiful scenery of the paddy fields, the mountains, and the cute little flowers along the way that still and quieten my heart and mind and enable me to meet Jesus through that gentle breeze experienced by Elijah. I pick up plants, collect seeds from the villages. and add them all into the beautiful Jesuit Service garden.
I am happy that, through my ‘Need Assessment’ work, we were able to build a lot of houses and toilets for the handicapped and poor. But our building is not always done with stones, wood or solid structures. There is something more than that. Counseling the villagers, listening to their woes and worries, speaking words of encouragement to the students, making fun to lighten their heavy hearts were all my strategies for building a community of love, compassion, peace and justice. I cherish this experience.
I am a Jesuit and follow Christ. I work in the Jesuit Service and I have an NGO identity as well. I initially struggled to understand what I was doing here in the village where my work was mostly with Buddhists. I remember Pope Francis’ words, ‘If we don’t profess Christ, things could go wrong.’ I am sure that our Pope doesn’t mean professing Christ by means of reading the Bible out loud at street corners or proclaiming Christ over loudspeakers. I believe that what he means by professing Christ is being compassionate, merciful, humble and gentle toward the marginalized, the needy, and the poor. I believe ‘our actions speak louder than words.’ Yes. I cannot hide Christ from the people, for when I serve or help them they see not me but Christ acting through me. I feel overwhelmed when I hear villagers say that I am from ‘Ongkha Preah Isu (Jesus’ Organization).
The immovable Mover has been favorable to me here in Sisophon. The staff of Jesuit Service meticulously plan out the work and program for every activity which without fail brings forth fruit, some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, and some fifty-fold. I hope to carry these experiences with me in my life ahead as a Jesuit and will cherish them forever.