By Sujata Jena
Manila, October 22, 2019: Chrisma C. Bangaoil is a lay missionary-warrior, who flies, drives, and treks to reach out to the indigenous people in the Philippines.
She single-heartedly commits to the social and pastoral care of the indigenous people in the farthest region of Mindanao, southern Philippines.
Bangaoil worked at a Business Process Outsourcing office until recently. The committed lay missionary now teaches at Dominican-run Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, Manila.
“My missionary work takes two third of my time. I do not have a day-off or a break when it comes to mission,” she told Matters India.
Missionary work, for her, is more of a lifestyle and part of her Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and not something that she does because she is not busy or because she has extra time.
Bangaoil has been doing her mission in the Diocese of Diplog, Manukan Zamboanga del Norte province of Mindanao region from 2014.
Initially, she helped the seminarians to improve their communication and public speaking skills at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. She believed that every priest has to communicate the Word of God eloquently and convincingly.
“I spent extra time coaching the seminarians on speaking and writing therapy after my work hour in the university. I encouraged them and assisted them personally to improve their English. I got acquainted with them and became part of their journey,” she said.
When the first batch of seminarians whom she taught was ready for the priesthood, they invited her to attend their ordination in the mountain provinces. One of them was appointed as a parish priest in Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, an indigenous parish in the diocese of Diplog.
The newly ordained parish priest requested her help for the pastoral care of the parishioners.
Since then, she gave herself fully in providing pastoral care of the people in different parishes of remote areas and villages of Diplog. The priests share their vision, set directions, Bangaoil gives flesh to their visions and programs.
Immaculate Heart of Mary parish is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. There are about 100 households of at least 10 members in a household as small villages. The indigenous people hardly have two square meals daily. They eat what they can find in the mountain, she said.
She explained, “I take a three-way long route, which includes an hour and half flight journey that I pay from my savings. From the airport, I take a five hours ride bus or taxi towards the Popimusosan district, Immaculate Conception parish, Vicariate of Saint Isidore the Farmer. From there I walk to the hills to meet the indigenous people in the mountain barrios.”
Every month she and her team distribute rice, noodles, sardines and cooking oils to the indigenous people. When she misses going to the mission even once, the people are worried. They wait along the way, as their time is tuned to her coming and going.
“I do all kind of work, whatever is needed, whatever is asked of me, from doing the lectures and formation of various groups and ministries to feeding children, doing catechism, giving pre-sacrament and Pre-Cana, a course or consultation for couples preparing to be married in a Catholic church and on-going formation talks,” Bangaoil said.
She said, “Initially, we funded all missionary initiatives from our resources. Eventually, my friends, classmates, former students, work colleagues and relatives supported the cause of the poor. I have this core group of friends and relatives who I would ask to help me when I cannot anymore shoulder all the expenses. Then those who see my posts also started supporting.
She has formed hundreds of youth and children. They are excited to meet me once a month and do everything to make me feel comfortable. To see the indigenous youth coming together to church, taking part in the parish, helping their parents at home, doing well in their life is my biggest reward. They call me mama, she said.
“It is difficult to measure really but I have seen the biggest impact on the youth and the poor up in the mountains. I could see the difference between the youth whom I have trained and formed and those who I have not yet influenced. I think the influence is not only with the recipients but also those who have responded to my invitation to support the work that we do,” she said when asked about the impact of her missionary work among the indigenous.
She also spearheads “Love the Poor Program” of the parish. I do the buying; oversee the re-packing and the distribution of grocery packs, rice, cookies, and candies, she said.
“My life as a lay missionary, though challenging, is fulfilling. The people in the remote villages are my children, parents, and my own. I have to care for their wellbeing. The entire payment is much of their love and affection for me,” she said.
Bangaoil is a young single mother. Her only daughter is a law graduate, who is shaped after her mother. “Sometimes I spend more than ten days in the villages. My daughter understands me,” she said.
They live in a rented house. “Once I sold my flat to answer the urgent call of a mission among the poor,” she said.
Asked if she was planning to buy a house for her to live, she said, “our life is too valuable to waste chasing possessions. There is more joy in pursuing spiritual wealth than pursuing properties”.
Indeed, when the Lord sends, He sustains. “We do not have much. But there was never a project or initiative that did not push through because we did not have the resources. The Lord has always been gracious—never outdone in His generosity,” Bangaoil added.
She was a consultant for a BPO company until last July.
“I left the job to focus more on my missionary work. On top of every work that I do is my missionary work which I do on my own. I am not part of any foundation or organization. I believe that I can be more productive, reach out to more.”
Just like what Pope Francis would often say, ‘go to the poor, to the peripheries, smell like the sheep.’ But you do not have to want to save the poor and uproot them where they are. “We are not their saviors. We are just messengers of the love of the savior, she explained.
“I learned to ask for help—this is a big learning for me because I have always been an independent self-sufficient person. Mission taught me that I can never be good enough to do the work alone, that I need as much help as I can get. Mission among the poor has made me more compassionate,” she added.
Her parents were both public school teachers. Her family instilled, nurtured her faith and love for God and His mission.
“I remember that even as kids, we were already involved in church service. Every Saturday afternoon, we took part in cleaning the Church. We cut-off our playtime so we could clean the church. In the evening, we joined other children in watching movies about the lives of different saints,” she recalled.
Asked if she has a message to pass on to others, she said, “The best ally in one’s mission is a priest who is also as passionate, dedicated and committed in his ministry. On the other hand, the biggest stumbling block to doing mission is a cleric who thinks little of the lay and who is content dispensing the sacraments.”