I was fortunate to be able to spend a week with Fr John Larsen and the Marist community in Ranong. I first met Fr John when I was staying with the Marists in Davao, Philippines in 2003 just prior to him starting the Marist Mission in Myanmar and now in Ranong working with Burmese migrants.
I was warmly welcomed into the Marist home and it was wonderful to also see the familiar faces of Fr Kevin, Ronald, Ian John and Joey all of whom I had previous met in the Philippines. Each day began with personal meditation in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. As the sun rose over the hills to greet us I joined in morning prayer followed by mass with the Marist community, a reminder that Christ is with us, the focus for our day.
Ranong is a fishing town on the Thai Burma border. It is a town of many colours, of wealth and great poverty, hardship, inequality and where basic needs are not available for all. Despite the struggles the people have not lost hope for their future and that of their families.
I see the Marist Mission in Ranong as God’s love in action. I was privileged to visit patients with HIV and AIDS in their homes with staff from the Marist HIV/AIDS team. Life is very basic, with many challenges and difficulties. The team assist with basic food supplies, hospital visits and access to medication. But more importantly is the being there, listening and supporting. The smiles on patients faces as they see you arrive says more than a million words. The presence of the team gives hope, gives quality of life and shows they have not been forgotten.
In the Marist education centre a learning centre is run where young children energetically experience their first encounter with learning. Basic education and hygiene is taught. While at the centre a class of older children were learning computer skills and I spoke with a small class of 12-16 year old Burmese students learning English. They were eager to learn and all found the courage to practise their English with me. Education for Burmese children is often not available and there is also an expectation that by 11 years old you will be working to support your family to help provide basic necessities. At a meeting for the parents of the class of 12-16 year olds it was clear that the parents were like any parents in the world just wanting what was best for their children and their future. Allowing their children to be educated also bought with it sacrifice, as the family often struggled to provide basic needs for daily living and they now had one less income. But through the Marist Mission they had hope, hope for a better future.
In a predominantly Buddhist country a Catholic Mission has many challenges. It was evident to me that this was a Christ lead mission. A small team of Religious and Lay living and working in the Marist Spirit. Following Christ by serving the poorest of the poor. I was very privileged to have spent a week with this community. A week where I was able to spend time with God, reflect, be challenged and to see Gods love in action.
I left the Marist Mission of Ranong feeling torn. Wanting to stay and work with the HIV and AIDS team and patients in Ranong but also knowing that God was calling me elsewhere. Calling me to continue discerning and begin my postulancy with the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.
Thank you to the Marist Community and the team of faithful workers at the Marist Mission Ranong.