Thursday, May 23, 2013

Friday Read

Angels on the Journey

Two Columban priests write about ‘angels on the journey’, encountered at night in a jungle in Pakistan by a group on their way to a wedding, and in daylight on a train journey in Japan by a visiting Columban.

Angels in a Jungle in Pakistan

By Fr Paul McMahon
The author is a Columban priest from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and tells the story of ‘Angels’ from northern Pakistan, Muslims students, helped a wedding party of Catholics on a night-time journey through a jungle. The article is taken from the December 2012 Newsletter of the Pakistan Mission Unit of the Columbans.
Mr William Raza has been the assistant to the House-in-Charge at the Columban House in Lahore for the last 25 years. Recently he and his extended family formed a wedding party to travel from Lahore with his nephew who was to get married in Karachi. The journey of 1400 kilometers was to bring unexpected adventures and lessons on how God provides angels along the way to look after us. Even in the least expected places!
William, along with the wedding party consisting of 20 family members, men, women and Children, accompanying the groom had hired a small bus to make the journey. Normally it would take 21 hours from Lahore to Karachi but William’s journey was to take much longer.
Having travelled 14 hours through the vast plains of the Punjab they reached the province of Sindh in the darkness of early night. But to their great shock they discovered the road ahead was completely blocked due to a large political rally. To make matters worse, they heard the road would be closed for the rest of the night. For the whole wedding party the joy of the journey turned to sadness and despair: ‘Will we make it to Karachi on time?’
Then William noticed the bus driver talking to a man with a green turban and long beard. Later the bus moved off and the driver said how the bus ahead had offered to show them a detour through the jungle which would allow them to pass the blockade.
At first everyone seemed happy that they were moving again. But as they traveled further and further into the jungle they became quieter and wondered, ‘Where on earth are we going? And who are the people on the bus ahead?’
It did not take long for them to find out. For coming upon a clearing at the side of the road the bus ahead stopped and William could see clearly that the bus that it had traveled from the tribal areas along the Pakistan – Afghanistan boarder, associated with Islamic terrorism.
The passengers on the ‘guide bus’ disembarked. All were young men with turbans and beards – all dressed in the traditional way of Islamic students. William and his family were now filled with fear as they had for years seen pictures on television and reports in the newspapers about groups of young students from that part of northern Pakistan. Were these young men members of the Taliban? Were they terrorists? What would happen next?
As all Christian families do in times of trouble, William got the whole bus to pray and ask God for help. So they prayed. Then with great relief saw that the Muslim students started to do the same. They placed mats on the ground, faced towards Mecca and began to say theirNamaz - ritual prayer.
When finished they got back on the bus and continued on their way. William’s journey through the jungle came to a disaster when they discovered the road had been washed away in the previous year’s rains. The bus of the Muslim students had managed to drive off the road and pass through the muddy waters on the side, get back on the road and had now gone on ahead. All that William could see was its red tail lights disappearing into the distance.
The driver on William’s bus decided to do the same as the other bus. He slowly made his way through the muddy water until disaster struck and the rear of the bus sank into the
soft mud. All around was dark, as it was now 1am. They were in a jungle wilderness, stuck in the mud with no way out. Hope of getting to Karachi on time for the wedding was now fading.
‘We were becoming so depressed and frightened’, said William. ‘The women and the children were beyond crying and all you could see was the terror in their eyes. In this situation all we knew to do was to pray and sing Psalms’.
One of the psalms that they sang in Punjabi was, Psalm 91. ‘Rab tu meri pana hai, tu meri jan’ – ‘God you are my savior, you are my life. God you will send your angels to look after us to guard us in all our ways’.
Then the miracle happened. Out of the darkness lights appeared and the sound of a bus. The Muslim students had come back to help us. Seeing the bus badly stuck in the water they waded through the mud and with their bare hands lifted and pushed the bus on to solid ground.
William told how amazed everyone was. How they had been praying for God’s help and out of the darkness a bus full of angels came to their rescue.
The Muslim students led the way and safely brought William and the wedding party to Hyderabad City which is roughly a three-hour drive from Karachi. They arrived in time for a wonderful wedding celebration.
William said, ‘When we saw these Muslim men with their beards and turbans we became judgmental, but we have to remember that just as the five fingers of a hand are not equal we should not judge our Muslim brothers from the north. And we will never forget how God sends us angels on the journey, even from places we least expect’.

Angels in Japan

By Fr Joseph Joyce
After almost 35 years of priestly ministry, I was given the precious privilege of a sabbatical year. To make best use of the time, I decided that, instead of studying books, I would study people and cultures in some of our Columban mission countries. I would also make the study a kind of pilgrimage.
On this pilgrimage, I resolved to do three things. Firstly, I would adopt a ‘contemplative attitude’, opening myself as much as possible to every thing and every one, and letting myself be impacted by what I encountered. Secondly, I would ‘read’ my experiences, reflecting each evening on my encounters with people and life as I found them. And thirdly, I would try to discern from it all how God might be guiding me for the future.
Thus, I set out on a journey that took me to Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. As I travelled through the various countries, I had, of course, many interesting experiences, but one of the most outstanding occurred in Japan.
On arrival in the country, I was immediately impressed by the helpfulness of the people. Even on my way by train from the airport to our Columban residence, I was asked several times by passersby if I needed assistance. Usually I would be suspicious of such offers, but in Japan I very quickly came to see that I need have no fear. The values of hospitality, honesty and trustworthiness were so very prevalent in the culture. The experience I now recount is clear confirmation of this.
I had gone to Nagasaki in the south of the country to visit the shrine of St Paul Miki and the other Japanese martyrs. While there I also went to the museum to see the effects of the atomic bombing of the city by the Americans during World War II. This experience so moved me that I decided to travel north to Hiroshima, the site of the second atomic holocaust, and visit the museum there as well.
At the train station in Hagata, not very far from Nagasaki, I had to change trains very quickly, and in my haste, I didn’t notice my documents falling from the plastic bag I was carrying. It was not until I was about a half-hour from Hiroshima that I discovered they were missing, and I was shocked beyond belief. I was gripped by a sickening feeling of desperation. My mouth went dry, and my heart rate shot up. I felt a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead, and I pondered the terrible predicament I was in.
Luckily, I had a bottle of water in my bag and my rail pass in my pocket. I drank copious drafts of water until I calmed down and was able to think. Where had I lost the passport? Was it on this train, or on the one I had just got off? I had been sitting in another carriage, so I went to search there, but found nothing. I went to talk with the conductor, but he couldn’t understand English. I returned to my seat and sat there helplessly as I felt the desperation beginning to take hold of me again.
After a while, I rallied a bit, and decided that, as soon as I reached Hiroshima, I would take another train and return to Hagata where I had come from. This decision brought me some calm, as I felt that at least I was taking some action.
On arriving in Hiroshima, I made the change without difficulty and was soon journeying back on the other train. The little calm I was feeling increased more when a young lady conductor came to check my ticket. To my relief, she could speak English, so I told her my story. Her response was immediate. She took all my information, and told me she would phone ahead to the next station.
She would also get in touch with officials on the other trains on which I had been a passenger. She could promise nothing, but she would do her best. Her manner was reassuring, and when she left, I felt quite hopeful that all would turn out well. I also said a silent prayer in thanksgiving for having been provided with such a willing helper.
After a while, as the train neared its destination, and the young lady had not returned, I began to feel anxious, and decided to go and find her. I entered several carriages, and saw no sign of her, but, then, at last, I saw her coming towards me.
I watched her face as she approached, but she showed no signs of either good or bad news until she reached where I stood. Then, breaking into a bright smile, she told me that my passport had been found and was in the hands of the police at Hagata.
She gave me a document with which to retrieve it, and then bowed respectfully in the customary Japanese manner.
I was ecstatic, of course, and did a little dance of joy. I could have hugged and kissed her, but I knew that in Japan that would not be well received, so I bowed even more deeply and told her how grateful and delighted I was. I also offered her a reward, but she wouldn’t hear of it, and, in the end, all I could do was assure her that I would always remember her in my prayers.
When I got to our destination, I waited for her to come out on the platform, and then thanked her again. I was greeted by two officers – a man and a woman. They told me that some person had found my passport on the platform and handed it in. They had been waiting for me, they said, and had been searching through my documents for an address to which they could send my passport.
I felt overwhelmed at their honesty and helpfulness, and offered them a reward too, but they held up their hands in protest, and declared that they were only doing their job.
Once again, all I could do was express my deepest gratitude for such integrity, and tell them that I would never forget them. I still have a clear image of them etched in my memory, and every time I remember them, I become aware that I really did meet angels in Japan.

Fr Joe Joyce has spent most of his missionary life in Pakistan. He is now doing studies in Japan.

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