On Friday 23 July, the Missio team and many of our Local Secretaries were delighted to join Fr Michael MHM in a Zoom conversation with our National Director, Fr Anthony Chantry.
Fr Michael is a Mill Hill Missionary, originally from India, who is currently serving communities in east Malaysia. He was previously stationed in Cameroon.
Despite very poor internet connection at times, Fr Michael generously painted a very clear picture of life as a missionary, recounting with warmth and humour many of the challenges, as well as the blessings, of missionary life.
A true calling
Hearing Fr Michael’s passion and dedication, we were surprised to learn that when he first approached his local Bishop to become a Priest, he was told he didn’t have a vocation! However, he didn’t give up, and eventually it was the same Bishop that had originally refused him, who ordained him – they got there in the end!
Originally Fr Michael hadn’t considered the missionary priesthood, only diocesan and parish settings. But it was when he joined the Mill Hill Missionaries formation programme that he found his true calling:
‘The missionary formation really widened my thinking about “what is priesthood?” The diocese was small. But working in the larger area, which was strongly Hindu, doing outreach work made me broadminded. I felt God could send me anywhere’.
With your help, we can make sure that no missionary vocation is lost through lack of funds or support. Click here to find out more about Missio’s Seminarian Sponsorship Scheme>>
Starting out in Cameroon
Fr Michael’s first posting was in Cameroon – a country currently suffering a largely hidden crisis and internal conflict. He told us:
‘My place in Cameroon was very remote. You couldn’t reach it by car, or even by bike. I walked, with a stick and a backpack, starting out before dawn to reach my two parishes. The sun would come up as I reached the first village.
‘In Cameroon the people were so poor. Because I was Indian, some people saw me as a ‘white man’ – they thought I had a lot of money which could be challenging. But I made good friends and I’ll never forget them. My parishioners are still in my heart’.
Moving to Malaysia
In 2019 it was time to move on and Fr Michael set out to his current mission in Kapit parish, Malaysia. A big change from Cameroon, but as Fr Anthony pointed out:
‘What strikes me is the work is the same: You’re travelling, trekking, meeting people, bringing God’s love. It’s the backbone of missionary work’.
Instead of walking for hours before dawn to minister to his flock, Fr Michael now needed to apply himself to a new raft of challenges – literally in fact, as the Iban people he now serves are river dwellers and can often only be reached by boat! He told us:
‘I don’t swim, so the journeys were terrifying to begin with; some journeys were around four hours by boat. I found an old life jacket in the church which helped!’
(Fr Anthony made sure to point out that learning to swim was absolutely vital – we’ll keep you posted on how Fr Michael’s swimming lessons are progressing.)
Preach the Gospel – where necessary use words
As well as the transport issues, Fr Michael explained some of the communication issues he has faced. He told us:
‘When I began my mission here, I didn’t know a word of the Iban (local) language. There was no language course. It took a while going round peoples’ houses to pick it up! Eventually I managed to start converting my homilies and talking to people in Iban’.
In addition, as we could see from the conversation, wifi and phone access are not reliable, or even available in that area. So instead of calling ahead, the missionary team write letters to the longhouse communities, a month in advance, to let them know they’re coming. Fr Michael explained:
‘We journey from longhouse to longhouse by boat, celebrating the Mass and staying away over three days, covering at least five longhouses’.
Home away from home
Fr Michael is clearly committed to his ministry and to his new-found community in Malaysia. But he also touchingly reminded us that missionaries leave their homes and families to ignite God’s love throughout the world. When asked what he missed from home, he told us:
‘Mostly my family, and then the food! A good curry from home! Now the technology is better at least I can communicate somewhat with family, but I can’t get a good Indian curry here!’
Fr Michael spoke fondly of the family he misses back in India and explained how his parents and sister have shaped and helped him in his mission. He shared:
‘When I am afraid or feeling shy, I think of my childhood. My father prayed the Rosary every day and I prayed it with him. I still pray the Rosary every day.
Before she died in 2003 my mother held my hand and said “Michael, if you are to become a Priest, become a good Priest”. Those were her last words to me’.
So often we take for granted both the huge and the small sacrifices missionaries make in leaving their homes and families to take God’s light and love to the world. We thank Fr Michael and all missionaries for the amazing work they do every day to build our Church throughout the world. We are praying for you!
Without Missio, missionaries would lose the vital support and funding they need to carry out God’s work in the remotest, poorest and most troubled areas of the world. And without you, Missio couldn’t do what we do!
Here are some ways you can help today:
Give: If you can, please consider a donation today to Missio and the Mill Hill Missionaries through the Red Box. Click here to donate>>
Pray: Prayer works, and our missionaries tell us how much difference it makes to them knowing your prayers are with them. Join us to pray today>>
Volunteer: Our volunteers in England and Wales are the backbone of everything we do! Could you help us turn pennies into pounds and pounds into miracles? Find out more about volunteering with Missio and the Red Box here>>
Read more: Fr Michael is sharing his experiences of mission with us in a series of blogs. Click here to read them>>