It was the First Sunday of Lent in 2016. Solomon Ankaya, a diocesan seminarian, and I were on our way to Konguan, one of the ten mission outstations of Holy Trinity parish in Bogia, Papua New Guinea.
We traveled by car along a narrow road through the mountains. That day, the road was wet and slippery from heavy rain the previous night. We crossed a creek, and our car slid from side to side as we moved up the road.
Then, just a little ahead of us, we saw a four-wheel drive vehicle mired deep in the mud. It was so covered in mud that it looked like a large hut in the middle of the road. Every attempt the driver made to free the SUV from the muck proved futile.
The Blocked Road
The road was blocked.
I considered the options available to us. The obvious thing was to go back to the parish. After all, there was nothing we could do in this situation. However, I felt the disappointment of the people waiting for us in Konguan.
I am only able to visit the outstations once every month, so they look forward to the celebration of the Eucharist when I visit. Solomon and I decided to walk. I took my Mass kit, and with our trousers rolled up to our knees, we began our long hike. With the muddy conditions, what is usually a thirty to forty-five minute walk took an hour and fifteen minutes.
After some time, I began to pant heavily. Finally, with a deep sigh, I exclaimed, “Oh my God.”I called out to Solomon to stop so we could rest.
Encountering Regret and Doubt
As I sat on a log by the side of the road, my mind was flooded with many thoughts, especially regret for the decision I had made to walk to Konguan.
Gradually, I began to smile at the sight of my sweat-soaked clothes and my memory of the words of Pope Francis: The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice. . . . instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. . . .
Thanks solely to this encounter—or renewed encounter—with God’s love . . . we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human . . . when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization.
For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others? (Evangelii Gaudium, 5, 7, 8).
Rejoicing in the Sacrifice
My regret gave way to a sense of joy at bringing the Gospel to God’s people in spite of difficult circumstances. My spirit became cheerful, and I felt my strength renewed. Solomon and I continued our journey up the mountain.
When we arrived at Konguan, the people welcomed us, grateful that we made the long trek to celebrate Mass with them and enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the village community. I felt a special connection with the people throughout the day. I could see in their eyes their appreciation and their acceptance of us. They seemed to understand what we had endured physically and mentally during our long journey on foot. Many people shook my hand and wanted to hear about our experience.
The Joy of the Gospel Is Stronger
I am glad I made it to Konguan, where I experienced the life-giving joy of the Gospel uniting me with the people. Administering the sacraments was one way for me to bear witness to the people. That I shared more deeply in their lives also made God’s love present to them. My fatigue and regret were strong as I sat on the log by the side of the road, but the joy of the Gospel was stronger.
It helped me move beyond myself so that I could live out my missionary vocation to be a joyous messenger of the Good News.