A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 January) — No one takes a second look at a woman carrying an umbrella. But a man with an umbrella as he walks a tightrope – now that would be extraordinary, wouldn’t it?

And so it is that the image of a seemingly ordinary person doing something extraordinary became the symbol of a book that I just finished writing. Throughout our lives we come across family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances who seem run-of-the-mill.  Given the chance to reflect into how they have lived their lives, however, we are struck by how extraordinary their life journeys have been.

This insight came recently as I sat in the gardens of the Good Shepherd Sisters columbarium in Quezon City. Sr. John Dumaug RGS had been cremated and buried the day before. I had known Sr. John since the 1970s and had visited her a few times in San Luis, Agusan del Sur, where she worked among the isolated Lumad communities along the mighty Agusan River.  I couldn’t make it in time for her funeral and could only visit her grave to pay my respects.

Under the shade of tall trees, the silence was punctuated by the chirping of birds and the distant hum of the traffic along Aurora Blvd. There I remembered not just Sr. John but all the other RGS sisters buried in these hallowed grounds. Or, in the case of those who perished in the M/V Cassandra sea tragedy, affectionately remembered through a marker.

I recalled other women religious whom I met in my 50 years of pastoral and development engagements across Mindanao.  I thought about how blessed the church in the Philippines has been to be graced by these women and the difference they have made in the church today. (This book is dedicated to the women religious who have worked in Mindanao in the last fifty years).

Beyond the memory of the departed sisters, I also thought of those who remain active in the fields of the Lord.  They constitute a significant number of development and pastoral workers committed to the agenda of establishing God’s kingdom in the here and now. Then other faces came into view as I also remembered friends and co-workers with whom I continue to interact.  How blessed I am to have them in my life!

It was in this context that I thought of the book’s title – ORDINARY LIVES LIVED EXTRAORDINARILY – MINDANAO PROFILES.

The book chronicles the lives of 16 Mindanawon persons of various cultural and religious traditions, professions, educational background, advocacies and engagements as narrated from the lens of both anthropology and theology.

Coming from various regions of Mindanao, they represent the various populations of southern Philippines that represent different ethnicities, although having been born and/or grown up in Mindanao, they are all be referred to as Mindanawon.

Through these narratives, the reader also gets to have an insight into the landscape of Mindanao and its historical and cultural backdrop. This book is as much telling the stories of this group who represent a particular segment of the Mindanawon population as it tells the story of Mindanao in the contemporary historical era.  They could easily represent the ordinary folks of Mindanao but through their lives they have exhibited an extraordinary ability to respond to the challenges posed by this part of a country with its troubled past, checkered present realities and a future that could fulfill its promise of long ago!

The sub-title of this book is Mindanawon Profiles. When I conceptualized this anthology, I intuited that as the stories intersected, a slice of Mindanao history would appear. For this reason, I made sure that the respondents represented the various ethnicities, cultures and religious traditions that exist side by side in Mindanao.  So, included among the respondents are a Moro woman, a man who has embraced Balik-Islam, Lumads, and descendants of settlers from Luzon, Visayas and other parts of the country. A wide range of languages is spoken by this group. There are those who have completed doctoral studies, and a few who dropped out from either college or graduate studies. Many professions are represented. These include doctors, lawyers, and teachers, a philosopher, a psychologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist, and a historian. There is one student in the anthology, the youngest of three  millennials in the group.

Also represented are various advocacies and involvement with civil society organizations.  There is a rainbow of ideological and political positions, a few openly engaged with the radical left, while a few work with state actors. Some are devout Catholics and Muslims, one belongs to a fundamentalist Protestant church, while the faith practice of others has moved beyond piety to living a life of radical choices.

The publisher (the Davao-based Aletheia Publications) and I are planning to do a series of book launch across Mindanao, hopefully in Davao City, Digos City, Malaybalay City, Cagayan de Oro City, Zamboanga City, Cebu City and Manila.  First stop is at the Ateneo de Davao University on Friday, 8 February at 3:30 PM.  Schedules of future launches will be disseminated later on.  Hope to see you there!

[MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor teaching at  St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and  the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations” and two books on Davao history launched in December 2015. His recent book which will be launched soon is ORDINARY LIVES, LIVED EXTRAORDINARILY – MINDANAWON PROFILES]