For this issue’s #CoolCatholics, I’m going to introduce to you one of my closest friends. Kuya or “koya” James Arela, as I call him, has been my coffee buddy for more than 10 years. I guess it’s just because we both love coffee and at the same time we both like talking about mission work and how we could get to share more of Christ’s love to all. Aside from that, James has also been a Catholic missionary sent to Africa and other parts of the world. We’ve gone to a lot of mission trips together, from the Visayas to China. He has been the brother (that is born from another set of parents! Haha), friend and mission partner who has always been there for me. Now, I would like to share to one of our conversations as I ask him about his life and mission. Here you go…
Sky: So, you have dedicated the prime of your life to missionary work, what made you decide to be a missionary?
James: It was not that difficult deciding to be a full time missionary because I am so in love with Jesus. I even remember when I was a young boy [I believed] life was about serving Him. I was serving as a sacristan in our church. Our parish was like my second home. Apart from school and our house, I knew I don’t have [to be] anywhere else to be but our church.
What made me decide? I want to tell the world that only Jesus completes us. The family that I grew up with as well as my personal life, even though not perfect, has always been a great testimony [to that]. No amount of wealth, fame and power can ever replace Jesus in our lives. I simply wanted others to experience life in Christ as well.
Sky: What were the challenges you had to face while serving as a missionary in Africa?
James: Following Jesus was simple, but not easy. I faced a lot of challenges:
One, to be out of my comfort zone and live in an unfamiliar place – I was so used to serving the Lord with my family and friends around. I knew then that I could always run to them for help the moment I need them. Going to Africa was a bold step for me because I did not know the people I will serve. I was also anxious about how they would receive me.
Second, the language barrier — communicating with the locals and expressing myself in a language I was not using every day, presented two-way trouble. First, it was hard for me to express myself and second, it was difficult for them to understand me. But this did not stop me from going out and talking to people. Some of them became [my] real good friends and supported me with needs such as emotional, physical and even financial and material needs. God was indeed so good.
Third, the culture – South African culture was not one I grew up in. That alone spelled a lot of challenges. I remember how something like cracking a joke could be a pursuit full of effort. I even had to master it! But all through it, our deep love for Jesus made us appreciate and love each other’s differences.
Up to this day, I am still amazed with how God used me. I think I could not have survived it on my own. I know it was the Holy Spirit using me to touch all those people and make a difference in their lives. Keeping my sight on the One who sent me and focusing on the reasons why exactly I was there at that moment became the strength I had to face all those challenges.
Sky: Was it a risk for you to go on mission and dedicate your life to serving the Lord?
James: It did not feel a risk at all. In fact, I felt I was on a vacation! I visited beautiful churches, spoke to different congregations and it all gained me lifetime friends. I went to wonderful places I have never been before.
I was also part of an inter-faith youth group and our common goal was to fight HIV-AIDS. I had the chance to visit the HIV center and pray for the patients. We also did regular visits to the HIV orphanage. It was an honor and at the same time, a very humbling experience.
Sky: How did your relationship with God grow as you faced all your challenges and took all those risks?
James: I thought I was going out there, preaching how great God is, but to my surprise, while I was doing that, the people I encounter everyday drew me closer to God. They showed and made me realize so many things. In turn, I became a different and a better person. I became closer to God and my prayer time became my prayer life.
Sky: What and who inspires you to do mission?
James: My parents (Dad Pedy and Mom Tessie) inspired me to serve the Lord with all my heart and strength. And seeing families renewed with lives surrendered to the Lord inspired me to continue this mission.
Sky: I found out that you have also consecrated your life to Christ through Mary, what made you do this?
James: I have always loved Our Lady, Mother Mary. I believe she was with me while I was away from my family and friends. She helped me respond to Jesus’ mission and answer His call and serve him as a missionary despite all the hardships and challenges. It was just perfect timing that a good friend of mine introduced me to a book (33 Days to Morning Glory) that helped me to consecrate my life to Christ through Mary. Indeed it was a blessing!
Sky: And on to my last question, what are your simple joys?
James: My simple joys are the chances I get to witness the goodness of God to other people, especially those times I had the chance to let them know that God loves them. Also, I enjoy watching movies and spending time with my family and friends.