A trip to Aotearoa, “land of the long white cloud”- Taking that leap of faith through the long white cloud
Imagine having to travel to a land you have never been to, yes that sounds exciting; for some. Now imagine having to travel to various primary and secondary schools in that land to engage them in a concept that may not sit well with everyone- God and His love for all of us. Couple this with the fact that I did not really know the people with whom I was journeying with, and I was a complete nervous ball of wreck inside. Well, this was my experience. When I first got asked to do the Catholic Schools Youth Ministry Australia (CSYMA) mission trip to New Zealand, I honestly thought it was going to be a total waste of my time and that I should not even bother in the first place. I still signed up for it as I felt bad that not many people were going. The entire journey from Australia to New Zealand I was thinking to myself that this was just going to be a nerve wrecking experience and that nobody would understand me with my Singaporean accent; I am from Singapore.
But alas, our God has funny plans sometimes. Our first host family was the Vice Principal of Aquinas College and I am grateful for her driving us around to all our destinations especially the faraway ones which took us more than an hour, sometimes 3 hours! As the days went by, I found that the students were very much interested in talking to me despite me thinking they would not because of my different accent. It was funny how many of them have been to only the Singapore airport for a layover. I grew more comfortable in meeting with the students and sharing in front of them. I definitely grew more confident. I got to hear real stories from them, and my perceptions were widened from these engagements. I learnt about others’ personal experiences relating to God, even those who did not believe in Him. I cherish those conversations I had as I got to see how each person viewed this same world with a different pair of lenses.
The defining moment of this mission trip was bonding with my colleagues as that was the major factor that gave me the added push to be confident. Since I am relatively new to Canberra, this proved to be especially significant for me. All our van prayers, good ol’ banter, and meals shared are things I keep close to my heart. Add to this the fact that one of them, Christopher Gilroy, made it his own personal ‘mission’ (no pun intended) to source for me a middle name as I don’t actually have one and he seemed to find it absurd and unheard of. In our final days, he arranged a Kiwi- Maori family to gift me with a middle name. Mikaere, or Mike as we called him, gave me the name Koha. Koha meant gift, but not just any gift. It was something you would present and place at the foot of royalty with your body bowed, following which you stepped back while maintaining the bowed posture, following which the royalty receives it. This was a very poignant moment for me because of the fact that I am quite literally a royal gift to my parents as they were unable to bear a child for some years. This trip definitely had its personal touch for me, something which I will hold dear. It is to the point that I have adopted Koha into my actual name. Monica Koha Culas, and what are the odds that it even has a nice ring and rhyme to it.
In the words of Disney’s Moana’s “You’re Welcome”, “You’re face to face with greatness, and it’s strange you don’t even know how you feel.” I quite literally have got no words to describe this strange, rather monumental trip in my life. Here is to more missions and anything else I am called to do, minus my old fear of meeting new people.
Monica Koha Culas