From Thailand, with Love
Sweet and gentle Athitaya belongs to the tribe of Karen, one of the six major tribes in Thailand, which migrated from south western China over a hundred years ago. They are gentle, peaceful, and cooperative people, who, like all the others, reserve their highest veneration for their ancestors and living elders and live fervently their Christian faith. At present Thiya is a Junior-professed sister of the Daughters of St. Paul. The following is her story.
I was born of a Christian family in a small village, north of Thailand, second among seven brothers and sisters. My parents did not teach us the prayers word for word, but they taught us through their actions. They used to ring us to the chapel every day and I learned the prayers by listening to the people as they prayed. All people in my village go to the chapel every day before work or before going to school.
The faith of my parents
My father, I believe, understood the Gospel very well. I remember that when I was small we had a land planted with rice and fruit trees. When our parish priest asked to build a bigger chapel in our land, my father offered all our land for the site of the chapel and my mother did not agree with him, but my father gave it just the same. Then, we just built our house in the small lot of our old chapel. My mother was angry with him. But my father said to her, ”If the little boy in the Gospel did not give all his bread and fish, Jesus could not have made a miracle.” He said we have to give all to the Lord so that He could do miracles, but until now no miracles happened in our family.
My father does not pray in the chapel every day, but it seems that God listens to him. One time our neighbours quarrelled because the carabao of the other went to the field of the other one. My father prayed to God to please enlighten the carabao not to enter any more the field of the neighbour and the carabao obeyed. So the two neighbours stopped quarrelling. My father told me that I must pray anywhere when I have problems and God will hear me.
My mother is also good. She tells us to pray in the chapel. She shares our things with others, like rice and fruits. Whenever my father killed a pig, she would share some portions to our neighbours, even if they did not share anything with us. My parents are generous in giving even if we do not have much to give.
One time my mom invited a mother and her child to eat with us. We killed a chicken that time, something that was unusual. The little visitor ate the “drumstick,” which was the favourite of my younger brother and my brother cried, but my mother consoled him. After eating, my mom gave them rice in a small sack. The widow on her part gave money to my mom but my mom returned it by putting it in the sack of rice. She said that with that money the woman could buy rice again.
My religious vocation
When I was seven years old, I met a very kind Sister, named Komyarat, who told us stories about the Church and about the saints. I told myself that when I grew up I would become a Sister. When I was eight, I lived with my uncle and aunt in another village. But my aunt did not love me. She mistreated me whenever my uncle was away. I always felt lonely and sick and I asked God to protect me if it was His will that I suffer, and I prayed to the Virgin Mary, who I felt loved me. My faith made me strong.
At home, we worked hard but we were happy. Every evening after prayer, I helped my elder sister to teach and tell stories to the children in our village.
The Daughters of St. Paul
During a youth gathering, I met Fr. Alfonso de Juan, SJ, a Spanish priest. I told him I needed some books for the children in my village and he gave me many books. One of the books was about Mother Thecla Merlo. Fr. Alfonso promised me that he would help me to study since he had a project of helping poor children go to school. I thanked Mama Mary for this grace because I prayed to her to let me study.
After two years, when Fr. Alfonso came again to visit us, I asked him about the Daughters of St. Paul whose story I read in the book he gave me. I told him I wanted to become a Daughter of St. Paul. He gave me other reading materials about the Daughters of St. Paul. Then I wrote a letter to the Sister, but no answer came to me.
When I told my parish priest about my desire to become a Daughter of St. Paul, he said he did not know them. He even discouraged me and told me that my desire was only a dream. He invited me to join the local congregation. But I liked better the Daughters of St. Paul because of the mission to make Jesus known through the instruments of social communication.
My family could not afford to send us children all together to study because we had no money. When one of my brothers died, I wrote to Fr. Alfonso to pray for his eternal repose. He answered and said that he was coming to help us to study. At that time, I had already given up my vocation for the religious life. I thought that it was not the will of God since the mission was too high for me. Then, one day I met my friend who told me to write again to the Daughter of St. Paul. She said not to worry about what I needed because God always provides. Again I wrote the sisters.
A dream come true
When I was planning to take the exams to go to college, I got sick and so I prayed and asked the Lord what was His will for me. He answered me at once because in the evening Sr. Mercy of the Daughter of St. Paul came. Perhaps she received my application and in fact, she took me to the convent. There, I saw the Sisters praying and working very hard.
A test from God
I was surprised that when the Sisters told me I was coming to the Philippines for my formation because it needed a lot of money. I went home for a short vacation and our neighbours helped me. They gave me many things including my dress for the Mass. But when everything was ready, my father and brother met an accident while on their motorcycle. I went home to see them. Due to this sad event we borrowed money from our neighbours. I cried because I could not leave my father and brother in that condition, but my father sad, “You go back to the convent. Don’t worry about us. God who took care of us yesterday will provide for us tomorrow. You are the first to be called, be good, so that others will follow.” I went back to the convent crying.
Before coming to the Philippines, I called up Fr. Alfonso to thank him for everything. He told me had had already visited my family and had given them money coming from his friend. God really knows what we need when we are in difficulty and He is ready to help. Everything that happens in our life shows us the love of God.
As a perpetual-professed sister of the Daughter of St. Paul, like St. Paul, Fr. Alberione and Mother Thecla I will bring the good news to the people with my prayers, sacrifices, and Pauline mission and let people know about Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.