A Life Beyond Imagination

By: Fr Jim Mulroney

Father Mulroney interviewed Columban lay missionary Jhoanna ‘Jao’ Resari in the middle of her three-year term in Taiwan which will finish around Easter.

I have learned things about myself I never dreamed existed’, said Jhoanna Resari about her experience as a Columban lay missionary in Taiwan. Jao was in Hong Kong on her way to mainland China to visit two of the six Harmony House foundations for HIV and AIDS people and to learn about the care of patients and the organizational facets of running facilities. The 28-year-old graduate in fine arts from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila explained that she was always on the look out for ‘something’ which she could not quite define, and said that, as an undergraduate, she used to pray hard asking God to show her a way.

‘I went to church for Mass one Sunday’, she went on. ‘It was my first time at that church and when I came out a huge banner had been stretched across the courtyard with the words Columban Lay Mission written on it and people were there giving out information about going overseas. I thought that this was the answer to my prayer’, she smiled, ‘so I asked about joining’.

However, she was told she didn’t qualify as they only accepted people with at least three years working experience. ‘So after graduation I took a job as a graphic artist’, she explained. ‘But the feeling didn’t go away’. She said that she had not forgotten the day at the church and the idea of working in a cross-cultural situation began to attract her. When her three years were up, she contacted the lay mission program. ‘I still had the brochure’, she revealed. I realized that I am not going to live forever and I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful while I am still young’. Jhoanna said that although leaving home was hard, she was delighted at the support her three sisters and brother gave her. ‘My brother is still in school’, she explained, ‘and I was aware that the family had to be in agreement as I would not be earning money. I could not contribute towards expenses at home’. She said that her mother and father cried at first, but ‘they really understood it was what I wanted and have been very supportive’. She describes this decision as being the beginning of a whole new experience in the life that has taught her how to make her own decisions, to live away from her family and feel God’s presence deeply. ‘People have been a great blessing and they have helped me to grow into the person I am today’, she explained. ‘And I really like who I am’, she beamed.

‘I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful while I am still young’.

Jhoanna explained how her missionary life began in Manila with a nine-month preparation course. ‘We studied scripture, theology, sociology, anthropology, history and all sorts of wonderfully interesting things’, she expanded, ‘and I did three months of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) with patients and staff at Makati Medical Center’. This was topped off with an exposure experience in the predominantly- Muslim Marawi City in Mindanao. ‘I was learning things I never dreamed of!’ Now after a year-and-a-half in Taiwan, Jhoanna does not describe herself as a hardened missionary, but says, ‘I am only just beginning’. She elaborated how she studied Mandarin full-time during her first year and then began work at Harmony Home Association, Taiwan, a center for the care of babies and mothers who are HIV-positive.

‘I do the office work’, she said, ‘but bit by bit I am learning how to look after the babies who were born HIV-positive and to do other patient support work.’ She explained that, if treated properly, the babies have a chance of being cured, so their time in the center, which was founded by Nicole Yang, a long-time carer of patients with AIDS, is vitally important for them.

She also spoke of the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS. ‘People in the locality have objected to our presence there’, she said, ‘and right now we have a case in the Supreme Court about our tenancy’. Jhoanna said that the center has responded by beginning education program in the local area. ‘Our people are going into schools and out to meet other groups’, she said. ‘It has had a good effect and we are getting a lot more local support now’.

‘Sometimes people ask me about my plans for the future’, she shared, ‘but right now I feel like I am only just beginning. I have a three-year contract with the Missionary Society of St Columban and I can renew it at the end of that time’. She said that right now she is concentrating on ‘strengthening my relationships with people in Taiwan’ and dreaming about ‘speaking Mandarin properly’.

She noted that ‘when I feel I can get back to my fine arts and paint again, I will know that I have settled’. Father Mulroney interviewed Columban lay missionary Jhoanna ‘Jao’ Resari in the middle of her three-year term in Taiwan which will finish around Easter.

You may contact ‘Jao’ Resari at