___________________________________________________________ IT TAKES ONE TINY CANDLE LIGHT TO DESTROY TOTAL DARKNESS Based on a true story By Bernie V. Lopez email@example.com The late Sister Josephine Derequito, MMS, Sister Jo for short, was a Filipino nun from the Medical Mission Sisters. She was a medical doctor and an accupunturist all at once, a blend of east and west. Her memory lingers and refuses to vanish. This article is a tribute to her. Other names have been changed and conversations reconstructed.
Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Early 70s. Christian Ilonggos and Muslim Maguindanaons have been killing each other and burning each others’ homes for a decade. The innocent women and children, Christians and Muslims, have left. It was now a ghost town, a ‘no man’s land’. Only the brave and the stubborn dared to stay. Armed Christian soldiers and Muslim rebels came in and out in a game of hide and seek.
In the Christian sector, there was Sr. Jo, a tiny four and a half foot Ilonggo, and a burly six-foot Belgian Columban priest, Father Sean. The pair clung like oysters to a tiny bamboo chapel as if it was the Fort of Alamo they would die for. This was their home and paradise, among the seventy-odd Christian settlers in their ‘parish’. A platoon of Ilonggo soldiers lingered, waiting for the Muslims rebels to stage another attack.
At the chapel, while praying, Sr. Jo noticed a tiny mouse. She climbed up the pew. Her scream could be heard in the Muslim sector. Fr. Sean ran from the outside, shooing the mouse away.
FR. SEAN You should be ashamed of yourself. A tiny mouse and you’re in panic. What more if Muslim rebels barge in? Sister, be brave, please.
SR. JO Father, I’m scared of those things.
FR. SEAN Alright, alright, calm down. It’s gone.
Sergeant Toto staggered out into the streets, dead drunk. He fired his armalite into the air. Everyone scampered to their homes. Windows and doors were quickly slammed shut, just like in the American western movies, only this it was for real.
FR. SEAN It’s that stupid sergeant again, dead drunk every afternoon, making trouble. You stay here, sister. I will take care of him.
Before Fr. Sean could move, Sr. Jo was out in the street and slammed the door to his face.
SR. JO Oh no you don’t. I will take care of this. You want to get killed? He won’t touch a hair of my head because I am Ilonggo like him. You, he won’t hesitate to finish a magazine on you. You think he will respect your nice white habit or six-foot frame? You’re a foreigner, remember. Foreigners are barbecued here by both Christian and Muslim fanatics. (Speaking with absolute authority) Stay!!
Fr. Sean fell silent, watching from inside the chapel as this four-and-a-half foot nun went straight without hesitation to the drunk soldier, who by now was loading a new magazine.
SR. JO (Shouting in the Ilonggo dialect, hands on hips) You should be ashamed of yourself, scaring people. They are not the enemy. You want to kill someone, go to the Muslim sector.
Sgt. Toto pointed the gun in reflex at Sr. Jo.
SR. JO Go ahead. Kill me now so that Lieutenant Reyes will roast you like a pig later. Go ahead. I am not scared of you. I am scared of mice, but not of drunk Ilonggo soldiers.
SGT. TOTO (Bowing his head in shame, meek as a lamb, then sobbing). I can’t stand it anymore, sister. I want to die.
Sr. Jo places a hand gently on his shoulder.
SR. JO Okay, okay, put that gun away. Come on, let’s sit and talk.
They sit on a bench outside the village store. Windows start to open. Sgt. Toto whips out a flat bottle of rum, but before he can take a swig, Sr. Jo grabs it and takes a long swig. She retches and almost throws up. Sgt. Toto laughs aloud. They both laugh.
SR. JO I need this more than you, but what is it, unleaded gas? (She returns the bottle to him).
SGT. TOTO (Tears silently flowing down his cheeks). I miss my baby. She’s just two years old.
SR. JO Go ahead. Let it out. The more you keep it inside, the more you finish magazines into the air. Tears are easier to shed than bullets.
SGT. TOTO Did you not get scared when I pointed my gun at you?
SR. JO Not really. I know you are a gentle person. Lt. Reyes speaks highly of you. But he knows you got a problem. He calls it battle fatigue. I call it bottle fatigue. How long have you been in the war zone?
SGT. TOTO Eight months.
SR. JO A lousy eight months and you’re going crazy. I’ve been here three years.
SGT. TOTO But you don’t face the enemy.
SR. JO I face them more than you. I have bandaged their wounds. What is more face-to-face than that?
SGT. TOTO You helped the enemy? You helped rebels? Wow, you should be ashamed of yourself.
SR. JO They are your enemy, not mine. Well, let me tell you the story.
SGT. TOTO Say, I know you. Now, I remember. You were the nun they were talking about in Pagadian, the nun who takes in soldiers and rebels. I have heard about you. You are famous in the 6th Infantry Brigade, the nun who makes peace in war zones.
SR. JO Be quiet. Let me tell you the story then.
Sr. Jo grabbed the bottle and took a swig and retched once more.
One year earlier. The same chapel. Sr. Jo was alone. Fr. Sean went to Pagadian to buy supplies. In the dead of night, she was awakened by gun shots from afar. But she was used to it. It happened so often. She ignored it and went back to sleep. Later, someone was banging at the door. Three rebels were carrying their Commander Usman, mortally wounded, bleeding profusely on the left shoulder. No questions asked. No words exchanged. Immediately she went to work. It took her one hour to remove the bullet, and clean and bandage the wound. Then she fed the rebels.
CMDR. USMAN I am deeply grateful, sister.
SR. JO Think nothing of it. That is my work. I am a medical mission sister. Our mission is to heal.
CMDR. USMAN You did not hesitate to help me. I am amazed how you can help your enemy. You even feed the enemy. The soldiers will not like that.
SR. JO What enemy? I don’t see enemies. I see only a wounded man. The soldiers can think what they want. They cannot touch me.
CMDR. USMAN Soldiers are known to rape and abuse even Christians, am I right, sister?
SR. JO Extremely right commander.
CMDR. USMAN The name is Commander Usman. I have great respect for you. If the soldiers abuse you, I want you to send a messenger to the Muslim side. I will protect you from them.
SR. JO That’s very nice of you, Commander Usman, but I can handle them better than you, believe me. I don’t use bullets, just my habit (She flicks her sleeve.).
CMDR. USMAN The offer stands anyway, just in case there are crazy drunk soldiers around.
SR. JO My gratitude, commander. I am deeply honored. I will remember your offer.
Suddenly five soldiers barged in. Soldiers and rebels were face to face. They cocked their guns and pointed them at each other. Sr. Jo quickly went to the middle.
SR. JO Oh no, not in my house. Keep your war outside my house. My house is a medical mission for all who are hurt, Muslims or Christians.
There was a long uneasy silence. Lt. Reyes was bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound in the upper right thigh. They kept guns pointed at each other.
SR. JO (With absolute authority). Lt. Reyes, Commander Usman, I order you to respect my home. If you cannot, then kill me first before you shoot each other down.
Long uneasy silence. Cmdr. Usman was the first to order his men to put down their guns. Lt. Reyes followed.
CMDR. USMAN I think it is time for us to go.
SR. JO Yes, commander, go. Lt. Reyes, promise me you will not pursue them.
LT. REYES How can we, when I am wounded?
CMDR. USMAN Sister, please remember my promise. Thank you for everything.
SR. JO I will remember.
The rebels quietly and calmly filed out. Sister helped Lt. Reyes to a seat and began to tend to his wound as his men lingered around. Lt. Reyes was about to speak.
SR. JO Not a word, lieutenant. I know what you want to say. I have no war in my heart. Can you understand that? You cannot force your world of bullets into my world of love. This is one tiny space in this large island where there is no hate or vengeance. It is my space. Can we keep it that way?
LT. REYES Yes, sister. I understand. But I want you to send a messenger to me if the rebels come to disturb you. I will protect you.
SR. JO Sounds familiar.
LT. REYES What’s that again, sister?
SR. JO Nothing, lieutenant. I just said we are one big family.
END OF FLASHBACK.
SGT. TOTO (In tears) Thank you sister for relieving me of my burden inside me. Now, I am beginning to understand your world. I wish I can visit your world often. In my world, I am ready to explode.
SR. JO You are there right now, Sgt, in my inner garden, right this moment. You are welcome anytime. But you must understand, you have your own inner garden. I know this from the way Lt. Reyes talks about you.
SGT. TOTO Yes, that long lost inner garden, I must find it again.
SR. JO You have rediscovered it just now. Fr. Sean comes out.
FR. SEAN I can see everything is back to normal.
SR. JO You want a swig of unleaded gas?
FR. SEAN No thanks.
Sgt. Toto and Sr. Jo became the best of friends. Sgt. Toto would enter her inner garden many times in that no-man’s-land which had surprisingly many inner gardens hidden among the violence and the hatred. Sr. Jo also entered Sgt. Toto’s inner garden and that gave her solace and comfort and spiritual strength she needed as much as Sgt. Toto did.
A tiny nun scared of a tiny mouse but not of rebels and soldiers is the essence of valor in our story. A tiny nun with a heart so big and strong, yet no one could see except those who somehow, by accident perhaps, stumbled into her garden – rebel commanders, battle-fatigued sergeants, wounded lieutenants. A tiny nun who transformed war and hatred into peace and harmony.
in the oceans of war and hatred there exist tiny islands of peace and understanding that persist
they are flickers of a candle light it takes one tiny candle to destroy total darkness
imagine a thousand candles mimicking the sunrise ushering in hope and reconciliation
imagine a world of love dominating a world of hate coexistence conquering conflict
only each one of us together can mimic that sunrise we have that power if we know it
Lord, that we may be instruments of Your love and peace in a world in a tailspin eastwind
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