Two New Zealand missionaries working in Thailand feature in a video marking October as the Pope’s Extraordinary Month of Missions.
Father Frank Bird SM and Katie Fisher are volunteer teachers at a Marist school in Ranong, a fishing town in southern Thailand on the border with Myanmar. The town has many Burmese migrant worker families whose children can attend from pre-school right through to university level, the latter online via Australian Catholic University.
Pope Francis has called October the Extraordinary Month of Missions because he strongly believes that missionary work is an important part of being Catholic.
Father Bernard Espiritu of Missio.NZ asked Catholic Discovery – the Catholic Enquiry Centre's online resource – to find a story of New Zealand volunteers working abroad. The Ranong video is the result.
Father Frank is the Director of the Marist Asia Foundation, an institute that provides education to Burmese migrant children, who can struggle in Thai schools if they lack Thai language skills. The secondary schooling they provide is particularly crucial for migrant children who might otherwise be required by parents to find jobs because of economic pressures.
“I’ve seen in front of my own eyes the young girls jumping up with joy and dancing round the room because they can go to school,” says Frank. “They’ve got a future, and I get the benefit as a missionary seeing that every week.”
Adds Katie (pictured above, left, with a Burmese family): “If it wasn’t for is, most of the children would leave school at age12.”
The children mainly come from a Buddhist background, which is respected by the school. Father Frank (below with school staff and family members) hopes students witness and benefit from the joyful loving presence of a Catholic community. The work he and Katie do is having a big impact on the community. It's not just education they are offering, but also pride, dignity and better futures.