It must have been sometime in the beginning of that December when Diana, my right and left hand in working with the apostolate to the migrants, made arrangements with me to hear confessions of the migrants in Sejingkat, an industrial area at the outskirts of Kuching.
And so it was that in the evening of 22 December. I found myself being driven by Diana to one of the sawmills where many migrant workers were housed. It was a stormy night with lots of rain, a bit scary since there was no street lighting and the path from the main road to the sawmill itself was more a mud pool than anything else. We waded ankle-deep for 20 minutes to come to the place where we had to be. And all that with a tiny small torchlight, more the size of a cigarette lighter than anything else. We stumbled more than we walked but in the end we reached the place absolutely drenched and muddy but safe, certainly not the time and place to go in white cassock as is usually asked from us when administering the sacraments.
Our less than pleasant journey was well worth it; what could be more welcoming than to see the people were all waiting for our arrival? How could I not be touched when they even had made a makeshift chair so I could hear confessions in style and comfort!
Diana was teaching catechism and the plan was that in the meantime I would hear their confession.
The first half an hour went smooth enough; they knew their prayers and that makes it always easier. Suddenly someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked me in a very urgent voice, “Please Father, come along you are needed”… I felt bit uneasy to have the confession so abruptly interrupted… I had no idea where the man who was very much in a hurry was leading me to and not knowing of the purpose of it all made me even more irritated. We walked over hobbly planks to go from one place to the other, passed many little rooms and I got the feeling that there was no end to it.
And then it happened. I heard someone crying softly but the nearer we got I realised it was not the normal cry of a person in pain. This was serious: more groaning and it sounded like someone in agony. We knocked on the door and lo and behold I could not believe my eyes, there was pregnant lady having real difficulty giving birth to her baby. With her there were two ladies who were helping her but seemingly to no avail. The baby’s head was visible but the mother had been in labour for some hours now and had no more energy to push, Just a desperate situation with no doctor or nurse around.
What to do? Fall on your knees and pray, storm heaven, and keep knocking on that door. Believe me, that night I prayed as I have never prayed before. I felt helpless and hopeless; it was something out of a nightmare where there is no solution. Twenty minutes on my knees half in the water and half on a piece of plywood, a thousand years away from a clean hospital bed surrounded with nurses and having clean and warm water. Nothing of that.
I was thinking of Bethlehem… had it been like that? Had it been better, had it been worse?
I told the ladies to keep on praying and went back to my makeshift confessional, absolutely drained and told them all to continue to say the rosary.
Two hours later, when the confession sessions were over and we were sitting around sipping some very sweet coffee with biscuits, I suddenly saw the two ladies who were there in that room with the mother coming in and one of them was holding the baby who had been so reluctant to come forth. Baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, clean and smelled as a baby should smell. Unbelievable, wonderful and you can imagine that we all were euphoric, praising God and clapping our hands, rejoicing. Yes, Bethlehem revisited. This time we were the angels proclaiming God’s goodness to all.
Six weeks later I happened to visit them again and the mother came to me to thank me and whispered in my ear that she was going to have her baby baptised and call him… Albert.
Ha, that made my day. I felt honoured, grateful and joyful and with that tremendous joy in my heart knowing that God is in love with everybody no matter in what situation we are in.
It is now more than 10 years ago and I was told that little Albert was a bit of a rascal like myself when I was that young. God will bless him. Of that I am sure.
I dare say that was my most beautiful Christmas, never to be forgotten.
Wishing you all a Christmas that you will never forget.
Praise the Lord
Fr Albert Jacobse, MHM