Trip to East Timor - Report by Grace Leota (2014)

My initial thought when I received a confirmation that my application had been approved for the mission trip to East Timor was absolute shock. When one of the elders of my church suggested to me that I apply for this trip, I did it with a sense of doubt thinking that there was no chance that I’d get this opportunity, but there really never is any harm in trying. And what do you know; a few weeks later it was a done deal.

After the shock, and the excitement I was suddenly hit with a new emotion of fear. I didn’t know anything about Timor, and I knew going on this trip would mean leaving behind my family, the comfort and assurance of my home and all my support networks that I have in Melbourne. Suddenly, this trip wasn’t looking so exciting. I remember leading up to this trip I was constantly praying for guidance, wisdom and courage. And as He does, God gave me a verse for this trip during my time of fear which is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” I knew at that time that no matter where I go that God would lead me on this trip and return me safely home.

Arriving in East Timor was like arriving on another planet. We had departed from cold, windy Melbourne and arrived in sticky, humid Timor. And I won’t deny that I loved every second of our arrival, minus the sudden appearance of mosquitoes.

During the two weeks we were in Timor, we went to various sites such as Christo Rei, the Santa Cruz cemetery where the massacre occurred, the Museum of Resistance and even a trip to the district of Ainaro.

Going to Timor, I had no idea of the pain and the blood which tainted this beautiful land and its history. I was so shocked by what I saw and the stories that I had heard when we had visited the Santa Cruz Cemetery, the Chega Exhibition and the Museum of Resistance. Timor had really been given the short end of the stick. Now, I’m not one for politics, but I am a human being and the heartache that I felt as I saw images portraying the hardships that Timor experienced during its Indonesian occupation was unbearable. And to think that it was only a few decades past, really hit home to me.

As I ventured around Timor I saw that there were still remnants of the struggle, there were people that still harboured the pain and loss from this time. And for me, coming from Australia where I had never experienced anything like this it made me appreciate the freedom and the safety that I have which I know I take for granted all the time. But after seeing this, it is a permanent etch in my mind and a constant reminder to me of how fortunate my family and I are.

We spent a lot of our leisure time at Timor Plaza where the FIFA world cup was shown, and where the food was enjoyable. It was nice to see familiar logos such as Burger King and Gloria Jeans. We met various people such as Helen Hill who taught me a lot about East Timor and its history. We also met Francisco and Antonio who are part of the SCM in East Timor. We spoke about the ways in which we can help MEC-TL to grow and ways that ASCM could help; they really opened my eyes to the struggles in East Timor post-occupation.

The many troubles with education and language stood out for me during this trip especially after we had been assisting in teaching conversation English at the University of Timor. Being someone who is fluent in English I had ignorantly gone into this thinking that teaching a language would be easy. It wasn’t. I found that the students that I did talk to, taught me more about English than I think I was able to teach them. But it was such a great experience to meet young people so determined to better their English and for me to be able to be a vessel to deliver this help was really heart-warming. Getting to know the students as well was amazing. They really inspired me and planted in me a deep determination in my heart to complete my music degree that I am currently studying at Victoria University.

One of the greatest and yet simple highlights for me was the kindness that was extended to me from one of the lovely men at the hotel that we had stayed in. I spent a lot of time talking to the locals and staff but his kindness exceeded them all for me and I am forever grateful to him for it. I remember the day I was sitting outside the hotel and I was feeling really homesick and was missing my family a lot. Mano (the gentleman from the hotel) had spoken to me and I’d told him I really miss my home and music is a part of what grounds me and my family. So the next day he came with his guitar for me to play while I was in Timor just to remind me of home. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this show of generosity and love.

So what has this trip taught me?

It taught me that progress is slow but never impossible. That if hate can be learnt, so can love. That just a little bit of kindness to a stranger in a strange place can make all the difference. And that God in his infinite power, wisdom and humour – will always make a way.

I’d like to thank Ann Ng, the people from ASCM, Brigida Corte-Real, Vila Wu, Afonso Corte-Real, Helen Hill, Francisco Kutukeu, Antonio Da Silva, the students at UN-TL and all the people that made this experience one of the best.