By Frances Nina Fernandez-Bitang (Teacher Nanan)

I look back with deep gratitude in my heart, thinking about the wonderful message thru my Facebook messenger from a beautiful soul called Ate Jhana Ligue.

“Would you be willing to journey with our International Electronic Service-Learning Program (IE-SLP) participants as a faculty companion Ma’am Nanan?”

I had hesitation at first. That year 2021, was not an easy one for me. Pinadapa po ako ng panahon with the death of my Mom last January 27, 2021. I was unsure whether I could do it. In the ways of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, I could do it with passion in a manner that would glorify God.

But I took a leap of faith, and I said a generous YES to Ate Jhana, of course, replete with questions as to how and what I would need in the journey. And the rest is sacred history unfolding before my eyes.

I entered into this sacred adventure called IE-SLP with a very excited heart. Thus, I would often look forward to our webinar dates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Juggling my schedule with all the various hats I wear every day as a mom to a ten-year-old plus being a foster mom to the kids at Padre Pios Home, as a wife to a busy man of God, my husband Nelson, as an ASF formator, and as a digital entrepreneur to fund my different charities in the pandemic, my IE-SLP journey was one that I am forever grateful for. It was indeed God’s wonderful embrace in my once hurting, sad heart due to my mom’s death.

In and through the ways of proceeding the Ignatian way through our platform, my IE-SLP friends became my family. My IE-SLP graduating students, whom I have had the chance to facilitate reflection sessions with and mentor in their module roll-out, became God’s amazing angels in disguise, comforting me and encouraging me to be the best version of myself in this time of my life.

I never thought that the Document on Human Fraternity would transform my life. I read it twice, three times. I savored the webinar by Dr. Roawie Quimba. I devoured the mission and advocacy of all our beloved guest speakers from day one until the very end. I wrote notes and remembered with fondness all life-changing statements they gave us. Yes, indeed, human fraternity is the new frontier. I found solace and deep encouragement in and through the DHF. It was not just a mere document for me. It was God’s revelation of faith, friendship, and shared mission for me.

I sincerely thank all my IE-SLP students, especially Zennia, Ricky, Ronnel, Ah Ei, Angel, Chuanson, Dianna, Febri, Hadira, Muhammad, and Sandra. Our team belonged to the Datu Paglas community in Maguindanao, and through deep prayer and reflection plus savoring the song, Prayer for Peace by Ryan Cayabayab, borrowed actual lines, UNO STRUMENTO (or Team U.S.) to name ourselves. And providentially, with the eyes of faith, our team made it to the finished line of the module rollout. I remembered our deep joy together with Ma’am Lilibeth Arcena and Ma’am Liezle “Meow” Catadman; team U.S. presented our very own module for fellow peacebuilders. Their creative characters, Agnes and Selvia, deeply represented the full aspirations of the Document on Human Fraternity: We are all brothers and sisters. We are all capable of goodness, love, and kindness in these challenging times of the pandemic. And no signal connectivity issue dampened our IE-SLP spirits.

So as I end this reflection, I praise and thank God for the gift of faith, friendship, and shared mission. It was, for me, a wonderful gift in my grief. Through the warmth, smiles, and kindness of Sir Vinci Bueza, Ms. Jona Desierto, Ms. Lyd Ducusin, and the entire Ateneo Internationalization for Mindanao (AIM) family, I felt loved. I felt them. I felt their Ignatian presence in my grieving heart. Through the creative collaboration and friendship and accompaniment of my fellow companions, I felt the warm caress of God touching my sad heart. Through the deep exchanges of mission and advocacy espoused by our competent pool of speakers locally and globally, I felt the sacred gift of human fraternity. Through the amazing presence of our community partners in the Datu Paglas, I felt inspired and encouraged to dream of a better Mindanao for all of us.

Indeed, we are fellow peacebuilders in these challenging times.

All glory to God!