We know “charity begins at home “ at the same time we can give a definition about missionaries : a missionary grow up in a morally strong Christian family.
For every nun and priest their life must be grounded in their love for JESUS CHRIST.
This is the story of a brave hearted nun and it brings us to Bangladesh a country where less than 1% are Christian.
Bangladesh underwent many hardships from 1945 to 1971. The country was ruled by Pakistan at that time and then a brutal war broke out as Bangladesh established its freedom after 1971 . This freedom was made possible by the Indian government and the Indian army helping. Bangladesh had been a vassal country. Everything was destroyed by the war. Hunger and poverty was daily life.
Many indigenous people were killed and many indigenous Christian women and girls were raped and killed by the Pakistan Muslim fundamentalist army. This has been considered a genocide where more the 3 million killed by Pakistan army. At that time the Indian government opened the border and gave shelter for Bangladeshi refugees. Many indigenous people didn’t come back to Bangladesh only some indigenous came to Bangladesh. When they returned to their own country and villages they saw everything was destroyed. They had no home, food, or clothing. At that time many international nuns and priests in different congregations and a few international Christian organizations supported the millions of hungry people in Bangladesh.
This is short background story I have written here explains why after 1971 large numbers of indigenous people received Jesus CHRIST and converted to become Christian.
Day by day Christian religious activities are increasing. Today many young Bangladeshis are becoming priests and nuns.
However, among them only a few are involved in international congregations.
This is where we find the heroine of our story, Sister Shaphali, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). She became a nun and missionary of the PIME congregation in Papua New Guinea. Sr. Shaphali has been a nun for over 10 years.
Sr. Shaphali Khalko came from a large but poor indigenous family. Her father was a catechist, a gospel preacher who helped priests. Her father retired 2003. He visited more then 850 indigenous villages with more then 20 indigenous communities and more then 20,000 indigenous people converted to Christianity. This was in the two Catholic dioceses of Dinajpur and Rajshahi.
Her father had written one indiginous language religious song and translated liturgical books into two indigenous languages. At the end of his life, he was still working for Catholic church. One Italian newspaper in 2003 had an article about his working for the Catholic Church as a lay holy Gospel preacher. This is very true: at the end of his life Sr. Shaphali said her father was always an honest and strong Christian personality. As a preacher he did not make much money so poverty was daily lifestyle for her family. However, nothing could stop Sr. Shaphali from becoming a religious nun.
Sr. Shaphali was born to the indigenous OROUAN community in a remote village. Very few girls went to school. Only a few girls could go to school because of the poverty and ignorance at that time. It was very rare to get opportunity to study at Catholic schools. When Sr. Shaphali was a child she saw her father going to preach the holy gospel far away. When her father came back at home after one month or two months then she would hear many challenging, funny and interesting stories. It was then that Sr. Shaphali began to dream about becoming a missionary. But at her young age when Sr. Shaphali studied at college and decided to enter a missionary congregation she needed to look for a congregation. At the last moment she got accepted to the P I M E Missionary nuns' congregation. But the journey wasn’t nice and easy.
When Sr. Shaphali entered the congregation her family was suffering from many problems. Her parents were suffering from different illnesses. Her elder brother had cancer and no access to treatment so he died but he left behind 3 daughters and 1 baby and wife. They didn't have food and clothes... and didn't have their own home. Another brother wasn’t able to work. There were big political issues going on involving her parish, and Christian and Muslim fundamentalists groups. In fact, they came several times to destroy the church and the Christian people. Her father went to the police station and court to stop these attacks. At that time few local priests were able to help her father and family. There were many internal issues.
Further complicating things for Sr. Shaphali were complaints made by locals and a few nuns to get her thrown out of the congregation. Even some local boys had written over 100 letters to her superior to get her thrown out. However, Sr. Shaphali had a very strong personality and in her novitiate life she was very humble and pious.
Somehow God’s love for her and blessings for her true vocation came through at the last moment. She made her first vows on the 16th of July in 2000 and last vows in 2008.
As you can see there were many, many challenges to her becoming a missionary. During her first years as a missionary Sr. Shaphali worked in different parts and different indigenous communities and challenging parishes in Bangladesh. Then, Sr. Shaphali was selected for a new mission in Papua New Guinea, an island country besides Australia, with many cultures and languages of indigenous communities. So within few months Sr. Shaphali had to learn many languages. Then she prepared herself to go as a missionary to another land in 2011. Today, she is working in Papua New Guinea. When she left as a missionary her parents were suffering many sicknesses and financial burdens. Her father faced many financial problems. Due to their poverty, her parents lacked good food, medical treatment and medicines thus both her father and mother died. But she never stopped her missionary activities. Sr. Shaphali had seen many problems in her family and her parents suffering many sicknesses but nothing stopped her determination to be missionary. A really unforgettable moment in her life was that she couldn't see her parents when they died. As a nun she had empty hands. When she saw all this going on around her she just offered it up and prayed.
She never asked any financial help from her congregation or anyone; she just offered prayers and prayers. Sr. Shaphali has made innumerable sacrifices. But, despite this pain, she is continuously working.
Behind her sacrifices great graces are at work. There is a really wonderful and interesting story going on by the power of grace. There are now 12 nuns working in different nuns congregations in Bangladesh who are all her own relatives. They were inspired by her to become nuns. Also, there are more than 30 other nuns directly inspired by her. She is an inspiration to many of the girls who see her work.
Written by (Sr. Shaphali's Nephew) Francis Rony Tirky, Catholic News World's Correspondent from Bangladesh and former Community Development Animator for Caritas.