Sonny Terminez worked at an aluminum-fabrication factory in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, from 2014 until early 2017. During that time, Sonny volunteered at Mass as a lay minister, altar server, usher, and in our Lectors and Commentators program. Sonny has told the story of his experience as a migrant worker for the documentary series, “The Migrant Worker’s Face.”
By Sonny Terminez
Edited by Hannes Zetzsche
What would you feel if the matriarch of your family had died and those whom you loved were hurting?
I remember feeling helpless. My grandmother, a pillar of our family, had just died and my family was struggling to cope with her loss. All of us missed this amazing woman and now we had to bury her. But I couldn’t go home to the Philippines to comfort my family and join their grief because of my commitment as a foreign worker in Taiwan. In this moment, I remember feeling helpless and alone.
My grandmother and I had been very close throughout my life. She had cared for me in my childhood and she had continued to lead my family as long as she lived. It disappointed me that I couldn’t be present to care for my grandmother during her precious last moments after she had given me so much of her life.
My first contract in Taiwan of three years was nearing an end when I discovered the news of my grandmother’s death. After I found out, all I wanted was to go home.
I had asked permission from my employer for personal leave to be with my family, but the Chinese New Year celebrations had stretched my company’s remaining staff thin among the remaining working hours. I was working in an aluminum-fabrication company at the time and there was work to be done around the clock. Many of my coworkers had requested this time off months in advance, and so my last-minute, albeit emergency, request for leave stood little chance. Additionally, no one remained in the company’s office to process my paperwork requesting leave. The company forbade me from going home.
At times in my life when my opposition has seemed insurmountable, when I haven’t known what to do, I believe that my best responses have come through prayer. At this time, I prayed for God’s guidance and for my family’s grieving.
It was Kuya Mhike, the Director at the Hope Workers’ Center, who encouraged me to engage in prayer when I faced the opposition of my grandmother’s death. I remember reaching out to him one tearful Sunday evening after mass, hoping that he could help me to go home to my family. I feared that if I left without my employer’s blessing, I could face punishment and I wouldn’t ever be allowed to return to Taiwan. Kuya Mhike sympathized with my condition but said that the only thing he could do was to talk to my boss, to explain the situation in Chinese, a language I didn’t speak.
The next day, Kuya Mhike called my boss and convinced him of my position. I am so grateful that I was able to go home! From this experience, I learned that there is really nothing impossible if we pray.
I have been able to overcome other obstacles in my life through prayer as well. I remember that when I first learned my application to become an Overseas Foreign Worker had been approved, in 2013, I was thrilled. I could finally earn a livable wage for my family; everything would be okay! But as with any high point in life, lower points are sure to come, and the only reason I have overcome them has been through prayer.
Just months after I arrived, I encountered a challenge in my work. One of my coworkers had treated me very poorly, accusing me of reporting him to our supervisors in the factory for smoking. I hadn’t reported him.
I knew that the man had been experiencing problems with his family at home in the Philippines, and I even empathized with these struggles. I missed my family every day! But I also knew that it would be best to avoid him, else risk exacerbating the tension that had already developed between us. During this time, the best thing I could do was to pray: for my safety and continued security at work, for my family at home in the Philippines, and also for this man and the struggles he faced with his family. I prayed for God’s guidance in my life and his.
I continued this pattern of praying and avoiding for one year—I would find places to eat away from him and I would make time to talk every day to God. After a year, my prayers were answered. The man picked a fight with another coworker and was punished by our employer. He decided to go home and not finish his contract, to which I felt immense relief.
My praying did not stop after that year, though, as some problems inevitably persisted in my life, such as my sadness at being away from my family. I had been married in 2010, before coming to Taiwan, and it was hard to be away from my wife, Analyn. It sometimes felt unfair to me that in order to support my wife and our parents, I had to live away from them.
When I would get sick, I would feel so lonely because no one was there to console or take care of me. My roommates worked for the same company, but they couldn’t spend the time to care for me because that would mean lost wages during working hours. Without my wife, I was alone, in sickness and in health, and I would feel pressured to heal quickly so that I could return to work and wages. I would pray incessantly, while sick in bed, for healing, strength, love, and a reunion with my wife.
The place where I found a community that most nearly resembled my family at home was at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, in Zhongli. I credit a lot of my life’s spiritual and personal growth to my time volunteering there. By serving as a lector and commentator, reflecting on the gospel during Sunday mass, I realized anew what it meant to be a true Christian. I learned to pray the rosary and how to treat people with love, as Jesus did.
I am really grateful to God for bringing me to the community at the Hope Workers’ Center. There were opportunities for me to find bad influences in Taiwan, but I believe that by prayer I was able to follow God’s will—to the Hope Workers’ Center and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. Thank you to the many friends I met there, people who became like brothers and sisters to me. Thank you also to the church staff: missionaries, priests, caseworkers, and welcoming volunteers, all of whom supported me.
God bless us all. Lubos na nagpapasalamat!
This reflection by Sonny Terminez has been published by the Hope Workers’ Center as an entry to “The Migrant Worker’s Face” documenting project. The Hope Workers’ Center continues to seek stories like Sonny’s with which we can add detail to migrants’ intricate face. There are two ways that you can help us. If you are a migrant worker and would be willing to share your story, we want to hear from you directly! You can read instructions about how to participate here. If you are not a migrant worker, then we ask you to continue supporting our project: read our stories weekly and invite others to do the same.
The Hope Workers’ Center is dedicated to supporting migrant workers in our community. Through this project, we hope to appreciate the beauty of each person’s life while fostering recognition among a wider audience of the struggles that migrants regularly encounter in their work. Thank you for your support!