On Mission: A Migrant Lesson on Sacrifice

by Hannes Zetzsche, a volunteer with the Missionary Society of St. Columban who is currently serving at the Hope Workers' Center in Zhongli, Taiwan.

When I boarded Cathay Pacific on Valentine’s Day 2017, I thought my touchdown in Taipei would mark the beginning of five months of complete sacrifice. As a short-term volunteer, I planned to devote myself fully for a time to helping people. Over the past two months, however, the stories of a hundred migrant workers have taught me to value sacrifice in a wholly greater way.

The Hope Workers’ Center was founded in 1986 by Columban priests. It exists today to support the migrant workers in Taiwan—more than half-a-million migrants worked in Taiwan in 2016. I live in the center’s shelter with people from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, sheltered because they are either victims of workplace abuse or human trafficking.

Five days a week I also work alongside a staff of caseworkers in the center, helping migrants to learn and access their rights as workers. In speaking with workers during my first weeks at the center, I was awestruck by the true sacrifice many of these men and women had faced and continue to endure. They’ve told me about how much they miss their spouses, children, and siblings as they work away from home for up to 12 years; many of the workers send nearly their entire paychecks home to their loved ones every month.

In response to these compelling accounts, one of my first projects at the Hope Workers’ Center was to document their stories with “The Migrant Worker’s Face,” a documentary project to collect these narratives of sacrifice and celebrate their storytellers’ dedication (hopeworkerscenter.org/migrantworkersface).

My ultimate sacrifice here in Taiwan working alongside the Columbans? Nominal to non-existent. But with each account of The Migrant Worker’s Face, I’ve felt myself curating a deeper understanding of what it means to sacrifice oneself for another, the ultimate message of Easter.