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A First Experience of the Life of a Missionary

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This article appears as the second of a three part series by Bemnet Malaku, a seminarian of the Western Province of the Congregation of the Mission, studying at the Congregation’s Internal Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Bemnet is originally from Ethiopia and shares his experience of an immersive apostolic formation experience in Africa. Part One of the series can be found here.

 

Giving a talk to a Catholic School Students in Kitale

 

A Stranger, But Welcomed

When I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, it was 3:00 AM local time. To my surprise, Fr. Gary, the Regional Superior, with whom I had been in contact through email for about three months, was waiting for me at the airport. I was so thankful that someone whom I knew was able to pick me up at the airport, and I greatly admire the effort he made to be there for me.

 

I experienced how important it can be for new visitors to be greeted first by someone with whom they have had contact. It helps ease the strangeness of the whole unknown experience that is to come.

 

I learned my lesson. I promised myself to do the same for others when, in the future, I find myself in that same situation. Fr. Gary is a down to earth, humble, and caring Regional Superior. I thanked him so much for staying up so late to pick me up from the airport. From the beginning, he set a very positive tone for my visit there.

A Dangerous Beginning

When we were driving back to the house from the airport at 3 A.M. in the morning, the car stopped running in the middle of the road. We tried and tried so many ways to get it going, but it was all in vain. Fr. Gary called another driver to come and pick us up. While waiting for the person to come, Fr. Gary told me some things about the area and some facts about how dangerous it can be for us to be out on the street at that time of the night.

 

 

We locked ourselves in the car until the driver comes. He told me not to open the door for anyone. Two men approached our vehicle. They tried to talk to us using a sign language, but, as I was told, I stayed calm and waited till they pass. Finally, the driver came and was able to take us home safely.

Once we got to the house, Fr. Gary showed me my room and told me to rest as much as I need and to contact him once I get up. I was exhausted, so I quickly went to bed and later awoke in the early afternoon of the next day.

 

Meeting Vincentian Seminarians

 

I wanted nothing except for God to accompany me and to show me the path that He wanted me to travel and the things He wanted me to do in the days ahead.

 

I felt content to rely totally on God and I was convinced that God would provide. So, I washed my face, put myself together, and walked out of the room. I walked outside the building into the sunshine of the day.  There I saw a couple of guys walking towards me. I thought,”These must be seminarians.” They asked me if I was Ben and welcomed me with a warm smile. They told me that they heard about me coming to visit and that they were waiting to see me. Although their English was a little hard to understand, it was good enough to communicate. I asked them who they were and they told me that they were indeed Vincentian Seminarians. I was very happy to meet them. They then took me to the place where Fr. Gary was waiting for me.

 

Home blessing in Station Parish Thigio together with the parishioners and Deacon Michael Kariuki C.M.

 

Fr. Tom Esselman

To my surprise, Fr. Gary was waiting for me with another priest, Fr. Tom Esselman, to discuss plans for my stay. I really admire their dedication in providing me with the opportunity to participate and share in their life and thus experience what it is like to live as one with them. Fr. Tom is the formation director of the seminary and Fr. Gary told me that during my stay in Kenya, Fr. Tom would serve as my mentor and director. I was happy that I did not have to bother the Regional Superior with every little thing.

Plans for My Visit

Fr. Tom is the most organized person I have ever met. After we ate, he showed me around and introduced me to the others there. Then he took me to his office and showed me the plan for my stay, outlined on paper. He assigned me to different tasks; I was to start the next day. To my surprise, he even had a plane ticket to fly me out of Nairobi to the far Western part of the country where I would stay for an extended period of time.

 

Going to places that were unfamiliar and meeting people I did not know created a certain anxiety, but my attitude was one of openness and a readiness to embrace whatever came my way.

 

The Vincentian priests and Daughters of Charity provided me with a well-structured program. It was a wonderful experience that allowed me to minister. And I learned much from the Vincentian confreres and the Daughters about how best to serve the poor and the needy in many missionary contexts.

Youth Group in Thigio Station Parish

 

Many New Experiences of Ministry

My first assignment was to travel to the countryside called Thigio, and assist at the parish that is located there. Then after a couple of weeks, I was to go back to Nairobi and spend some time with the Daughters of Charity involved in Project DREAM, which addresses HIV/AIDS and malnutrition in Africa. Then I was to work with the seminarians in Nairobi before flying to the Western part of the country, to Kitale, where I would remain for two weeks. I would then travel back to Nairobi and leave for the United States. It looked like I was going to be very busy for the next month and a half, and that proved to be very true.

 

My life was filled with an experience of learning and of being a missionary in Kenya, Africa.  I worked side by side with the Vincentian priests and the Daughters of Charity in the various areas where I was sent. It was a very challenging and very grace-filled time of my life.

 

The Vincentian confreres and the Daughters included me in their visits with the sick, in their youth ministry activities, in their blessing of homes, and in the various liturgical celebrations with high school and elementary school students. I visited the sick at the hospitals and the hospices, worked with disabled persons, taught in the schools, and directed choir practices.

 

Visiting the sick together with Fr. Nicolas Kaloki C. M.

 

I enjoyed the liturgies with the Sisters, playing sports and music with the parish youth groups, and working with candidates discerning their vocation. I had the opportunity to work on the farm and minister to HIV Aids patients. I was doing so many things I had never done before. My mentors not only showed me how they did all of these things, but they also encouraged me to do them myself.

 

What a great privilege to have had the opportunity to experience the life of a missionary, a life which I hope will be mine in the near future.

 

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