Notes from Africa

Tuesday September 7, 2021

A Typical Sunday

On Sundays, I usually celebrate three Masses—the schedule, 7:00am, 9:00am, and 11:00am, remains the same wherever I go.

Last Sunday, I left the house at 6:30am (temperature 58̊ F) to travel to Rianyagemi outstation, a drive of twenty-five minutes on a dirt road that was in good condition.  A road grader recently had been over the area fixing many of the potholes and smoothing the ruts.  The catechist and the chairman of the outstation eagerly greeted me and welcomed me as we prepared for Mass.  When Mass did start, there were seventeen people, most of them in the choir.  Although small, the choir did a very good job in leading the music.  By the end of Mass, the church was nearly full with about 150 people, the last of whom arrived during the praying of the Our Father before the reception of Holy Communion.  After Mass, I took time to bless people who came forward for an individual blessing, requesting that I pray for a particular need they may have.  This is a joyful time for me as I am able to ask questions about their family and shamba

A fifteen-minute drive found me at Kebuko outstation.  (Pictures are of the outside and inside of this church.)  Again, the catechist eagerly welcomed me.  The choir was practicing as the altar was prepared.  Twenty-five people were present when Mass started and the end of the homily the church had about 100 people.  As usual, I celebrated the Mass in Ekegusii, the mother tongue, and preached in Kiswahili.  Maybe twenty people came forward for Holy Communion.  After Mass, I blessed water that people brought in containers.  I have found that Kenyan really use Holy Water in their homes and mashamba.  The Mass lasted just over an hour.

The final Mass was at Riamisiani, another fifteen-minute drive.  I was early and welcomed by the catechist and several people, and the small church was full with about 50 people—about twenty more came by 11:15am.   We prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary that was led by the catechist in the mother tongue.  I know the ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Glory Be’ from memory, but I struggle with the ‘Our Father’ and have a long way to go on the ‘Creed’ in Ekegusii.  The small choir led the singing, and the entire community sang with vigor.  Six teenage girls were dancing.  For the Prayers of Intercession, typically five or six people come forward to voice intercessions, usually in the mother tongue, although some express the petitions in Kiswahili or English.  These prayers are lengthy, containing many expressions of gratitude and praise to God along with intercessions—I did time one intercession—it was two minutes.  This small church is named St. David.  After Mass, I spent time blessing water and people and was then invited to a house for lunch which consisted of ugali, mboga, and eggs.  

I was warm and tired upon arrival at home at 1:30pm (temperature 78̊ F) ready for a good nap that was duly taken.

Kebuko Outstation
Inside of church at Kebuko
The previous church building

Notes from Africa

August 23, 2021

The weariness of travels…

After being in Kenya for five weeks upon returning at the beginning of June, I needed to make another trip back to North Dakota.  One of my sisters died after a short, intense battle with cancer the first week of July.  The trip from Kisii in Kenya to Bismarck, North Dakota was long and arduous; it was a total of 47 hours of travel and waiting in airports until I safely arrived at 1:00am on the morning of July 10th.  This is to say nothing of the co-vid protocols and other requirements for international travel in these days.  In the weeks surrounding the funeral, I had the opportunity to spend time with my family and assist my sister’s children in taking care of the funeral rites and her estate.  It was a privileged time.

Two days after my sister’s funeral, one of my father’s sisters died in Billings, Montana.  Again, it was a long, arduous trip of 420 miles one way to once again gather with extended family for a funeral.  My aunt’s death and funeral delayed my return to Kenya. 

Indeed, my prayer for my sister and aunt is that they rest in peace and that my family be consoled with faith in the resurrection.

During these weeks of this visit, I was able to assist with Masses at Spirit of Life in Mandan and go to the parishes of St. Martin in Huff, ND, St. Anthony in St. Anthony, ND, and St. Pius V in New Salem, ND to preach about the work of Bismarck Mission.  I am grateful for these opportunities.  Also, behind the scenes work of planning and preparation for activities was done.

A new school term began in Kenya the first week of August.  Rogers, the assistant administrator, and Sr. Theresa, the bursar, have been enrolling students in school and paying school fees.  They were generous in taking on a greater load of the daily ministry associated with the Mission.  I am grateful.

The return trip to Kenya was nearly as onerous as the trip to North Dakota.  Delays in leaving Bismarck and Denver because of weather issues meant that I missed my connection in Frankfurt to travel to Nairobi.  United Airlines booked me on Egypt Air from Frankfurt to Cairo to Dar Es Salaam to Nairobi.  I safely arrived in Nairobi Wednesday morning at 7:00am local time and was through the co-vid protocol, immigration, and customs by 8:00am.  Upon arriving at Flora Hostel, I promptly slept for four hours trying to ‘catch up’ from two nights of sleep on airplanes.  I spent a total of 43 hours traveling on this segment.  In total on this journey, there were five takeoffs and five landings.  During all these travels one was required to wear a mask at all times.  It is recommended that the masks be changed every four hours meaning I should have had ten masks with me—needless to say, this did not happen.

I am glad to be home at the Mission House and to be able to resume life at the Bismarck Mission.

Notes from Africa

June 29, 2021

Western Kenya, including Kisii County, has been declared a ‘hotspot’ of co-vid.  New restrictions are in place which include the wearing of masks in public, the closing of houses of worship for all faiths, and the prohibition of public gatherings and sporting events.  Travel in and out of the region is ‘highly discouraged,’ and one must have a negative co-vid test to do so.  Schools remain in session, and markets in villages continue.  In Kisii town, I have noticed less traffic, and stores and businesses do not have as many people.  The health and economic impact to ordinary citizens has been devastating.

Nearly two million co-vid tests have been done in Kenya with a positivity rate of 10.7%.  I suspect co-vid is more wide spread than most people imagine.  In Kenya, 1.1% of the population has been vaccinated.  On the continent of Africa, home to 1.3 billion people, only 2% of the population has been vaccinated.  There are profound concerns expressed by health officials of a two-tier system for vaccines; in other words, there are the have’s and the have not’s based on economic status.  As so often occurs, access to health care is dependent upon one’s financial status.

On June 24th, I recorded the coldest temperature since I have been tracking it—at 6:15am, it was 11̊ C or 51.8̊ F.  In the southern hemisphere it is the season of winter.  Someone remarked, “The people are now wearing two winter coats inside of one.”  On that morning, it was 17.5̊ C (63.5̊ F) inside the Mission House.  With no heating, it was cool.  As we move into the month of July, ‘the long rains’ are ceasing, the trade winds have been blowing, and the area moves into ‘a dry season.’  There is rain during this time not as much, though—people say, “If it does not rain for a week, there is a drought.”

Upon my return to Kenya, I was afflicted with another bout of amoeba and H-pylori.  The affliction brought me down for about a week.  I am grateful for antibiotics and healing.  I have heard it said, “If one stays long enough in Africa, one will be beset by diseases common to the area.”  In my experience, these words are true.

Part of being a missionary involves being separated from family and friends.  Life goes on for the missionary and family and friends.  In my family, there are several who are suffering from illness and the effects of ageing and being separated from them presents challenges, but as God said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  I rely upon these words and commend them to those of my family who are suffering in these days.

Notes from Africa

Monday June 14, 2021

Various thoughts…

-During my stay in the United States, going around preaching in various parishes of the Diocese of Bismarck, I had the opportunity to visit with people about the Mission.  I asked many people this question, “Do you want to be a missionary?”  The two most common answers, “My age, I am too old,” and “I cannot give up my creature comforts.”  The first one is reasonable and to be expected, though, many who responded this way had wished they had done some type of missionary work in their life.  The second answer about giving up creature comforts requires the perspective of faith—there will be a day when all of us will have to release our grasp on ‘the creature comforts.’  Maybe our vocation is not to be a missionary, but in each vocation, there is the calling not to grasp too tightly to ‘the creature comforts.’  One might say, “I can’t live without such and such.”  Has an attempt been made?  Has one invoked the grace of God and fervently prayed?  What kind of small sacrifices does one make in daily life?  Life will continue with or without ‘creature comforts.’  ‘Creature comforts’ do not define our life or give us the security that comes from faith and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

-In Kenya, I usually celebrate Mass in Swahili or Ekegusii, the mother tongue, and preaching on Sundays is done in Swahili and English on weekdays.  I am back at work writing homilies in Swahili, an effort that requires one to two hours each weekday.  While in the United States, I did have a Swahili grammar and regularly studied it.  Also, when I pray the rosary, one or two decades is prayed in Swahili and Ekegusii.

-At a weekend Mass, while praying the Eucharistic Prayer, I felt something crawling up my leg just as I was reaching the words of consecration.  I tried to shake my leg and eventually used a hand to try and brush whatever it was away.  This did not work, and I began to feel moisture dripping from my knee.  At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, in front of God and the people, I had to stop and roll up my pant leg to discover the source of irritation—it was a slug the size of my thumb.  I do become queasy just thinking about it.

-Last Friday, there was a Christmas card in the mailbox at the Post Office.  The postmark read “Nov. 29, 2019.”  It took over one and one-half years for the card to reach me from the United States.  I had to laugh and laughed harder when I showed the postmark to Rogers and Sr. Theresa.  I think it was a pile somewhere or made many trips around the world.

-Finally, I told one the seminarians that I am developing callouses behind my ears because the continual requirement in Kenya to wear a mask in all public places.  During the course of the liturgies, it is removed and replaced several times.  The seminarian remarked that masks will remain a regular part of life in Kenya for some time…  Less than one percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated.  News reports from the government indicate that when testing is done for co-vid, there is 5.7% positive rate.  To date in Kenya, 1.866 million tests have been done. (Population of Kenya is 53 million plus.)

Notes from Africa

June 7, 2021

I safely arrived at the Mission here at Gekano parish on May 29th after travels that were wearisome.  Officials at each airport—Bismarck, Denver, Frankfurt, and Nairobi—carefully scrutinized all documents, especially, a negative co-vid test.  In Nairobi, there were problems with my visa, and I ended up for one and one-half hours in the Immigration Office at the airport—not the most hospitable place at 9:00pm.

My intention had been to write earlier, but the past week I have experienced intestinal discomfort that sapped my energy and insight for writing.  So, it goes…

My stay in the United States was extended nearly two months because of a surge of co-vid cases in Kenya.  Because of this, travel was restricted in the nation.  I had the good fortune to preach about the Mission and its activities in parishes around the Diocese of Bismarck—Epiphany in Watford City, Our Lady of Consolation in Alexander, St. Hildegard in Menoken, Sacred Heart in Wilton, St. Ann in Hebron, Sacred Heart in Glen Ullin, St. Mary in Richardton, St. Thomas in Gladstone, St. Stephen, rural Richardton, and Corpus Christi in Bismarck.  As I reflected on the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles on the Solemnity of Pentecost, I was consoled that the Good News was heard and understood by people—“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, visitors from Rome…Cretans and Arabs”

The preaching about the Mission and its activities was received favorably by the people.  The preaching was the news of ‘mission,’ not only the Bismarck Mission but the Mission of the Church.  “Because of the love of God and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ” the Diocese of Bismarck has established a mission in Kenya, East Africa, to bring the gospel of love and hope to our brothers and sisters.  Mission is the work of the Church—mission involves spreading the gospel message, helping those in need, and conversion of life.  The people of the parishes communities wherein I preached were like the people on Pentecost day—they heard and understood the Good News.  We can only thank God.

Even though my stay in North Dakota was extended, there was much not done—I would have liked to visit more members of my family and other parish communities, especially those in Bowman, Rhame, and Marmarth.  With St. Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians he writes about the desire he and his companions have—it is my desire—“We are all the more eager in our great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thes. 2:17).

In preparing to return to Kenya, there was the realization of the frailty of human life because of ageing and disease—various members of my family have been afflicted.  Their afflictions humble me; their afflictions cause me to intercede for them; their afflictions also help me focus on the work of the Mission.  I leave home, family, and friends for one reason—for the sake of the gospel.

Notes from Africa

April 13, 2021

My return to the Mission in Kisii, Kenya has been delayed because of the third wave of covid in Kenya.  The county of Nairobi and the four surrounding counties are locked down—there is no traffic in or out of this zone.  People may fly into Nairobi, but they may not go out of the restricted zone.  The length of this restriction is unknown at this time.

My time in North Dakota has been a whirlwind.  First, there have been the regular visits to the eye doctor, dentist, and family physician for regular checkups, and appointments with a specialist for the arthritis that has diagnosed in my lower back.  I am grateful to say that there has been relieve for the latter.  It has been a pleasure to visit my father and my three siblings; in fact, I was able to celebrate my father’s 87th birthday with him.  Also, I have seen a few aunts and uncles and extended family.

Work for the Mission has continued as I have had numerous conversations with Chuck Reichert, the director of the African Mission.  We have been reviewing programs and services offered by the Mission, finalizing the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and reflecting how we can improve/expand/develop programs and services for the orphans and vulnerable to whom we minister.

I have had many questions and comments regarding my presence as a missionary—”How many languages do you speak?”  “We are grateful for the work you do.”  “Is the government stable?” “The Water with Blessing program is great.”   These questions and comments give me the opportunity to speak about life with the people with whom I live and minister.

In return, I have asked people questions and made comments—“Have you considered becoming a missionary?”  “The generosity of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck in support of the Annual African Mission Appeal has been gracious.”  “I am grateful to be serving as a missionary.”  Again, it gives me the opportunity to speak about our African Mission.

The responses to the question about becoming a missionary have been varied—“I could not learn the language.”  “I enjoy my creature comforts too much.”  “I am too old.”  “My health will not allow it.”  In the end, I reflect on vocation—the calling of God and doing what I do for the sake of the gospel.  I pray that I may as gracious and generous to the people I serve as God has been gracious and generous to me (although, I know that no one will out do God in graciousness and generosity).

In these days while I am back in North Dakota, I am attending the Spring Clergy Conference this week in Bismarck, assisting in parishes on weekends, continuing to study Swahili, visiting with family and friends, speaking about the Mission, and doing work for the Mission that can be done remotely.

Notes from Africa

Monday March 1, 2021

Odds and ends…

Last week, the Most Reverend Joseph Mairura Okwema, the bishop of the Diocese of Kisii, sent a letter announcing that two new parishes will be opened in the near future.  He continued that he is visiting three other centers (what would be called Mission Parishes) in view of making them parishes.  One of the centers will be coming from Gekano Parish, meaning that the parish will no longer have fifty outstations.  By the end of this year, five new parishes will have been established “due to the growth of our Christian numbers.”  This area of Kenya has one of the highest birthrates in the world…room is needed for Christians and future Christians to worship.

I finished updating records for our various programs last week.  Last year, we were able to build seven houses for orphans in our Education Program.  Also last year, two heifer calves were weaned, and the cows of these calves became the property of the families.  We have nine families with cows, the two heifer calves being raised and eventually inseminated and given away, and two other cows that are being prepared to be given to families.  As orphans come to Mission Saturday, I do ask those who have received these gifts about the status—a smile creeps across the face as they speak of the house or cow. 

With 1.3 billion people on the continent of Africa and most of the countries mired in poverty, being vaccinated for co-vid has presented challenges.  We are witnessing the inequality of distribution of vaccines, mainly because of money.  Canada has enough vaccine to inoculate its people five times over!  We need to keep in mind that the health and well-being of all is beneficial to health and well-being of all.  It is in the best interests of the richest countries to be of assistance to the poorer countries, and it is a matter of justice and solidarity.  Vaccinations in Kenya are scheduled to begin next week with a three-tiered protocol.  (Keep in mind the same people said vaccinations would begin at the end of January.)  Experts are saying it will be well into 2022 before most of the population has been vaccinated.

Last week, I was notified that my name is able to be placed on a list to be vaccinated.  I did not need much encouragement from my bishop or the Director of the African Mission to return to the United States to receive the vaccine.  The timing is fortuitous because my work/residency permit expires next week.  The Department of Immigration has had my paperwork for renewal since October 2020, and I have twice visited Immigration to seek information about the process. On my first follow-up visit in December, an official told me, “This is Kenya, it takes time.”   At the beginning of February on my second visit, an official told me, “Within a week you will be hearing from us.”  Needless to say, I have not heard anything.  I think he told me this to get me out of his office as I persisted in asking questions.  Once I return to Africa, I will need to continue my visits to Immigration.

By the way, today is March 1st, the optional memorial in the Church calendar is that of St. David.

Notes from Africa

February 19, 2021

Work behind the scenes.

The Africa Mission relies on the prayers and fiscal support of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck that comes from the Annual Appeal that is scheduled for the weekend of March 6th and 7th this year.

During the month of January, Chuck Reichert, the Director of the Africa Mission, worked with Ron Schatz of the Development Office and Sonia Mullally, editor of the Dakota Catholic Action (DCA), to give focus to this year’s Appeal.  They are responsible for the production and dissemination of information about our Mission in the Diocese of Kisii, namely, the Appeal video and the Kenya Connection, an insert of the diocesan newspaper.  On the video, Bishop Kagan introduces the theme of the Appeal and highlights aspects of the Mission.  Liz Bustad added perspective from her experience in the area of public health and her visit to the Mission in November 2019.  Part of my responsibility was to supply information and insight for others as well as write an article for the DCA.

The culmination of all these efforts is the Appeal Weekend during which the orphans and others we serve wait upon a generous and gracious response from the people of the Diocese of Bismarck to support the programs and services they receive.  Without the people of the Diocese, we would not have an African Mission.

Another yearly task of work behind the scenes is the formation of a budget for the next fiscal year.  This work has commenced.  As I have done initial preparations, there has been a mindfulness of 2020, “The Year of Co-vid.”  Our budget, as in the budgets of many, many institutions and companies, has been severely altered, but, as the saying goes, “Not to plan is to plan to fail.”

Here in Kenya, I work with Rogers Osoro, the assistant administrator, and Sr. Theresa, the bursar, in looking at how to improve our programs and services and fund ordinary expenses such as fuel, maintenance, and repair of Mission property.  Seventy five percent of the budget I prepare goes directly to our programs—Orphan Education and post-secondary scholarships and the heifer and housing programs.  Ten percent is used to support projects within the village and Gekano parish.  The remainder is used for salaries and operating expenses.  In Bismarck, ND, Mr. Reichert works with people in the diocesan Fiscal Office to reflect on expenses incurred in the daily operations there.  Ultimately, he is responsible for collating all the information and presenting it to the bishop’s office for final approval. 

Work behind the scenes is necessary—there are many people who assist in making the Bismarck Mission a reality in the lives of those we serve.  Let us be grateful.

Notes from Africa

Josephine on my right and David, the catechist on my left
Group of children in front of the church
Interior of the church

February 2, 2021

A highlight in the life of a priest is the celebration of the Sacraments of the Church, especially Sunday Mass with the people.  My Sunday routine involves celebrating Mass at Gekano parish and its fifty missions.  Some of these ‘centers,’ as they are called, are large and Mass is celebrated frequently, and some of the centers are small and Mass is celebrated occasionally.

Last Sunday, I went to the center of Riamisiani, an outstation ‘in the bush’ where Sunday Mass was last celebrated on October 25, 2020.  It was my first visit to this humble structure called a church and dedicated to St. David where sixty people were gathered.   I did have someone in the vehicle with me to show me the way.  At the end of Mass, I told the people that I was looking forward to being with them in their church dedicated to St. David because my name, too, is David.  The people applauded in approval.  If I would have remembered, I should have told the people that the name of my bishop is David, and two of my good friends also share the name!  (The feast day of St. David in the church calendar is March 1st, probably not many know this.)

A woman named Josephine, a daughter of the man who donated the land for the church, explained that her father’s name was David and thus the name for the church and continued to speak of the reasons for his generous gift of land.  Then, the catechist, whose name is David, spoke and introduced the leadership of the community who thanked me for my presence in leading them in the celebration of Sunday Mass.  At the conclusion of these comments, all the people came forward to receive a blessing from me.  After Mass, we proceeded across the street to the house where Josephine was raised for lunch with members of her extended family who still live on the family compound.  It was a joyous occasion for these people who seldom have the privilege of celebrating Mass in their church.  As one person told me, “Kenyans love to go to church.”  I might add, “They also love to sing and dance.”

With the visit to Riamisiani and the celebration of Mass, I have been to forty-two of the fifty centers of Gekano Parish.  In due time, I will make it to all fifty of them.

Notes from Africa

January 18, 2021

The Bismarck Mission received a $500.00 grant from the Bowman Rotary Club in Bowman, ND to be used to purchase water storage tanks to assist women who have been trained in the Water with Blessing project the Mission sponsors.  The tanks hold 210 liters of water and are used to collect rain water.  This means mothers who receive them do not have to make as many trips to an artesian well or a river to haul water in twenty-liter containers.  Climbing a hill and walking up to one-half mile with twenty liters of water is not an easy chore.  Many of these women will also be toting an infant.

The women who have received a bucket and filter continue to report that their children have not been ill because they have access to clean, pure water.  Also, they state that they do not use as much firewood as they no longer have to boil water before using it.  I am encouraged by such reports.

Rotary International describes itself: “Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.

Solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. For more than 110 years, Rotary’s people of action have used their passion, energy, and intelligence to take action on sustainable projects. From literacy and peace to water and health, we are always working to better our world, and we stay committed to the end.”

I am grateful to Greg Wolf of the Bowman Rotary Club for being my contact with them.  Also, I am grateful to Rotary for their grant, a gift that will enable us to purchase thirty-six water storage tanks.  To date, eight water tanks have been given, and, in the past three months, Lilian Kwamboka, who coordinates the Water with Blessings project, has trained forty women.

The woman who suggested water storage tanks
John, a catechist, who is picking up a tank for his wife. John has also been of assistance in recruiting women to be trained as the parish community he serves.
Lilian and Ruth