Notes from Africa

Wednesday December 12, 2018

 

In these past weeks, we have making preparations for the Christmas gathering of those enrolled in our Orphan Education Program.  We will have two gatherings, one on December 17th at Ichuni and the other December 18th at Gekano Parish.  We have just over 400 in the program at this time.  Each day will begin with Mass to thank God for the generosity of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck without whose support the Mission would not be possible.  After Mass, we have a scheduled speaker, a former student in our Orphan Education Program.  Following the speaker and announcements, we proceed to hand out the Christmas gift that consists of wheat flour and cooking fat.  The amount given is determined by family size, for example, one orphan will receive two kilograms of flour and 500 grams of cooking fat.  We conclude with lunch—a bottle of soda and a small loaf of bread.

 

This year at the Christmas gathering we will be handing out to the girls and young women in our program dresses that were sewn by a lady from Mandan.  The dresses are of various sizes and colors.  Earlier this week Rogers, two of his daughters, and I unpacked and sorted them.

 

Also, preparations are being made for a visit by Jim Nistler and some of his family.  For those who do not know, Jim and his late wife, Henrietta, were part of the first missionary team from the Diocese of Bismarck to be sent to Kenya.  Many of the older people have a fond remembrance of Jim and Henrietta, and they frequently ask about him.

 

Finally, the new school year begins on January 2, 2019.  This means we will be paying school tuition and fees in the days after Christmas—again, we have one day set aside at Ichuni and one day at Gekano.  Supporting these orphans so that they may receive an education is the heart and soul of the Bismarck Mission.  On behalf of the orphans, their guardians and extended families, I would like to thank the people of the Diocese of Bismarck for their continued support of the Bismarck Mission.

 

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Notes from Africa

Thursday December 6, 2018

 

Maji ni uhai.  Maji ni baraka.  Water is life.  Water is a blessing.

 

With these two phrases we began training many of our orphans and their families in the ‘Water with Blessings’ project last Saturday.  We can reflect on the many ways in which water sustains life, and we know water is one of the blessings from God.

 

The ‘Water with Blessings’ project recognizes that water is life, but clean, pure water is a blessing.  The World Health Organization estimates that over two million people die in the world each year because of impure water.  Here, in Kenya, sources of water used for daily life include water from collected rain; it may be drawn from streams and rivers; it may originate from a borehole (well); and it is even gathered from roadside pools.  These sources of water may have various bio-contaminants such as parasites that cause diarrheal diseases and compromise health.  The ‘Water with Blessings’ project recognizes that our well-being depends upon clean water.  Tap water is a luxury many do not have, and bottled water is not an option because of its expense.

 

In this project, we use a filtration system that is easily assembled and, with proper care and maintenance, will last a lifetime, purifying, I have been told, over one million gallons of water.  The Sawyer PointONE filter system functions much like kidney dialysis to filter out impurities.

 

The ‘Water with Blessings’ project not only provides benefits for physical well-being, but there is also a spiritual element.  The mantra we use expresses this element: “Water is life; Water is a blessing from God; As God has blessed us with water, and others have blessed us with filters, we, too, need to be a blessing and share with others.”  On December 1st we trained and supplied 70 families in our Orphan Education Program with a filter kit and five-gallon bucket.  Each family, in turn, is asked to share with three other families for six months.  This means, 210 families will have immediate access to clean, pure water.

 

A distinct advantage in working with those enrolled in our Orphan Education Program is that we see the orphans once a month on Mission Saturdays making follow-up a natural part of our program.

 

In the process of training, we also have learned of another benefit from this project.  People in Kenya often boil water for daily use—having a filter means they use less firewood or charcoal, resources that can be conserved and used more efficiently for other means.  Let us remember that trees are not an inexhaustible resource.

Notes from Africa

Wednesday November 28, 2018

 

Today, in Kenya, was the last day of the KCPE, a national exam for those who finished Form 4 (the equivalent of a senior in high school in the United States), an exam that started on November 5th.  The end of the KCPE also marks the end of the school year that began last January.

 

Since it is the end of a school term and a school year, the month of November has been a time to review report cards.  Over the past few Wednesdays we have had to visit with a few who have less than acceptable report cards—often, a discussion that centers around motivation, capabilities for school work, or problems/issues a student may be having.  We also remind them that someone else is paying their tuition and fees.

 

As we review report cards, we begin making notes for those who will be receiving academic achievement awards.  For those in primary grades, a chicken is awarded.  For those in secondary school, a goat is awarded.  These awards will be handed out next April.  During office hours this morning our initial count stated that we will be handing out 25 chickens and 28 goats!  A chicken cost around KSH 500 ($5.00) and a goat KSH 5,000 ($50.00). 

 

If you would be interested in sponsoring chickens and/or goats, please send your gift to the following address:

 

         African Mission Appeal

         Diocese of Bismarck

         PO Box 1137

         Bismarck, ND 58502.

 

Those students who finished Standard 8 (grade 8 in the United States) have received the results from their KCPE exams, a national, three-day exam that was conducted in Kenya the first week of November.  We have forty-four students who took the exam, and, now, the process has started of advising these youth in their selection of a high school.  In large part, the selection of a high school depends on one’s scores.  Also, a student may attend secondary school where-ever he/she will be accepted into a school, a school that may be a day school or a boarding school.

 

Currently, we have 403 children and youth enrolled in our Orphan Education Program.  These students are scattered across 175 different schools.  Fortunately, for primary grades there is a standard report card, but for secondary schools, the format of the report varies greatly (as does the format and clarity of their fee structures).

Notes from Africa

Thursday November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America

 

On Wednesday’s at the Mission, I have Mashauri, office hours.  During these times orphans come for consultation about various issues (lately, it has been those who have failing marks on their report cards), people come to enroll orphaned children in our Orphan Education Program, and other people come seeking various types of assistance or information.

 

While walking to the office yesterday, I heard an incessant chatter of birds.  I looked up into a palm tree and discovered many oriole nests, and the birds were tending to the nests, either feeding their young or bringing food to their mate.  It was a beauty to behold these chattering birds.  It was a sight that made me lift up my heart with gratitude to God for the wonders of creation.

 

At the end of office hours yesterday, a young man who is being sponsored in our post-secondary scholarship program came to visit us.  He informed us he has finished his education and will be graduating from college in December.  He wanted to express his gratitude for what the Mission has done for him since he was enrolled in 2005.  Again, my heart was grateful.  Through his perseverance and the generosity of people from the Diocese of Bismarck in their support of the African Mission all this has been possible.  I have attached his letter of thanksgiving.

 

On this Thanksgiving Day in the United States, we pause to reflect on the blessings of our life.  Our feeble efforts to express gratitude can hardly do justice to the generosity and goodness of God…20181121_09444020181121_09443020181121_09442520181122_090946

Notes from Africa

Wednesday November 14, 2018

 

On Monday, November 5th, those who are in Form 4, the equivalent to being a senior in high school in the United States, began their KCSE exam.  This exam is taken by all Form 4 students in Kenya, a rigorous exam process that reveals what they have learned during their course of studies in secondary school.  The scores from this exam also determine if students will be able to go to college to study for a four-year degree (bachelor’s degree) or a two-year degree (associates degree), or if they are able to attend a Polytechnic School to learn a trade.  I believe an assumption in this process is that not every student is qualified, that is, has the capabilities, for a four-year degree based on their academic performance in secondary school.  (I think it also says that students going to college need to be focused; college is not viewed as an extended time of adolescence, a view that is subconsciously held by many in the United States.)  The educational philosophy directs students in the direction of their gifts and talents.

 

From the attached photo, one can see these exams begin on November 5th and end on November 28th.  (And I thought a week of exams in college and seminary was onerous.)  The exams are held Monday through Friday noon.  On Friday afternoons, there are no exams so that the Moslems may prepare for Jummah, their prayers of Friday afternoons at the mosque.  On Saturdays, there are no exams because the Seventh Day Adventists hold that day to be their Sabbath, and it is the Sabbath for the Jewish people.  On Sundays, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, there are no exams.  Kenya is a country of diverse religious traditions including native religions.

 

One may also see from the photograph of the exam timetable at St. Theresa’s Gekano Girls’ School the comprehensive nature of the exam.  Students must take a minimum of eight subjects:  Math, Swahili, English, CRE (religion), and two sciences (biology, chemistry, or physics) are required.  Electives include history, geography, agriculture, and home sciences (some schools may have more).  I have seen some students who carry up to 12 subjects.

 

If you have children or grandchildren in secondary or post-secondary schools, I would invite you to have them review this exam schedule with you and discuss it, and compare and contrast their last year in high school and its exam schedule with this one.20181114_074501.jpg

Notes from Africa

Wednesday November 7, 2018

Here in Kenya I have found a strong devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church.  Frequently, the rosary will be prayed before Mass and at other times of gathering of Christians.  During the celebration of the Eucharist, there is usually one hymn dedicated to Mary, generally sung as hymn of thanksgiving after the reception of Holy Communion or as a recessional.

 

A popular Marian song at Gekano Parish is Jina Maria, the Name of Mary.  Last week, the church choir was practicing and this particular hymn was enthusiastically being sung.  I went to the church and asked if I could record them with my ‘smartphone’ and share the recording with the people in Bismarck.  The choir eagerly agreed.

 

The lyrics in Swahili and English:

 

  1. Maria mama wa Mungu tuombee kwa mwanao Yesu Kristu.

Refrain:  Jina Maria ni jina tukufu, lafurahisha, linatutuliza, malaika mbinguni wanaliimba, usiku na mchana waliimba, wakisema, Ave, Ave, Maria, ni jina tukufu jina la Maria.

  1. Jina lako siku zote lapendeza wewe uliye mnara wa Daudi.
  2. Jina lake siku zote lapendesa wewe uliye malkia wa mbinguni.
  3. Twaimba jina lako siku zote jina Maria linatufurahisha.

 

  1. Maria, Mother of God, pray for us to Jesus Christ, your Son.

 

Refrain:  The name of Mary is a glorious name.  The name brings us joy. The name brings us comfort.  The angels in heaven sing night and day,

Ave, Ave, Maria, the name of Mary is a glorious name.

  1. Your name is always beautiful, you who are the Tower of David.
  2. Her name is always beautiful, who is the Queen of Heaven.
  3. We sing always of your name, the name that brings us joy.

 

I am not able to post videos on this blog.  If you desire to see the video, go the Facebook page of the Bismarck Mission.

Notes from Africa

Wednesday October 31, 2018

 

Last Friday morning I was working in the flower garden, weeding and pruning, before the sun became too intense.  While I was occupied, a filming crew arrived on the school compound to shoot a promotional video for the school.  Soon after the crew arrived, a bus load of young men from St. Paul’s Gekano Boys School came into the compound.  When I saw these people arrive, I scampered out of the garden and stowed the gardening tools so that I could watch the action.

 

This promotional video will be used by St. Teresa’s Gekano Girls School and the boys’ school as a tool to recruit students to their respective schools.  The choirs from both schools have been practicing during the month of October, and the sound portion of the video was done the previous week.  This segment of the video was to record the youth dancing dressed in various costumes and outfits.

 

They danced for nearly three hours with short breaks of a minute or two to change location or don a different outfit.  I walked around to the various small groups and watched them dance; the teachers of the school and sisters in the convent also joined in the action.  It was inspiring to watch them.  I was invited, coaxed, and urged to dance with the teachers and sisters.  To be honest, I felt a bit out of place—being the only mzungu (white person) and not a very good dancer.  I can manage a two-step or a waltz, but this dancing was neither.

 

After a few dances, during one of the short breaks, a few of the girls came to tease me, saying, “Father, you can’t dance.”  We broke out in laughter.  Of course, one might recall a saying, “White men can’t dance.”

 

I have been told the promotional video will be ready in “a couple of weeks.”  I am not sure if this is mzungu time or African time, but when I receive a copy of the video, I will post some of the dancing.

 

Notes from Africa

Wednesday October 24, 2018

 

This week in Kenya marks the end of school for students, except those in STD 8 (grade eight) and Form 4 (seniors in high school).  For those in STD 8, they have national exams next week called KCPE; these exams determine which high school a student may attend.  For those in Form 4, they have national exams called KCSE which begin later this week and run till nearly the end of November; these exams determine if a student may go to college as a two or four-year student or one eligible for a Polytechnic, a school where one learns a trade and, generally, lasts one year or less.  The school year resumes in January.

 

For us at the Mission this means we will be reviewing report cards once again during the month of November as the children and youth come for Mission Saturdays.  During the course of the month we will see nearly 400 report cards.  To some, encouragement is given to continue the good work and improve.  For some, it will mean a visit to determine if there are any particular difficulties impeding their progress in school.  For those finishing STD 8, it means helping them discern and select a high school they are able to attend.  One must keep in mind schools do not have boundaries here in Kenya.  A student from any part of the country may attend a school where the student desires if eligibility requirements of the school are met.  We have students in 175 different schools!

 

After lunch today, one of the boys who live next door, Jeremiah, came running with an envelope in his hand which he handed to me.  I opened the envelope.  It contained his brother’s graduation certificate from Kindergarten which means he will be promoted to STD 1 next year (First Grade).  During this time, Christopher, who graduated from Kindergarten, ran to tell his mother the news of his promotion.  It was pure joy to witness the smiles on their faces.  I asked them if they wanted a picture taken…what do you think was their response?

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from Africa

Wednesday October 17, 2018

 

Missionaries need to remember that when they serve in a foreign country they are guests of the respective government, and each country has its laws governing immigration and who may work in that country.  Kenya is no different.  

 

I serve in our mission as assigned by the bishop of Bismarck with the express consent of the bishop of Kisii.  Also, I need to follow the immigration laws of Kenya.  At the beginning, I entered the country on a visa, a document of permission to be in the country for a limited amount of time, that is, ninety days—this could be renewed while working on the following.  The next step was to obtain ‘a residency and work permit,’ a process in which one must prove one is fulfilling a job that cannot be done by others because of training and expertise or, in the case of the church, one is serving the well-being of people.  The government does not want foreigners taking performing jobs citizens can do.)  Part of this process includes letters from my own bishop and the bishop of Kisii, documentation of appropriate training (i.e. copies of diplomas from educational institutions), the filling out of the appropriate forms, and a copy of passport and visa.

 

Earlier this year I was granted a residency and work permit after many trips to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi.  At times, I encountered people who were just doing their job. At times, I encountered people who sought to assist me to the best of their ability.  And, I encountered the bureaucracy that seems inherent in government institutions.  As I was told, and, as I experienced, one simply does not know what to expect when going to the Department of Immigration.  I have walked away from there being dejected and frustrated.  I have walked away from there being grateful for someone who went out of her way to assist me in the bureaucratic process.

 

This week I made another trip to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi to obtain my national identity card, officially called “Republic of Kenya Foreigner Certificate.”  Now, I no longer need to carry my passport and residency and work permit wherever I go—these documents needed for banking purposes and, at times, for doing business such as purchasing certain items.

 

I started this process shortly after my arrival in June 2017.  At one point, because of the bureaucratic process, I had to begin the process anew, a particularly frustrating time.  I am grateful, and I am fortunate.  And, I stand in good stead with the government of Kenya, whose guest I am.

 

 

 

Notes from Africa

October 10, 2018

 

 

A few odds and ends:

 

While eating breakfast one morning, we were without electricity, a fairly common occurrence.  One of the sisters had mentioned she had planned to iron clothes; she went on to say she did not like to wear wrinkled clothes.  She said, “They are like a cow had chewed them.”  What an earthy image, to say the least.

 

Among children a saying is used to remind each other about proper respect when entering a church.  They will say to one another if they are shuffling their feet or making noise, “You are walking like an elephant.”  Again, an earthy image.

 

 

Since Saturday morning we have been without electricity, except when the generator runs for about an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening.  This is so that the girls at school have light by which to study.  Living without electricity does present it challenges—first, is the desire to have it again and patiently wait.  Although we don’t have anything like central heat (because it is not needed), electricity is still needed to run electronic equipment and the refrigerator.  Also, I prefer to read by the light of a lamp rather than a flashlight and candles.  I have been told that the electricity went out Saturday after a couple of amateur electricians (men who thought they knew what they were doing) tried to install electricity into a home in the neighborhood; obviously, they did not do something correctly.  So, it goes…  Probably a lesson learned is that if you do not know what you are doing with electricity, don’t do it!

 

Last week we visited a boarding school to address concerns with one of our orphans who has sneaked out of school several times over the past months.  It was a constructive visit with the student, his teacher, and the deputy principal, and we all agreed to a plan of action for the student.  It is a school of 1,200 boys.  Part of his punishment before he can be readmitted to school is the purchase of several sheets of tin that are used in securing the perimeter of the compound to make sneaking out more difficult.  He has to install the sheets himself!

 

Finally, on October 13th I will celebrate my birthday.  For the curious, I will be 55 years old.  Two years ago, I was in Jerusalem for my birthday, last year, I was in language school in Tanzania, and this year, I am at Gekano Parish, and next year…who knows.  I am grateful.  I am fortunate.