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.

Notes from Africa

Wednesday October 3, 2018


“That is Crazy!!”


The bishop and staff of the Diocese of Bismarck have been most cordial and gracious in their support and encouragement.  They keep me informed of events in the diocese, in general, and those items that pertain to clergy in particular.  For this I am grateful.  This type of information is communicated by electronic means.  However, some material cannot be sent in this manner.  In February the bishop’s secretary sent me a few books that Bishop Kagan had given to the priests as well as my celebrat card, the card that identifies me as a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck and gives me permission to celebrate Mass when traveling.


When the parcel was mailed the first week of February, the secretary informed me.  After three weeks or so, I contacted her to mention the package had yet to arrive.  The U.S. Postal Service was unable to track the location of the package, and, it seemed, all was lost.  Well, the first week of September, this parcel arrived—having been opened and resealed but with the contents intact.  I notified the secretary the package arrived no worse for the wear, and I mentioned an African saying, “Pole, pole, ndiyo mwendo,” roughly translated, “Slowly, slowly, things go.”  Her response, “That is crazy!”


Indeed, I could write a book (or two) on what seems crazy to the Western mind about life in Kenya.  The best way to explain:  life is different here and one cannot “get bent out of shape” when life does not happen according to one’s mindset and expectations.  More than once, I must admit, I have said, “That is crazy!” about some aspect of life in Kenya, but I continue to learn and to adapt to the culture and language and say, “Life is different here.”  Or, as someone keeps telling me, “Welcome to Africa.”


Living on another continent and having travelled extensively throughout the course of my life (I grew up in a military family), I continue to marvel at what people who live outside the North American continent consider what is crazy about American culture and life (here, too, I could write a book).  Is there a difference between ‘what is different’ and ‘what is crazy?’


There is a tendency, it seems, toward ethnocentrism which is “the evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.”  Ethnocentrism becomes particularly dangerous and toxic when one believes that one’s own culture and worldview are the standard bearer of right/wrong and good/bad—this leads to fundamentalism and extremism.  Do these exist in American culture?  Do these exist in other cultures of the world?


To be able to discern the difference between ‘what is different’ and ‘what is crazy’ requires wisdom and understanding, gifts given by the Holy Spirit.  When was the last time you prayed for these gifts?  Do you pray for these gifts when you watch what is happening in the world?

Notes from Africa

Thursday September 27, 2018


Perspectives on hearing…


On Wednesdays at Gekano Parish Mass is celebrated in English.  Two high schools, St. Theresa’s Girls High School and St. Thomas High School, have their students participate in this Mass.  The Mass is celebrated in English so that the students learn the parts of the Mass and their responses in English.  Students lead the singing and proclaim the readings.


The first reading yesterday was from the Book of Proverbs (30: 5-9).  In my homily I reflected on the prayer of a sage, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:  Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me…”  In passing, I mentioned what happens when people hoard material things—some form of injustice occurs and a tendency to be forgetful of God as the source of all blessings.


After Mass I visited with two groups of people—a group of four students and a group of three adults.  One of the students asked me how he and his classmates can fight injustice.  It was an excellent question.  First, I mentioned that we need to learn to see the way God sees and be convinced of the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.  And, we must be courageous in speaking when we encounter wrong and evil.  I reminded him of what happened to many of the prophets and Jesus when they spoke against injustice.


When I came upon the adults, they were discussing how the lector mispronounced several words in the reading.  More than most, I am adamant about lectors being prepared and knowing the reading before proclaiming it well before the faithful in a liturgy of the church.  But, I paused to think.  Here we have students learning how to be lectors…I can give them a lot of slack in this process.  And, these youth are using their third language, after their mother tongue, Kikisii and Swahili. 


Later in the day these encounters rolled around in my mind—what do we “hear” when we go to church and celebrate Mass?  I think the students were attuned to the presence of the Holy Spirit…

Notes from Africa

Wednesday September 19, 2018


Part of the Mission is the Heifer Program.  Orphans may apply to receive a bred heifer.  A heifer is awarded, provided that certain criteria are met, and the orphan (and his or her guardian) are given an animal to raise.  The first heifer calf born is claimed by the Mission after it has been weaned, and, subsequently, this calf will be bred and given to another orphan who qualifies.

The program was introduced to the Mission by Brent and Jessica Naslund during their tenure.


This past week the Mission reaped the ‘first fruits’ of this program.  Rogers and I claimed two heifer calves; these calves were taken to Rogers’ shamba (farm) to be raised to maturity, then bred, and be given to another orphan and his or her guardian.  It was a privilege to be a part of the reaping of the first fruits.  Often times, we receive the fruits of the labor of other people, and, there are times, when others receive the fruits of our labor.   As scripture says, “One sows, others water, and another reaps…”  In all of this we are called to use our own gifts and talents and be grateful for those of others because God is the source of every blessing.  Unfortunately, part of our human condition is that we sometimes find envy or jealousy—what havoc they create!


As we know, cows produce milk, an essential nutrient for growing children.  The animals given to the orphans provide milk for the family; any excess milk can be sold as a source of income.  The heifers given through this program assist families in their dietary requirements for growth and health and help in the prevention of malnutrition and the diseases arising from it.


The Heifer Program relies on the support given by the people of the Diocese of Bismarck in the annual African Mission Appeal.  On behalf of the families who have received a heifer, I express gratitude.



Notes from Africa

Wednesday September 12, 2018


For the past thirty-five years I have kept a journal, although, I tend to write in spurts and then several weeks pass before writing again.  Here in Africa, I have been most faithful writing every day since I arrived in June 2017.  I can remember missing only one day.


Sometimes my writing is about the mundane rituals of daily life or, at other times, an event that occurred that day.  Once in a while, there might be some insight that even I consider brilliant, but I can say these don’t come very often.


Here is part of my journal from last Sunday:


I dumped .10” of rain from the gauge this morning.


I went to Motembe and Ngorwe to celebrate Mass with the people of those communities.  The scheduled times were 9:00am and 11:00am respectively.  At Motembe the church was just over one-third full when Mass began and gradually filled up as Mass proceeded.  At Ngorwe, just a five-minute drive, I arrived at 10:35, greeted people, and prepared the altar.  The catechist and chairman of the center gathered the people in the church, and we started Mass.


I was not satisfied with my homily this weekend as there were a few sentences that did not make sense to me when I spoke them (remember I preach in Swahili), and I had a few grammatical errors I noticed as I went along.  It is a continual challenge to learn vocabulary, use it, and maintain proper grammar.  Also, I know that I do not and cannot preach everything pertaining to our faith and living our faith in one homily, but I do desire it to be a good one!


Last week and this week I received ‘fruits of the harvest’ at the parishes.  I brought four sacks of maize last week and not quite four full sacks this weekend—all of which I gave to St. Teresa’s school.  I asked Sr. Caroline, who is in charge of the farm on the compound, how much maize it takes to feed the girls one meal of ugali (made from maize flour).  She replied, “About 25 kilograms.”  A sack of maize weighs 90 Kg.


It has been a bright, beautiful day filled with sun.  I am grateful.

Notes from Africa

In the Garden


Here at the Mission House there are two flower gardens, one in front of the house and one behind.  On Monday afternoon, I was weeding and pruning.  Three girls from St. Teresa’s school, on a break, stopped by to greet me; they proceeded to tell me they would rather weed a garden than go to school.  When I told them that I would rather go to school than weed a garden, they looked at me with astonishment.  I told them if they received permission from the principal to assist me during school hours, they would be most welcome.  I don’t think they went to visit with the principal.  It does not take a genius to figure out what the principal would have said…


Often, when I am in the garden, two neighbor boys come to assist me when they are not in school.  One is in kindergarten and the other in STD 3 (grade three).  Patiently, I seek to teach them the difference between a weed and a flower.  They desire to use the pruning shears, and I am instructing them in the proper use of them.  With great eagerness they like to carry the tub of weeds and clippings to the burn pile.  A few days ago, the younger of the two brothers came to assist me.  We had worked for just about an hour.  After we had finished, he went and sat in a chair on the porch.  I gave him a few pieces of candy.  He took the candy and then said, “Fedha,” (money).  He repeated the word and then used another word for money, “Pesa.”  I fully understood what he was asking and chuckled to myself and said, “This kid is no fool.”  In the end, I did compensate the helper.


Finally, I have a rain gauge in the backyard.  Since the first of September we have received five inches of rain, the ‘short rains,’ as they are called, have begun.  One day someone asked me why there was no water in the gauge—she said, “It must take a lot of rain for some of it to get into the gauge.”  I politely told her that I empty it every morning, this being the reason she doesn’t see any water in it.


This land is called ‘land that is ever green.’  It is beautiful, and I am fortunate to be serving in our Mission.

Notes from Africa

Wednesday August 29, 2018


Upon returning from holiday in France, I am more aware of the conveniences of life and the differences of life here in Kenya—the living without them.  For example, it is wonderful to be able to get a drink of water or brush one’s teeth from any faucet in the house, however, here in Kenya, I need to be ever conscious of using purified water for these purposes.  Also, on vacation, I used a washing machine to launder my clothes; here in Kenya I wash by hand.  In visiting with my father, he asked if I had laundered all my clothes before returning! A wise insight…


Life is so much more than the presence (or absence) of conveniences.  I continue to learn what it means to live with what is necessary and to adapt when I don’t have what I would like to have.  It does call for a measure of sacrifice and understanding. 


Also, I linger with thoughts about being a long way from family and friends.  Life continues for them as it does for me.  Events in life happen that are often challenging, especially sickness and death.  Since being here in Kenya, several friends have had a parent die, one of best friends from high school died unexpectedly, an uncle of mine is facing his own mortality, and a few brother priests have died.  Of course, I am grateful for the internet and telephone which facilitate communication, but I am keenly aware that I am not physically present.  I continue to uphold in prayer these and so many other people.  People here are supportive and understanding when I mention these events in the life of my family and friends.  I am fortunate and grateful.


The third term of school begins this week in Kenya and lasts until the end of November.  In the Mission this means we are paying school tuition and fees for the orphans enrolled in various high schools.  While writing out the checks to their schools, we have an opportunity to visit with the orphans about their report cards and progress in school as well as address any concerns that may be present.  Once again, I express my gratitude to those who are generous in the support of our African Mission—it is the generosity and goodness of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck than enables the Mission to continue its work of serving orphans in Gekano and Ichuni parishes.


Currently, we have 394 orphans enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and we are sponsoring 20 orphans who have graduated from secondary school to further their education at a post-secondary school.

Notes from Africa

Thursday August 24, 2018

Mission House      Gekano Parish


I arrived home safely this afternoon from my holiday in France—touring the beaches of Normandy, visiting some of the great cathedrals of France, enjoy French cuisine, and going to Lisieux, the hometown of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (Little Flower) and to Lourdes, the site of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette.  Lourdes hosts an estimated six million pilgrims a year—so you can imagine the number of people in this small village at the foot of the Pyrenes Mountains.  In Lourdes, the elderly, the infirm, and the sick are given pride of place.  So often in society these people are pushed to the background or kept out of sight, but at this shrine, they lead the processions and are given preferential status for visiting the grotto and other sites.  And, thousands of young people from all over Europe volunteer to push wheel chairs and be of assistance.  There is a remarkable coordination that goes on behind the scenes to make all of this possible.


A few of the highlights include con-celebrating Mass in the Cathedral of Notre Dame on the Solemnity of the Assumption with the Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec, Canada and the Archbishop of Paris and con-celebrating Mass at the Grotto of Lourdes with two groups of pilgrims—one from England and one from British Columbia, Canada.


In the Savoy region of France—southeastern part of France.  Think of Albertville, France, a site of the Winter Olympics and Turin, Italy, where the Shroud of Turin is kept, and you will be in the general vicinity.  Savoy is an alpine region; I was able to spend two days hiking various trails and paths in this majestic mountain range of Europe—in fact, I did see snow, but at a distance!  In Savoy, I had two surprises—the first was that for approximately 100 years (c. 1470-1578) the shroud of Turin was kept in a chapel especially built for it by the Dukes of Savoy, and I had the opportunity to visit one of the great monasteries of the world, the Grand Chartreuse.  Actually, since it is a Carthusian monastery founded in 1084 by St. Bruno, a place of silence and solitude, people cannot go inside the monastery.  It is nestled in the Alps; one parks the vehicle in a lot and then walks 2Km (1.25 miles) just to see the religious house that is like a walled city.


I am grateful, and I am fortunate.


Now, I return to the administration of our African Mission.

Basilica of Immaculate Conception in Lourdes
Grotto of Lourdes
Mosaic of Annunciation in Basilica
I saw snow in the Alps
Alpine meadow
Grand Chartreuse
Grand Chartreuse
Holy Chapel in Savoy that housed Shroud of Turin
Facade of Notre Dame
Relief above main portal of Notre Dame
Notre Dame houses the Crown of Thorns
Main aisle of Notre Dame
St Therese of Lisieux

Notes from Africa

Monday August 13, 2018


American Cemetery
Colleville Draw where 1st Division came ashore
View from German bunker
Point du Hoc
Cliffs of Point du Hoc
Remnants of Mulberry Harbor
Beach at Arromanches
Cement caisson used in construction of artificial harbor

Bayeux, France


Bayeux is situated in the heart of Normandy, not far from the beaches on the English Channel, the beaches that were at the center of the massive effort of the Allies in World War II called D-Day, June 6, 1944. The beaches today are known by their code names—Utah Beach and Omaha Beach which were the American Sector, Gold and Sword which were the British Sector, and Juno which was the Canadian Sector.


A plaque in a museum gives the following figures involved in D-Day alone—the Invasion fleet of 6,939 vessels, 11,680 types of aircraft, and 159,000 ground troops.  As I walked the beaches and grounds of Omaha and Gold beaches at low tide and looked out at the channel I was astounded at the logistical issues involved in planning and preparing for such an assault and what was needed to sustain the assault into Europe—eventually over 2 million personnel came through the beaches, and, of course, there were many who would be evacuated across these beaches because of injury and those who would never return.


At Arromanches in the harbor are remains of the Mulberry Harbor, an artificial harbor started on D-Day +1.  These artificial harbors allowed the rapid unloading of cargo to facilitate the invasion efforts.


Point du Hoc, on Omaha beach, is noted for its 30 meter (over 90 ft.) sheer cliffs which were heavily fortified.  These are the cliffs scaled by 225 Army Rangers led by Lt. Col. Rudder.  Today, there are a few remnants of German bunkers, and the land is pock-marked from a series of bombings before the invasion.  It is said the number of bombs dropped on this tiny point of land equaled the force of one of atomic bombs used in Japan.


Of course, war has its price.  Overlooking Omaha Beach is the American Cemetery and Memorial, a 172 acre cemetery with the graves of 9,385 military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations, and a memorial wall, ‘Walls of the Missing,’ inscribed with the names of 1,557 whose bodies have not been recovered.  It is a most solemn place, meticulously maintained, which receives over 1 million visitors per year.