By Lawrence Otieno, MHM
NOTE: The following reflection was written by Kenyan Mill Hill Missionary Father Lawrence Otieno, MHM. Father Lawrence was a young boy at Father John Kaiser, MHM’s Parish in Kenya before his death in 2000, and attributes his missionary vocation to Father Kaiser’s example. Lawrence was ordained a Mill Hill Missionary Priest on 6 February, 2016.
The Blessed Virgin Mary expresses her praises and gratitude to God for the gift of mercy that he shows to all. Touched by this song of praise, I am immensely grateful to God for the gift of the missionary call and my priestly ordination in the Year of Mercy. He has sent me to bear witness to his mercy among the people of Kom at St. Jude Parish, Fundong in Cameroon. The parish has 17 missions, 16 of them located in different villages. These villages are linked by weathered roads. These roads are rocky and muddy due to the long durations of rains that makes them hard to maintain. The difficult and hilly nature of the Kom landscape seems unwelcoming, but the people of Kom are very welcoming.
My first six months in Fundong Parish has been a time of reflecting on God’s mercy and witnessing it among the people of God. I reach out to them in their villages to celebrate the sacraments on Sundays. Besides Sunday masses, I also trek and hire motorbikes to stay in villages for two to three days every two weeks. Staying in villages has enabled me to know the local people, experience their hospitality and love, learn their culture and language (Itanghi Kom), and celebrate the Eucharist with members of various Small Christian Communities (SCCs).
Small Christian Community meetings involve celebrations of the Eucharist, baptism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the feast days of the SCCs’ patron saints. The basic purpose of reaching out to people in SCCs is to actualize the church as a family that is found among the neighbors. This goes along with encouraging SCC members to play active roles in the mission of the church by deepening their faith in God through reading and sharing the Word of God together, helping the needy in their neighborhood and supporting the church spiritually and materially. Women are the majority in these SCCs, and they are very enthusiastic. Their presence and involvement in the Church is quite encouraging.
Visiting and staying in the villages has enabled me to know the challenges of the laity in our parish. The majority of the faithful are poor women. They are the bread winners of the respective families and the backbone of the church. They sacrifice a lot, especially by giving out of their scarcity for the good of the church. Their involvement in the mission of the church follows in the footsteps of women in the scriptures who receive Christ’s message of peace, and allowed it to transform their lives and participate actively in his mission. However, their active participation in the mission and life of the Church is hindered by polygamy. Women in polygamous marriages do not meet Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This has barred them from taking leadership roles in their specific mission stations. They are in need of the mercy of the church.
Poverty is another challenge that has caused people in various villages of my parish in Cameroon so much suffering. There are people who are suffering from cancer, stroke and other physical illnesses, but getting medication is a big challenge due to the poverty in which they are living in. Their source of income is subsistence farming.
I beg to mention one case to express the effects of poverty on the flock entrusted to my care. I visited a widow in a village. She is living in a very poor house with a leaking roof. It is leaned on by poles to prevent it from being blown away by the strong wind. Besides the poor house, her daughter who is four years old fell in a fire and burnt all her fingers and legs. There is so much suffering and pain in her family. I felt it too during my one hour of staying there. At the end of my visit I prayed for her and gave a very little gift of support, but the feelings of powerlessness did not spare me.
Several questions crisscrossed in my mind. Besides my prayers and the little help that I gave, what more could I have done? What would Jesus have done in this Year of Mercy if he were to visit this person in great pain and need? The church is a family, but why didn’t members of her SCC and the mission station reach out and support her materially? These questions prompted me to rethink my missionary presence and witnessing to merciful love in St. Jude Parish Fundong. Reflecting on these questions enabled to discover the presence of God in the joy and gratitude that this widow expressed when she saw me in her home. She never expected me, and seeing me there was a cause of her joy. Though I could not do much to help her and the daughter because of my limited capacity, I owe a lot to God for giving me the strength and courage to reach out to this widow and others in my parish to share his merciful love with them in the Year of Mercy.
Apart from her, I also showed mercy to other sick especially those who are suffering from cancer by giving them food and a very little material help. Once a month I also visit the prisoners to celebrate the Eucharist with them. I also share the knowledge of environment conservation with them to equip them with some skills for earning a living and producing food to sustain them in the prison. They cook for themselves in the prison.
Though I am serving the people of God in a difficult area in Cameroon, I am happy for so many graces that I have received, particular the gift of good health. I believe that Christ will accompany me in my missionary call to share his merciful love with his least brothers and sisters. Truly, God chooses and calls the weak and empowers them to be instruments of his mercy. He has been so merciful and kind to each one of us. Let us not be afraid to be missionaries of his merciful love in our little ways.
Rev. Lawrence Otieno, MHM
St. Jude Parish
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Volume 53 (Winter, 2017) issue of Mission Connections by the St. Cloud Mission Office in St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA. The online version can be found at: http://mission.stcdio.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2017/01/95233_Mission_Newsletter-2.pdf The newsletter is distributed to the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of St. Cloud and to others concerned with the mission of Jesus Christ and global solidarity and justice.