By Moses Murrira Muttai
From the very beginning when the concept of Small Christian Communities was introduced, God’s will in His son Jesus Christ was being realized. Life in a Small Christian Community is simply our baptismal brotherhood and sisterhood lived out practically with a few people. As Father Joseph Healey puts it, Small Christian Community is a communion of families. It is here that people experience the Word of God and get a chance to share it. The people get an opportunity of sharing the Eucharist together. They share their possessions, time and meals together. This means sharing their daily life.
The book of Acts 2:42 says that “they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ instructions and communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Following the example and footsteps of the early believers in Christ, the Small Christian Communities give the perfect base of a good Christian life. St. John Paul II in his encyclical, The Mission of the Redeemer, No. 51 states: “Because the church is communion, the basic communities, if they truly live in unity with the church, are a true expression of communion and a means of the construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the church.”
My Small Christian Community was in a rural set up. We had our meeting as a normal weekly gathering. On Friday, 12 February, 2016, the Small Christian Community of St. Martin in St. Massimo Parish, Meru Diocese, Kenya, decided to have their normal weekly gathering at a home of Mama Cecilia, an elderly lady who used to be a very active member of the church and jumuiya(“community” in Swahili). She was now very old and could not do much for herself. I joined the 15 members of St. Martin as we gathered at the homestead of Mama Cecilia. Our meeting started at 4:15 pm. The leader of the jumuiya took us through the seven steps very slowly and prayerfully. I realized that every member of the community had carried with himself or herself a small luggage. Our meeting started with a word of prayer led by a lady member. A very unique thing with this meeting was that instead of reading the Gospel of the coming Sunday as it was usually done, the leader of the jumuiya opted to come up with a small verse from 1 John 3:16 that says, “The way we came to understand love was that He laid down His life for us. We too must lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
After a very fruitful sharing of the Word of God together with prayers, the members were reminded about the agreement of the previous week on the task they were to undertake as they visit Mama Cecilia. Therefore, before the final hymn and prayer each member was assigned a duty within the compound of Mama Cecilia. The women embarked on the cleaning of the household goods, her dirty clothes and house utensils. I joined the men in clearing her external compound since it was very bushy. We also repaired her house which leaked during rainy season. The children were busy cutting and arranging firewood for Mama Cecilia. For almost an hour each member was active doing something. After the successful work we gathered again around the clean compound and every member (Mwanajumuiya), came up with the things they had carried for Mama Cecilia. There was a lot of foodstuff and clothes brought for her.
The most touching thing happened when Mama Cecilia was asked to speak to the members. She was overcome by emotions. She was overjoyed and she started shedding tears. Most of the members could not hold back their tears too. She thanked all the members of St Martin Small Christian Community for their generosity, their time and their prayers. This is the time that it dawned unto me that Jumuiyas are the perfect base for charity, prayer and mercy. It is in such small units that people know one other and particularly know the needs of each member. Prayers too become more relevant when people understand one another. They will pray for things that touch them. They will thank God for things that they have all experienced as a community in their neighborhood. Small Christian Communities also encourage those members who do not know how to pray or are lazy to embrace the spirit of prayer. The majority of those who were shy and could not lead a prayer in public can now do it very comfortably. Thanks to Jumuiyas.
As we came to the end of our weekly normal gathering, every member was filled with a spirit of joy and fulfillment. Our leader had some few words of encouragement for us: “As we go back to our homes, let us remember those among us who need our help. We have many poor and elderly people among us. For us here today we have not only read the Word of God, but truly lived it.”. These were very strong words and they touched our hearts. This being the period of Lent, we are all called to be keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The attendance was not very encouraging. The number was not corresponding with the number of families who belong to St. Martin Small Christian Community. At the same time the number of men and the youth was very low. Men did not participate in the sharing of the Word. This was attributed to the cultural background where men never speak in the presence of women and children.
If our clergy could involve themselves more fully to the activities of Small Christian Communities, a great change would be achieved especially in changing the mindset of the local people on the negative attitude of our culture. There is no sin praying together as a group of families. Men should stop feeling out of place in presence of women and children.
The following challenges were experienced.
The number of active members is low.
Men and the youth rarely attend Small Christian Communities.
Cultural or traditional norms affect the activities of Small Christian Communities. Some groups of people, especially men, shy off from the sharing because of the presence of women and children.
Absence or lack of interest from the clergy.
The majority of our Christians are very generous and ready to go a further mile in being sensitive to the needs of others and following the call of Christ. If only they can be encouraged and motivated. It was very encouraging to see people sacrificing their time and energy coming together and helping an old poor member of their jumuiya.
It is really encouraging that the majority of our people are now embracing Small Christian Communities in their parishes such as in Meru Diocese. This is the way to go for the church. This is the future of our church if we are to remain relevant and responsive to our Christian call of being charitable, merciful and prayerful. It is fulfilling to note that we all belong somewhere and that evangelization is not the work of a few persons or the clergy. Every member of the Small Christian Community has a responsibility to make sure that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is felt throughout the world, starting with our neighborhood. Good leadership also stems from the Small Christian Community. The spirit of service to others and self denial comes out more clearly in the Jumuiyas. We do not necessarily need to be rich to be charitable, merciful or prayerful.
Rev. Moses Murrira Muttai
Meru Diocese, Kenya