Missioner Tales, Spring 2021

It was the Monday of Holy Week at Ndoleleji parish in the Shinyanga Diocese in Tanzania. After the morning celebration of the Eucharist, the catechist told me that a woman named Martha, who couldn’t speak, wanted to go to confession.

Martha came into the sacristy, knelt down and sighed profoundly. She crossed her arms on her chest and bowed deeply.

She pointed to the sky, then clutched her heart. She raised her fists in anger, then again crossed her arms on her chest and bowed deeply. She repeated this several times with different gestures.

As Martha communicated her sorrow and her desire to return to God through signs and gestures, I could feel God’s love and mercy powerfully alive in that small rural sacristy.

I gave her absolution and a sign of peace. I experienced as never before the meaning of the words of the prophet Joel, “Rend your hearts and return to the Lord.”

Even COVID-19 has not stopped my daily walks on jungle paths in Western Equatoria, Yambio, South Sudan, where I serve as a Maryknoll lay missioner. Wearing my mask and social distancing, I encounter wonderful ordinary people along the way. An elderly man sits on a teak tree stump. I greet him in Arabic with the respectful hand motions common to this area. A woman pumps water at the well and I walk over and pump for her. She can’t quite figure out why this foreigner is helping her, but she is grateful.

Then there are the children, dozens of them, everywhere I go. They come running and laughing and sticking out their dirty hands. But their hearts are pure gold.

I greet them with my limited Pazande, the language spoken here, and we all laugh. They practice their limited English, and we laugh again. I bless them and move on.

God is good and I love these walks.

For over 10 years, I have spent the third week of January as a volunteer Spanish interpreter with a large U.S. and Guatemalan medical team called Children of the Americas. They go to a different part of Guatemala each year to do pediatric and gynecological examinations, surgeries, etc. Gathering with this group feels like a family reunion.

Last year I was embarrassed when both soles of my old sport shoes came unstuck and flopped when I walked. It was quite an awkward evening at the hotel, where they surprised me with a spontaneous celebration of my 80th birthday.

The next morning Audrey, a U.S. nurse, and Julio, a Guatemalan prosthetic specialist, presented me with a special gift: a brand new pair of shoes!

My work with the Rosemiriam Dagg Center continues serving the community of Musoma, Tanzania. This center teaches young women who have disabilities or are otherwise at risk, such as young single mothers or those living with HIV/AIDS, to learn sewing and crafts so they can have a better future. We sell their beautiful bags, napkins, cards, etc.

We recently finished the construction of our second shop, enabling us to move the first shop to the new location and make the previous shop into a classroom. Right now students are sharing sewing machines in a crammed space.

One miracle that happened recently is that we created a mural for the center. You do not see much art around here, so it has attracted lots of attention. The Serengeti National Park is not too far from Musoma. It helped inspire the animal theme of the mural, which also includes women enjoying each other’s company.

A friend of mine created the mural. It was a labor of love. She spent so many hours working on it, and many others got involved in helping. At the bottom of the mural are the Swahili words, “Matumaini kwa waketi ujao,” which means “Hope for the Future.”

Angelica Ruppe, MKLM

On my first trip to Bangkok, I was nervous about the possibility of being taken advantage of in the airport. I was pleased to see a prepaid taxi service and took it to our Maryknoll center house in the city. When at one point the driver spoke haltingly about another charge, my fears were getting confirmed. I decided to memorize the large numbers on his taxi registration card in case I needed to report him.

When I got to the house, I learned there actually was an extra bridge toll and that the number I had memorized was the number of the Thai calendar year!

John P. Martin, M.M.

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Missioner Tales

Tales of life in the missions around the world.