Finding God in Mission

Kenyan seminarian reflects on his vocation journey and commitment to mission.

I feel God’s accompaniment when I experience the deep joy that comes with offering myself in service to God’s people. As Pope Francis teaches in Christus Vivit, I find myself connected with God when I put myself on cue for the good of God’s people and Church. 

It has taken years to get to this moment, and as I await my ordination to the priesthood on June 3rd, I reflect on my vocation journey and share my excitement to serve in the missions of Maryknoll.

I spent the first 20 years of my life in western Kenya, in my home diocese of Bungoma. At Mumias Complex Primary School, I learnt the history of my country. I found the narratives about the early missionaries who brought the Gospel very intriguing, and the story of 19th century German explorer and missionary Johann Rebmann particularly fascinating. 

During school vacations, my father would have us visit our grandmother in the countryside. I would ask my parents and grandmother about the missionaries. They explained that the missionaries brought the Catholic faith and built schools and dispensaries in our area, traveling long distances to establish missions. These stories were retold by our maternal relatives, especially my Uncle John. Baptized a Catholic, until this day he tells stories of missionaries in the pre-Vatican II era and recites the Apostles’ Creed in Latin.

Siyumbu is shown in 2007 with Father Lance Nadeau. (John Siyumbu/Kenya)

Maryknoll seminarian John Siyumbu is shown in 2007 with Father Lance Nadeau. (John Siyumbu/Kenya)

I remember when I first became interested in the priesthood. It was the day of my confirmation. Our bishop exhorted the faithful to raise their children so that they might become priests. I turned to look at my mother, who was standing behind me holding my shoulders. I told her I would like to be a priest. She looked down and said, “We’ll wait and see.” In 2000, I entered St. Peter’s Mumias High School. As an altar server, I asked the chaplain how I could be a missionary. He told me to pass my school examinations first and then continue my discernment.

In 2005, I enrolled at Kenyatta University (KU) in Nairobi, the capital city of my country. While at KU, I became an active member of the Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre and the Acolytes Group within the university’s Catholic chaplaincy. The Catholic community rekindled my desires for the priesthood. I was attracted to the missionary priesthood through our university chaplain, Father Lance Nadeau, who is currently superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

Toward the end of the four-year program, I inquired of Father Nadeau how someone could join Maryknoll. He replied, “Well, Maryknoll is a small society and it recruits Americans only.” He paused, then added, “Would you like me to speak to my superior about this?” I told him I would like to join Maryknoll. For four years at campus, I had witnessed the Maryknoll way of service.

Maryknoll seminarian John Siyumbu reflects on the Bible at San Pio X parish. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)

Maryknoll seminarian John Siyumbu reflects on the Bible at San Pio X parish. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)

I graduated from KU in 2009 with a degree in special education. Father Nadeau later on informed me that his superiors were willing to consider my request and suggested I study philosophy while they did so. Each academic year, I spent part of my vacation at a Maryknoll-run parish in Buza, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. There I met other Maryknollers working in Tanzania. The late Maryknoll Father John Conway asked me where I would like to serve as a missioner. I responded that I’d like to serve in Latin America, live among the people there and speak Spanish.

At the conclusion of my philosophy program in 2012, Maryknoll was opting to maintain its policy of taking only people with legal residency in the United States.

Undeterred in my vocation to the priesthood, I decided to discern a vocation with the Jesuits. I taught for a year at St. Aloysius Gonzaga high school in Nairobi and in 2013, applied to the Jesuit novitiate. The Jesuits helped me grow in the Lord, and after two years, I took my first vows in the Society of Jesus. However, while in the Jesuit novitiate, I learned that Maryknoll had begun to accept vocations from other countries. I continued to think often of Maryknoll, and made the hard decision to leave the Jesuits to pursue my vocation with Maryknoll.

Click on the arrows to see the slideshow photos:
1) Young John Siyumbu is surrounded by his family on the day of his Confirmation. 2) John Siyumbu (second from left) is shown with other student members of the Parish Pastoral Council in 2009. (Courtesy John Siyumbu/Kenya) 3 to 6) Maryknoll Seminarian John Siyumbu serves in mission during his Overseas Training Program in Cochabamba, Bolivia. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia) 7 to 8) Siyumbu participates in a Maryknoll immersion trip to the U.S./Mexico border (Deirdre Cornell/U.S.).

Seminarian John Siyumbu looks with fervor at consecration during Sunday Mass at San Pio X parish in Cochabamba. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)

Seminarian John Siyumbu looks with fervor at consecration during Sunday Mass at San Pio X parish in Cochabamba. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)

Once accepted into the Maryknoll Initial Formation program, in 2016 I left my country and traveled to Chicago, where I studied at the Catholic Theological Union. I worked in pastoral ministry in Chicago and learned about the charism of Maryknoll. I also prepared to go to Bolivia, as part of Maryknoll’s Overseas Training Program giving seminarians a new cultural context in mission.

Latin Americans taught me how to serve God. The Church in the Archdiocese of Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I was assigned, confirmed my desire to serve God’s people. Learning a new language and ministering in this new tongue helped me experience the goodness of God in the people of Cochabamba. Don Ediberto and doña Guillermina of San Pio X (Saint Pius X) parish welcomed me after my language program and ‘adopted’ me, drawing me into the bosom of their family. I became a son to them. The pastor and members of San Pio X parish offered me excellent opportunities to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

As I approach my ordination to the priesthood, my studies and current ministry affirm my desire to serve God’s people. I find great joy in my diaconal ministries at Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Chicago. I see what Jesus is inviting me into. I see how God — through many people in my life — responds to me when I pray saying: “Look, I have left everything and followed you.” God’s gift of mission in Maryknoll has been transformative.

As my Maryknoll superiors and I continue to discern my mission assignment, I do not know what my future holds. Still, I know, by God’s grace, it will include occasions of love deeply lived in an intercultural context. I find myself content these days, offering to God all that I have and all that I am for the good of God’s people and the missions of Maryknoll, and for the greater glory of God.

Featured image: Maryknoll seminarian John Siyumbu offers Communion to a parish server at San Pio X. (Nile Sprague/Bolivia)

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About the author

John Siyumbu

Deacon John Siyumbu, originally from the Diocese of Bungoma in Kenya, will be ordained on June 3, 2022 as the Maryknoll Society's first vocation from overseas missions where Maryknoll missioners serve.