Monthly Archives: September 2015

A PILGRIMAGE TO TANZANIA

by Susan Feeney, Skillman, NJ, who participated in the Maryknoll Lay Missioner’s Friends Across Borders (FAB) program in Tanzania.

My journey to participate in the Friends Across Borders trip to Tanzania began in Jerusalem in July 2014. I had begun to process what I might do when I “retire” from the practice of law. In the Church of the Resurrection at the Tomb of Christ, I received a message from Jesus to go serve others. Immediately upon my return, Maryknoll Father Mike Snyder showed up at my parish, Saint Charles Borromeo, in Skillman, New Jersey, for Mission Sunday: After Saturday vigil Mass, I was invited to be part of a small group who took Fr. Mike to dinner. Hearing his stories of the many years he spent in Tanzania doing mission work intrigued me and led me to the Maryknoll Lay Missioner website.

JFTZ20150808_0452
After a discussion with my pastor, I decided the immersion trip would be a good start on my discernment process if I indeed should commit to mission work as a vocation upon retirement.

Lay Missioner Cecilia Espinoza, who directs the FAB trips, made the process very easy and
answered any questions I had. Not only was Cecilia accompanying us on this trip but we also had Fr. Bill Vos, a veteran Maryknoll Father who spent 19 years in Tanzania going with us as a guide. Fr. Bill believes in the central role of lay Catholics in all ministries and, therefore, in mission – the very heart of being church. Prior to traveling, Cecilia and Fr. Bill prepared us well with packing advice and other relevant information. Packing for two weeks in a carry-on and knapsack was an easier challenge than I originally envisioned.

JFTZ20150809_1007So, on August 6, 2015, I left for Dar Es Salaam flying through Zurich. Upon arrival in Dar Es Salaam, I met Fr. Bill and three Iowans, Dale, Dave and Michelle, along with Deacon Peter from my own Diocese in New Jersey, who would become my friends that week. Four others joined us at various times that evening. After spending the night in Dar, we left the next morning for Mwanza, a busy city on the shores of Lake Victoria. Once in Mwanza, we met Kristle Bulleman, a young Lay Missioner, who would be our guide for the week. She gave us a crash course in the Swahili language to which we responded “Asante” or “Thank you.” Natalie Kadio, a friend and partner of MKLM in Mwanza, provided a wonderful presentation on life in Tanzania, including historical and cultural information about Tanzanians and the Sukuma tribe. She also discussed the major needs of the people and the country – something we would see ourselves as the days unfolded. Most Tanzanians live without running water, plumbing and electricity. Adequate healthcare is difficult to find. The challenges of everyday life can be overwhelming.

JFTZ20150809_2501In Mwanza, we were exposed to the work of a number of the Lay Maryknoll Missions. First was Mass in Mabatini Parish where we met Maryknoll Brother Loren Beaudry. We were greeted by “Karibuni” meaning “Welcome.” The Mass was lively with a wonderful choir. On the altar were “gifts” including a live rooster and chicken brought for Brother Loren and Father Lam Hua. All the Tanzanians welcomed us warmly.

We then had a tour of Mwanza and a welcome dinner at the home of Maryknoll Lay Missioner Joanne Miya. The rest of the week went by quickly. We visited Constancia Mbgoma, a MKLM affiliate, who works with a group of women who care for orphans. We watched, and helped, as the women made beautiful patterns on cloth that would be turned into khangas. I learned a khanga has many uses as a skirt, baby carrier, headdress and tablecloth, just to name a few. It was a simple yet productive manufacturing process. Deacon Peter had some lively shawls made for his vestments. The proceeds went to support the women and their extended families.

We visited Lubango Center in Nyanshana where Richard Ross works with children in the preschool and supervises the making of jewelry, soaps and other handcrafts which support the program. JFTZ20150810_3959The Lubango Center was created mainly to address poverty in the area and is made up of a girls’ home craft school, a kindergarten and a library for secondary students. I enjoyed speaking to Richard about his experiences as he worked in corporate America and is doing mission work in his “retirement.”

We visited Education for a Better Living Organization (EBLI) where Michael Leen coaches young mothers from all over Mwanza who had to leave school because of pregnancy become entrepreneurial so they can support themselves and their children. We visited Michael’s wife, Ashley Leen, who runs the Lulu Project. Lulu has a number of groups of young girls and mothers who meet around Mwanza to continue their education and to learn and practice handcraft skills which crafts they sell to contribute toward HISA, their savings and loan program.

We spent a day in the small village of Ibindo where we visited a girls’ school where girls come from all over Tanzania to receive a good education under the guidance of African priests. Back in Mabatini, we observed Kristle Bulleman’s health ministry where she works with local Tanzanian women to grow various plants which, when dried and packaged, become natural healing remedies. This ministry aims to educate the community on JFTZ20150813_2808effective health practices as well as encourage the use of natural medicine to prevent disease. We climbed high in the hills of Mabatini to visit a paralyzed friend of Kristle’s whose mother welcomed us with sweet potatoes and tea. Kristle arranges for physical therapy services for this young man. The paralyzed young man was a very good artist and many of us purchased art from him that day in the hopes he would be able to buy more supplies. My artwork now hangs in my home as a reminder of the challenges that young man faces.

We also visited the Uzima Center run by Joanne Miya which provides needed services to people living with HIV/AIDS and to orphans and vulnerable children. “Uzima” means “Well ness” in Swahili. We had an interactive session helping local boys and girls making beaded necklaces, earrings, crafts, pillows and crosses. The money the children make helps to pay school fees and living expenses. Needless to say, we bought Joanne out of stock that day! We then had lunch at Joanne’s home and her husband, Martin, prepared a delicious Tanzanian stew for us.

We also traveled to Musoma where we met veteran Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Liz Mach. Liz welcomed us to her home like a true Tanzanian and cooked us quite a feast. She shared with us her ‘stories working as a nurse in various capacities over her almost 40 years in Tanzania. Liz works with women’s health issues, including maternal mortality, obstetric fistula and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation which she is working to alleviate. We then visited with the street children of Jipe Moyo and Sister Cha Cha. The transitional housing facility is a home for street boys and girls running from gender-based violence. The children put on a wonderful dance and song show for us. We also heard JFTZ20150817_5738firsthand the stories of gender-based violence committed against some of the girls. I will forever remember the vibrant personality of one small five-year old who was found on the streets and brought by the police to the school where she is now safe and thriving. We shared a wonderful dinner with the students and this five-year old was so excited to have her favorite rice dish with us!

We then spent the last two days in the beautiful Serengeti on safari. I have to admit I felt a bit guilty doing this after visiting so many who did not have adequate food or shelter. But the beauty of seeing God’s creatures in their natural environment had a certain spiritual side to it. You can see God at work in the natural order of it all in the Serengeti.

Throughout our visit, we had morning and evening reflections which really brought us together as a group. Our reflections frequently included the writings of Pope Francis in the “Joy of the GospeL”. His words came alive as we witnessed the everyday struggles of the people we visited. Fr. Bill was an insightful spiritual leader for these discussions. The thoughts of my fellow travelers were also helpful to me in my faith journey. I think we would all agree that our immersion trip touched our hearts and changed us in many ways.

JFTZ20150818_3322

We encountered Jesus among the Tanzanians we met and had new hope and renewed faith during our trip. For me, I intend to continue my discernment process to determine if missioner work is my true vocation. I am grateful to Fr. Bill, Cecilia, Kristle and all the missioners acting as our “boots on the ground” in Tanzania, and especially my fellow immersion travelers. I know I made some new friends, both in Tanzania and in the U.S.
As we continue to reflect on what we saw, heard and experienced in Tanzania, we will carry these experiences in our hearts and continue to reflect how we can support the work and lives of the Tanzanians and Maryknoll Lay Missioners on our return home. To my new friends, “Saki Salama” meaning “Stay in Peace.”

Come and See… in Bolivia

by Santa Orlando- Maryknoll Affiliate – Albany, NY who recently participated in the Maryknoll Lay Missioner’s Friends Across Borders (FAB) program in Bolivia.

BO-PMD15_07783I am a Maryknoll Affiliate. I have met many Affiliates from the states and some from other countries. I know the history of the Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers and Sisters. I have spent time with Maryknoll Sisters serving in Guatemala as well as in Ossining, NY. I frequent the Knoll as often as I can attending conferences and celebrations, to visit the bookstore, to attend an Institute class or just to have lunch with a Maryknoll Sister. Yet, I did not know the heart of the Lay Missioners, I had not spent time engaging them in conversation or observing them in ministry. I found myself asking the questions, who are they? and what do they do? The need to know led me to experience a FAB (Friends Across the Border) trip to Bolivia. I needed to be immersed into the culture and reality of their everyday lives. Our group consisted of 14 travelers, ten of which were from Maine. Sam Stanton, Director of the Lay missioners, met up with us a day or two later. I met up with the entire group at the airport in Miami, equipped with my carryon luggage, a positive attitude and the willingness to participate fully in the experience.

I began this reflection while on the flight home to the states. I can only describe Bolivia as old, new, advanced, primitive, secular, and steeped in Indigenous tradition, truly a paradox in every way. This country is filled with the human family; they live their lives in familiar ways and ways I would never have imagined. This country seems to be “in-between” – it is emerging, developing, and growing; just as I am, as I continue to discern my own role in mission.

So what was my experience? What did I see? What are the Lay Missioners about? The answer: unconditional love, affection and respect for those most in need.

BO-PMD15_07586Unconditional love and affection for the children. Love and affection for the children in the many Hogars (casas or houses) where they live in community with other children learning that they matter, that they belong, that they are loved and have opportunities. Love, and extra attention for the children who are struggling to read. These children are learning that they can succeed, that they are capable; they are developing the internal self confidence needed to be a contributing member of society. Bolivia is doing what it can to care for the children and ensure that they get an education; they remove the children from the home – the US does not, two different ways to achieve the same goal.

BO-PMD15_08315Unconditional love and respect for the abuela’s (grandma’s) of Cochabamba, those that have struggled and given throughout their lives now find themselves old, tired, vulnerable and lonely with no place to turn. They are provided with the basic necessities, help in obtaining documentation to receive the government stipend, companionship and the knowledge that someone does in fact care.

Unconditional love and respect for the imprisoned men whose reality is one of survival in an environment where typical societal norms are meaningless. The only thing this prison has in common with our own system is the inability to leave and return to their own community; yet they live in community albeit much different than any I have ever witnessed. Each person must find their own means of existence and hope; “cells” are bought or rented, meals must be purchased on your own, even transportation to court must be individually financed. No guards are found inside the prison walls, order is maintained by inmates in a loose form of democratic government. Wives, children, family and others are allowed to come and many reside with the inmates. The physical conditions are primitive yet this system does not sever relationships and family ties; yes it is very different; I am unable to judge it better or worse than the prison system in our own country.

BO-PMD15_07730These are just a few examples of the Lay missioners living out their baptismal call in Bolivia, they walk with the people of Bolivia and allow themselves to be a conduit for compassion, justice and peace for those who are most in need. My questions are answered. I know the heart of a Lay missioner operates first out of Love. What they do and with whom they walk will differ in each country that they serve and in each ministry they choose. This diversity is found in the entire MK family, everyone offers their individual gifts, their time and talents as part of the global community.

This was an immersion trip, and immersed we were in the Bolivian culture. We dined on traditional food, with soup being the staple offered at both midday and evening meals. I was quite surprised to learn that Bolivia is a tea drinking country. Coffee drinkers beware, it is instant Nescafe imported from Brazil that is typically served. Vegetables are cooked and served cold while pitchers of flavored tea are served warm. Potatoes, rice and yucca are served but no beans, plenty of chicken, meat and even fish are readily available. Bananas, papaya and pineapple are plentiful; you will not go hungry in Bolivia.

We ventured from the urban sprawl of Cochabamba to the more rural towns of Tarata, Cliza and Punata. Each town with its own distinctive flavor. The infrastructure was surprisingly good as was the lighting on the streets. Each town had its own plaza across from the church, the meeting place for its people. Various size minivans, motorcycles, cars and buses were the mode of transportation, no chicken buses were seen and rare was the sighting of a small pickup overflowing with people or goods for market day.

BO-PMD15_08017We were fortunate to be present for the feast of the Virgin of Urkupina in Quillacollo; we visited the shrine prior to the hoards of people that would travel on pilgrimage for this most important celebration. We viewed the parade from the spacious veranda next to the church which was owned by missioner Joe Looney’s in laws. It was like being above Herald Square for the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade.
We had admired the “Christo” statue that watched over Cochabamba from atop the highest point of the city, we finally were blessed with a clear day to visit, it was worth the wait.

The Maryknoll Language Institute in Cochabamba is alive and well, it was founded in 1965 to acculturate the many missioners that were expanding their ministry throughout Latin America. The Institute has continued to evolve and now offers many other classes for the Maryknoll family and citizens alike. We were welcomed with open arms; we toured the facility, enjoyed a presentation on the upcoming feast, celebrated a cultural night with traditional food and drink and were treated to an ice cream social that brought all the missioners in the area together. How wonderful it was to be present in the space that speaks volumes of mission both past and present.

A 5 hour drive landed us in the the tropical region of Villa Tunari. Here we revelled in the humidity that soothed our sinus cavities and dry skin. The pace of our trip slowed, we walked the streets and reflected together. The trip was winding down, but not without another day of travel to arrive in Santa Cruz the economical center of Bolivia. This was a cosmopolitan city boasting a most marvelous plaza and church. On a Wednesday night it was alive and electrified.

BO-PMD15_08606When asked “how was your trip” my answer is “different from any other I have taken”. If there is time I will explain, not to explain would be a dis-service to Bolivia and its people. When asked “what did you do”? My reply is, we played with the children, giving them our attention, we met and embraced the elderly showing them they too were worthy of our visit. We celebrated the festival of The Virgin of Urkupina. Mostly we were present. We had all taken the time to visit and learn and BE with the missioners and people of Bolivia with a non-judgemental mind and open heart. Many thanks to the Lay missioners serving in Bolivia, Joe Looney, Caitlin Reichelderfer, Minh Nguyen and Sam Stanton for answering my many questions and providing us with a wonderful experience.

Mission occurs everywhere one walks with empathy and compassion for those in need, at home or overseas. Technology is responsible for helping to bridge the communication gap between different countries, yet there are times one must be present to experience God in the other, in a foreign country. Perhaps a Friends across the Border trip is part of your journey, go and see, It is not so far afield, it may in fact be part of your journey.

View All Upcoming Events >