Turkana"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" - 1 John 3:18
In September 2006, the Bishop of Lodwar, Rt. Rev. Patrick Harrington, together with the Vicar General, Very Rev. Francis Teo and Fr. Antonio Aguirre - members of the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle (MCSPA), a Public Association of the Faithful in the Church - were in Singapore to share on their mission in Kenya. "Our charism is to live the spirituality of Christ the Good Shepherd, spreading the missionary spirit in the style of St. Paul the Apostle, with a universal vision of the Church," said the missionaries. This led to our trip for East Africa in February 2007.
Our arrival in Lodwar, the main town of Turkana District in north-western Kenya, was met with a warm welcome by Fr. Francis and his companions, who involved us in various activities. Later in our stay, we would meet the other members of MCSPA, and amongst them Fr. Francisco Andreo - whom some of you may be familiar with as he has made visits to Singapore over the past years. The missionaries are "scattered"” across the vast lands, fronting various development projects on health, nutrition and education.
Many things are very different in Turkana: the land, the climate, and the people’s way of life. The greater part of Turkana is semi-arid land inhabited by nomads, many of whom own practically nothing, not even life's basics - food, water and healthcare. A good rainfall comes occasionally, usually only once a year, and famine in the area has become a national disaster due to the erratic rains. Malnutrition and widespread diseases such as malaria and HIV have taken the lives of many. For this reason, the missionaries are also running nursery schools for the younger children, where the thrust is in a balanced diet, medical attention and basic education for these children. "Programmes of preventive and curative medicine," as one missionary puts it, are ways to “better the quality of life of individuals and communities.”
Albeit the many challenges faced by the people and missionaries, we would like to share more on the "signs of hope" we have seen.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in" - Matthew 25:35
One thing we have learnt is that the work of a missionary means spreading the Good News, in all its aspects, to regions where Christ is not known to the people. The pastoral work, as we have seen, becomes a challenge to overcome hunger and create the means for survival. Seeing the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done, we were profoundly impressed with the measures taken by the missionaries to mitigate these problems.
Reservoirs of water were created through the construction of rock dams, as well as earth dams dug in strategic locations to store deep pools of water from the occasional rainfall. Other attempts at channelling water resources to the dispersed population are done through drilling boreholes - some of which are fitted with and pumps, and others with wind-pumps. The fulfilment of these projects would bring water to the people’s families and their livestock.
The "scattered" missionaries of MCSPA would come together once a week in the lovely mission of Nariokotome, about 160 km north of Lodwar and by the shore of Lake Turkana. It was not what we had anticipated. The locals mentioned that barely a decade ago, nothing was there except rocks, sand and thorn bushes. But at the mission today, greenery is seen everywhere - fruit trees such as figs, mangoes, bananas, papayas and melons are planted. Furthermore, animals that can give food are reared: hens for their eggs, cows for milk, as well as goats and rabbits for their meat. You can also find bread, cheese, herbs, medical products, and even wine…all made at the mission. There is a vineyard where vines are being grown for their fruit and wine. All these are made possible by a carefully planned irrigation network which supplies the livestock, vineyard and plantations with water from the boreholes and earth dams.
Moreover, nurseries have also been built for little children, and there is a beautiful church that is currently under
"He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done"
We witnessed many devoted and passionate lay people and volunteers who gave their time and sweat in various programmes. In Lodwar town, we met Annie from Netherlands who runs Ewoi Centre - her team makes regular visits to the elderly, the sick, and needy families, bringing them food supplies, medication and other supplies such as mosquito nets. Her spouse, Ben, overseas the running of St. Luke’s Home for the Deaf. Street children were taken in at another centre, where they are being housed and looked after; one can see the carefree and happy children running around the centre. In almost every village, there is a nursery school or nutritional unit run by the Catholic Church where the younger children are being taught and fed. Seeing them standing in line for their milk, holding on to their precious little containers, their innocence and joy on their faces with their worn out clothes really tore one’s heart.
Early Christianity in Kenya was restricted to its coast. We continued our journey with a visit to the East African coast - which is now more than 4 centuries after the arrival of St. Francis Xavier who passed Malindi on the way to India - and where we also learnt of the strong conviction of the Christians in Mombasa in the face of adversity in the early 17th century. Honestly, we saw how people could make a difference through their service in works of charity. Not only do they deserve our admiration for their constancy and dedication, which comes from a profound experience of Christian faith, they are also an inspiration for us to live our faith responsibly and joyfully.
Anne, Anselm, Betty and Susan
MCSPA would like to thank the various communities in Singapore for offering their friendship and support in the various development projects and missionary works. The community needs your continual support in the struggle for peace and survival in East Africa. “We are all making a great effort so that people, at least a few, would live their faith profoundly and become like yeast in the dough.” (Fr. Franciso Andreo, In Itinere, Issue 6, 2003). To learn more, you may like to contact Fr. Francis Teo at email@example.com or Anselm Tan at (65) 9012 8609.