Last October fourteen Canadian travelers went on a mission journey to Kenya with Neysa Finnie as our tour guide and Father Vaughan Quinn, OMI, as our spiritual leader. We came from many parts of Canada: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Each of us brought our own special talents and we learned from each other about patience, understanding, compassion and love.
We traveled first from Nairobi to Kionyo where we were met by Oblate Fathers Mario Azrak, Sholto Douglas and Daquin Iyo. We were very pleased to hear that we would be attending the 10th anniversary celebration of the Oblates in Kenya.Fr Mario was expecting the whole parish of 3,000 people to come from all the eleven prayer stations in a radius of about 15-20 kilometers. On Saturday the women arrived to prepare Sunday’s dinner for 250 people on an open fire.Vegetables were prepared, chickens were slaughtered and wood was cut. The ladies worked joyfully together – it was truly an act of love.
On Sunday the celebration started at and lasted four hours!The grounds were covered by a sea of people with hundreds of beautiful children.This was the most joyful celebration I have ever attended; each section of the Mass was celebrated with singing and dancing which is the African way to express their deep love of God.At this Mass the new pastoral parish council was introduced and installed, and Fr. Daquin was installed as the parish priest of Kionyo replacing Fr. Mario – a changing of the guard.
Following this joyful celebration of Eucharist, we then attended the dinner at the parish hall and I had the opportunity to talk to some people from the parish (in English).I found it very interesting.They said that they certainly have their problems but they would like us to know that they are trying to solve them, themselves.I can see by the projects that the Oblates have been involved in, that the mission intends to give them a hand up but not to take over.
In Kionyo we visited the co-op bakery in which 20 women contributed $250 each which was matched by the Oblates.This bakery produces 700-900 loaves of bread a day and is delivered by bicycle.
The Mt Kenya East Interdenominational AIDS Group is supported by the Oblates.It currently helps 70 adults and 30 children.They provide transportation to the hospital for treatment, education on AIDS and help with the children’s school fees and uniforms. Plans are underway for the construction of a Voluntary Testing Clinic in the village. The director told us that the numbers have come down from 13% to 7%.This clinic is also supported by the profits from a woodworking shop and a small farm. He proudly showed us the computer which was bought with funds from MAMI.
We traveled up into the hills into an isolated area. We found a Corn Mill which was started by a group of Catholic women and supported by The Oblates.This group charges to grind the corn and with the electricity they also charge cell phones and batteries in the back room, very creative on the part of the women.The Oblates also support the Mt. Kenya East Water Project, which was started under the leadership of Ken Forster, OMI some seven years ago. This project delivers water to 4,000 homes. The fee to the household is a one time charge of $200.The Oblates work with the Kionyo Town Council to ensure that the community and the outside groups are working together to make this an efficient effort. They all agreed that if the households have not paid up their outstanding fees by May 31, 2008 they will not receive the water. It is very important with all of these projects that the community participates.This provides a measure of ownership for the community.
We traveled to Meru and stayed at the Oblate residence for four days. We visited the Meru Prison which still operates out of buildings dating from the colonial era and was meant for some 150 inmates. Now it houses about 130 women and 1500 men, and is seriously overcrowded.Women are allowed to have children under four years of age stay with them in prison, so there were also some 30 children. Joe Jacek, OMI, the prison chaplain, invited us for Sunday Mass at the Prison. People came from the whole area to attend this Mass.Fr. Vaughan Quinn, OMI, introduced us to the congregation and thanked them for the love they showed us. He told them how we had a lot to learn from their expressions of love and joy for the Lord and their families.
We visited the school run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and saw the wonderful work they are doing in the slums of Meru.They provide education for about 400 students. Our own Oblate Pre-novices work with teenage boys and the Sisters with the girls.They cook lunch on an open fire for 170 children Monday to Friday.On the main wall along with art work from the 3-8 year old children are the words “The value of the world is the value of each person.”That is really the place the whole world needs to get to.
We also visited two orphanages for boys. We celebrated Mass at the Alamano Boys Orphanage. It was very inspirational to join these boys in their joyful celebration.Their simple Mass was truly beautiful.These boys range in age from 8-18 they are all in school, they have basic accommodation but appear to be well cared for.
We visited the coffee plant and farm of Mr. Nyambene Jr. We saw the beans being sorted
one by one by ladies that make $2 per 100 lb. sack.On a good day they can sort 2 sacks.
The beans are shipped green and roasted elsewhere. The company gets about 10% of the
market value of the beans, and the operation employs 200 people.Mr. & Mrs Nyambene Sr.
invited us to their home and coffee plantation. They produce 20,000 kilos of coffee per
year. They also grow seedlings for sale to the farmers and they grow vegetables that they
donate to the Alamano Orphanage, an orphanage which was started by the Nyambenes.
Then it was back to Kionyo where we visited the Tea Factory. This is a very progressive plant owned cooperatively by the farmers and helped by the Oblates. It is very clean and they have strict safety standards. They produce 3 – 4 million tons of tea a year and employ 200 people; the average salary is $5 per day.
We concluded the mission with the Oblates in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi named after Karen Blixen ( movie Out of Africa).We celebrated Mass at Nyumbani in Karen, a hospice for HIV positive orphans.This was truly a children’s Mass held in a classroom with their total participation.The children did all the readings, singing and dancing.After Father’s homily the children acted out the gospel and the readings and then they were all invited to give their thoughts on the message.I do not believe any of the children left that day without truly understanding God’s message.
There were many wonderful moments on this trip but the most touching for me was the simple Masses with the beautiful singing.After visiting all the Oblate missions eleven of us went on Safari.It was absolutely amazing to see all of the animals in their own habitat and all the different terrains they live in.But even on Safari we had a wonderful Mass experience.Staying in one of the hotels, we asked for a room to celebrate in.When the staff heard that we were about to celebrate Mass they asked if we could wait until p.m.when they have a break. Father agreed and we held Mass in the staff quarters.The room was full and the Mass was so joyful! I was particularly touched by the man who was doing the readings.He was a very proud man standing very straight, I looked at his hands and they were shaking uncontrollably. I thought I need to remember this moment whenever I feel nervous in front of a group.
I would like to thank Neysa Finnie, our tour guide, and all the Oblate Priests who lead us on this wonderful journey. God traveled with us and made his presence felt in everyone we met.