Recta final del recorrido en Zambia

Definitivamente ha sido un viaje muy intenso.

Hemos recorrido muchísimos lugares alrededor del país. Iniciamos en Lusaka, pasamos por Kalabo, Shangombo, Livingstone y muchos lugares más, hasta volver a llegar a donde empezamos.

Tantos lugares y tantas personas que he conocido en una cultura totalmente distinta a la mía es interesante.

Por un momento me he puesto a pensar que todos estamos siguiendo a Dios con el mismo objetivo a pesar de hablar idiomas, lenguas tan distintas.

Sin duda me he quedado con recuerdos tan inmensamente eternos como el amor de Dios hacia nosotros, porque tanto amo Dios al mundo que dio a su hijo para demostrar su amor que se mete en nuestras entrañas, pero que muchos no comprendemos aún.

El descontrol emocional que he gozado en mi ser es tan emergente que Dios lo manifiesta en mi sonrisa y las ganas que tengo de conocerlo más y más. Es tan difícil poder olvidar la mirada de Dios en cada persona que me recibió en sus hogares, en sus comunidades, en su música, en sus oraciones, en sus corazones. Pero sin duda es más difícil poder decirles que me retiro por algún tiempo, por algún instante, por algunos años o por siempre. No lo sé, pero sé que puedo crecer como persona y ayudar al mundo de alguna otra manera.

Quiero también decir que tuve momentos en donde he sentido a Dios en la naturaleza… así fue en las Cataratas Victoria (las más grandes del mundo) cuando sentía la brisa en mi cuerpo, gracias al impacto con el que el agua chocaba en las rocas al momento de caer. Sin duda agradezco a Dios por mostrarse en tantas maneras tan hermosas, y todas ellas distintas. Como en los Safaris en los animales tan bonitos.

Ha sido la manera en como he visto el rostro de Dios de formas  complejas y distintas… todas y cada una de ellas distintas.

He compartido y disfrutado esta experiencia con personas que jamás creí que podría conocer pero que ahora me acompañan y me comparten un poco de sus vidas y la manera en como ellos conocen a Dios.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples

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As we come to the close of our Zambian mission experience, I would like to give a summary of this rich experience. I will proceed by describing the experience itself in one first part, and then I will lay out the spiritual benefits that I reaped. I will finish by describing the importance of such an experience in the discernment of religious life with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

I must begin by admitting that the mission immersion experience was more eventful than I thought. For example, the long driving, the break-down (mentioned in earlier blogs)… were not in my imagination.

The majority mission consisted in experiencing the oblate community in the field so to say. I felt like a young apprentice who is directly experiencing a trade. One of the first characteristics I discovered about the Zambian oblates is their unconditional hospitality. This value is not only a property of the Zambian oblates, but the universal oblate family. To give a specific example, Fr. Pat comes to mind without forgetting all the oblates who went out of their ways to make our experience fuller. Fr. Pat is one of the Formators in the prenovitiate in Lusaka. Fr. Pat is the most hospitable oblate I have met so far. He is awfully welcoming and is willing to make many sacrifices to accommodate visitors. Fr. Pat was up very early in the morning the day we were leaving Lusaka to Mongu. There could not be a clearer way to show the oblation of one’s life than to show hospitality to others.

Secondly, our mission immersion entailed the direct exposure to the autochthons. As we drive through and experience small communities where oblates serve. A small village called SIholi was one of the “Oblate Mission land. “This Village is about two hours from the city of Kalabo. The road is jungle and sandy. The children of the village played traditional music for us during our stay. This was their way of welcoming. This behaviors of the children of Siholi portrays important values about Zambia and Africa in general: Generosity, hospitality, friendship… These values were ever-present in the African traditions. Instead of learning. Normally, when thinking about cultural exchange, the visitor is expected to teach or give something to the host culture; in this case, it was rather the opposite. I learnt, or rather I was reminded of these values, which are necessary for any family, culture and country. Beyond these cultural values, the mission experience was also spiritually beneficial for me.

The spiritual benefit I found in this mission experience is the presence of God. We know from Sacred Scriptures that God’s ultimate purpose is to gather all his children; (Rev. 5.9 Every nation tribe and tongue). God is already at work among the nations, especially among the poor and the abandoned. Throughout this experience, I have had a closer sense of God among the people, who appear to have little materially, but very happy, and most importantly, very devout in their Catholic Faith. This spiritual experience came from the community model that every village is built upon. The villagers know one another and probably participate in the lives of one another. In our fast-paced culture that seemed to have lost the sense of community, this experience was truly enriching.

Finally, I would like to underline once again the fact that this experience is truly important in the discernment to the oblate life. One of the reasons is that it gives the candidate a thorough overview of what it means to be an oblate. Although come-and-see is a great a way to introduce a discerner to the oblate charism, it is nothing close to the mission immersion experience.

As we arrive at the close of this journey, we would like to thank all those who have supported us, both spiritually and materially. The oblates priests were truly welcoming to us and there was not a minute when we did not think we were home. I hope more people get to do this experience for cultural and spiritual lessons.

A final reflection of the trip

Last night around 7:30, we made arrived safely in Lusaka at the pre-novitiate residence. Fr. Pat, OMI welcomed us in, and we settled in rather quickly.

Today, all of us have been invited to reflect on the trip as a whole, and so here I go…

One of the common questions that people would ask me before I went on the Zambia trip is “are you excited.” I would usually reply that I was very excited, and that I was not lying. I just want to clarify that even with the orientation that took place in Washington D.C., I was not entirely sure what we were going to be doing. With that in mind, before going on this trip, I really wanted to rely on God’s loving guidance to take care of us, and to provide us with the strength needed to do God’s will.

This trust was quickly relied upon in our first couple days when I experienced first-hand, how much I take for granted. Some of these things include, the access to food and water, electricity, and the access to good transportation, let alone good roads. One of the big differences that I noticed early on was that in the U.S. lifestyle, much of the day is planned quite thoroughly, and usually followed through. In Zambia, I had the great opportunity to re-learn planning, and timing, and how the whole day would go. I had the opportunity to expect the unexpected, and to be joyful… Even when things such as the car broke down on our way to Mongu, when the car was delayed about 30 minutes on our way to the mission church in Siholi, and when I had stomach problems at one of our mission churches… Simply put, we certainly would have plans for the day. But I had the great experience to let God provide for us, when surprises would occur.

One of the treasures of the trip that I will try to carry with me was the great joy of the people, and a great admiration of the beauty of their music and liturgy. Though I could never understand the songs being sung at Mass, the beautiful and unified harmonies was something that touched me.

Also, as I will be entering my third year in the pre-novitiate with the Oblates in the fall, I was curious to see how the Zambian Oblates would be, and what life would be like in the “missions”. To this note, I am incredibly grateful for all of the Oblates who we met for their hospitality and for their openness to share their culture with us. Though the culture was different, I still felt at home with the Oblates and was overjoyed to experience once again the Oblate family. I also was inspired by the Oblates’ generosity towards the people, who on a regular basis travel some distance, on questionable roads, to serve and to be present to the people.

I am incredibly thankful to God, to the Oblates, and to our benefactors for blessing me with this experience. I am also grateful for Fr. Jim, OMI, and Pedro, Miguel, and Teko, who have journeyed with me.

Mosi oa Tunya Park & all

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These are the mounds of rocks that people crush into small pebbles with simple hand-tools
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“The boiling point”- a picture of the rapids on the bottom of the falls

image imageToday was a blessed day. We were able to visit Mosi oa Tunya Park (Victoria Falls) which was a great experience. Since Teko and I both have lived in Buffalo for the past 2 years and have experienced Niagara Falls, we didn’t know how it was going to be. Both of us, were certainly in awe of the scenery and of God’s handiwork… Even though all of us were quite surprised when a baboon approached Pedro(the baboon wanted Pedro’s Sprite, so Pedro gave it to him, and we continued on).

Since we had been in Shangombo for about a week, it has been an interesting to transition to a city again. One of the clear realities of the city that I saw was the existence of slum-like conditions just a mile or two away from highly developed neighborhoods. This is quite different than the country areas where the people in the villages are for the most part equal. Additionally, our time in the city has given me a better understanding of the struggle in parts of Zambia to maintain their tribal culture and way of life or to conform to the western culture.
Tomorrow, we will go on a wild-life tour in the morning, before heading back to Lusaka until we return to the U.S.A. on Monday.

It has been a great journey, thus far. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us on the last few days before we return.

Experience with Shangbombo Parish

After a morning and the early afternoon dedicated to painting the newly created bathroom of the parish,we had the opportunity to visit with some of the groups of the parish. The first group we spoke to was the choir. During this time, Pedro taught a simple song in Spanish, and the choir taught a simple song to us. Then, we spoke with some of the members of youth group, and joined the younger group of kids praying the rosary.

Finally, after the group activities were done, we began to play soccer with the guys… This was something where interpreters were not needed. Pedro and I played for some time with the kids and many of the barriers were broken down.

Although I have experienced  the differences in culture and language(even the English language; the kids were laughing at our accents at first), today was a beautiful day where I saw the family of the Church in both prayer and in soccer.

Thank you Jesus for a blessed day.

 

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Painting St.  Leopold’s Restrooms. 

Our mission immersion experience brought us to Shang’ombo, Zambia. Shang’ombo is located right on the Zambia-Angola border. We are residing in the oblate community here since last Wednesday.  Fr. Pius and his assistant are very welcoming and hospitable. Our stay so far has been great. 

Yesterday, we started painting two sets of outhouses, built for bathrooms purposes. The outhouses are made of 6 rooms, 4 of which will be restrooms,  and the two, showers. These restrooms are built through the generosity of donors from the US. Currently,  parishioners and restaurants use areas fenced with ‘hay-walls’as restrooms. This practice, although common here is unsanitary. The oblates here are very thankful that they will finally have restrooms for parishioners. 

For our part,  we have painted the second coat of brown paint today in the interior of the rooms,  and dark green on the exterior. 

This evening,  we are set to meet the youth of the parish and then  participate in the evening rosary devotion. Tomorrow Sunday,  day of the Lord, we will travel to an outstation for Holy Mass.

As I am finishing this blog,  we are getting some rest, in order to finish another portion of the painting. 

Praised Be Jesus-Christ. 

A tale of two cities?

Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, depicts the struggles of the French proletarians, who were subjugated by a powerful and wealthy bourgeoisie, in the period leading to the French revolution. While the revolution has come to pass, two centuries already, similar circumstances are observed in the world, especially here in Zambia, where our mission immersion experience is enfolding.

A closer look at structures in Zambia portrays a sad reality; that of social and economic injustice. On one hand, the authorities, whether political or traditional; and on the other hand, the peoples. Considering the fact that I myself have not lived here for a long time, nor have I interacted much with the locals, most of what I will write here will come from accounts from Fr, Jim Chambers, OMI, personal readings, and other oblates priests who are native to the land.

Two cities: the poor, and the rich; Two cultures: the westerners or pseudo-westerners and the traditionalists. Two classes: The AIDS survivors with their descendants and the healthy ones. experience is that there is a great divide in the cities of Zambia. This divide is fundamentally manifested in the possession of wealth, or the lack thereof. Like it is the case in most African countries, the commonwealth is unjustly divided among the people of the land. I saw people driving latest model  automobiles, that the average worker is unable to afford, even in the wealthiest nations. Simultaneously, there are those who do not have access to clean water, which is the source and sustainability of all lives. Charles Dickens, in his novel A Tale of Two cities, may have written about a problem of his time, but I think he was a prophet, for the realities of the cities of Zambia could be found verbatim in this great novel.

While my assessment of Zambia through “A Tale of Two Cities” may be narrow, I think there is something deeper to be found here, which applies to all nations. Every society seems to suffers of this injustice: social discrimination, which can be manifested in all forms.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from my observations, it is to care and to act. Although Charles Dickens presumed that the divide between the poor and the rich will necessarily lead to revolution, I differ in this position. I believe in the care approach which Christ himself recommended. There will always be social disparities in this world; this must impel us to act while keeping in mind that we will never eradicate injustices.

In the words of Christ himself: “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.” Mark 17: 7.

The Mission Experience thus far.

Today is the seventh day since we arrived in Zambia. We have been truly occupied with the experience. Thus far, my experience of this mission immersion is enriching. In this blog I would like to share the experience of the past few days, during which we did intense traveling in automobile. Firstly, we drove from Lusaka to Mongu, then from Mongu to Kalabo, and then from Mongu to Shangombo, where I am currently posting from.

Besides the rugged terrains which make traveling hard, our experience in the communities we visit seem to be worth the effort.

Since we arrived, we have been staying at the prenovitiate residence in Lusaka. The place is nice and very accommodating. This “luxury” was only temporary; in the words of Fr. Jim Chambers, OMI, we were only being acclimated, for the true mission was yet to come. It indeed came. It took us approximately eight (08) hours to drive to Mongu after a transmission issue with the minivan we are using. The combination of bumpy roads, and the three-hours wait for car repair taught me patience; For the six years that I have spent living in the US, I noticed that this virtue is rare, within the busy, overly planned and scheduled routine of the American culture. There is certainly something valuable to be learn from unplanned occurrences. I realized somebody else is in control of this thing, we call ‘time.’

Our next trip took us to Kalabo, a remote district where the oblates have outstations. The road to this location is extremely sandy and required a 4WD truck. When we arrived at Kalabo, the youth of the village received us with traditional songs of welcome. The songs, were accompanied with traditional African musical instruments such as drums, and clapping… we felt welcome. Having grown up in Africa, I can certainly confirm that hospitality is one of the values of this land. Strangers become part of the community once they have arrived. This value is even found and recommended in scriptures.

Finally, we drove to Shangombo, which was the most tiring of our journeys so far. Fr. Pius who is one of the community member at the Shangombo Mission Centre drove halfway to meet us, since his truck is more fitting for the driving conditions. The way to Shangombo is made of small villages of farmers, shepherds… the people happily waved at us as we drove by. Shangombo Mission Centre is right on the border with Angola. In fact, the zone where we are residing was once a refugee camp for those who fled the Angolan civil war. According to Fr. Pius, OMI, the Shangombo population is mixed with Angolans and Zambians. The Angolans brought their rich heritage of the catholic faith as taught by Portuguese missionaries. the catholic community is very alive in the words of Fr. Pius.

Today, Brian, Mike and I took approximately three miles hike though the winding paths of Shangombo. Shangombo is a beautiful country with little development. The sense of space and time is notable. In the coming days, we will be paintings the restrooms in contruction for the parish – St. Leopold- We are excitingly the experience here till we leave next Wednesday.