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.