To discover the mission and take care of it is also to look at small faces and images that capture the immense joy of being a mission, in this case, among the GUMUZ. The Gumuz (inhabitants of the Benishangul-Gumuz region) are the people that God has destined to our CLM friends in Ethiopia as a place of mission and sharing. They went there to find love and today, in this video, we see a little (just a little…) of what missionary work is. The rest of what can be shared (and which is a lot) remains for a good conversation and listening to the testimony of these missionaries.
Among the novelties brought about by this sadly famous Covid-19 pandemic is that it does not give much room for charitable action or heroism in favour of others. In old times of plague, whoever chose to do so could dedicate himself totally to the plague-stricken even at the risk of his life. This was done by people who were later declared saints, such as Louis Gonzaga, King Louis of France or Daniel Comboni. But that’s now forbidden. We are in a super-organized society that acts according to scientific hygiene criteria, and what we are told is that the best way to help others is to stay at home to reduce the risks of contagion. However, there is always room for generosity, even in times of coronavirus.
I say all this from a corner of Africa where, thank God, the coronavirus has not “yet” arrived and where government measures of isolation are not as draconian as they have been in Europe. But we are still conditioned in many ways by the virus, which is like a sword of Damocles that hangs menacingly over our heads.
I live in the mission of Gilgel Beles, in Ethiopia, with two young Comboni lay missionaries, one Spanish and the other Portuguese, who arrived here a year ago. Nothing was known about the coronavirus at that time, and they came full of enthusiasm to do many things for others. They gave themselves without measure in services such as teaching everything they were capable of teaching, visiting the villages, taking the sick who fell in their path to the health center… They worked hard to make the most of the brief two-year period of their stay.
Then, unexpectedly, in the middle of the work, so to speak, came the coronavirus. Many organizations called on their members to return to the nation of origin. They too were called. If they stayed, it was their responsibility. And they did not hesitate in their choice: they remained “on their own responsibility”, even when the mother of one of them is awaiting a delicate cancer operation and even when they themselves are afflicted by continuous attacks of typhus and typhoid fever, which weaken both of them…
And here they are. As I said, it’s not that the containment measures are particularly harsh. The range of movement is still quite wide, at least as long as the first contagions don’t show up in our area.
However, the whole rhyme of the activities has suffered. With academic life totally paralyzed and meetings banned, they can no longer teach groups and the library that they had opened no longer has any customers.
Despite all these limitations, they try to resist to the limit. They have become attached to these people and, although they cannot do many things “for them”, they can be “with them”. And they feel that the simple presence in these moments of tribulation is a value that in itself justifies both coming and staying as long as possible.
I would like to tell you about how God works when Satan tries to destroy on the example of my mission.
As we know, coronavirus is slowly reaching everywhere. Some people believe that God wants to punish the world for sins or has sent a plague on us to convert us. I do not believe that. However, I believe that God can bring good out of every evil. The epidemic obviously destroys, kills and is generally bad, but I think everyone will admit that it also has many advantages – it unites us, rebuilds relationships in the family and more. We could definitely multiply the examples. And this is God’s work. Not the epidemic, but all the good that came from it.
The coronavirus reaching Ethiopia pushed us to action. Last year, I founded “Barkot” Children of Ethiopia Foundation. Together with my husband, we have been running a children’s center in Awassa since October last year. The project assumes the gradual rehabilitation of children and the pursuit of their reintegration into family and society. From the beginning we run open activities to which we were inviting street children. We hired a few employees who were going out into the street to encourage them to participate in it. And in fact a lot of them came from the beginning. We organized recreational, sports, educational, psychological, artistic and other classes.
The next step was to choose regular participants, contact their families and extend the program especially for them, including meals. The third step was to receive the most persistent ones into the center with full accommodation, to prepare them directly for returning home and to school.
But … there was always a but. We were worried whether we would have enough funds for this. In addition, I went to Poland to give birth to our daughter. Except of working for our organization, my husband has another job and, apart from coordinating the work of the center, he could not sit there constantly. In addition, he was going to Poland for a month. So we waited until I returned to Ethiopia. Then more problems – sometimes the police catch the street children at night and place them in collective shelters. If we start the second step, it is not known if our children will disappear overnight (which unfortunately has already happened). Our budget still seemed insufficient to provide some stability for a long time. So how could we work? I noticed that even among the employees there was a certain resignation, lack of motivation, they did not work with such commitment as at the beginning …
And finally the coronavirus appeared in the country. The government closed schools and began to introduce restrictions. For us, conducting classes for children coming directly from the street, especially from the most crowded places, all our activities were put into question. Many organizations stopped working. What to do? Shall we close the center until it’s all over? Then we would have to pay the house rent and workers’ salaries. We would not avoid constant costs that are not so small.
Then we got the idea (I believe that it was from the Holy Spirit) to choose the children to whom we would give shelter during the epidemic. We started preparations, shopping, searching for funds via the Internet. We have become active on Facebook, people have started to be interested in us again and make donations. We have already received seven boys and of course we do not want to keep them only in the center, but work with them so that after some time they can return to their families and start school. Everyone has regained their willingness to work. We have set weekly program and specific plans on what to do with children. A positive change can already be seen from our boys. In total, we are preparing to have ten of them. The coronavirus was still not found in Awassa (and we hope it won’t!)
We have overcome this transition step and I think it is better like this. We needed such an impulse as in this case coronavirus to trust God again that He will lead us and give us what we need to implement His plan. We don’t have money for a long time, but we believe in God’s action and human goodness. After all, our foundation is called “Barkot”, which in English means “He blesses it”.
I hope this e-mail will find you well. I hope the entire family is in good health.
Gratefully to God, I am well.
I am beginning to feel the intense heat we have, almost always around 40 degrees over here. A heat that does not even begin to compare with the warmth I feel when I visit the families, play with the children or work with these wonderful people. Like St. Peter said, “how good it is to be here!” (Mt 17:4)
Here I am still involved with the library. By God’s grace and the generosity of some people, it was possible to buy some books for the library. This way, the students who come over have access to some basic textbooks. Two Portuguese ladies who visited here brought us calculators and other material. Often, I try to have school books and ball point pens to give to anyone who cannot afford them, but is interested in them. Always, if they are looking for a specific book, we try to buy it. Their time availability is not like mine. So, I find days with two or three people and others with 20. But, I understand. They are young and working in the fields, but also study, they have family and some with two or three children. Well, how can they find the time for the library. They truth is that they do and, when they come to study, there is silence. It makes me happy.
I keep up with a faithful group in English and computer classes. They like it. They want to learn and, even though I am not an expert, I am happy to teach them.
I also have a Bible study group in English, with four catechists. We read the Bible, then I explain the texts in English, meditate on them and sometime we watch religious videos in English. I am very happy with them.
I keep playing in the school which still hosts a refugee family. We bought a ball and this is enough to get the young together and enjoy some good times.
At least twice a week we go to the villages with the catechists, visiting families, playing with the children. These moments fill our hearts. To be with people is essential to our missionary vocation.
With the Comboni Missionaries we live with, we share Mass at 6:30 in the morning and an hour of Eucharistic adoration on Saturday. On Thursdays we go to the Comboni Sisters community and also with them we have Eucharistic adoration before supper. On Wednesdays, David and I have a community prayer.
Despite the work we have, it is the desire of the CLM, myself and David, my partner in the community, to start a new type of presence among the Gumuz. We are not the first CLM in Ethiopia, but we are the first to live among the Gumuz.
For this reason, we are visiting the communities, speaking with the people, analyzing the concrete situation of each village and family.
Unfortunately, the car we have does not allow for constant work. The roads are horrible and require a car in reasonable shape.
After a month, we stopped running games for the children in the villages because our car was at the mechanic, and this happens often. On top of that, we keep on paying for these repairs. We will need to buy a new car that will allow us to continue our work.
We also intend to build a house in one of the villages, near the people, and live there. Together with the house we will start working on projects. We are continuing with the project of setting up a children home for those who remain alone during the day, without adult supervision, plus a student residence to allow children to attend school who cannot go or need to cover over 30 km to get there. These are the projects we consider the most viable, if we take into account what we have analyzed and heard from the young ones and the adults.
Unfortunately, we need money to do all this. For this I ask for your prayers that we may do the will of God with these people. If you know of any NGO that finances this type of project, please tell us. Everything help, even a little bit, and is valued by God. And since I know that I am not here alone, I am sure you are with me!
At time we face adversities, like typhus or typhoid fever, but I am happy to have been sent to this place where God already is with the people.
I have been in this beautiful place for almost a year! I have no doubt, It is a beautiful place! I am happy! I live a happy life! It does not mean that there is no suffering. It means that, despite all the obstacles, it is worth being here. It means that God gives us strength and gives us the means to do his will!
I keep you in my prayers, I feel your friendship around me, and I keep on learning that distance does not cut the ties, but makes them stronger, reminding me of the importance of your friendship and your love for me.
Hugs and kisses from this friend who loves you a lot,
To enter into a new culture is a trip that requires dedication and gradual knowledge. Not only in order to see the gray of the palette, but also and above all, to notice the various colors on the palette and dab with more strength the pinks, the greens, the blues, the yellows, the reds… It means to know how to appreciate things, like a little child curious to discover this world and the next, enriched by knowing how things work. Without judging. Always with new eyes. And this is difficult, especially when we have grown up, and carry our own luggage, our vices, our opinions on everything and much more stuff.
To enter into a new culture, the much heard of and blessed inculturation , also means making the most of the time we are in school with our fellow students of Amharic class and other languages, or the afternoons with the MCCJ (Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus), and common prayers, visits to museums, sharing food which is quite different over here and almost always with a touch of berber, a local specialty that makes everything very hot, and then the outings with the community to have an ice cream or a Coke (yes, even here you can have all this!)
To enter into the new culture is not only like imbibing from the cultural shock I mentioned in my last article, a shock that makes us come down from the mountain. It is also feeling thirsty in the midst of all this and climb the mountain again. Listen to it now, no matter what difficult it might be. This is what I am doing now, climbing a mountain. We were given two weeks of rest from our Amharic classes, while schools are closed for vacation, and so we had the chance to go to Benishangul-Gumuz for a week. That is where, God willing, we will start our mission in
September. We also started a week of retreat.
I am currently in this retreat. It is an important time for me, to renew myself, to climb the mountain and to speak with God. It is a time to pray over all that I lived in Benishangu-Gumuz.
What did I see there? I remember as it were now the day we visited the villages of this area, where only the Gumuz live, to offer our catechesis. We left home about 4:30 in the afternoon. I traveled in the back of the 4×4 in the open air, even though there was room inside, where it would have been much safer because at any time it could have started to rain very hard, which is typical of this time of the year because we are in the kremt gizê (Amharic for rainy season). But I preferred the view, because it is always unique. Travelling outside also gave me the opportunity to spend time with the Gumuz catechists we were meeting. I did not know that the back of the vehicle was going to fill up with them, but that is what happened, because on the way to one of the Gumuz villages we were gathering several the young catechists. I watched the young catechists talking and laughing among themselves in their language, the Gumuzinha (another one I will have to learn), so I could not understand anything! In my mind I built up stories and phrases in Amharic in an attempt to talk to them. They also speak Amharic, but not all the Gumuz do. These are catechists picked by the MCCJ because they can be a bridge between the missionaries and the Gumuz. Besides giving their catechesis the also are Amharic-Gumuzinga translators and are the intermediaries between the Gumuz and us.
I then gathered some courage and started to talk with one of the catechists. We exchanged a half a dozen sentences. I felt friendship and the realization that I am different. The Gumuz are very friendly. Unlike the common reaction of many other Ethiopians who, when they see us, call us Farengi (foreigners), the Gumuz meet us with a smile. They see us as friends who have not forgotten them and are protecting them. They are very dark, unlike the typical Ethiopians who are a shade of brown. This is also one of the reasons they are marginalized, because many people do not see them as “racially” Ethiopian.
At a certain point the catechists were dropped off at different homes. We got off the vehicle with them and started calling the young people and the children to attend the catechesis. A handshake and we looked straight into one another eyes… How did I enjoy sharing this gaze!
We called out to a lot of people, but not everyone came. They are still afraid to leave their homes, considering what happened in June, when they were attacked by the Amhara. Just the same, many catechumens attended in the darkness of the night and filled this home made of wood planks where we held the catechesis.
What I saw and lived that week in Benishangul-Gumuz awakened in me contrasting emotions. Among them ideas on projects to get started, but also fears and a feeling of inadequacy. And here, during this week of retreat, it was a time to regain my confidence, for the same reason that made me say Yes, the day he sent me, like Mary, “Here is the servant of the Lord. Let it be done according to your word.” Climbing the mountain, I realize that I am not able to accomplish the mission. I am not, and we are not. But we are not alone. Oh, to accept our human frailty, our weaknesses and our dependence from God’s love at times can be so difficult! Very often to be human means to seek control of our own life. But we are mistaken. Do not fool yourself, Carolina, you are not the owner of your life. It is God’s gift. Strangely, here during the retreat I lived the day of the Lord’s Transfiguration, making it personal. I prayed. I let (and still do) this transfiguration take place in me. In fact, all I need is “not to be afraid.” Because here, on this mountain, I once again accept God’s invitation: “Get up, look, cross over, follow me, just as you are… with fears, weaknesses, mistakes, but also with gifts. Accept yourself as I created you! Follow me!” And I follow.
And as I follow him I leave you with a tender hug. I ask you for a special prayer for the mission God wants us to establish there. That it may not be the result of our European ideas of mission, but rather the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because mission will never be our own. Mission belongs to God.
Your friend and Comboni Lay Missionary, Carolina Fiúza
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