On July 10, Dominican Sister of San Jose Gloria Marie Jones, OP left on the adventure of a lifetime. She is currently spending a little over two months with the Dominican Sisters of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Kenya. During this time, Sister Gloria is “engaging in an in depth analysis of our present reality,” asking what is in place and examining the challenges and opportunities we face in light of our call to live, share and pass on the Dominican charism (our unique spirit and life inspired by St. Dominic) to the next generation.
I have to admit this journey feels like a profound leap of faith! I have never engaged in a trip where I had no idea what to expect nor any specific information about the itinerary for my time in East Africa. I have been praying over God’s message to Abram to leave his home and go where God would take him. It definitely feels like a spiritual journey for me, and in truth, it is a journey stretching my comfort zone and capacity for dealing with uncertainty and fear.
Thus far, my days have brought me face-to-face with the complexities and contradictions of this land.
On the way from the airport my first night, there were cars stopped on the side of the road. When I inquired what was happening, the Sisters reported that it was just the police trying to make money. They were pulling over cars and fabricating offenses to raise money, a practice that started in January. Two days later, the headline in the newspaper reported that the police department had taken in 14 million dollars (US) over the 6 months. (There was a call to audit the police department!)
In the midst of this and many other abuses of power, the people are struggling under economic distress on every level. Violence and unrest continues to rise. I was struck by a huge sign in front of the court house someone had posted: You can’t buy justice. Don’t pay.
The municipality does not provide water nor electricity so everyone is dependent on securing these necessities wherever/however they can. The infrastructure of the country has collapsed. Roads have not been fixed. A common experience was to see someone in the street trying to fix a pot hole with a sign standing next to him– “help please.” He was seeking some recompense for his efforts.
In the midst of this political unrest and social unraveling, there is a high rise in pentecostal individuals/groups who are promising the sky and enticing Christians to leave their faith and follow them. It is another form of oppression and abuse.
Perhaps the scarcity the people experience on a daily basis has created a heightened sense of care for Mother Earth. Water is scarce and greatly valued. Solar energy is depended on. Vegetable gardens are evident wherever some small patch of land is available. It is all a way of survival.
AND in the midst of all of this there is the experience of the Dominican Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus–the amazing women I am living with these days– a congregation having a very similar history to our own. In the late 1800s they began a children’s home which continues to this day with close to 200 orphan children from early childhood through 18 years old. (The boys leave after age 12).
They also began a home for deaf children which today cares for 145 boarding children. An additional 200 day children attend the school for the deaf, which they also sponsor. An audiology center at the school provides all of the supports for testing and appropriate remediation where possible. The joy and beauty of the children, four years through twenty-two years old, deeply moved me!
As you can imagine the economic situation in the country is significantly impacting their ability to sustain these ministries. St. John’s and their other schools have no other source of income apart from tuition. And, in fact, the congregation is dependent on income from the schools for its survival! The constant challenges are matched by the Sisters’ ingenuity, determination and faith!
Besides these institutions, the sisters also have a co-ed high school, as well as hospitals and clinics in the rural areas. In the coming weeks, I will be visiting some of these sites as well.
The evenings are my time to spend with the sisters in community. Through art and storytelling, I invited the sisters to give expression to their experience of the Dominican charism and to identify the critical gift it has to offer our world in this current reality. The reflection was inspiring! These sisters, too, are facing serious questions regarding the sustainability of their institutions, shrinking local communities, living and working in many large, older buildings with significant upkeep needs, feeling stretched and in need of strong administrators for the institutions. How much we share! The significant difference is the critical level of need and the resources available to meet those needs.
I have a sense of God meeting me in the midst of all of it and leading me to some unknown new life. It is a graced journey for sure!
Follow Sister Gloria Marie’s journey on her blog.