I happened to work with a young deacon on mission during the holidays in the year 2017. One day at table, the deacon asked me a question: “Fr. looking at the kind of mission entrusted to you, which comes with a lot of challenges, what gives you joy on this mission”? I shared some of my experiences with him in order to answer his question. That is what I would like to share with you briefly in this article.
One thing we must acknowledge at the onset is the fact that every mission has its challenges, joy and motivation. My first appointment as a missionary priest is to the “Christ Roi de l’Univers” parish (Christ the King of the Univers). The parish is located in Doba village with 19 out stations in the Diocese of San-Pedro (about 93km from San-Pedro), in the southwestern part of Cote d’Ivoire. It is a mission in a rural area, which we usually term, ‘primary evangelization’. The population is made up of the Bakoués, Baoulés, Agnis, Senoufos, Abrons, Goursis and the Lobis. In addition to these, there are people from other countries such as the Burkinabés who make up majority of the population. Then there are the Beninois, Malians, Togolese, Nigerians, and Ghanaians. While there are large scale farmers who have cocoa, rubber and coffee plantations amongst them, the others are small scale cassava, yam and rice farmers.
The educational level of the majority of the people is mostly primary education. For this reason, the most spoken language is not French but the various local dialects. Only a few people can read, understand and express themselves in French. It is obvious then that communication is one of the challenges we face as workers in that area when interacting with the people. This often calls for the learning of at least one of the local dialects on our part in order to function well in performing our duties.
Another challenge is transportation into the villages (out-outstations) for pastoral. Some of the villages are very far from the main parish; the nearest village is about 7km while others are more than 55km away. For our pastoral work, the means of transportation is motor bike. Plying the roads to these villages is very difficult especially during the raining season when the roads, most especially the hills become slippery. Often, we journey through cocoa and rubber plantations, through mushy valleys where rice is cultivated, and by crossing wobbly bridges that are made of woods.
Sometimes, due to the nature of the roads, we get involved in accidents with the motor bikes and incur various degrees of injuries even as we go to and fro to minister to the people. Other times, the motor bikes break down far from home and one is not even near to one’s destination. One may find no one around at that moment to help one out. Having done one’s best to fix the problem to no avail, what one usually resorts to is to push the motor bike to the nearest village where one can get a mechanic to fix it. Only then can one continue one’s journey. This makes us spend hours; over 3 hours sometimes, on our way going to do the pastoral. Also, we do spend some days (3-5 days) in these villages before going back to the main parish.
These are only some of the many challenges that one is likely to face in fulfilling the mission at hand in our part of that country. This is so stressful that most of the times when you are preparing yourself to go to pastoral, you feel discouraged while imagining the kind of routes you are going to take and the hours it will take to get there.
But you may be surprised that having spent some hours on the road, you will still find the people waiting eagerly for you when you arrive in these villages. And it is not always easy for them to wait for a visiting priest but they acknowledge some of the challenges that we are likely to face when coming to them and they patiently wait.
They wait as if they were empty interiorly in the desert yearning for a spiritual food and water, as the psalmist will say: God, you are my God, I pine for you; my heart thirst for you, my body longs for you, as a land parched, dreary and waterless (Psalm 63). Some wait to be reconciled with God as St. Paul will invite us to do (cf. 2Co 5:20). Others wait to be healed by the Anointing of the sick as proposed by St. James (cf. Jm 5: 14). They wait because some of them stay for weeks, months (two-three months) to receive the sacraments. In waiting, they appear to be the poor who need the Good News that our Lord Jesus was referring to: The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor … (Lk 4:18ff). We therefore served these faithful through sharing the Word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation (confession), and Anointing of the sick, etc.
At the end of the mass or the pastoral, you realize a kind of satisfaction through their verbal and facial expressions. They express their gratitude and happiness for your presence in their midst when they approach you. Certainly, they will be happy since their spiritual needs have been attended to.
Anytime, at the end of my pastoral service, I see these people happy, it gives me joy. Their satisfaction gives me joy because at that moment, I feel that the mission of our Lord is accomplished through his servant that I am. This is where I find my joy and I am motivated to attend to them whenever the opportunity comes despite all challenges.
My point in this brief article is that we can find joy in services that we render to people not only in the gifts such as clothes, shoes, or money we may receive from them but also we can find our joy when those who need our services are served well and are satisfied.
By Rev. Fr. Divine Ahorsu, sma
(Mission of Doba, Cote d’Ivoire)
posted by: Mark