Have you ever had such an onrush of new experiences that it seems impossible to sort out? I am in the midst of an explosion of new sights, sounds, people, prayer experiences, food, culture, and languages. I have been in the Diocese of Meru, Kenya since the middle of January, which has been both overwhelming and exhilarating. I am here with a small group of people who are part of an organization called the “Friends of Kenyan Orphans.”
During recent weeks, 160 new students arrived at St. Clare School for Girls. There are now 360 girls living and attending classes at the school located in the Children’s Village in Meru, Kenya. The new building construction, shown above, is made possible because of fundraising efforts of Friends of Kenyan Orphans. Learn more about this effort at www.friendsofkenyanorphans.org
Sue and Bud Ozar who spent two years here in Meru with the Los Angeles Lay Mission Helpers began this group. While here Bud worked for the Bishop of Meru developing the diocese’s stewardship and fundraising capabilities while Sue was a teacher and counselor at the Children’s Village which includes a boy’s school and residence for about 350 boys, St. Francis School, and a girl’s school, and residence, St. Clare, for 360 girls. Over 165 of these girls are new arrivals from Samburu, a northern region of Kenya, in which orphaned girls have little chance at a decent life.
All of these children are orphans, abandoned, abused, hungry and some are addicted to sniffing glue and other very problematic behaviors. The children are as young as four years of age up to the late teens. The Rev. Francis Limo Riwa, a diocesan priest, who began with eight boys and now has over 700, founded the Children’s Village. He will bring in more children as soon as he can build more space to house and school them. These children have had tragic lives and yet their resiliency and desire to learn are an inspiration. There is a joy here with laughter, singing and dancing everywhere that seems impossible to believe when you listen to their stories.
I have been engaged in two kinds of activities since I have been here. Dr. Glenda Pryce, President Emerita of Marygrove College in Detroit and I did three workshops for the priests of the diocese, school administrators and lay parish leaders on “Healthy Church Leadership.” I also assisted Sue Ozar in two workshops for the teachers at the Children’s Village in Classroom Management. The rest of my time has been with the girls at St. Clare in small groups tutoring English.
I can’t let this opportunity go by without commenting on my experience of Church and liturgy. The priests are focused on meeting the basic physical and spiritual needs of their parishioners. They work on bringing water to their people, providing schools and health care and giving everyone the opportunity for catechesis and sacraments. There are 65 parishes and each of those parishes has between five and 25 prayer houses or missions. Bishop Mugambi is committed to getting to each parish and each prayer house as much as possible. The roads are mostly unpaved and very rough. Many require a four-wheel drive vehicle for navigation to these missions. The liturgy and music are very prayerful and very culturally embedded. Most of the singing is in Swahili with incredible harmonies and vigor.
This has been a blessed time for me and helps me to reflect on my life as part of the Church of Chicago. I welcome your comments and questions.