Interview with an African missionary in Japan
Myazaki, Japan, 11 January 2022 --
Tell us something about your journey of faith?
My vocation and missionary discernment have one thing in common, they are both based on the same source or rather they developed parallel to each other. I am saying so because, far before setting my foot in a seminary, when I had already felt that God was calling me to serve Him as a religious, the desire of being a missionary was already born within me. I grew up in an environment surrounded by missionary congregations, let alone the fact that my own parish was run by Comboni Missionaries. I grew up knowing Benedictine’s missionaries, Augustinian missionaries and Mother Teresa missionaries.
Being brought up in a staunch Catholic background, my father a catechist and my mother worked as a cook in the parish for the priests, I had the inclination of one day becoming a priest following the example set by those missionaries that I came across from different countries. Seeing them struggle with the culture and ultimately embracing it and living it with ease and joy was a great source of inspiration to me.
Working towards realizing this goal, I found myself joining many groups in the church which not only helped me to be more active in the church activities but it was thanks to them, I spent almost all my childhood and early adulthood in the church’s environment before joining the Salesians. I was an altar boy, animator of the oratory, Legion of Mary member, vocation group and a youth group member. All these I did with a lot of commitment and enthusiasm. At high school I was a member of the Young Christian Society (YCS). In it we used to have functions that would help me mingle with other youths and share ideas on faith and how to live a better life as teenagers.
And discernment of your missionary vocation?
I joined the Salesians on 24 April 2010 and was welcomed by Fr. Simon Asira as my first rector, and other Salesians who were in Embu, Nairobi, Kenya. I did my aspirantate for two years after which I joined the pre-novitiate in Bosco Boys, Kuwinda-Kenya and then novitiate in Morogoro, Tanzania. I had been communicating with my respective rectors on my vocation and missionary discernment. In my second year of post-novitiate, while doing my philosophical studies in Moshi, Tanzania, is when my rector, Fr. Augustine Sellam, gave me the go ahead to write my application to the Rector Major expressing my desire to offer my life as a missionary ad gentes. It was after completing my philosophical studies the following year in June that I received a surprising email from the Rector Major that I will be joining the province of Japan. I must admit that this is the biggest surprise that has ever happened in my life so far. With much prayer and consultation from my confreres, I embarked on a journey to Rome on August 27, 2017 for the 148th missionary expedition. I spent three months in Rome then went directly to Japan on November 21 without coming back to Kenya as I was expecting.
Are you still supported by your mother province, AFE?
My mother province will always remain in my heart not merely because it is my mother province but mostly because of the initial formation that she has imparted to me. The province that has made me the Salesian that I am now, and I have not stopped asking for guidance and assistance whenever I feel stranded and no one in my vicinity is available to offer the help that I need. That brotherly warmth and togetherness I miss so much. Not that where I am I don’t feel welcomed but there is a special way that my mother province conducts her dealings that makes one feel comfortable carrying on one's duty and find ease in living one's vocation. This is mostly seen when visiting different communities. Confreres are ready to sacrifice their time out of their busy program to ensure a visitor feels at home.
At the mission level I appreciated in my home province especially the professionalism of youth ministry in the schools, colleges and in the sector of social communication. In this way the province can reach the young where they are and build a strong and effective growth of the charism.
Can you present your home province?
Now it is almost five years outside and I know many things have changed since the day I left. Tanzania is slowly becoming another province (NB: AFE is now composed of 4 countries: Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania with 230 SDB). This is surely a sign of charismatic growth that will also bring the advantage of better animation and government. AFE province is flourishing in vocations but in Kenya our communities are not yet well balanced - concentrated only in the central and eastern part of the country with only two communities in the northern part. Three are 11 houses in Tanzania, 11 houses in Kenya, 5 houses in South Sudan and 3 in Sudan. This year the province is blessed with 15 novices.
What is your Missionary Experience in Japan?
In these four years that I have experienced as a missionary I can’t say that missionary life is either easy or difficult. Yes, Salesian spirituality is one and the same all over the world. So it’s easier to enter into the culture of the young whom we are sent to and wherever we are sent, albeit challenging.
Upon my arrival in Japan, I spent one year in Tokyo - Chofu community. During that time I was assigned to a group of Filipinos animated by Fr. Gandhi, who was then studying in Japan from India. With them we had a meeting every Saturday evening where we could share the Word of God, pray the Rosary and have Adoration. Then after three months Fr. Gandhi went back to India, and I was left to animate the group for the entire year. Alongside this group, I also joined the Oratory on Sundays. Here it was a nice experience working with lay people of Japan. It was an opportunity to practise the language as I mingled with the children and the parents who were really welcoming and couldn’t hide their happiness for my presence in their midst.
After completing one year in Tokyo I was sent to Yokkaichi Junior Aspirantate to begin my practical training. Our Aspirants there are high school students with the aim of joining the congregation once they graduate from their senior high school. It was an enriching experience being with them and doing different activities together. Since they are treated as aspirants, they live our life of prayer as Salesians joining in morning and evening prayers, adoration, recitation of the rosary and daily mass. We enjoyed various sports together and we had numerous outings to refresh our minds and change the environment. Before the pandemic we could go to different parishes for catechesis classes which they would animate prior to them being prepared in the community. Once a week I had English class with them.
Currently I am in Miyazaki, the first Salesian house in Japan (1926), located in the southern island of Kyushu, with a Salesian junior and senior high school (Hyuga Gakkuin). Apart from assisting in English classes, I join the club's activities in the evening, playing soccer with them twice a week and basketball once a week. On Sundays I join the parish run by diocesan for mass and Sunday school.