AN ENCOUNTER WITH CHRIST IN THE SMALL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
July 3rd 2017 was a special day in a village in St. Jude, Fundong Parish. Members of St. Thomas the Apostle Small Christian Community prepared and assembled in a compound in their neighborhood to celebrate the feast of their patron saint with joy. Choir practice, clearing of compounds in the village, collecting and preparing food were done in time. Travelling to this village is not a walk in the park. It takes about an hour on a motorbike due to the hilly, slippery and rocky nature of its road. Since there was a heavy downpour the night before, I had to set off from the main station at 7.00 am and trek halfway in the following morning to join this SCC to celebrate their feast.
Soon after the arrival, celebration began by visiting all homes in this Small Christian Community, blessing them and praying for the sick. Homes in this village are scattered but linked by the rocky paths along the foot of long hills. It was impressive to meet families living a very simple lifestyle, united by love and drawing their strength from the value of hard farm work. Neither electricity nor solar source of power can be found in these homes. The gift of rains and fertile soil are precious to the inhabitants of this village. Through hard farm work, women plant corn which produce a good harvest for their survival.
Although visiting their homes provided a precious chance for blessing their farm produce, it also enabled me to witness and experience the effects of poverty in this village. I felt very helpless when I met those who were seriously sick but had no way out to get better medical attention. There is no health centre or hospital in this village. Due to poverty, they turn to traditional healers and herbs but these have not improved their health. In spite of the hardship, they showed cheerful faces, not complaining, not begging. Where is the source of their cheerfulness? Probably, it flows from their acceptance of hardship and faith in God.
The joy which was expressed by members of St Thomas SCC in their various homes reached its climax in the celebration of the Eucharist in the last home. The entire SCC, a handful of members of the African Traditional Religion, the children and grandchildren of a 106 years old man assembled to celebrate the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle and to witness the baptism of their grandfather at a very advanced age. He longed for baptism for a long time but due to shortage of priests and the difficulty involved in trekking to homes in this area, no priest reached out to him for a long time. This compelled him to doubt if ever the day for him to be baptized would come. He lost his sight due to old age. However, when he heard of people gathering in his home and a foreigner shaking hands with him, his doubt began to drift away. The joy of meeting Christ dispelled his doubt. He was baptized during Mass and he felt that he did encounter Christ in the sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist and in the community of faith. The SCC in his area enabled him to meet Christ and the life of grace which flows from believing in him. His baptism on the feast of St. Thomas brought joy to him, his family, members of his SCC and adherents of African Traditional Religion in his village alike. They all danced in procession around him and congratulated him for receiving the sacrament of Baptism. He received a new name, Thomas Nyamsa.
After the mass, members of the SCC provided and distributed food for all. It was amazing to witness the Christian community and other members in their neighborhood assembling as a family to celebrate the love of God, manifested in His life giving Word, in the sacraments and witnessed through the life of St. Thomas the apostles. The Church in this “neighborhood” provided a humble opportunity for sharing the gift of life and the joy which flows from the generous response to the gospel. The joy which dispels the darkness of doubt and draws us to recognize the presence of Christ in different situations and times. Mr Thomas is an example.
Every Christian is a missionary through the sacrament of Baptism. Each missionary is a recipient, a channel and a witness of the joy of the gospel. Unpromising weather, poor roads, difficult topography and other factors may prevent us from receiving, sharing and witnessing the joy of the gospel in Small Christian Communities and in other ministries but whenever there is willingness and a generous response to it, there is happiness and fulfilment in the missionary call. I witnessed that joy through members of St. Thomas SCC and was humbled to be the channel of that joy through Baptizing Mr. Thomas at the age of 106. Though he cannot walk to the Church due to his age, he is very grateful to his SCC for enabling him to encounter Christ through the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Lawrence Dominic Otieno mhm