FROM GRASS TO GRACE.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH RECEPTIVE MISSIONARIES IN KARAMOJA.
As I write this article, I have just completed my first year examinations in the prestigious university named after the Ugandan Martyrs, the journey hasn’t been so smooth but through God’s grace I am grateful for bringing me this far. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Education. I am grateful to the many Mill Hill Missionaries, in a special way to Fr Ignatius Nshing MHM, for the dedication and commitment he has put in to see to it that I go through University. “Fr Ignatius has a passion for mission, and he has inspired me with that passion, he has an unwavering love for young people in Karamoja”.
I was born and raised in Mbikko, Jinja, both my parents where casual labourers’ in the new parish of Mbikko, when the late Fr Len Wiedemayr was still parish priest. When Fr Len was transferred to the remote diocese of Kotido to start his new mission, my mother and dad were invited to come assist him in his mission, my mother worked as a cook at the Bishop’s residence until when she resigned in 2012 due to ill health. My dad did construction work, like the building of schools, churches and parish houses. I arrived in Karamoja in 2004, at the age of seven, just the right time to start my primary studies. I was taken to study at St Daniel Comboni primary school, built by the Mill Hill Missionaries. I got to stay at the Bishop’s residence till 2008. In 2009 I went to stay at the now Good Shepherds’ Cathedral parish, where the late Fr Len was residing. While there, my dad and mum didn’t get along so well, our dad started to mistreat us, in 2010, when Fr Len was transferred to Loyoro parish, where he was later joined by Fr Phillip Adede MHM, the current Councilor for Africa. My dad restrained us one early morning when he tied my elder brother and me with ropes. He then pulled out an iron bar and started to beat us while drunk and frustrated. My mother and the neighbors were stopped from coming to help us since he locked us in a small room. We suffered too much pain and couldn’t sit or walk for weeks, my mother decided to report the matter to Fr Len who later informed Fr Adede when he had returned from holidays in Kenya.
Fr Len had to request for me to go and stay with him in Loyoro Parish. When the school time came, I was taken to a Boarding school, my elder brother, left home and went to stay with his friends on the streets. When I joined Secondary school, my dad refused to pay my tuition and to give us any assistance. This prompted my mother to meet Fr Len who later dedicated himself to pay for me and my brother, and by this time Fr Len had been transferred to Panyangara Parish. Fr Len had unwavering love to help, those who had an encounter with him can always testify to his big heart for the suffering, hungry, elderly, and vulnerable children. When we returned for our first holiday, we found our mother had returned home to Kapchorwa without us knowing, our dad was no more with us, the then parish priest the late Fr Larigo Koriang, asked us to leave the house my mother and dad were staying, since they wanted to rent it out. My brother went to start seeking shelter on the street looking for survival. I also went to stay with him during day, just to find something to eat and later in the evenings return to sleep with my friends.
At this point I started to fill a void inside of me, I would cry and pray that maybe one day I would find a place I would call home. Being abandoned at an early age is quite disheartening, but there is a common thread that kept me alive in the process and that is perseverance through prayer. I got inspired by these verse in the book of Romans, ROM, 8:28 “All things work together for good for those who love God”. I managed to stay with my friends on the street for the next four years. When Fr Len left for his retirement in Absam, Austria, I went and met Fr Sylvester Odhiambo MHM, who had been so passionate about helping academically disadvantaged students to go through school and to improve their livelihood. He supported me by giving me textbooks that I used to pass my Ordinary level. The departure of Fr Len brought more setbacks in my education and life, I started to face another challenge with tuition. I was in my last year of form four in 2015, so I had to go and explain to my headteacher to allow me to be in school which he allowed but feeding was left on me. Since I had been denied food due to tuition constraints, I had no were else to go but to return to Fr Sylvester. I explained to him the issue at hand and he immediately came to lend a helping hand. Vividly speaking at the General Chapter, during his opening remarks this year in May, Fr Michael Corcoran MHM, captivated me more with these words as regards to the nature of mission, where he had this to say.
“Such an urgent mission requires personal and communal conversion opening our hearts to interpret the signs of the times and to be receptive to the appeals of hope and peace of needy humanity”.
In the year 2016, I started my Advanced level in the same school since I had performed so well and was granted a bursary. I joined very late since I had no money to purchase the necessary stationary material I needed to start with school. When I heard that Fr Sylvester had returned from Kenya where he had gone for elections, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and started on foot to Panyangara, filled with the hope that he would support me to return to school. I later started staying in Panyangara Parish for my holidays. Fr Sylvester would also visit once in a while during term times to check on my progress in school. In 2017, I was faced with another storm in my life which affected me psychologically till today, the wounds are still fresh in my mind, and I lost meaning for being. I sat my examinations and I performed well to join University, that same year Fr Sylvester was being transferred and he was to leave for Ireland for his sabbatical in July 2018, my future became shuttered and blurred, I lost hope, had nowhere to go or stay, so I had to return to Jinja to stay with my grandmother who worked as a cook of Fr Len for many years. My grandmother was so passionate about my love for education, she tried to talk to a few Mill hillers in Jinja but they couldn’t do much, this prompted her to advise me to return to Karamoja
I later had to return to Karamoja and stayed in Nakapelimoru an outstation of Panyangara Parish, where initially I was staying together with Fr Sylvester in the new parish house, but this time I was staying with a friend at their home, I felt so attached to this family till date. While here, I had texted Fr Ignatius in the middle of 2019, about my challenge to continue with school, so he asked me to come and we have a talk. He was very caring and listened to my appeals in good faith, he offered to support me through advanced level again if I agreed. I immediately told him I wanted to go in the second term. He then gave me money that I used to travel to Karenga district. I got admission and only to return to find out that he had travelled to Manila, Philippines for a ten days retreat. My hopes to see a black board again came to life. Studying in Karamoja comes with much resilience and endurance, life in this part of the world is so hard that even finding a drop of water you have to travel long distances. I completed my advanced level for the second time in April 2021.
I later spent a full year home due to COVID-19. In January this year, and I was admitted to Uganda Martyrs University. The Parish of Panyangara under the care of Fr Ignatius Nshing MHM, has been supporting me with tuition and hostel fees. Mid this year, the country experienced a serious famine and the prices of goods and services skyrocketed caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I couldn’t get access to food, I tried to get help from the many friends I had made in Karamoja and they supported me through. In the month of August, Fr Ignatius asked me to go and spend time with my mum in Kapchorwa district. When my relative heard about my visitation, they said I had brought more burdens home. My dad’s stepmother and her daughter-in-law poisoned me to near death, I vomited all night and had a running stomach, early the next morning, they thought I had died only to greet and ask me how my night was, I told them I wasn’t feeling so well. I had to leave and go get treatment that same day in Mbale district. My mother is so vulnerable ever since she contracted HIV/AIDS, in Karamoja through my dad, she has never been herself since then. She lives in her small house which she constructed while she was still working in Karamoja.
Today I write with much affliction and anguish of heart, to express my gratitude to the many prayers and assistance granted to me and the many others by this great missionary association. I want to commit to be a living example, testimony, and a true witness to the works of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Karamoja. That my story too may inspire hope to the many suffering and downtrodden young people around the world, to be resilient, persistent, and meditative in life. I am hopeful that after my studies I want to give back to the Mill Hill community in Cameroon, Kenya, and the DRC as a teacher, this is what I find fulfilling in my life, raising others up and walking with them in their suffering.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the late Fr Len Wiedemayr, Fr Ignatius Nshing, Fr Sylvester Odhiambo, Corry van den Bosch MHM, Fr Mark Owor, Fr Phillip Adede, Fr Hastie Gerry, Fr Charles Okata and the many Millhillers who I have had the opportunity to encounter, and to learn from. Indeed God is proud of your works in his vineyard. To me missionaries that work in Karamoja are tried and tested missionaries, indeed, we are so grateful to God for the gift of the Millhillers in this part of the world. To the Fr Gerry Hastie and Fr Phillip Adede, congratulations upon your new positions in the General Council. To Fr Ignatius, I love you so much, I promise to be an example of your altruistic (selfless) life to service. To all the mill hill missionaries “virtute et sapientia duc mundum” are my words for you.
Loving service, lived more faithfully.
MAKOBA MATHIAS SILIGI.
(Panyangara parish, Kotido diocese)