The long years of studies and pastoral experiences are now over and mission calls me to engage. After my Perpetual Missionary oath and Diaconate Ordination in October 2020, I waited for the appointment which finally came out and I was appointed to Loyoro Parish, Kotido diocese in Uganda. New to me as I have never been to Uganda not to talk of Kotido. I had no idea where these places were, but I was anxious to get there and experience everything as new and meet the people.
For a while now, I have been reading a book entitled “Surprised by Truth” edited by Patrick Madrid which gathers a series of experiences from different scholars who converted to Catholicism and each of their experiences is very unique and intriguing. So too I waited to be “surprised by the reality of mission” in Loyoro parish.
May 25th 2021 saw the successful, unique and massively attended ordination of myself, Mufua Leonard and Peter Ntein Yong in Fuli parish where I grew up. Two and a half months after my ordination, mission called. Thirsty for mission, anxious as I was and enthusiastic, I left Douala international airport for Entebbe on 16th August and I arrived early morning of 17th August at Entebbe international airport and was received by James, a driver who was sent by the team in Uganda. Sadly, for me, I fell ill in the first three days when I arrived and God being merciful, I got well and moved to Jinja where I spent one full week in the formation house which for me was a beautiful experience. During the week in Jinja, I moved around, relaxed and rested well. The team in the formation house provided a very peaceful, harmonious and a restful and relaxed environment for me.
After a week, I began the journey to Kotido in the very early hours of August 27th. The journey lasted for about 10hrs in an old bus with loose windows clashing at each other and making unending noise. The roads were as dusty as might be expected given they are untarmacked but they have been taken care of from time to time, so the bus could move at the speed of 90 to 100km/hr. It was a long journey as such for my first time in a country I am new to, sharing a seat with no one, I wondered within myself as I asked unanswered questions within myself, the nature of the houses, the dressing of the people, the kind of foodstuff sold along the road, the nature of churches and I wondered what my own destination will be like, how about the people, how about the culture and the food. These questions occupied my mind and yet I could smile sometimes.
Finally we arrived in Kotido town, a small town in the middle of a seemingly desert area. Though it was 5pm and the sun still harsh, people were going around focused on their daily occupations. I could see happy kids running around and some young men struggling to get some money for themselves in the form of bike riding, truck pushing, and petty businesses of selling water and “mandazi”. I smiled from the deep and told myself that there was life here. I called Andrew who was to pick me up and within no time he was there. Smiles, though tired, I was happy that I was not left to find my way and best of it all, without fear of covid-19, we exchanged a hug and some few words of welcome and then we were off to Loyoro, another hour’s journey.
Driving through the forest and the long stretches of the road, I found it fun and unique given I was from a country where one can barely find a long stretch of 100 meters of road which is not interrupted with bends, valleys and hills. So everything here was unique. Stories, stories, stories and excitement as I wondered within myself how and when I would see the people. About 600 metres into the parish, we met with several kids who had spread themselves on the road waiting to welcome Fr Leonard into the parish. I greeted them in English and they replied with smiles. I had to get off the car and walk the rest of the distance with them into the church compound and they were singing “aaalakaros alakaros” and jumping here and there as I walked quietly behind them with unceasing smiles and joy in my heart.
When they entered the church compound, they went round the church and then stood in front of the church, then asked me to go into the church. When I stepped into the church, they all followed chanting songs of joy and welcome. This for me was a unique experience, letting me to go in first as their leader in faith communicated a very strong and powerful message to me to stay awake because I have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of Christ. I was filled with emotion, tears of joy fell down my cheek especially with this gesture of the people. It was a very beautiful ceremony which ended with final blessings where Andrew asked me to bless them all after which they led me with songs again into the presbytery.
From this very reception, I knew now that I wasn’t the same person I used to be before, I knew that I had a bigger responsibility to exercise and I began to feel the weight and meaning of the priesthood. As I reflected on these events, I heard the voice of Mary, mother of God whisper quietly into my ears; “Do whatever He tells You”. These words consoled me. It is the Mission of Christ and I fully depend on Him for guidance and protection for he has called me to “Love and to Serve”. Throughout the month of September, Andrew had organised to introduce me to the various chapels around the parish and this went so beautifully, I felt loved and accepted by the people, I felt at home and more enthusiastic to be part of the Christian community. Gratitude to Fr Andrew for organising for my warm welcome and for giving me a harmonious environment to settle down. Blessings!
Leonard Mufua mhm