Welcome to Zambia

My name is Br Martin. I am a Capuchin Franciscan Student from Ireland and have just embarked on a four month mission experience in our Vice Province of Zambia. I will be keeping log of my progress and experiences on this blog over the next four months...you are most welcome to keep me company along the way

Friday, March 30, 2012

You matter because.......

Hospice Website

A man passing a farmer, who was minding a field of 20 white sheep and 20 black sheep stopped to talk. After they exchanged greetings the rambler asked the farmer ‘which of the sheep eat the most grass every day?’ ‘The black sheep or the white sheep’, replied the farmer. ‘Mmmm, the white’ said the man. ‘The white sheep eat 10lbs of grass everyday’ said the farmer, ‘Oh, said the man, and what about the black one’s?’ he asked. ‘They eat 10lbs of grass as well’ said the farmer.

‘Well, how much wool do you get from a sheep?’ asked the rambler. ‘Which ones, the black sheep or the white sheep’ replied the farmer. ‘I don’t know, the black ones…’, said the rambler. ‘The black sheep produces about 2 bags of wool each year’, replied the farmer. ‘What about the other ones, the white sheep, what do they produce?’ asked the ever intrigued rambler. ‘Oh. They produce about 2 bags of wool each year too’, answered the farmer.

The rambler’s inquisitiveness got the better of him and he asked the farmer, ‘ why, when I ask a question do you ask if it’s the black sheep or white sheep and then go on to give the same answer for each?. ‘That’s easy’ said the farmer, ‘the black sheep are mine’. ‘And what about the others’ said the rambler hoping to get to the bottom of this, ’They’re mine too’ said the farmer!.

This is a story from Anthony De Mello and demonstrates how we divide when no division is needed at all. This week, I had the occasion to visit Kalinglinga Hospice (Our Lady’s Hospice) and it makes me recall the words of Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement that "You matter because you are you, and you matter to the last moment of your life’. For any of us who have spent any time in a hospice this attitude of inclusiveness, hope and life is palpable.

The Hospice at Kalinglinga, built in 1993 and run by the FMDM sisters, is a testament to ground breaking palliative care. But it is also much more than this. The patients that come to the hospice are generally suffering (and I don’t use this word lightly) from HIV / AIDS and are at various stages of the illness. There are three main sections to the hospice: an out-patient facility for monitoring and the distribution of ARV’s (Anti Retro Virals), the in-patient facility which serves as a short stay facility for those needing some intensive care and as an end of life facility and a training centre incorporating a Physio therapy clinic.

The buildings are welcoming, smiles abound and people are happy to see you. In a place like this people are united either by the effect disease has on their lives or in an attempt to combat this disease. There is no difference here, people are just people who need care, support and help. People are welcomed in the spirit of Dame Cicely and valued as individuals, with their own stories, fears, hopes, sadness and joys, all because they matter, just because they are who they are. 

My visit was an impromptu one so I didn’t have my camera so I have attached a link to their website.
Hospice care in Zambia in under increasing threat of closure, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They do a value and valiant job with little support. One other hospice very close to where I stay has closed this year because funding has been cut off which in turn cuts very sick people off from either residential or home care. I visited there once and to see the wards empty and beds lying idle was both eery and moving because it meant that people where dying in the compounds in very poor conditions.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The same, only different…

At home I never much thought about being different and, kind of, tended to see most people as the same, regardless of their colour, race etc. Now, I’m not trying to promote myself for any sort of humanitarian award…I just never really thought about it.

Coming to Africa, difference hit me right in my ‘not-the-same-as-everybody-else’ face. I was all of a sudden aware of difference in a most concentrated way. Walking anywhere I was aware of how  I resonated a different colour into this place, as if I had been dipped in some sort of bleach…..I stood out, whether I wanted to or not. We could ask if this means that we don’t have a choice in being different.

This experience of literally being able to feel the colour of my skin as I was walked round in it was, and continues to be, an extraordinary feeling. I began to feel that everybody was the same except me. At home I never noticed if I had skin or not, except when it rained and then I was usually thankful of it. But this is just obviously a superficial manifestation of my difference. I was also beginning to recognise that I was different at a deeper level. The way in which I processed what I absorbed from the world around me was different to the way the same information was being absorbed by somebody who wasn’t me. Of course this is true for all of us, in all situations but when the goldfish is taken from his bowl and plunged into the ocean, I am sure that stuff seems different.

But was I any different? Did I sound the same? Yes. Look the same? Pretty much. Was I recognisable when speaking to some body on the phone from home? Of course. But somehow I was the same but different and it was only by the experience of being placed in a situation which reflected this that I began to appreciate my differentness and, even, my uniqueness.

Why is this in any way either interesting or important? For the simple reason that in recognising my differentness I was able to, in some way, tune into the fact that the world doesn’t begin and end with my preconception of it, that the world in fact is an expansive, every changing series of experiences in which the differentness of each one is like a thread, woven into the tapestry we call life, by our shared experience of it. As I walk every face that passes me is, in some way, changed by mine and I in turn am changed by them, mostly, without ever saying a word.

When I return home I hope I can continue to see difference. But hang on, society tells us difference is bad, we should all be the same. Nonsense. We should all be respected for our uniqueness and difference but most definitely not encouraged to be the ‘same’. It’s our difference that enriches, colours, reflects and ultimately changes.

Here in the Friary, by recognising that the Brothers around me who I share this life experience with are different to me, to each other as, obviously, I am to all of them, I could begin to listen deeply to their extraordinary stories and they to mine, stories which I am sure we considered to be just the same. Stories which have changed me and shaped me and will continue to long after I leave this place.

Contemplating, appreciated, encouraging , caring for and respecting our difference is a deep hymn of thanksgiving to the Artist whose brush filled this world with the colourful strokes, of every shape and depth, that makes it home. It is in this multitude of difference and diversity that we are blended into the Divine Image we are called to recognise in ourselves and each other. May we always live our difference in respect for the difference of others.

Friday, March 2, 2012

You can't stay up there forever....!

On my first day as a student of Theology the head of the department said proudly, ‘Here we DO Theology!’. Great I thought, however I soon discovered that ‘doing theology’ still involved a lot of inevitable ‘studying theology’!

Since coming to Africa I have become interested in a branch of theology called ‘practical theology’, it’s probably best aligned to ‘Pastoral Theology’ in the Catholic expression of our faith.  It’s, as the name quite openly suggests, the practical application of theological theory. I suppose it could also be called ‘Applied Theology’ in the same way we have ‘Applied Social Sciences’ and ‘Applied Psychology’. Whatever it is, it is definitely ‘doing theology’.

The thing I have begun to notice about Practical Theology is that we are all really Practical Theologians. We are all called through our Baptism, in the Christian tradition, to make the spirit of Jesus Christ present in the world today in a real way and that’s what it’s all about. Now, I am not discrediting the academic branch of Practical Theology but rather to highlight that it is an expression of theology we are all involved in everyday as we engage with others with and open and compassionate heart, just as Christ himself did.
When our parents thought us to pray, where they not practical theologians? When a teacher thought us what was a good or bad thing to do, where they not practical theologians? When we serve others in our communities, neighbourhoods and families, putting their needs before our own, are we not practical theologians?

The Saints give us great examples of people who brought theology to life: St Francis of Assisi, St Don Bosco and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to name but three. These three giants of our tradition integrated the message of Christ and brought it to whoever they met: Francis tending the lepers, Don Bosco with poor children and Mother Teresa on the streets of Calcutta.

During my experience in Africa I have met countless people who are doing just the same. People who are practically becoming the hands, feet, ears and eyes of Christ, to paraphrase St Teresa of Avila. At home the same is being done every day in every community, family and home. We often do these things unaware of what we are doing and the trick is to begin to bring them into our consciousness so that when we do them, we can be conscious of our motivation as ‘Practical Theologians’ to be the hands, feet, eyes and ears of Christ.

We have all heard that we are all called to be Saints, for me this can seem a distant ideal. But I believe that we can begin, especially over Lent, to become more mindful and more aware of what we are doing, particularly when dealing with others. In doing this we begin to walk in faith with Jesus, begin to grow into the practical theologians we are called to be in this life and, you never know, we may even become Saints in the next life!

If we were to outline the model of practical theology what would it be? To outline the principles of practical theology, what would they be? The motivations behind practical theology, what would they be? There are countless answers and examples of this, the Gospels are just packed with them. I would like to briefly suggest on answer for each, that speaks to me.

A good model of practical theology for me comes in the form of Jesus coming down from Mount Tabor. Having experienced God the father and conversed with Him, Jesus knows he must return to those who await him at the base of the mountain. On coming down, I wonder how did Jesus see those we see around us today? The situations? The wars? The anger? and also the beauty and majesty of creation, the spark of which is in us all. To be a practical theologian in the world today is to endeavour, after being nourished by Christ’s Word and Body, to engage with the world that surrounds us, in such a way, that we see it and experience it as Jesus did when he came down from the mountain.

Some guiding principles to facilitate this move down from the mountain can be found in the words,’ I was hungry, you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink; I was naked, you clothed me; I was lonely and imprisoned, you came to visit me’ ().  Here we are presented with some practical instructions and, I am sure we would agree, good things to do. But moving upwards through the needs of a human being these commands begin to take on a new dimension and challenge us to come further down from our mountains and deeper into the waiting crowd.  What are people really thirsting for today? What makes them hungry, deep inside? What strips them? What forces them to be bound, imprisoned and lonely? The answers are many but the next question is for us, ‘Are we ready to be there for them, no matter what their answers to the above questions are, just as Christ was and is through us?’

The journey to Calvary wasn’t an easy one and the journey to be a practical theologian in today’s world can be just as difficult, if we take it seriously. People have given their lives doing this for centuries. So what can motivate us along the way? One suggestion comes in the form of the Beatitudes or Be-Attitudes to see them another way. Seeing all those around us as Blessed is to see them as children of God and therefore our very brothers and sisters. The Beatitudes call us to see the weakness of others as their strength and the poverty of others as their riches. They call us to be salt and light, adding genuine flavour to the lives of others and to the world, just as Jesus did and continues to do through us today.

So now I have to leave my room to walk the way of the cross with the other friars. Today, I will try to make each step a conscious steps bringing me down from whatever mountain I have put myself on into the world, to be the hands, feet, eyes and ears to Christ, to be a practical theologian.