Lenny Jilo is a teacher who runs six nutritional nurseries, providing meals and basic education for 237 children in Nariokotomo, Turkana, in northwest Kenya. She's been visiting London for the past two weeks with Scholastica Wamaluwa, a nurse in charge of the health programmes at the mission. In this essay Lenny writes about her life and work.
I was 19 years old when I first met the Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle. During a Eucharist celebration, that was when I began to understand God's immense love for us. I then realised that I didn't just know, but at the same time felt God's immense love in my heart. I was filled with joy!!! I immediately felt a compassion towards all those that were in need and wanted to let them know that God really loves and cares for all of us.
I knew that proclaiming Christ is a call for all who are baptised, but the question that kept nagging me was; how was I supposed to do this? This is something many people neglect. All this should come from the heart and I believe that it is a call from God.
My journey began as I took a walk with Patrizia Aniballi and other members of the MCSPA 19 years ago. I came to know them through Mrs. Esther Mwarabu who was working with the missionaries in Turkana. She had come to my village in Hola, Tana River County to pick one of my cousins who had earlier agreed to join the missionaries but changed her mind and refused. Esther Mwarabu then decided to visit our house so that she could talk to my mother and I about the missionary life in Turkana. My mother agreed that I visit Turkana to see whether I liked or not and together with Esther Mwarabu we travelled to Nairobi to meet Patrizia Aniballi and then to Turkana. Turkana was a place I only heard of in my History classes but I never bother to even check its location geographically.
I decided to be adventurous and embarked on a long journey towards Turkana. Through the journey I began to understand that adventure is not only travelling around the world, but travelling down the roads of the hearts of people I meet every day. To me adventure is an encounter; it is a kind of love I want to lead. Adventure is a conversion that lasts a lifetime, so incredible that it surpasses our greatest expectations. Adventure calls for courage, which leads to hope and joy.
Be courageous! As St John Paul the Great says:
"Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ! Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure!"
I remember about Esther Mwarabu's visit to my village, I think of God's call to live a missionary life, and my response. God issued the invitation, and I had the choice, to take it or to leave it. I will be forever grateful that I chose to follow.
When I first began considering missionary life in the beginning, I certainly wasn't thinking about sitting it out or how I would eventually feel about the choices I would make. My questions majorly centred on what will my family and friends thought since I was not educated as Catholic but in the Methodist Church, What would my life be like as a missionary? And, finally, how do I know that Missionary life was right for me?
Some years after when I became a full member of the Missionary Community of St Paul, I went to give a missionary animation talks in one of the schools. During the talk a student asked me this question, "so Lenny, why did you became a missionary?'' No matter how many times I'm asked this question, and in how many different ways, I'm never prepared for it. I then realised that's because the answer has to come from the heart, not the mind alone thus it's not easy to put into words.
When I began considering missionary life, I didn't know exactly why I wanted to become a lay missionary. All I know is that there was an attraction inside of me that I could only express vaguely. Perhaps the reason can be found in a song called, "I hope you dance.'' By Lee Ann Womack. It's a song about loving, making choices to live life fully, to respond to the calls that are deep inside of us and to risk looking like a dancing fool in order to follow our deepest yearnings.
As I struggled to get in touch with my feelings, I responded, I wanted to love God as much as I could, and I felt the best way for me to do this was to be a lay missionary. My reason then and now is still the same. Love. Although it wasn't without twists and turns, and many questions along the way, I've found my identity in being in MCSPA; serving God, especially towards the children, women and the elderly. I encounter each an everyday in Nariokotome Mission.
The Missionary Community of St Paul runs 29 nurseries in Turkana, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan caring for nearly 3,000 children. In the nurseries the children are fed six days a week all year round and receive the nourishment they need and deserve. The programme also encourages parents to send their children to primary school. At the present time, Turkana is experiencing a severe drought so the meals the children receive at school may be the only food they receive.
The nurseries are funded by New Ways - a charity run completely by volunteers.
If you would like to make a donation please visit: http://mydonate.bt.com/events/keepingnurseriesopen/488487
See a video about the mission here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENpZM-KEqEM
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