Penniless Missionaries: Our Experiences
In August priests, seminarians, lay brothers and sisters of the Neocatechumenal Way were sent out on a very particular mission. They went mostly two-by-two all around South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho for a week announcing the Good News. In imitation of the Gospel (Mt 10:9-10) they had with them only the Bible, breviary, crucifix, rosary and return ticket. No money, no cellphones.
“We carried this announcement as in earthen vessels, in all our weakness, humbly, sometimes with broken English, but always bringing the witness of the wonders done by the Lord in our lives,” said Dino Furgione, responsible catechist for the Neocatechumenal Way in Southern Africa.
Here four of the 72 missionaries recall their experiences:
George Ngisaise (Seminarian of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Cape Town). Destination: Nelspruit
I was sent to Nelspruit in Mpumalanga with Freddie, a married brother from Delft community in Cape Town. On our arrival we were first welcomed in the sister’s convent at St Peter’s. The nuns were very happy to see us.
The day after, we went to the parish priest who, on his day off, organised everything for us. He took us to meet some families and we shared our experiences with them.
We saw that there really is the need to evangelise because these families had a lot of problems which they shared with us. They were so touched and happy to receive the message of the Gospel. Everywhere we went, we read a passage of the Gospel, chosen by chance—and it was so perfect in every family, really God was speaking to them.
The parish priest arranged transport for us to move on to Witbank. He even offered money for the trip, but we told him we couldn’t accept money.
In Witbank, Bishop Joe Sandri was very happy to see us. He gave us a driver who drove us to two other parishes to meet the priests. It was very good because these priests showered their generosity on us and gave us a warm welcome.
In those days, I met God in many events and his providence was really among us. I could also see the suffering of priests. Being alone in their parish, it is difficult for them to relate and speak about their suffering to anyone. But most of all we could see people living in hell.
I said to myself: “Lord, if you’re calling me, help me to console these people through your Gospel the good news”.
Errol Pillay (Pretoria). Destination: Bloemfontein
The Bloemfontein mission was a time of grace for me and my companion, Steph-en van Reenen. The communion we shared during this time of mission was the work of God.
We arrived in Bloemfontein with great anxiety when the bus stopped in front of a shebeen with a number of intoxicated and visibly drugged youth. What could I expect? What will I say! Will I have a warm bed? What if I have no food this week? And where is my wife?
Over the next days I discovered that God has always been ahead of us.
In Botshabelo we thanked God that we had everything, including a warm bed already sorted by the generosity of the Franciscan Sisters along with Frs Harrison and Michael.
One priest we met said that in his more than 20 years of priesthood, this was the first time he had received the good news like this—the Church is in motion! I was humbled and needless to say emotional how God is using these simple unworthy men for his work—and how!
This mission has changed my life and saved me. I write this with tears of joy and a deep sense of humility overcoming me. God loves me this much that he has given me, this sinful, arrogant man, a time to walk with him concretely and to help me grow in faith.
Erica Parato (Port Elizabeth/ Oudtshoorn). Destination: Durban
The thought of this mission both frightened and intrigued me.
On the one hand, precariousness is already part of our life as a family in mission, but on the other hand being sent two-by-two, with no bag, no money, no cellphone, is precariousness taken to the extreme, even to the limit of madness.
In addition to this, being a woman and having to leave my six children without being able to receive news about them for six days…
Now back home healthy and safe, one word comes to mind: Dayenù! It’s a Hebrew word meaning: “That would have been good enough!” (As a summary of the Magnificat).
The Lord has been faithful to the promise made: “Behold, I am with you every day!”
Dayenù: an angel named Maryse at St Joseph’s in Durban, who welcomed us women with a smile: you will be my guests! And another angel named Sue, who opened her home to us for the last few days, with amazement and curiosity driving us all over the city.
Dayenù: when in trouble in the streets of Sydenham, where no one could help us, another angel, named Alexis, gave us a lift to the desired destination.
Dayenù: all the priests and sisters who welcomed us as angels, listened, telling us the experience of their vocation, prayed and thanked us. And they gave us a glass of water!
Dayenù: the few priests who refused us, or listened indifferently to us and considered what we were doing crazy, yet we felt no need to retort, and felt real peace in the heart.
Dayenù: in front of the suffering of the innocent, with Mother Teresa’s sisters, touching Christ in the last of the lasts whom the nurses care for with a love that can only come from God.
Dayenù: the profound communion with Natalie, my companion, whom I did not know before, fruit of so much prayer and dialogue. Without her I would not have stayed in the mission.
Dayenù: all the missionaries of the world together as an army in the battlefield, and the families in mission, being the Trinity in mission, an instrument of the merciful God to save his Church (and the priests).
Dayenù: the Word that accompanied us every day. The word of the last day, on the way back: Thy mercy is enough; in fact, strength is manifested in weakness (2 Cor 12: 9).
Dayenù: my marriage with Andrea, rebuilt once again. Dayenù: the children, who have received a teaching that is worth more than my own words: only God is enough.
Dayenù: Christ Our Passover has risen for us, Alleluia!
Bianca Donough (Cape Town). Destination: Johannesburg
This mission was the most amazing experience of my life.
In the first parish we visited in Johannesburg we attended Holy Mass, as it was Sunday and we had travelled 20 hours through the night.
At the consecration, I found myself in tears. At that moment God inspired me to look towards my two companions, whom he had sent with me. God showed me that I was not alone: he and my companions were with me. This was God’s way of preparing me for the rejection which was to come that night.
By Sunday evening we were still without shelter for the night. As we were about to leave we asked for directions and an angel called Solomon took us to our destination, a convent.
The sisters were not disposed to house us for the night and after much discussion and no conclusion the Sisters felt we had invaded their privacy and they called the police… We were then taken to the police station and that is where we spent the night, sleeping on the floor or on a mattress for prisoners, with rats everywhere.
The next day we walked for 14 hours, from rejection to rejection, but with joy, sustained by the word of God and the help of the two ladies he put with me. I saw how God had provided for us every day as a group and individually, physically and spiritually.
When we were in a difficult situation, God was always faithful through his word; God answered us, directly relating to the situation we found ourselves in.
He guided us to the places and people he wanted us to see.
I found myself in a city in desperate need of evangelisation, families in need of the kerygma (preaching the Gospel).
I saw myself truly in dirt, physical filth, human waste, poverty, drugs, prostitution, and evil. This called me to humility, called me to abandon myself by asking others for help.
I am the type of person who always seeks to be in control of everything in my life. God brought me to my knees, showing me my own poverty—but he sustained me through my prayer and the Gospel.
When we came back, a wound on the leg of my companion Amanda became a nightmare. The doctors were about to amputate, but we asked the intercession of our protectress, Carmen Hernandez—the late co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way—and everything went well, to the surprise of the doctors.
It was a miracle that made us able to say: “Dayenù!”