by Nancy Topping.
Last summer for my holidays, I went to Africa. My sister Jennifer who works for the U.N. in Mozambique had invited me, along with my other sister and her husband, to visit her and her family. I found treasures there, and I would like to share something of them with you.
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, and one which has suffered much in other ways as well. They suffered colonization and slavery, a war for independence which ended in 1975, and a civil war from 1977 to 1992.
Since then, among other things, they have had to deal with the problems of land mines, poor education, and poor roads and highways.
During my time in Mozambique, we drove about six hours from Maputo, the capital, where my sister lives, to a place called, "Tofu."
As we drove along, I noticed that most people had no electricity, no running water, and no plumbing.
And all along the way, we saw young children walking to and from school. In the rural areas of Mozambique, the average education people have is fourth grade, and some of their teachers have not even graduated from elementary school.
We also saw some teenagers walking to school and noticed there were more of this age group in the larger towns. They were all in uniform, and I was aware of how much work went into this dignified appearance. The distances they walked in order to go to school also impressed me.
The country is working hard to improve education, and I got the sense that these young people are grateful to be able to go to school.
We waved a lot to the children, and they waved back. How wonderful it was to see their open, joyful faces!
Then about a week later, we drove a similar distance from Maputo to near Mbabane in Swaziland.
We had intended to visit some botanical gardens but got lost, and so we drove and drove through rough roads through the villages of southern Swaziland.
That mountainous area, with its dry rust-colored earth, is stunning in beauty. As we drove along, not sure of where we were, we witnessed something of the daily life of the people and saw and heard something about their pain and beauty.
One huge pain is that about 50% of adults between 20 and 35 are HIV positive or have Aids.
I also saw the creativity of the people in a local candle factory and later on in a glass factory where much is done by hand using recycled materials. And I saw examples of their basket weaving, carving, and other crafts.
But I think what struck me the most on this trip was the contrast between the rich and the poor.
For instance, after driving for hours through the village roads in Swaziland, we found the botanical gardens that we were looking for and the nearby "guest house" where my sister and her husband had arranged for us to stay.
I’m sure they didn’t expect that guest house to be so fancy, but it was; it looked like the type of place where dignitaries would stay.
We had just seen a bit of the life of the rural poor, and here we were in what seemed like a palace!
In the past, I would have been upset to be staying there, but this time, I had the grace to relax inwardly and let God work in my heart through this situation.
As I tried to listen to God, I remembered Fr. David May’s words at a recent retreat he gave to the MH mission houses of western Canada.
He was talking about the line in the Madonna House Little Mandate, (a concise summary of our spirituality): "Arise, go, sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally, to the poor. Take up My cross (their cross) and follow Me, going to the poor, being poor, being one with them, one with Me."
He said that we can have questions about living out this line of the Little Mandate, questions such as: What does it mean to be identified with the poor? Have we gone far enough in identifying with them?
However, the heart of giving our lives for the poor is sharing in the kenosis (self-emptying) of Christ and that Resurrection is at the heart of this.
I hadn’t chosen to stay at this "guest house." I would have much preferred to meet someone in Swaziland at their hut or at the riverside, and had I stayed there longer, I would have.
But as I tried to stand still inwardly, I found that I was at peace even in this "palace." I realized that even in a palace, one can live a simple, prayerful life, a life of love. Even in the midst of this luxury, I could pray from my heart for the people who were living around me in huts.
I have returned now to our MH mission house, Marian Centre Regina, our house which runs a soup kitchen and where I do indeed live in a simple house among the poor, the urban poor of the Canadian prairies.
And I look back to the treasures I found in southern Africa this summer—the people, for one thing. The people there have so little and they work so hard, but I saw the joy on their faces. They carry burdens in their lives that compel me to respond with prayer and some kind of compassionate help. But spiritually, they can really teach me something.
Another treasure, a pearl of great price, was to discover again the great gift of the call to live the "Little Mandate" of Madonna House. "Being one with the poor, one with Me," is a key to identification with my brothers and sisters around the world who are carrying their crosses on this pilgrimage of life.
May we all be one with them and with one another on our journey to the heart of God.
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