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Faith-based ministry aids African communities

Christian Myers | Thursday, October 11, 2012

Despite stress over midterm exams, fall break plan, and the upcoming football game against Stanfore, some members of the Notre Dame community made time for the lunch and reflection about the role of missionaries in Africa in the Geddes Hall Coffee House on Wednesday.

The discussion titled, “To be called is to be sent: Being Church in Africa and its implication in the U.S.” was sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns and the Africa Working Group of the Kellogg Institute.

The discussion featured guest speakers Fr. Joe Healey, Maryknoll priest and networking coordinator of the Small Christian Communities Global Collaborative, and Tara McKinney, a 2000 Notre Dame graduate, who worked in Tanzania as a Maryknoll lay missionary. McKinney is currently the international projects officer for Africa for Cross Catholic Outreach, a faith-based organization supporting Christian development projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

McKinney said her belief in the importance of faith-based development drew her to work first as a lay missionary and now as an international projects officer.

“For me the mission of the church is manifest in faith-based development,” she said. “Faith plays a role in development, because it’s not just about building the house, it’s about how you are present for those people.”

Healey said faith-based development is distinct and more beneficial to its recipients than development efforts without a religious element.

“You widen the meaning of development,” he said “It’s not just economic development. It’s holistic development.”

Another reason missionary work is important, McKinney said, is the governments of the respective nations are often remote from the particular communities and do not provide the enduring presence of faith-based groups.

“They’ll tell you, ‘The Church is the only one who stays,'” she said.

Healey has worked in Africa for over four decades and said heeis still learning about the African way of life.

“I’ve been in Africa since 1968 and I am a student, a learner of African culture,” Healey said.  “My teachers are the African people.”

Healey said one of the main things he has learned from his work in Africa is the importance of lay people in a Christian community.

“There are about 120,000 small Christian communities across nine African countries and in these communities the lay people are the leader ,” he said. “The African lay people teach me what it means to be a community.”

In her role at Cross Catholic Outreach, Mckinney said she she administers cash grants to ministers on the ground in Africa and provides them with technical assistance. She oversees 45 projects, 41 of them Catholic, and the largest reaches up to 7,000 beneficiaries.

McKinney said she witnessed the same concept of lay leadership in at least six countries.

“I started seeing and hearing certain trends across the different countries,” she said. “The main trend was new models of leadership. It shows the priest does not have to be the one in charge.”

She pointed out the Ewuaso Kedong Baraka Catholic Kindergarten in Kenya as an example. The idea for the school came from a group of Maasai mothers and was built with help from Cross Catholic Outreach, she said.

Healey said the lay involvement in many African communities parallels a trend in missionary work toward temporary missions and lay missionaries.

“We’re now in the wave of short term missionaries, and at the same time there’s a new energy of lay people,” he said.

The experience of the Maryknoll society is evidence of this trend. Mayknoll only ordains one priest each year, but there are currently 700 lay Maryknoll missionaries and 1,000 Maryknoll affiliates, Healey said.

Healey said this increasing participation of lay people is a fulfillment of what individuals are called to do as Christians.

“By our baptisms we’re sent out to preach the good news as disciples and missionaries,” Healey said.

McKinney said there is also significant diversity among the religious missionaries; some are Americans; some are from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and other parts of Africa; and some are nationals of the country in which they work.

Healey said there is another trend in missionary work toward mutuality. He said it is captured in a Ugandan proverb: “One hand washes the other.”

“There needs to be a mutuality of mission, a mutual enrichment, between the Church in America and in Africa,” he said.

Healey said missionary workers are also using different vocabulary,esuch as the phrase “global south.”

“We don’t use the terms developing nation or third world anymore. Instead, we say a country is a part of the global south,” he said.

Healey said ongoing missionary work in Kenya has focused on the concept of “see, judge, act” as a means of finding ways to improve the lives of people in the various small Christian communities.

“We start with our experience, and out of that experience we judge our situation,” he said. “We then use this judgment to determine how to act. We use ‘see, judge, act’ to become agents of change.”

When reflecting on the work Maryknoll and other organizations have done in Africa, Healy said it is important to remember the African proverb, “That which is good is never finished.”