Today’s blog post comes from Mr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C., our Holy Cross Seminarian in East Africa. Read about his adventures and reflections of life in East Africa.
Our village of Wanyange offers beautiful views of Lake Victoria. As we make our way to Mass (at Holy Cross Parish in nearby Bugembe) early in the morning, a magnificent sunrise reflects off of the water. When I can find a break in my day, I escape the busyness of my work at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School – climbing to the top of Wanyange Hill, where I can pray quietly while I look out at the lake. And at night, I watch the lanterns of the fishing boats dotting the darkness like stars in the sky, as the fishermen cast their nets again and again, looking for a catch of tilapia.
These views of the lake often remind me of a favorite Gospel story: the call of Simon Peter (Luke 5: 1-11). Jesus asks Peter to “put out a short distance from shore” so that he can address the crowds from the boat. When he is finished speaking, he then asks him to “put out into deep water” and to lower his nets for a catch. Finally, Jesus invites Peter, James and John to join him in ministry, and “they left everything and followed him.”
At Holy Cross Lake View, the beginning of the third (and last) term of the year has plunged me into very deep water. I am teaching biology and chemistry, directing liturgical music, giving music lessons, and assisting with a variety of administrative tasks. My classes are large – ranging from fifty to seventy-five students each, and resources are limited. Classrooms are furnished only with student desks and a blackboard, and both electricity and internet access are inconsistent. Class lists are not furnished to teachers, as so many boarding students report several days late, lacking transportation or money for school fees. Two weeks into the term, some still have not yet arrived. Liturgies are held in an outdoor pavilion, and I play the keyboard and direct the choir. The surroundings are unpredictable – last Sunday, a chicken approached the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. The music is beautiful, but almost all of it is new to me. The students’ favorite songs are in Swahili, Luganda and the local language, Lusoga. Last Sunday, I conducted the choir a cappella, as we didn’t have power for the keyboard. Fortunately, the drums don’t require electricity!
In the midst of the newness of this place, the easy pace of life and the gentle people who have welcomed me here help me to swim. “Mpola mpola…” (translation: “slowly by slowly”) is a favorite saying of the Ugandan people. Jesus invites Peter slowly: first a short distance from the shore, then into deep water, and only then away from the life that he knew and toward the mystery of the Cross. With each step forward, Jesus steadies Peter with grace. And he leads us slowly as well, calling us patiently and guiding us along the way. Despite the challenges at Holy Cross Lake View, I am learning the names of my students, finding creative teaching methods – and even singing in Swahili! Perhaps most important are the relationships that I am forming – with the students, with the school faculty and with my brothers and sisters in Holy Cross who minister here. God calls us forth into the depths, slowly by slowly. For us in Holy Cross, this takes the shape of formation – beginning at our baptism and ending only at our resurrection – configuring us to the form of Christ crucified. And eventually, when our lifetime on earth is finished, God readies us to leave everything and to follow him.