“I will always feel like a member of the Zambian Oblate family.”-Fr. David Kalert, OMI.
I had visited Zambia a number of times when I was Provincial of the United States Province. So I was somewhat acquainted with what the Oblates were doing there. I had always been impressed with their commitment to our Oblate ideals of community and ministry with those most in need.
When I arrived to work in Zambia I told Fr. Joseph Phiri, O.M.I., the Zambia Oblate Delegation Superior, that I would do whatever he needed me to do. He asked me to live and work at the pre-novitiate formation house in Lusaka and I found it to be very rewarding.
I was impressed with the generosity of the young men at the pre-novitiate. They were willing to participate in whatever they were asked to do. In fact, they did not wait to be asked – they spontaneously offered their assistance. Their prayers indicated an awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the Church, the world and the community. Their ministries were among the poorest of God’s people: the various hospices, the parishes and the hospital. I found them to be full of life!
Father Ron Walker, O.M.I. invited me to help at his parish with Masses, penance services and other ceremonies. His parish has many challenges, but I found the people to be very motivated to their faith. His church was a giant tent that had developed a few holes when I was there and had to be taken down for some repairs. These “tent people” were so alive, and I am convinced that their faith will not diminish.
One of the other assignments Fr. Joseph gave me was to be an observer for the Board of Directors for Our Lady’s Hospice, a place where poor, terminally ill people are cared for. Many of the patients at the hospice were dying of AIDS. Halfway through the year the board suggested that I become the Administrator of the hospice. I thought they were joking, but they were not. After all, what do I know about medical issues or medicines? I barely know the difference between an aspirin and a cough drop. I agreed to take on the task with the assurance that the board members would help and also that Sr. Kay O’Neill, FMDM would assist. Sister Kay saved the day!
The experience at the hospice was a real challenge and also a wonderful blessing. The challenges did not seem to stop and they still continue. Funding was a very serious issue, but thanks to a number of organizations and also our religious communities, many problems were addressed.
I was also asked to help establish a group of Oblate Associates in Zambia, lay people who are interested in the charism of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and who wish to learn more about the founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod. After several months of introductory sessions, eleven members committed themselves as Oblate Associates on Pentecost Sunday. They came with a lot of zeal and energy.
When I returned to the United States, I felt so enriched by all that I had received. I take with me many memories, and I will always feel like a member of the Zambian Oblate family and the many people with whom we minister. Zambian hospitality cannot be beat! My prayer is that God will continue to bless abundantly their dedicated and generous efforts.
“Name your Oblate values and claim them for yourselves.”
Celebrating 25 years of Oblate life and mission in Zambia presents a wonderful opportunity to remember the past and envision the future. I was Superior of the Delegation from 1999 to 2005. These were wonderful years of daring and creative missionary life, facing challenges both great and small. To have lived and worked with such a group of generous and energetic Oblates for over six years was indeed a blessing, an exciting one!
When I took over as Superior I became part of an exciting missionary reality clearly branded by the Oblate values espoused by the pioneers. These values included closeness to people, daring in mission, service to the Church, preference for the poor, commitment to Christ and devotion to Mary. This sense of mission eventually found expression in the following Mission Statement:
“Gathered together around the person of Jesus Christ, we Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Delegation of Zambia, see our mission as a call to establish and maintain a vital and culturally integrated missionary presence in Zambia, one that will be resourceful to the Church in its mission of evangelization, particularly in its outreach to the poor, the most abandoned and the youth.”
The first 25 years of Oblate life and mission in Zambia can well be celebrated by recognizing and applauding the values that gave life to a dynamic missionary culture. These same values can also set the stage for the next 25 years to be written as the Delegation moves from its foundation stage into a stage of expansion.
We are invited to seriously reflect on the direction in which the Delegation is moving and to set a trajectory that will be life-giving to both the mission and the missionary. Such a pathway should be discerned and engaged with the same daring that has characterized the many Oblate missionary ventures on the continent of Africa. This silver jubilee challenges the Delegation to envision the future with an informed missionary mind and a generous Oblate heart and to make the necessary choices with confidence and hope.
Let me suggest four areas for the Delegation to pray over and to explore in community during the special days of grace surrounding this time of celebration.
1) Consciously choose your values! Name your Oblate values and claim them for yourselves.
2) Don’t let yourself coast into an unplanned future! Develop a vision of the future based on your values and on a good understanding of the present-day reality – World, Africa, Zambia, Church, Congregation, Delegation.
3) Become a learning organization! Challenge yourselves to serious research, study and reflection. Create an environment supportive of the values and skills necessary to make a difference in the Church and in the Congregation.
4) Take the initiative in pursuing the missionary transformation needed in the Congregation! Become persons of dialogue and be prepared to cross boundaries. That is what the future is all about. Don’t be afraid of the next 25 years. Initiate!
I am convinced that Oblate Africa will be called upon to play a determining role in the future of the Congregation. Zambia can help bring leadership to a new missionary paradigm. As the Delegation bridges the first and second quarter centuries of missionary presence in Zambia, its members must more than ever gather together around Jesus Christ and commit to religious integrity and missionary perseverance. There is a daring destiny to be met!