b23d0b3e d042 412a ba72 b216f5f31117“Even in their poverty, the Turkana people are friendly and welcoming.”

The SMA international media Center had an opportunity to interview Fr. Ephraim Joseph Kway SMA, from the Catholic Diocese of Moshi in Tanzania. Fr. Ephraim is currently serving at St. Peter’s Parish in Lorgum in the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar and here is what he had to say:

 SMA MC: What motivated you to become a priest and an SMA priest for that matter?

Fr. Ephraim:The closeness and the friendly nature of my parish priest to the people influenced my desire to become a priest. When I was in high school, Fr. Denis O’Sullivan, SMA from the Irish province, visited our school for vocation promotion, and I was deeply touched by the SMA spirituality and lifestyle. After listening to him and reading the little pamphlets he distributed to us, I developed an interest to become a missionary with the Society of African Missions, and today I am a happy SMA Missionary priest.726256e3 a6e1 48a0 bbf0 7d0e4040048c 1

After his priestly ordination, Fr. Ephraim's first appointment was at St. Charles Parish in the Catholic Diocese of Kano in the northern region of Nigeria where he served for a period of four years.

SMA MC: What joy do you find in serving the people in your mission?

Fr. Ephraim:Despite the daily challenges occasioned by the tough semi-arid situation, I am happy to be with the people and celebrate the liturgy with them. Though it was tough in the beginning, I now enjoy village life. Even in their poverty, people here are friendly and welcoming.

Like every mission, even where joy abounds, there are always some cracked walls. There are always things that worry missionaries that may make them less effective in their quest in announcing the gospel of Christ.

SMA MC: What are some of the challenges that you go through in your mission?

Fr. Ephraim: There are a lot of challenges in this mission. Given the nature of the terrain and the distances that we cover from one mass center to the next, we incur a lot of expenses on fuel and in the maintenance of the parish vehicle.

dce4f87f 165f 410f b9a8 13827bb15d8f 1Due to high poverty levels here, many people come to the parish house begging for food, clothes, hospital bills, transportation, just to mention a few. There are a lot of cases regarding snake, scorpion, and hunting spider bites, among others. In most cases, the people would run to the parish for assistance thus turning the parish vehicle into an ambulance!

Lodwar is one of the toughest SMA Missions given the severe weather patterns as well as the terrain. A lot of resources are required to run the mission.

SMA MC: Do you receive support from your fellow SMA priests and the people you serve?

Fr. Ephraim:Lodwar is a difficult mission. Even with the Sunday offertory collections of the thirty mass centers put together, one cannot manage the basic needs of running the parish. For us to survive here, we solely depend on the Mission Fund. Even though the funds are not sufficient, they keep us going. Local appeals from SMA parishes in Kenya as well as supply to the USA have helped cushion our budget in the parish.

Certain challenges are particular to different places whereas are some challenges call for unanimous actions, and collective responsibilities to overcome them.

SMA MC: Covid -19 has affected the world in unprecedented ways and the missions have not been spared. How have you managed to adapt to the “new normal” and what precautionary measures have you taken to ensure the safety of the people you serve and your own safety?

Fr. Ephraim:Indeed, covid-19 has affected most people. The mission stayed for three months without the celebration of masses to the public. Even though the government directive was to tell the people to stay home, this measure was least respected as people kept coming to the parish due to hunger begging for food. Personally, I tried to adhere to the government directives through the ministry of health in Kenya, by keeping physical distance, wearing a facial mask in crowded places, and sanitizing my hands regularly.

Someone once said, “everything happens for a reason.” Nothing happens by chance or means of good luck, illness, injury, love, lost moments of true greatness… all occur to test the limit of your soul. Without this small test, whatever they may be, life would be like smoothly paved, straight, flat road to nowhere. It would be safe and comfortable, but dull and utterly pointless.

SMA MC: What lessons if any have you learned from this pandemic? Are you content with the way the church has responded to the crisis?

Fr. Ephraim:This pandemic has taught me to be always prepared for any eventuality both natural and manmade. I feel that as the church, we were not ready to handle this pandemic. When the government closed all places of worship, we sat down and watched. Certain parishes then began to conduct online masses. In the future, the church should be more proactive in coming up with mechanisms that will not leave the faithful undecided and hungering for the word of God.

Being a missionary is different from being a civil servant or a social worker; People have certain expectations from the missionaries. However, not all their needs and expectations are met. Churches, Schools, hospitals, and many other structures have been built and continue to be built. Boreholes and wells have been dug and continue to be dug to improve the sanitary situation of the people.

f7d677bc 332c 4a74 ae71 ed580b23efd0SMA MC: In your own experience as a missionary, what do Christians need the most today?

Fr. Ephraim:Christians want to hear the message of hope from their church ministers. The world we are living in today is full of diverse challenges. Some people are materially well-off but are unhappy. There is an increase in suicidal cases, different forms of abuse, killings, etc. As missionaries, we are called to be close to the people and give them the message of hope from our Lord just as the prophets did in the Old Testament.

There is always something that one looks forward to in life. Something that brings about fulfillment. The urge to carry on despite the challenges. Something that one feeds into and keeps him/her going.

SMA MC: With all the challenges of the mission, what in your opinion has sustained you in the mission? In other words, where do you get your strength and motivation?

Fr. Ephraim:I get my motivation to carry on the mission from personal and communal prayers, and I am strengthened by the word of God in the scriptures. Support from my family, friends, fellow SMA priests as well as the community I serve both near and far.

The society of African missions was founded in 1856 by venerable bishop Melchior de Marion Brésillac, 164 years later, the missionary work is still being carried out in different continents of the globe despite the diminishing numbers of vocation in Europe and America.

SMA MC: Do you think the SMA Mission and its charism is still relevant where you are in the 21st century?

Fr. Ephraim:The SMA charism is still relevant and working for the marginalized people by bringing the word of God and helping them to improve the standard of their lives. Without ambiguity, the Lodwar mission is at the heart of the SMA charism. We need to keep prioritizing this kind of mission because it is where we are needed most. It is in places like this that the dream of our founder is being actualized and for this reason, it is my humble request to our superiors to prioritize such missions by appointing more personnel and resources to such missions.

9f581970 29a7 4b0e b2a4 093d45415d6aThere is a Nigerian adage that says, “if you do not make yourself happy, no one will.”

Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.

SMA MC: Do you find joy in your missionary work and would you consider yourself a happy missionary priest?

Fr. Ephraim:Despite the challenges I go through, I find a lot of joy in my missionary life. I have been in this mission for the last six years. God has blessed me with good health, I am not grumbling, and I am not even contemplating leaving any time soon. I am happy with my faith community and feel so much at home. It gives me joy to see how people's lives have been transformed not just by the word of God but by development projects such as the construction of places of worship, improved sanitary situations, construction of schools, drilling of boreholes, and wells despite the limited resources at our disposal.

                                                                                                                                By Dominic Wabwireh