It was around 11:30 in the morning of Thursday, 8 October when we “took-off” for Daloa (400 km) from Abidjan in order to proceed to Zoukougbeu. I had really wanted to go to Daloa because of the sisters from my Province who had been there...but I gave-up the idea when I realized that there were so many other Provinces that also had missionaries there...but when I was told that I may at least drop by if I signed in for Zoukougbeu (some 50 km from Daloa), I thought that was a good deal...and so I signed in for Zoukougbeu. As always, one can never imagine what God has in store for us...and more often than not this surpasses one’s own desires and wants...and so off we went... Sr. Josiane (Northern Europe) and I were partners while Sisters Sandra (Central America/Cuba) and Judit (South Atlantic) and Gian Carlo (CPAA) were to stay in Daloa.
As in all exposure/immersion experiences, I we were reminded to keep all my senses and even more importantly our hearts open to whatever awaited us in the next 3 to 4 days. But even as we left I was secretly thrilled because of two things : that I will have the opportunity of visiting Daloa and that we had the unique experience of going as Assumption Together with the presence of Gian Carlo.
On the road, I could not help but notice the similarities between this country and mine, both very rich in natural resources but plagued with extreme poverty and huge gaps and the apparent failure of the state to provide for the basic needs of all. I said a silent prayer, “Lord, help not remain unchanged by these realities...”
We were met with torrential rains in Yamoussoukro (Political Capital) that for a while, we could not proceed. Sr. Carmen Campos, RA, our excellent and prudent driver kept us feeling secure that all was going to be well. And indeed all went well, we arrived at around 8 pm in Daloa, very wet but very happy to see our sisters there...
In God’s graciousness, it was too late to proceed to Zoukougbeu for Josiane and myself... so we slept in Daloa (I was so happy !!!). The next day we were welcomed by the students of the College Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Daloa (what a joy for me !)... Soon after that, off went Josiane and myself, driven by Raquel who was one of the original CPAA, now a volunteer in Daloa and accompanied by Sr. Cecile, RA. My heart was already filled with thanksgiving for the bonus of being in Daloa even for just a night.
We were expected and were awaited (since the night before) by the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King (Soeurs Missionnaires du Christ-Roi), a Canadian Congregation (who have a house in Bohol, Philippines) who run a Center (actually a Hospital) for those afflicted with a peculiar skin disease known as BURULI. After a very friendly welcome in the house of the sisters we spent the rest of the morning in the Center. We were in admiration for the Sisters’ dedication and love for all the patients. And the good news is that they are actually able to rehabilitate those afflicted by skin grafting surgery when they have been declared “Buruli-free”. It was difficult to remain before so much pain and discomfort...but with God’s grace we were able to offer even just a smile that hopefully spelled the truth that things would get better. For me, it was an experience yet again of God not sparing me any opportunity to understand the mystery of the incarnation a little better... “God’s decision to come into the darkness of our lives and to stay there and so turn the darkness into light.”
The next day we were brought around a nearby village by one of the sisters in the morning, and with another sister in the afternoon, we visited a Center for Young Girls who have no opportunity for basic education. In this live-in Center that is right next to the place where the sisters live, they offer courses like proper grooming, dress-making, cooking and cosmetology among others.
In all three (3) places where we have been, and even along the way, I was immediately struck by the number of children, each one with a unique story of misery, for sure, yet each one with a smile on his/her face that broke through the pains of the present or the anxieties for the future.
I wonder less and less why Jesus warns us that “unless we become like the children we cannot belong to the Kingdom...” And I was invited to see each occasion, each day, each moment as an opportunity for fuller life...
My experience of “grace-upon-grace” was that we were to return to Daloa again for Saturday night ! And so it was sheer delight to have time with the sisters and actually read the annals where my sisters had written their names as having been part of the community. I could not explain the feeling of joy that remains with me to this day.
We were on our way back Sunday (11 October) morning deeply grateful for the experience of communion, of being one with our African brothers and sisters and touching this small piece of earth that is certainly a place of glory for God. My prayer continues, “Lord, help me not remain unchanged by the experience...”
Sr. MarJo, RA