BY TONI CASHNELLI
Some people are born missionaries. Others need time to decide, “I can do that.”
Last year, after a talk with General Minister Michael Perry, Br. Tim Lamb made up his mind. He would apply to join a Project of Missionary Evangelization of the Friars Minor.
On Sept. 1 Tim leaves for Belgium, the first stop on a journey to East Africa, where he expects to counsel returning refugees in the Republic of South Sudan. Like many life-changing decisions, it was years in the making.
Tim Lamb, OFM
“At first in my career as a friar, I didn’t imagine myself doing something like that,” says Tim, Provincial Personnel Advisor and a member of the Interprovincial Temporary Professed Formation Team in Chicago. But during a three-month moratorium in Jamaica between assignments, “I adjusted to a different climate, a change in culture, language, food, all that. I wasn’t working as a missionary but I was living the life. I thought, ‘I could do this.’ So then there was this awareness inside me.”
Last year at Chapter when Michael challenged the province to send friars to the missions, “I was at the time thinking about change,” Tim says, “since the coming year would be my last year in post-novitiate. I talked to people and began my discernment.”
His greatest concerns? “I had a real question about what I could do in the missions. I had a real question about health; I’m not young anymore.” (He’ll be 61 in March.) Then last August, “Things just fell into place. Jeff [Scheeler] put out an e-mail to friars in Chicago” asking if someone could give Michael Perry a ride to Racine, Wis. “I had time to do that. Anyway, I spent an hour-and-a-half in the car with Michael and we talked about what was available and about health issues. He was encouraging but didn’t promise anything.
“I asked him what I might be able to do. He said that friars in East Africa were looking for men with counseling backgrounds to help returning refugees. After thinking on that and praying on that and working with my spiritual director, I decided to go ahead and apply.” Researching East Africa, “I saw a photo of refugees in South Sudan; that name stuck in my mind. That’s exactly where I was sent.”
The refugee crisis to which Tim refers is the legacy of civil wars and the partitioning of the Sudan. Since gaining its independence in 2011, South Sudan has struggled to integrate an estimated 700,000 refugees. “The South tends to be more Christian, the north more Muslim,” Tim says. “People left because of the civil war and were in refugee camps in Uganda. They’re coming back wounded, having experienced some terrible things. I’ll be helping the friars that have a parish in Juba with returning refugees. What that will look like I’m not sure, but I know I’ll be part of outreach to people.”
As part of Tim’s discernment, “I happened across a person who is studying counseling and spent six weeks in Africa working with refugees. He used a method of treatment called ‘Narrative Exposure Therapy’, using the story of a person’s life to help them – the totality of their story, not just the bad stuff. Telling your story is a way of relieving the trauma.” Tim may be using a similar technique.
PHOTO FROM YWAM SOUTH SUDAN (Youth With a Mission)
Tim’s transition to life in Africa – he expects to spend at least six years there – begins with three months in Belgium. “One week of that is spent in Assisi, helping us to get our call.” Then it’s on to Nairobi, Kenya, “to get to know the province and get acclimated. Then I’ll be transferred to Uganda to the novitiate in Mbarara. The Province of St. Francis takes in most of East Africa. I’ll be helping out there. Four hours away is Holy Trinity Parish in Juba” and the international friary where Tim will be stationed. “I’ve got a whole lot of questions and not a whole lot of firm facts. A lot of this will change, even before I get there.”
Missionaries have a long way to go, and not just geographically. “What I need to be aware of is having a sense of openness to differences in people, differences among friars and individual people. I have to have a learner’s mind so I can learn what is and why before making judgments or forming an opinion.” Tim will take with him “a sense of caution, to be aware that I’m not home anymore. This is a
new place, with maybe some similarities and a whole lot of differences. I have to develop a sense of tolerance with what I encounter. Going back to my experience in Jamaica, I trust I have the ability to do that.”
What does he hope to accomplish?
“I don’t want to go there with the idea that I’m going to change the world,” a missionary mindset from the past. “This is about encountering one person and learning from that.”
If you’d like to learn more about African culture, Tim recommends Say You’re One of Them, short stories of poverty and violence written by Jesuit priest Uwem Akpan (Little, Brown and Company). “I read this book when I was in Jamaica; really powerful stories around life and death,” Tim says. An Oprah Book Club selection, it’s available at http://www.amazon.com/Say-Youre-Them-Uwem-Akpan/
How do you see JPIC?
Friars on the province’s JPIC Committee would like to know. This month Al Hirt, Al Mascia, Scott Obrecht, John Quigley, Tim Sucher and committee liaison Mark Soehner will be calling 60 friars to ask how the province can best respond to the justice, peace, and creation issues facing our world, our nation and our communities.
It will help introduce “who we are and why we are,” says Al Mascia, chair of the committee. Currently there are no plans to hire a director to replace Sr. Donna Graham, “but with great ardor and devotion we are going to be working as a body to enhance the office. We would like to begin this process by getting friars’ opinions, as much as they are willing to share about their JPIC concerns.”
During this brief call friars will be asked:
1) What is the impact of the Chapter decision about the environment on you, on your friary?
2) Describe what you are doing now for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
3) Is there something missing from our Provincial JPIC awareness?
4) Is there anything that we haven’t covered in our conversation that you would like to include?
Input is important, Al says. If you don’t get a call and would like to contribute, please contact a committee member to register your opinion. “I don’t think we can overstate how seriously Jeff and the Council are taking the Chapter decision on the environment and the JPIC office itself.”
Max Langenderfer from St. Joseph’s with Frank Jasper.PHOTO BY JEFF SCHEELER, OFMIt seems like a long while since the Council met last December; we needed an extra-long time for faith sharing as we brought each other up to date on all that has happened in our lives. We have experienced Christmas, retreats, transitions and sickness in addition to all the usual things that keep us busy. It was good for us to be together, share our experiences, and support one another.
Meeting in Jamaica has been helpful for us to get a sense of the reality here, and for several councilors this was the first eye-opening visit to our missions. We have shared several lovely meals with the brothers, one at the soup kitchen with the volunteers and visitors. We saw each mission site, met some key collaborators, and also met with the bishop, Burchell McPherson, to learn of his plans for the diocese. We had a very productive meeting with the local friars.
The two lay missionaries from Franciscan Mission Service have had visa issues, but will finally be arriving on Saturday, unfortunately the day after we leave, to begin working with the friars. The environment is lush and beautiful; the weather has been delightful (70s-80s). The ministry is challenging but rewarding. We are grateful to Max, Tom, Louie, Jim, and Blane for their commitment to each other and to the people of Jamaica.
Above, Phil shows guests the first floor; right, Jeremy leads a tour.
Left, Frank Jasper at the Little Sisters of the Poor
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