Our Chair of Trustees, Bishop Paul Swarbrick, shared memories of a life in mission at a special Mission Mass in Lancaster Diocese in November last year:
I grew up with the Red Box in the 1960s. As a child, I never thought I would one day see what the Red Box does.
In 1990, eight years into my Priesthood, I volunteered for the missions in Zambia. There, I had a parish that was about the size of Cumbria, with 22 outstations/Mass centres. The people would gather every Sunday whether there was a Priest there or not. They would pray and celebrate together.
Catechists looked after a particular area in the parish – each outstation would have their own catechists. Small Christian communities would meet weekly to help build-up the faith.
I hadn’t been there long when the priest I was with, Fr John, was told by the doctor that he had to go home due to ill health, and I was left on my own.
Catechists informed me that there was a place called Nacintyombe, where the people would like a mission outstation to be opened. I sent the message back that I couldn’t manage the twenty-two outstations I was already responsible for, so the answer was ‘no’. A few days later a message came back from the people of Nacintyombe to say that if I couldn’t manage twenty-two outstations, I might as well not manage twenty-three!
And so, the people of Nacintyombe were gathered together, and taught prayers and hymns. The people were told that if they met faithfully for one year then I would go to celebrate Mass and celebrate the Sacraments. But the people said: ‘If you leave us for a year then probably some of us won’t be here’ – meaning that by then, they would have died.
And so, an outstation was set up – and it exploded. The community built their own church, made of unbaked mud bricks, tree poles and a thatched roof. The community wanted a school as well, so some of the parishioners who had studied to Grade 12 shared their knowledge with the children and were paid a few Kwacha [Zambian currency]. One day, the would-be teachers and children were all crammed into the mud brick building and the walls burst!
They ended up establishing basic, but proper buildings, with the support of local farmers. Education and faith encouraged people to come together as a community, and this in turn reduced social problems that had resulted from a chaotic way of life.
The people of Nacintyombe grew in maturity and confidence, and this chased a lot of problems out of their lives. They welcomed the presence of the Church. They got a healthcare worker to work with the local clinic which made health services accessible in a way they hadn’t known before. They also invested in a grinding mill – a diesel-run hammermill – for grinding maize flour.
The vital part you play
When we talk about projects in far-flung places in Africa or Asia, they might seem very removed from us here in England and Wales. But make no mistake; you are building the Church around the world, by sharing the Good News of Christ with our global family. The Red Boxes and the coins you collect are going to support the sort of activities that have been described here.
So, thank you for all of your prayers and donations to Missio. Without you, none of this work would be possible.