Fr Tony E is a Mill Hill Missionary working in the Formation House in Iloilo, Philippines. Originally from Cameroon, he shares his journey of faith so far and how the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting just months after his arrival in the Philippines, became an extraordinary moment to share the miracle of Christ’s love with those in desperate need.

I was born in Cameroon where my parents, who are Nigerian, had come to do business. This is where I came across the Mill Hill Missionaries and why I am the only Nigerian Mill Hill Missionary; they don’t have a presence in Nigeria.

Fr Tony with new temporary members and their families

The forming of vocation

Through my years of formation, I always dreamt of working in the missions somewhere. Never had I thought that I would one day be serving as a Formator in a seminary.

After my ordination in 2013, I worked in Kenya for five years, then in Ireland for a year’s course before coming to the Philippines.

I arrived here in Iloilo, Philippines, in the September of 2019 to take up my new appointment as a Formator in the Mill Hill Formation House.

Everything changes

Then a few months later, there was the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 we were forced to go into lockdown.

It is hard enough to be on lockdown, but it is even harder to be on lockdown when you have kids to look after and yet you can’t work. But with our Seminary located just next to the slum, we were perfectly placed to respond to a few challenges that I foresaw would arise from the COVID-19 restrictions.

What would happen to all the poor people in the slum? How would people even have food to eat? And again, there was a risk that many young people would get into different addictions, especially as they were to stay at home with nothing to do.

Loaves and fishes – a little miracle occurs

Although my primary mission was to work in the Seminary, I couldn’t avoid thinking about the reality around me. I decided to use what little personal money I had (which I considered my five loaves and two fish) and bought rice to distribute to some struggling families.

It was nothing short of a miracle when that same weekend an overseas donor from Ireland, whom I’d never met, sent €5000 to me out of the blue with specific instructions to feed the hungry. This went a long way to feed more families and we decided to extend help to other slums. We helped many families with this money and still continue to reach out and support them now.

‘They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full’ (Matthew 14:15)

Word of this generous donation spread and encouraged more people to donate. By June, we had reached out to more than a thousand families with food supplies amidst the pandemic. That became a springboard for many outreach programmes – school supplies for poor kids, wheelchairs for disabled people in the slums who couldn’t afford them. From there, we have even helped some children back in Africa with school fees and have helped sick people in southern Cameroon who, for many years, have been affected by the civil war.

Fr Tony with children helped through the outreach projects
Fr Tony with children helped through the outreach projects

Life returns to normal – but better!

We also started to grapple with the problems facing young people. Through football, we started a Mill Hill Youth Ministry and another ministry for altar servers. We invited them to serve at our Sunday Masses and on weekdays we would play football with them, which they were very excited about!

We still have these ministries and they have grown a lot in their faith. Now we have some of our seminarians assigned to these ministries as part of their pastoral outreach. This also attracted more people to join us on Sunday for our Masses and it has really become ‘Mission in Formation’.

A broader, deeper understanding of mission

I am still here in Formation, but my eyes and ears are always open to the call around us. It’s been God all the way and I got to realise that God reveals Himself more in those areas we didn’t expect, and even the places we wouldn’t want to be. This has made me more open to mission – to be ready to go where God wants me to be and not just where I want to be.

‘You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit…’(John 15:16)

You can follow Fr Tony E on his Youtube channel, where he shares his homilies and prayers>>

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