In 2014, St. John the Baptist Parish in Marshfield started on a journey of faith to partner with the Sisters of Our Lady Queen of Africa to build a much-needed convent in Mwanza, Tanzania. On the swift wings of the Holy Spirit, $113,000 were raised in 18 months, through donations of $2 to $20,000, from the parish and individuals throughout the diocese of LaCrosse. The Divine Mercy Convent completed by Spring of 2016. St John’s Mission Team sent a delegation to Tanzania in 2017 to see the finished Divine Mercy Convent in Mwanza and further our friendship with the Sisters of Our Lady Queen of Africa.
In 2018, a smaller group of two parishioners, visited Sumbawanga to help with the English classes. This past June a pilgrimage of 22 parishioners joined the sisters in Sumbawanga. Each immersion experience was planned largely by the sisters, and took place mainly in two third world cities, Mwanza and Sumbawanga. We saw firsthand the work of the sisters and the challenges they face as they raise up the poor in Tanzania through education of girls, care for orphans and healthcare for the surrounding community.
Our experiences were gratifying, surreal at times, filled with joy; yet we had so much to learn and the profound needs overwhelmed us. At St. Theresia School for Girls, we met an enthusiastic, motivated group of students who were eager meet us and talk to us. Huge challenges include emotional needs of 500 students with only one counselor; a library with two small bookshelves; one text per class of 40 students; and overcrowded dormitories. This year, the pilgrimage travelers brought 10 laptop computers, art supplies, microscopes, medical supplies, soccer equipment, musical instruments (recorders) and frisbees, totaling 2000 pounds of donations, as well as funds to purchase an organ for the sisters’ chapel. One group taught them how to make Rosaries. Another group taught the girls how to use the 10 laptops that we brought. There was a music class which ultimately taught them how to play a recorder. An arts and crafts class was very popular, as was the physical education class that focused on ultimate frisbee.
Even though St Martin de Poores Orphanage is understaffed, these precious kids are obviously loved and full of hope. The children are learning English at an early age through songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. This facility has an impressive sustainable biofuel system. Yet, they use dish towels covered with plastic bags for diapers, mosquito nets have holes, and toys were scarce. Cultural differences abound which we have to respect as we observe them.
We shared meals, dancing, songs, daily Mass, and a beautiful procession for the feast of Corpus Christi with upwards of 1,000 people and the whole city took notice as we carried Jesus through the streets. We were initiated to the natural treasures of the region, driving on dirt roads with deep ruts and lots of dust, to Kalambo Falls, Lake Tanganyika and Katavi National Park. Joy of life was expressed in sisters’ daily engagement with us through mealtime conversation, washing dishes together after meals, celebration of daily Mass with the sisters’ glorious voices, helping with their agricultural and livestock efforts.
St John the Baptist is gearing up for our next effort in partnership with our friends in Tanzania, the establishment of a new school for boys and girls. Education is the key to unlocking the chains of poverty. 100% of your donation goes to direct support for the Sisters of Our Lady Queen of Africa, without any “middle man” or processing costs. As they say in Swahili, Tumsifu Yesu Christu! Praise be Jesus Christ!
By Dan Kitzhaber