A Comboni missionary living in one of the slums on the outskirts of Nairobi tells us what defines his mission. “I am not trapped in the divide between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’”.
I live in Korogocho, one of the 200 slums of Nairobi. These slums are home to about 60% of Nairobi’s population.Yet, they occupy only 5% of the residential land.
Every day I meet people who come to me and ask for my assistance and prayers in their struggle for secure land tenure and dignity. What they want is not money or wealth; they just want to live in dignity. They want their human worth. They want to experience the promise of children of God. They want to feel the love of God.
When I listen to the Prayers of the Faithful, I hear the sick asking God to intervene because there is no single public hospital for the over 320,000 Korogocho residents; they ask God to intervene and sway the hearts of the politicians who are corrupt. They ask God to enter the hearts and minds of the police who shot and killed innocent children and they ask God to guarantee them entry to heaven because they have already experienced hell on earth.
Yet in the midst of all these, I may be expected to tell both these faithful and those who oppress them that “May the Lord Bless you, in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. While I am available to be the vehicle of God in imparting these holy blessings, I am not able to tell the faithful of Korogocho that they should sit back and expect their blessings in heaven.
It seems that the Church must become a space for seeking intervention from God. This also means that as a priest, I may not be able to sit back and say that absence of public hospitals in Korogocho is a secular issue which should be dealt with by secular movements. No, lack of a public hospital for 320,000 people is a sinful situation; it is against the will of God. It is this situation that defines my mission. In this mission, I am not trapped in the divide between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’. What is called social justice in the realm of non-Church movements is what the mission in Nairobi becomes today.
I have developed an opinion that to maintain the call and vocation of Christ it may be useful to follow three major areas together. First evangelization, through unrelenting popular movements like Kutoka Network and many other social movements in Kenya. Second, to co-ordinate national and international pressure on the systems and government policies that cause harm or exclusion to the poor and third, religious legitimization of change.
In the last seven years, I dedicated my missionary work to the social movement and for the legitimization of change. I am convinced that there are more chances of influencing and spreading the pastoral gospel in the sinful situations of Nairobi. This can be achieved through personal presence that strengthens the fellowship and struggles of the urban poor and encourages them to form a single communion with God.
It seems to me that this work cannot be done as part time anymore. Rather, I must now dedicate my time and energy with a long presence in supporting the movements and followers of Christ who walk the toiling path of faith and who believe in change embodied in Jesus Christ himself. In doing this I shall be responding to the call by Christ to follow the narrow path. It is a path which although not popular is perhaps the most explicit expression and living of the mission of Christ.
Fr. John Webootst