During Initial Formation, particular emphasis is put on the Spiritual Exercises. Once in the field, we become aware of the importance of this aspect of our missionary preparation. In these few lines, I would like to share with you my own modest experience of the place of prayer, both community and personal, in missionary life.
The opportunity to have a community that prays:
After my ordination in July 2009, I was sent to Sudan to a community comprising five priests and two stagiaires. Despite the many pastoral occupations, prayer did have its place. Each confrere organised his own time for personal prayer. Some prayed in the chapel, others in their rooms. After personal meditation, we gathered for Morning Prayer before starting any other activity in order to entrust the coming day to the Lord. In the evening, we gathered again in unity for Evening Prayer to thank the Lord for the past day. We also had monthly recollections led by one or another of the confreres. No doubt, for what concerns spiritual life, this atmosphere of prayer, which reigned in the community, facilitated my transition from the Formation house to life on the mission field.
Community prayer, a mutual support:
Four years after my arrival in Sudan, the community, which, up until then, had been composed of seven members, was reduced to two. That implied more work and less time for oneself. In these conditions, to keep a balance between prayer life and the demands of the apostolate was much more difficult than before. Previously, the absence of one or other confrere for any reason did not hinder community prayer. Now that danger was there and there was always a risk, that one could find oneself alone at community prayer time. Happily, both of us were very aware of the importance for the other of being present at prayer time. Absence could be considered as a lack of commitment but also as a lack of generosity towards the other. Thus, I was able to experience community prayer as a mutual support especially when we were only two. These prayer times which gather us together, are the occasion to pray for the faithful of the Parish and our pastoral work. We also kept in mind our families and our own preoccupations as a missionary community. The uncertainty, which the community has experienced, particularly since 2013, is linked to problems regarding the renewing of visas and this has often figured in our prayers.
Personal prayer: a continuous discernment of vocation:
Besides community prayer, which is a support between the members of the community and of praying for those in our care, personal prayer is the way to maintaining personal growth with the Lord. Missionary life has so many surprises and challenges that we need to keep a permanent and personal contact with the Lord so as not to lose sight of the purpose of our commitment As a young missionary, I have experienced the joy of the mission but also the challenges, which are sometimes sources of discouragement and doubt. In one case or the other, we need to pay attention to the voice of the Lord so as to discover His will. Personal meditation is the ideal framework to listen to the voice of the Lord who is constantly whispering in our ears. It has been an occasion for me to give thanks to the Lord for the consolations received, but also to present to him my frustrations and my discouragements. This face-to-face encounter has helped me to rediscover my interior peace every time that was necessary. Moreover, during moments of doubt, it has been the occasion of confirming my ‘election’ made during the novitiate and during the ‘long retreat.’
Personal prayer: the means of apostolic discernment:
By consecrating ourselves to God through the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, our desire is to become another Christ and serve those to whom we have been sent, as he himself would have done. However, it is not always easy to discern the will of God in our pastoral decisions be it at the personal or team level. Certainly, as Missionaries of Africa, we have a framework for apostolic discernment through community meetings and these are very important. However, in some cases, this method of discernment needs something extra, a period of personal silence before the Lord by members of the community in order to allow oneself be enlightened by Him. In other words, personal meditation helps us to discover God’s will in our pastoral activities and gives them direction. In this way, even during moments when we can do nothing, moments when we experience powerlessness in face of some pastoral situation, meditation helps us to live these moments as an offering to the Lord.
To conclude, I would like to thank God for his presence in my life during my seven and a half years of missionary life. My own small experience has allowed me to affirm that beside the important aspects of missionary life such as the apostolate, intellectual work and relaxation, prayer is the secret of a flourishing and fruitful missionary life; the invisible but active force that makes it possible to launch out into the deep.