I have just been reading a number of articles in the Petit Echo of May 2018 (P.E. 05) on the ‘support of young confreres.’ This is a subject that touches me a lot as for my last 21 years in Zambia, I have lived in community with young confreres (stagiaires as well). Sometimes, I found myself with only young confreres or to put it the other way around I was the only ‘old man’ in the community. At the outset, I can say that I always felt comfortable with them, perhaps because I was on an equal footing with them. For me, they were adults like me and I expected them to behave like adults. This does not mean that I didn’t have (or have) anything to say to them. This is, precisely, what pushes me to sit in front of my computer and to write something on this theme of “supporting young confreres.” I am not posing as a specialist in this domain but I would like to address myself to them on one or two points that worried me a little when I was living with them.
If, when I was leaving Zambia in May 2015, these young confreres had asked me what advice or what words would I like to bequeath them, I would have said the following two things:
- First thing: Read, read, read
- Second thing: Ask, ask, and ask questions
You do not read enough! I do not see you reading. It is reading that will keep you attentive. The most helpful moment in my missionary life was the half-hour or hour reading at the end of the day. The topics I read about were not always high-brow. Maybe it was because that I was hard of hearing which forced me and still forces me to read. However, it is exactly that need to create a space for silence so that one can pick up, through reading, what the noisiness of the day prevents us from hearing.
Ask… Ask questions… I believe that I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when a young confrere consulted me on this or that question. And yet, there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions. Is it a question of shyness? I do not think so. I do not believe either that the so-called ‘generation gap’ is to blame. Asking questions is simply a matter of wisdom. There are many proverbs supporting this viewpoint. In Zambia, one proverb says,“ Before fording a river ask somebody who knows (is it safe?)” or “he who asks questions will not let himself be poisoned by mushrooms!”
Finally, an old French expression comes to mind that says, “A word to the wise is enough”!
Jean-Pierre Sauge, M.Afr.