St. Augustine Province of Africa

Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God

Bro. Athanasius

anastasius.pngMy vocational search as a young boy must have begun with an initial attraction to the priesthood since I was exposed almost every day to the sacramental ministrations of diocesan priests who celebrated the daily Eucharist and who were my regular confessors at the parish and in whom I served as an altar boy.

I was an ICT trained teacher, teaching in a Teacher’s Training College in Masaai land (T.T.C) in Ngong diocese today Moi university. At this time I had a special feeling to join priesthood in any diocese. At that time, I was the youth coordinator in the diocese of Ngong. My mind and time and all were in the church and for the church. But throughout this journey I kept myself busy asking many questions on why I want to leave the work and serve the church? I could not get exactly the right answers but I knew I had a desire which pulled me more towards what I wanted to live.

My first encounter with the Brother’s of Saint John of God came as a miracle when it happen that I was  to go home for holidays in Tigania my birth place in the diocese of Meru. The idea of becoming a brother came in my mind when I meet with Br Innocent Phiri from Zambia whom I was privileged to meet during my holiday in Tigania Parish. To be sincere I admired the way he was dressed and the manner in which he talked to me.  It happened that we meet in a morning mass at the parish. Even  when I visited the brothers the same day in the community the atmosphere was the same, where I meet the then provincial Br Patrick Nshdamze and other community brothers. Br Patrick gave me a pen and a prayer book after sharing for some time that day, I went home with the escort of Br. Innocent being very happy that I have found where I felt I belonged. In this period I started my communication and visiting  the brothers for a period of time which helped me to discern my vocation.

I went back to work after holidays but much was to continue between me and Br. Innocent and Br Patrick via e-mail and phone. I knew my heart was very willing and ready but I was kept waiting for four years, but I never lost hope because of encouragement I received. By then I was alone and the formation house was under renovation in Malawi so I had to wait. I was pressured to make a decision soon and quick because I knew this is what I wanted. By then Br. Raphael had taken over and was helping me to understand more about the brothers of St John of God. By this time the hope of going to priesthood was out of my mind, so it was either to continue with the brothers of St John of God or I look for another congregation. But God’s plans were not so, Saint John of God was still waiting for me.

I kept praying every time I wrote an  e-mails or I communicated with the brothers, asking God to allow his will be done; I kept on pestering him and writing more and calling Brother Innocent almost every day. My prayers were met with a deathly silence and, since I was pressured by the desire to give a definitive answer, I was forced to take a gamble with the silent Jesus. The journey never seemed long since the hospitality of the brothers was already shown from the first day and I felt at home.

In short I knew my journey had begun and this is where I belonged, so I had no backward decision. As far as I was concerned, I had made a decision that day to follow Him as a Religious Brother. While the logic of the choice was unclear, I believed then that the circumstances in my own life seemed to point towards this direction. And so eventually an Email arrived for me to have brothers in my family. And so it happened and they visited led by Br Ambrose Dery and Br Albert, although Br Innocent had made many trips to my family before.

I entered Malawi on 14/7/2006, alone without any knowledge of where I was going. In which I was to join other three young energetic young men from Malawi and Zambia. I was received by Br John Bangsi whose smile took me deep in my heart and felt this was the family where I belonged once more in a foreign land. Arriving in Mzuzu –Malawi community I was welcomed by Br Aiden Clohsey and Br John Minh. I was to start my Postulancy on 15/8/2006 to commence my long awaited dreams.

Challenges encountered on the way

Those words of my vicar general in Ngong diocese are very fresh in my mind up to date that; “brotherhood is confusion of vocations”.  A Religious Brother? It did not take me long before I realized that very few understood the path I was taking.  With my family members they accepted my decision and were happy to hear that I was joining the religious life. Their major fear was; will he accomplish what he want to be? They gave me their blessing and there I was gone and journey had to begin.

I thought that these misconceptions about the Brother’s vocation came only from the laity since they may not have had a real background on the theology of religious life. All they know is that a religious brother is a professional and technical person and who can do any type of work. This is completely different in Hospitaller family.

Postulancy

My postulancy was very nicely organized and coordinated with various programes and facilitators to give us classes. It was very good although with its own challenges since it was my first time. In my maturity level I really enjoyed the Postulancy programme despite the apostolate which we did three times par week. The most faced challenged was to adapt to the people local language and to adapt to new form of life that I had started living and which I had not lived.

Novitiate

 I had my novitiate in Lome-Togo, for two years where I was privileged to attend the institute St Paul for some religious formation and studies. In the process the struggles of the Religious Brother to live in true brotherhood with my confreres was another  counter-cultural statement  against the prevailing view of masculine aggression, dominance and indestructibility and can point towards the possibility for male bonding, friendship and fraternity which are  essential aspects of Christian intimacy, maturity and commitment. These were challenges due to the age, language and cultural barriers.

I was happy to live these two years with one heart and one commitment under Br Leon and later Br.Etienne Sene. Their guidance was more than fatherly. My most trying moment came when I lost my brother’s wife and my Loving dad, knowing very well that there is no chance to go and say goodbye to them, I left all under God’s care.

Scholasticates

After my journey in the Novitiate, I was to join the other scholasticates in Nairobi- Kenya for spirituality studies. Here I was back home, not alone as a student but as a Hospitaller brother with vows attached to me. So everything had to change. The challenge I faced was to make people understand my mission journey which I did freely,  I told God, to help me face this reality and help people to understand me and my new way of life. These challenges never changed my mind or heart for I was already prepared. I joined Tangaza College for my two years formation under the guidance of Br. Nicholas Nsale between 2009 and 2011. The journey was smooth and comfortable with few challenges here and there. The spirit of Saint John of God was still guiding me through out and the unity of the fraternal love.

Conclusion

All I have known about Hospitaller brothers of Saint John of God is that they are more than what they are known to be; they are very hospitable, kind, generous, very accommodative and welcoming. They are true family which is completely African based. I have felt a true belonging to this family for the period of time that I have lived with them.

I thank the almighty God and ask him to continue to shower his blessing to us bothers of Saint John of God. I may say that, “If I count the goodness of God which I have experienced in this family, they would be more than the grains of sand on the sea shore.”

I express my heartfelt gratitude to God who has blessed me with the gift of life, the grace of my Baptismal call and to my vocation to the Hospitaller Family. It is his love, strength and support that enables me to see this day, to spell out my humble gratitude, for having sustained me in this family up to this far

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