Reflections on Our Come & See Retreats in Kenya
"All of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet."—Wangari Maathai, PhD., first African woman to win a Nobel Prize
Once a year, usually in late January and early February, I have the privilege of hosting one of Glenmary's Come and See retreats in Kenya, Africa. Normally, our Come and See retreats take place in or near Glenmary's mission areas. But since we receive nearly 100 vocation inquiries each year from Kenya, we've also held an annual retreat the last ten years at Savelberg Retreat Centre near downtown Nairobi, Kenya.
Each year the retreat offers the men an opportunity to meet and get to know two Glenmarians (this year it was Father Don Tranel and I) and, despite the distance, to learn about the tremendous mission need where Glenmary serves in the American South and rural Appalachia.
Out of all the annual inquirers, six Kenyan men are invited to attend the retreat. This year, two of the six will be selected to enter the Glenmary formation program in August. The numbers make it seem highly competitive, but in reality it is just another step in the discernment process. The men invited to attend the retreat each year have been in contact with the Vocation office for a year prior to receiving the invitation and have already begun their discernment with Glenmary.
Prior to the retreat, communication takes place primarily through e-mail and letter exchanges with the Vocation office's administrative assistant, Karen Stemann. As part of that communication, the men are required to submit a list of documents and send in their answers to monthly discernment reflection questions. The retreat is the culmination of extended discernment. It helps the men understand what missionary life in the rural United States is all about. It also allows Glenmary to get to know the men and conduct a one-on-one interview with each of them.
The retreat itself, as in years past, was a busy weekend. But there was time built in for daily Mass, morning and evening prayer, and personal prayer and reflection. The main agenda included presentations by Father Don and me about Glenmary's categories of ministry, Glenmary's history, Glenmary founder Father William Howard Bishop, the application process, American culture, and the four promises we make in our Glenmary Oath.
Question-and-answer sessions filled up any free time we had. This year the group enjoyed being together so much that they kept talking until late on Sunday afternoon, and everyone decided to stay an extra night at the retreat house.
Monday morning after the retreat was no time to rest. Father Don and I continued the tradition of "moving up-country"—as they say in Kenya—to visit the families and homes of the retreatants. Six days of traveling through western and north central Kenya meant sleeping in a different place each night! The travel is never easy, but it is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of the trip.
It is exciting to meet the families of the discerners, share a meal with them, and talk about some of the important aspects of Glenmary's mission. It is also crucial for the families to be able to meet us in person. The parents and brothers often have lots of questions and concerns, so in each home there is a very lively conversation after the meal.
I don't think any of us responds to the missionary call on his own. In order for us to serve as missioners we need to pray, we need lots of people to pray for us, and we need the support of our families. That need for family support is why I spend so much time with each man's family. They can begin to get to know Glenmarians, to feel comfortable sending their son or brother to live and work with us, and to understand what a wonderful sacrifice it is for the family to send their son or brother off to serve the people of God in Mission Land, USA.
The men who participated in this year's retreat are an excellent group, and I believe all of them would make fine missioners. Getting a chance to meet them and hear the stories of their call to missionary life gave me ample opportunity to reflect on and reaffirm my own call. I am always humbled by the Kenya tradition of warm hospitality and thankful for the families who welcome us into their homes. Please continue to pray for all those who are discerning their call to serve in the home missions.
If you are interested in participating in a future Come and See retreat, be sure to contact our office now to reserve a spot.