Very early on my mission partner contracted malaria. Years later with overseas mission experience a plenty, malaria was just “one of those things” you were careful to avoid, but dealt with when needed. But the first time…the sage wisdom of experience was not available.
While in mission training, we had a course based on the book “Where there are no doctors” (or so similarly titled). As the book title indicates it was how to deal with all manner of illness and injury in distant and tropical settings. Beyond the binding wounds, bracing broken limbs, and soothing fevered brows, the book when into treatment of parasitic infections, worm invasions, and a whole host of incidents which had the effect of causing one to think twice about mission. But in the here and now, we were in the field far from a hospital, but not too far from a clinic run by Italian religious sisters. It seemed like an oasis in the midst of our worries and concerns.
Last week I read that Oxford University’s Jenner Institute had completed Phase II trials for a malaria vaccine that demonstrated a 77% efficacy. Malaria affects 500 million people on the globe; annual deaths due to malaria are as high as 1 million per year. Most are among young children. Previous attempts to develop a vaccine have been hindered by the complexity of the malaria parasite—any of several species in the genus Plasmodium—which invades host cells and whose genome contains thousands of genes.
Like all experiences, mission has its own stages and cycles, its liminal moments when we are truly betwixt and between worlds, between what we think and how we see the world. Perhaps there are no more potent moments of being “between” than in the beginning of mission, the first moments away from all you knew (or thought you knew), people you cared for and held dear, and all that gave sure anchor to the way in which you engaged the world.
While musing, as I am wont to do, it came to me that 25 years ago this month, I arrived in Kenya to serve as a Franciscan lay missionary. Back in those days there were no blogs to post musings. Where we lived it was a good day to have electricity and that was usually limited to the season when the rains had come and hydro power was available. When you live in the slums and it is time to ration electrical power or water, we often were the first to experience the cuts. Back in 1996 the Web was starting to gain some momentum, but it was still just a few years old.
There is something poetic, mysterious, and magical in a vineyard before the harvest on an early morn with the dew on the vine and the first light of a just-rising sun glistening upon the fruit. But, if you are like me, you probably do not have any experience in the vineyards except perhaps as a visitor.
The vineyard does not just happen by itself. There is a complex dance between the vine, the branches and the vine grower. For example, did you know that a single grape vine can produce as much as 13 feet of new branch growth in one growing season. What happens if all that new growth remains un-pruned? It would not be unusual for that un-pruned vine to have as many as 300 fruit producing buds. While that might sound great, that’s way too many buds for the plant to support. You might have lots of produce, but it will be incredibly low quality, and good for nothing. It would probably just end up as fuel for the fire. You would have to remove as much as 75% of the buds and the associated vegetative growth so the plant can properly develop and ripen the fruit it produces. The goal is always good fruit.
The name “Hester Ford” probably does not ring a bell. She died mid-April (2021) in Charlotte, NC. Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States when she was born in 1906 (might have been 1905; the records are unclear). The covid-19 pandemic was not her first. She lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic. She lived through two world wars, saw aviation go from marvel to the everyday, witnessed the age of radio then television and then the internet. She witnessed lynchings and Jim Crow. As a black women she knew prejudice and intolerance, but saw the Civil Rights movement begin to make some inroads. She lived long enough to see 21 Presidents – she marveled and was joyous when a Black man was elected President of the United States – something she never expected.
Clayton Schenkelberg passed away this week. He lived in a care facility in San Diego, CA. He is survived by five of his children and more than 40 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. He was 103 years old – and oldest living survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor
Born Oct. 17, 1917, in Carroll, Iowa, Schenkelberg knew hardship early on. His mother died when he was 9. The stock market crashed when he was 12, triggering the Great Depression. When he was 17, his father, a livestock salesman and grain-elevator operator, was killed in an accident. Continue reading →
People are surprised to learn that the Early Rule of the friars instructed the brothers not to own pets – as well they were not to ride horses. These rules are only partly about poverty; they encouraged friars not to treat animals as objects or possessions. And, in the case of horseback riding, his rule distanced the friars from the proud world of chivalry. Later in his life when sickness compelled him to ride, Francis always preferred a donkey.
In his own writings, Francis does not adopt images from his experience of nature, rather he took those images from Scripture. In the five passages outside the Rules where he mentions animals, only once does he go beyond the imagery from Scripture, and it is to hold up animals as an example of obedience to God. Continue reading →
Sometimes, another just says it succinctly and to the point. Bishop Robert Barron does that so well commenting on this morning’s readings. In John 14 as the Apostles continue to struggle with Jesus’ words preparing them for life after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, they want to know where Jesus is going, the way to follow, the truth of the meaning of all that is unfolding, and what will life be without Jesus to lead them. Jesus’ reply is elegant. 2,000 years later those same words are just as pointed and poignant. Continue reading →