Malaria Vaccine

This morning’s email brought the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the first vaccination for malaria. The vaccine, called Mosquirix, is not just a first for malaria — it is the first developed for any parasitic disease. Parasites are much more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for a hundred years. In this age of the covid-19 pandemic we are used to hearing vaccine efficacy of 95% plus. The malaria vaccine’s efficacy is only about 50% across all malaria pathogens, but that is a start. The vaccine targets plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa. Continue reading

Speaking of cows

cowsApart from milking them, herding them, and delivering salt to the cows, there were two other interesting stories from my time in the west of Kenya that pertains to cows.

One of the traditions of the Luo people of western Kenya (at least where I was residing) was the use of cows as part of a funeral procession. I was told that there were two mainstays of the Luo funeral procession – only one of which I was witness to – and those are cows and mourners, both of which can be hired for the occasion. In the west of Kenya, cows are a mainstay of assets, and the procession of cows is a way to honor the deceased. When it comes to death, it has been a long tradition that evil spirits can play a role in someone’s passing. Mourners may wail, sing, and dance to scare away the evil spirits. To be fair, I have not done justice to the Luo death and funeral rituals which are far more traditional and extensive than the other tribes in Kenya. Still, it was a sight to behold in the one funeral procession I observed. Continue reading

Notes from the In Between

cowsThere I was: on mission, in the west of Kenya near Lake Victoria, living at an all-boys high school, speaking neither Kiswahili nor Dhluo, and not quite sure what was next. It is interesting to look back through my journal which is filled with all manner of reflections, notes about an adventure for the day, but I have no distinct memory of having any enduring task that carried me from day to day. I did help out in teaching mathematics occasionally. The Form 3 and Form 4 (that means, 11th and 12th grade) math teacher had recently started a family and the first child had many health issues which took him away from the school on an recurring but irregular basis. You might ask how could I teach without common language skills? Mathematics has its own language of symbols and signs, many of the key words are in English, and with a little imagination and waving of hands, it was possible to get through a class. There was also a student available who could translate, but as I recall in the Form 3 class the translator was not the best of mathematicians. Not sure what was lost in translation. Continue reading


letter-homeThe world is a much smaller, more connected place.  Times change, technology changes, and it unfolds in different experiences. In an earlier post, A Persistent Memory, I mentioned that back in 1960 or so the Maryknoll missioners relied on letters and a trip home every 10 years or so. Today the Franciscan Lay Missioners live among the poor and disenfranchised – but that does not mean there is no internet or cell phones. The missioners report and communicate on social media, email, and so are able to connect the people where they live with people back at home in the United States. I served in the between times. Transportation was more easily facilitated, there was the possibility of telephone communications (most days only the possibility), and there were not any internet cafes. One communicated by hand written letters. The “turnaround time” between posting a letter to home and receiving a reply was 5 to 6 weeks. One adjusts to that schedule in ebb and flow of the everyday, but there are times when you want to reply immediately. There are times when you need information, decisions, and advice. Then 5-6 weeks is an eternity. Continue reading

Getting There – part 2

he_qi_road_to_emmausWhen last seen, in the previous post, I was in the final throes of deciding to step on the plane and go to Kenya. Here were the variables: my house was occupied by a family, my bags were packed, the mission group was financially strained, we were being given one-way tickets,  the formation program was finished. A deep breath and a leap of faith, and off I went to Kenya.

It might make an interesting post to go through the thought process of how one decides to pack for a 3-year mission to a somewhat remote part of a foreign land. Will you take one razor, a pack of razors, a super-sized pack, or will you decide just not to shave? Can you buy razors there? What can you buy there if needed? There are lots of questions, practical questions you wish you asked along the way. In the end, I felt a bit like Noah: some things were packed two-by-two and others in groups of seven. (In case you are wondering about the reference to “seven”, please see Gen 7:2). Continue reading

Getting there

he_qi_road_to_emmausLet’s see…where was I? It has been several weeks since I posted about my time in mission in Kenya. In a previous post, The Long Way Round, I was standing in 3.5 feet of snow, shovel in hand, looking down a long driveway to a dirt road that had not yet been plowed and wondering if this was a sign from God about a faulty discernment process to leave the world as I had known it, and serve as a lay missioner in a far away land. Today, if I was looking at the same scene,  I likely would have thought: “this is beautiful and God put it here. Think I’ll enjoy it and let God take care of it in His own good time.” Back then, I dug my way out.

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The long way round

things-2-doIt is not a small thing to decide to leave life as you know it and take up the mantle of missionary. Many of the folks that join overseas mission services are taking a “gap” year – or in our mission society, three years. Lots of folks are recent college graduates or folks at the start of retirement. I was mid-career. I had worked for a company, started a company, sold a company, and as we reached the end of our agreement to remain, friends and I were considering starting another company. Then my pastor asked if this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I often jokingly tell people not to take dating advice from a priest. Perhaps I should have been cautious about taking career advice from a priest. About the same time, as I noted in a previous post I wrote: “Then my friend Susan asked “Hey, do you know what Fr. Joe is doing these days?” As it happens, he was Executive Director of Franciscan Mission Service (FMS).” It was the start of a very long list to things that had to be done.

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A certain lack of clarity

DiscernmentIt would seem this is post 3 of 3 about how I ended up in Kenya. In the two preceding days I posted about the role of memory and serendipity. But I think the original inquiry from a regular reader was probably most interested in the discernment process, and how I gained clarity on what the Spirit might be calling me to do. As part of mission formation we were encouraged to journal. One of our assignments was about discerning the call to mission. I did not record a full fledged account of my discernment, but I did record this: Continue reading

As it happens…

St-Francis-de-Sales-churchIn one of yesterday’s posts, I began replying to an inquiry about how I decided to go to Kenya and take up the mantle of missionary. Yesterday was about memories that persist, today’s post is about context in one’s life. As it happens, the story is part geography, part “betwixt and between,” part random question, and part taking-a-chance.

Upon leaving active duty in the Navy, I took a job in Northern Virginia with a tech company. The company’s offices were in Tysons Corner which seemed to me to be very congested and mostly concrete. So I thought to myself, “I hear the Virginia countryside is beautiful, maybe I should look for a house somewhere west of the office.”  I ended up buying a home west of Leesburg and settling into a small town parish. The church was tiny with a seating capacity of 89 (according to the Fire Marshall). The Sunday 7:30 am Mass was in the Church; the other Sunday Mass was in the high school auditorium.

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A persistent memory

family-reunionTo date the posts about Kenya have been about my time there. One regular reader inquired how I decided to go on mission, what was the discernment process, and other questions that pertain to “before Kenya.” In thinking about how to address the question it seems to me that the answer resides partly in the context of the life lived to that point in time, memories that persist with a certain clarity, and some measure of serendipity – at last in my case anyway.

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