The Maryknoll Sisters Peace Building Team here in Nairobi has been an incredible support for both me personally and my mission.
|Our "Conversations for Social Change" group; middle of back row, Sr. Teresa and Sr. Sia; front row, 2nd from right, Sr. Giang|
During our formation training prior to coming to mission, we were told to “make sure we knew who our community was here in mission as well as our support system.” I very well knew that there would be no community of Franciscan lay missioners here, but I didn’t anticipate that I would have no support system.
In stepped these wonderfully bright, creative, caring, intellectual sisters! When I was homeless, they gave me shelter and helped me find a place to live. When I was just trying to navigate my way in getting around via the crazy matatu and bus public transportation, they advised all the ways one should travel this way without, hopefully, getting mugged!
When I was going to a police station for the first time on behalf of three missing children, they cautioned me on the “do’s and don’ts” of dealing with this corrupt police system to ensure my safety. I could go on and on, but the point is made of how special they are.
They are an intentionally diverse community. Sr. Teresa is from the U.S. and a West Point graduate. Sr. Giang is originally from Vietnam where her entire family was evacuated before the fall of Saigon. They finally settled in Houston and she became a NASA engineer. Sr. Sia is from Tanzania and former math and physics teacher. They all arrived in their peace-building mission in Kenya right before the post election violence of 2007/2008 and they established a remarkable program entitled “Conversations for Social Change”.
They have run these programs all over the country, focusing in on the “hot spots” of areas in conflict as well as the slums. Very simply, they have structured “circle groups” made up of diverse people having conversations on various topics such as possibilities, being human and taking risks among other topics. They seek to develop awareness and relationships among the participants.
It is their belief that the lack of true, meaningful conversion begets conflict. I took their six-month course where we met every month for one Saturday and just had simple but incredibly meaningful conversations. At the end of each six-month cycle, the Sisters hold a retreat for the participants as well as a Town Hall meeting where everyone comes together.
What is incredibly exciting now is the possibility of us combining my prison ministry with the Sisters’ “Conversations” program. There are 35-50 women in the condemned section of Langata prison. They will never get out of there. They have been convicted of either murder or robbery with violence. They are in a segregated section, some with their children, not permitted to mix with the other inmate population or even share Mass together. The chaplains work very hard to give them encouragement or simply listen to them, but they find that inmate depression is very high. Who wouldn’t be depressed? Many were convicted in their early twenties.
"How about we bring 'Conversations for Social Change' into the maximum women’s prison?" I asked. Sure, there are certain logistical issues, language and literacy issues. The Sisters are most willing, and the chaplains are incredibly supportive as is the prison administration. I am excited to participate and urge you all to follow this progress.
As with anything in mission, there will be unintended bumps along the way. However, the tenacity of these three remarkable women will, I am quite sure, surmount the challenges. Please stay tuned and, in the meantime, if you’re moved to support their work, contact the Maryknoll Sisters in Maryknoll, New York.