By Bro. Fabio Mussi, PIME
Often, introducing myself to people I have never met before, I am asked this question: “What does a Missionary Brother do?” As an example I would like to present you with my life experiences in the concrete reality of Cameroon, more precisely in the diocese of Yagoua in the Far North region of the country. In these years I am living this journey together with other Missionary Brothers, specifically Bro. Ottorino Zanatta, an agricultural expert who follows a farm of experimentations and training; and Francesca Bellotta, a social worker who takes care of school children and marginalized people.
As coordinator of the diocesan Caritas Agency since 2009, I have the task of organizing and managing all the social and charitable activities of the diocese of Yagoua: schools, healthcare, rural development, digging wells for drinking water, assistance to the disabled and other vulnerable people.
Everything has changed “suddenly” since 2013 when the Islamic sect Boko Haram began its violent hostilities. This uprising, originally born in Nigeria, spread like wildfire in neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, and Niger; where it has found favorable conditions to take root due to poverty and a lack of job opportunities. While not being identifiable with mainstream Muslim beliefs, whether it’s due to a shared belief or out of fear, a considerable segment of Muslims supports and shares the ideology and objectives of the Boko Haram fighters.
Now the populations of the Far North region of Cameroon are experiencing a serious humanitarian crisis caused by war. Looking at all this, many of my collaborators and friends discourage me from visiting these villages because the dangers are all too real. I have always replied that, in this case, then I should not even send medical or educational staff, workers for drilling wells, or rural development experts to the same villages. Since I think it is necessary to share this difficult moment with the people, it is important that I stay with them. Certainly it is a risk, but it is also a stand against those who are hell-bent on destroying all the little good and positive things that are there. If nobody takes the trouble to react forcefully against these acts of violence nobody should complain that attacks and abuses of all kinds occur.
Military actions cannot solve all the problems with weapons. Our contribution is very little compared to the magnitude and gravity of the situation. However, I believe that getting food for basic necessities to hundreds of people who are abandoned and marginalized is already giving them new hope. The same is true of the 50 to 60 women and children who are treated every day by our healthcare personnel in the villages along the border. Also, digging new wells to provide clean water to the population is a sign of stability for the village, and stems the flight of those who feel abandoned. Finally, although it may seem less important in these war times, we are working hard to reopen the school for the children and young people who have escaped from villages along the border in the wake of terrorist attacks. We can understand the security reasons that led to the closing of the schools, but abandoning all these young people without a hopeful outlook for the future is a greater risk, because they would become easy prey for Boko Haram; who is all too eager to enlist children and young people for cannon fodder.
Here is an example of what a Missionary Brother can do today. In many other countries the situation is not as difficult, but everywhere our vocation leads us to share people’s lives closely and directly. This type of presence as “apostles in daily life”, even without the explicit proclamation of the Word, is already an authentic proclamation of the Gospel and witness of the Kingdom of God. Although often the work of the lay missionary is less flashy, it has the same value of every other missionary service, because it is based on concrete testimony through one’s own life and expertise.
We hope that this “choice of life” can still inspire other Christians who want to live the Gospel concretely in everyday life. The road is now open and expects that committed and courageous people have the resolve to continue to witness the Gospel in other settings different from ours. Certainly God will know how to accompany them and support them in this difficult but exciting journey, as He has done so far with all the missionaries. Just give it a try.