Zambia – Vocation Story: On eagle’s wings

After falling into a dark chasm, the author felt raised up and borne on the breath of dawn. Today he knows that God is holding him in the palm of his hands, and wants to share his joy.

A dusty gravel road, a quite noisy place due to local taverns at every corner, coupled with frequent cases of neighbourhood fights. That was my birthplace. A place where each morning, I could wake up to the sound of Rumba music played on my father’s stereo. It is called M’tanda Bantu, located in Old Kanyama Compound, Lusaka (Zambia).

My life outside the comfort zone of my mother’s womb started on 4th February 1990, as the first born in a family of five children. Today, only two are left, since three died at a tender age. I spent a good chunk of my childhood with my grandparents from the matrilineal side. It is from them that I learnt the basic rules of life.

I was enrolled in a government school called New Kanyama Basic (now Kanyama Central), where I did my grade 1 up to grade 7. In 2004, I sat for grade 7 final examination, and I was accepted in another government-run school, in the same locality: Chinika High School (now, Chinika Secondary School), where I went through my junior and senior secondary education.

Up to that date, I had never entertained any thought of pursuing a priestly or religious vocation. My dream was to become a businessperson and have my own family – nothing more, nothing less. Today, however, I firmly believe that God had something else in store for me.

I attribute this shift in my life – especially as far as my relationship with God and my journey to holiness are concerned – to a seed of faith that was planted in the soil of my soul by God through my mother, a fantastic woman, Bupe Tondo by name. She was the one who initiated me into the life of Catholic Faith. She would regularly take me to Sunday mass when I was still a small child. She taught me the common prayers of the Catholic Church when I was not yet able to understand what I was saying. Quite often, at night, especially when the full moon lit our sky, we two could lie down on a mat, with our heads facing up, and contemplate the spectacular sight. Mum must have thought that that was the most adequate time for storytelling. She was a fantastic narrator, and I drank in all her words. That is how I learnt many Biblical stories: how God created the world; how he made the first man and the first woman; how he freed his people from slavery; how he called a man named Abraham to be the father of all nations and how he transformed a simple shepherd boy into a great king, David by name. Mum was indeed my first catechist.

Everything went smoothly for me until the year 2000, when life decided to show me the dark side of its face. On one chilly morning, I was greeted with the sad news of my mother’s death. Her funeral was for me an experience of emotional numbness: the absence of feelings can actually equal extreme pain and distress; when you feel nothing, the world seems to make less sense.

It took quite a while to come to terms with the fact that mum was no more. I guess it could be the right time for me to develop a personal faith and relationship with God, but it was not so .In fact, mum’s death did not leave me intact. I got disoriented. I stopped going to church. I dropped catechism classes. Mum was no longer there for me to make her happy. I became a “vagabond” from the point of view of faith. Any church was good enough for me: Bread of Life Church, Assemblies of God, Church of God, United Church of Zambia, Seventh Day Adventist, and many others. I did not “belong” to any. I went where friends and relatives who were taking care of me went. Or I went just to follow a girl who seemed able to make my heart throb.

I want to believe that that was a moment of self-discovery. I was searching for myself, as well as for something, someone and somewhere to lean on. On 4th April 2005, at the news of the death of Pope John Paul II, I decided not only to go back to the Catholic Church, but also to take up again catechism classes. In 2007, I received the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at St Joseph Catholic Church, Kanyama. From then onwards, it was blessings upon blessings coming into my life. Each step I made was like re-awakening my zeal to be in the presence of God.

Two years later, I joined the lay Junior Franciscans. Thanks to them, I became not only more engaged in Parish activities, but also exposed to the language of vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. I began entertaining thoughts of becoming a religious person.

At one of the workshops organised by the Junior Franciscans in Lusaka’s Matero Compound, a friend spoke to me about the Comboni Missionaries. The following day I decided to go and see the vocation director of that Institute, Fr. Carlos Alberto Nunes, a Portuguese missionary. After a few encounters with him, I felt full of enthusiasm about becoming like him.

After attending several aspirants’ meetings and a three-month pre-postulancy experience in Lunzu (Malawi), in 2011 I joined the Comboni Postulancy at Balaka (Malawi) for my philosophy courses. In 2014, I was admitted to the Inter-Provincial Novitiate, in Nnamugongo (Uganda). On 30th April2016, I made my first religious vows. At present, I am pursuing a Degree programme in theology at Tangaza University College, in Nairobi (Kenya).

The years spent with the Comboni Missionaries have been inspirational and transfiguring. My relationship with God and with others was deepened. I came to terms with myself: with my fears, my prejudices and my God-given qualities. I revisited my past life in the light of faith and saw that, in a way or another, I have always been fighting with God and his call. Once I surrendered to him, I began to feel rejuvenated in my motivations to embrace consecrated life.

Today, each day of my life as a consecrated person is a constant ‘yes’ to God’s work in me. I can say ‘thank you’ to him for my past life. “I know that I have been having a living Defender” (cf. Job 19:25) all through the many trials and tribulations. After my awakening, he has set me close to him. This certainty translates in sheer joy. I know God will guide me in my desire to share this joy with others, especially the most vulnerable, oppressed by social, economic, cultural, political and religious structures. (Christopher T. Silwembe)

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