Vocation Story: “God surprises me”

Perseverance and Faithfulness will carry us all the way long. All is a gift from God. Be grateful, do what you can and remain faithful to the call of Jesus. That will bring you to the good end. A Comboni Brother from Germany tell us his story. 


I am a 72 years old. I belong to the category of the so called “late vocations”. I studied business management and worked for 12 years in my profession in the field of Marketing, when I became a Postulant at the age of 37. After Postulate and Novitiate, I spent 2 years at the Comboni Brothers Centre in Nairobi and then was assigned to the Province of South Sudan in 1988.

I was called back to serve in my home Province in Germany for three years from 2002-2004 and thereafter returned to South Sudan in 2005. In July 2013 I was again re-assigned to Germany. I left much of myself in Africa, especially South Sudan and my great desire was, if God wishes, to return. That was granted when I came back to Juba in May 2018.

Still a youth of 14 years, I felt the vocation of becoming a priest. But after some time I departed from this idea. Thereafter little by little I slacked down in practising my pious exercises until I reached the point of not going anymore to Sunday Mass and besides that, jumping the sacraments and personal prayer for quite a number of years. In this stage of religious landslide, I found myself after some time a Spiritual dead Catholic, cut off from an intimate relationship with Jesus.

I joined the company of many contemporaries in Germany, thinking of myself as a normal and good person never noticing, that a life without God deprives not only of any inner hope and joy, but creates a certain blindness that prevents to see the real and deep sense of life and the dignity for any human granted by God the Creator.

It is an illusion to assume a human can manage life just by his or her own capacity. If we separate from the Holy Spirit, another Spirit will take over – we like it or not! If we allow this to happen the devil, smart as he is, will fill the gap with any kind of temporary desires and joys that lead after all down the road to emptiness and despair.

I fell into this trap by trying to work hard for my carrier in my job, making some money, liking fast cars, spending some good time in short lasting relationships with girls, finding so called friends and joining them in part-time drinking and sharing all kind of fun and pleasures life can offer. Still worse, that the spiritual blindness in this stage creates an unawareness of what is really going on and prevents a person to see that one is wasting to the full the precious gift of life.

Due to one event in my thirties, on which I would not like to comment in detail, God took a chance to get me by the neck. It was Jesus the Good Shepherd Who, despite everything had never abandoned me but always followed me. He was running all those years after me and now I am running after Him!  I remember that I never thought of something like this; nor did I ask for it, leave alone to make any effort to change my life style.

It just came by surprise and caught me straight down to the middle of my heart. And I felt this was real and genuine coming from Heaven. It was the beginning of a total change of my inner self and paved the way for a new life centred on Jesus Christ. I could describe it as an awakening from a long and bad dream being now led into the beautiful light of a new day. My former life looked like a total failure and disaster and God, all of a sudden opened my spiritual eyes and an inner joy filled my heart that is difficult to describe.

I was clearly aware of my unworthiness, unfaithfulness and sins, and yet found myself embraced by the loving presence of God. The picture of the “Prodigal Son” could explain this better than anything else. The process of my conversion took more than 1 ½ years and eventually I joined the Comboni Missionaries in August 1983. I joyfully agreed with this new life and wanted to serve people in Africa as a Comboni Brother.

I have been doing quite a lot of different commitments. During my first assignment to South Sudan I worked in Juba from 1988-1992 as Provincial Bursar and Procurator. That was during the time of war. By the way, nobody ever believed during those years of war that the South Sudan could become once an independent country. But it happened.

Unfortunately, in December 2013 a new war broke out; but this being one not a civil war but literally a war “Brother against Brother”. Let us hope and pray that the recent talks between the warring parties make a final end on this brutal violent outrage. Coming back to my own story: After Juba I spent 1993 a short time in Wau doing logistical work and distributing food to the poor. Due to a demonstration of the diocesan clergy, all the Religious and Seminarians in Juba at beginning of 1992, the Sudanese Government did not renew my stay visa and I spent thereafter 15 months in Nairobi doing logistical work for the dioceses of Rumbek and Tombora-Yambio.

In 1996 I was sent to the Nuer in Leer doing pastoral work. The Comboni Missionaries are present in Sudan since 150 years; yet we were the first group of Comboni Missionaries working among the Nuer. But after some 2 ½ years we had to leave due to the mood of a war lord.  In 1999 I came to the Dinka land of Agangrial (Rumbek Diocese) and there doing manual work. In 2002 I started my work in Germany as a pastoral agent in a prison.

In 2005 I returned to South Sudan to prepare the return of the Provincial Base from Nairobi to Juba. For a short while I was again the Provincial Bursar and in 2009 I went back to Leer working with another Comboni Brother in a Technical School. Reassigned to Germany in 2013 I was then asked to take over the work of the Procure. In April 2018 I was called back to the Province of South Sudan staying at the Provincial House in Juba doing the work of a Community Bursar.


Perseverance and Faithfulness will carry us all the way long. Though as Comboni Missionaries we are no contemplatives, but my own life experience showed me how important it is to remain faithful to prayer.  All is a gift from God. Be grateful, do what you can and remain faithful to the call of Jesus. That will bring you to the good end. (Brother Hans Dieter Ritterbecks)

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