Friends in Faith: Delegates to Homa Bay make new friends, get reacquainted with old

The journey started off just as one might imagine a mission trip to a developing country could begin — 16 delegates from central Minnesota gathered at the airport, some rife with nervous anticipation, some quietly praying, others bouncing with high energy before taking off for the unexpected in Kenya, Africa. Roughly 17-plus hours later, the travelers were ready for the next leg of the journey. 

After spending two nights in the capital city of Nairobi, the crew piled into a non-airconditioned bus and headed down hot, dusty dirt roads to Rongo, a city in the Diocese of Homa Bay, where they rested a night and the next day met their hosts and hostesses for the next several days. The outpouring of hospitality made them forget their discomfort. 

Homa Bay delegation (Photos submitted)

“The people I met in Homa Bay were some of the kindest, generous, loving people I have ever met,” said first-time missioner Katy Lentz. “They were always making sure all of my needs were met and that I was doing well. It was fun to see that even though we live worlds apart and our lives are very different, we are all very much the same. We laughed together, danced together, walked together and contemplated life together. It was an experience that I find very hard to put into words, but will never be forgotten.” 

Lentz, mission education coordinator for the St. Cloud Mission Office, and the other delegates spent nearly three weeks in March in the Diocese of Homa Bay, sister diocese to the Diocese of St. Cloud. The partnership officially formed in 1999 in cooperation with Catholic Relief Services in response to a document published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled “Called to Global Solidarity.” 

The 16 delegates included: Neville, and her daughter Isabelle, Holy Spirit, St. Cloud; Lentz; Carol Brunn, Mary of the Visitation, Becker/Big Lake; Lori Curtis, St. Henry, Perham; Allan Dobis, Immaculate Conception, St. Anna; Jan Hallberg, Our Lady of the Lake, Battle Lake; Carol Hlebain, St. Stephen, St. Stephen; Brenda Kresky, Sacred Heart, Sauk Rapids; Nicole Landwehr, St. Ann, Wadena; Mary Schmit, St. Ann, Wadena; Betsy Trout and her daughter Teresa, St. Michael, St. Cloud; Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun, pastor of Seven Dolors, Albany, St. Martin, St. Martin and St. Anthony, St. Anthony; and Patti and Chris Zimmerman, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Cloud. 

The first delegation in 2000 included 17 people from St. Cloud and CRS. Since then, 10 delegations have traveled to Homa Bay, and seven delegations from Homa Bay have visited St. Cloud. An eighth delegation is preparing to come to St. Cloud in spring 2020. 

After reaching Rongo, the delegates broke into pairs and were sent to various parishes around the diocese. “It was so inspiring and humbling to watch the relationships and love grow between our delegates and our partners,” said Elizabeth Neville, director of the St. Cloud Mission Office. This was Neville’s 11th visit to Homa Bay and she and her daughter, Isabelle, 15, were one of two mother-daughter duos on the trip. 

“This was Isabelle’s second trip to Kenya — she was there when she was 7,” Elizabeth said. “It was awesome to watch her reconnect with friends and family we have known since her first visit. She spent lots of time with fellow youth playing volleyball and school visits. I loved making this journey with her.” 

Neville said it is important to continue to build the relationship between the two dioceses. “As Catholics, we are called to be universal, welcoming, accepting, loving, of all mankind,” she said. “As humans, we need community, we need others to know our role and place in the world.” 

For Lentz, there were so many new experiences — from eating a whole cooked fish right from the bones to using “restrooms” that were no more than a hole in the ground to visiting vibrant marketplaces filled with wall-to-wall people and dazzling displays of joy as they celebrated the opening of a new parish. 

“I learned so much by going on this trip,” Lentz said. “I would love for everyone to experience it once in their lives. I think there is great value in teaching about our partners, but when you can go and actually be there in person with them the experience is raw and real. … They are much like us with the same love for life and struggles in life. 

Trip clips

Overnight Godmothers 

By Betsy Trout, St. Michael Parish, St. Cloud

In what way did your faith change or grow on this trip?

Betsy and Teresa Trout visit a classroom in Oriang, Kenya. (photo submitted)

My faith changed by experiencing the deep, dedicated, joyous faith investment of the people I encountered from our sister parish [Blessed Sacrament in Oriang, Kenya]. My daughter, Teresa, and I became godmothers of 10 young girls each the first night we arrived as we were invited to come to a baptismal Mass, then asked if we would be willing to be sponsors. Wow, we felt honored and humbled at the same time that they so quickly invited us into their faith community as sisters in Christ. The next day we were given the honor of being confirmation sponsors of close to a hundred young girls. We stood in front of a crowd of over 3,000 as the archbishop confirmed and gave our names to them as their confirmation names. Again, we were blown away. … I felt that my faith was greatly strengthened by the love and close bond I felt with all the people I encountered while there.

 

Karibu Sana

By Teresa Trout, St. Michael Parish, St. Cloud

What is one thing that surprised you while in Kenya?

The words that we heard the most were “karibu sana,” which essentially means, “you are most welcome.” Within the short time we were there, the people we were with became like family, and I was absolutely crying when we had to say goodbye. Even the people who weren’t very well off went above and beyond to provide for us far beyond our needs. I expected to feel welcomed, but I didn’t expect it to feel like a second home.

What is one concrete step you will take now that you have returned?

I really want to become more involved with the partnership and help make sure that the people of our diocese, and especially our parish, know more about this amazing relationship we have from miles away. I also think that it’s really important that more young people get involved, and I hope that I can help encourage others.

 

The beauty of global solidarity

By Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun, Pastor of Seven Dolors, Albany; St. Martin, St. Martin; and St. Anthony, St. Anthony

Father Edward Vebelun takes time with a young boy in the Homa Bay Diocese. (Photo submitted)

What is one concrete step you will take now that you have returned?

I think the most important follow-up now is to cultivate personal connections within our larger diocesan relationship. Priesthood is a position of responsibility, and I have the opportunity to communicate to our parishioners through homilies and articles the experiences we had and the beauty of global solidarity. One of the best things we were able to do in our Area Catholic Community was to have our children at Holy Family School and at our faith formation programs write cards with pictures and self-introductions to be handed out to their children. They were warmly received, and the gesture was reciprocated. It was exciting to see how fun and natural it is for children and youth to become friends with pen pals who are geographically separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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