While in Minnesota Sept. 20 to Oct. 3, the 16 delegates from Homa Bay, Kenya — a sister diocese to St. Cloud — experienced everything from bowling and four-wheeling to raking leaves and square dancing to beautiful expressions of worship and prayer.
Some activities took place in individual parishes and homes while others were group activities like touring Catholic Charities and the diocesan offices, enjoying lunch with Bishop Donald Kettler and participating in diocesan events, including the V Encuentro, Diocesan Ministry Day and the annual Mission Partnership Barn Dance.
“Diocesan Ministry Day and V Encuentro were awesome experiences for our delegates,” said Elizabeth Neville, director of the St. Cloud Mission Office. “They were able to help promote and educate over 800 people from across the diocese on the importance of this diocesan partnership through their presence. They also had an opportunity themselves for catechetical formation to bring back to their parishes in Homa Bay and share within their communities.”
Hosting parishes for the delegates included St. Francis Xavier, Sartell; St. Anne, Kimball; Seven Dolors, Millerville; the parish cluster of St. Ann, Wadena, and St. John the Baptist, Bluffton; the cluster of St. Michael, St. Cloud, and St. Joseph, Waite Park; the Holdingford and St. Stephen area; the twinned parishes of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Cloud and the cluster of St. Paul and Our Lady of Angels, Sauk Centre, and St. Alexius, West Union.
“These delegations are about love,” Neville said. “These exchanges of individuals from our diocese as well as the Homa Bay Diocese are an opportunity to learn about love, journey together in love, grow in love, create a relationship of love. When we can meet each other face to face, it’s inevitable that our hearts will be opened.”
Kathy Knoblach has been connected with Kenya for more than a decade. After traveling there, she helped form a sister parish partnership between Migori, Kenya, and the parishes of Our Lady of Angels and St. Paul in Sauk Centre, where she also serves as director of religious education.
Because of the ongoing relationship the parishes have, they hosted four people during this delegation for an extended three-week visit: Father Gregory Ombok, Franciscan Sister Beatrice Osire, Maryline Auka and Ambrose Kauko.
During their stay, delegates had a robust schedule that included teaching sessions in the public and Catholic schools; faith formation and confirmation classes; visiting the police and fire departments, hospital and assisted living facility; participating in parish meetings and an anointing service; a pontoon ride and trips to both an organic and robotic farm.
Because St. Paul Church is home to St. Faustina’s Chapel of Divine Mercy, it is part of its mission to continue to spread the message of Divine Mercy around the world.
“It just so happened that we were getting a new stained glass window for our addition to the chapel while the delegates were here,” Knoblach said. “Father Greg [Paffel] had the idea to have the same image made into a banner that the delegates could take back with them for their parish to connect us together.”
They also sent back 800 rosaries and Divine Mercy prayer cards to continue to spread the message.
The community also experienced opportunities to share in worship. In addition to weekend liturgies, a Kenyan Mass was celebrated with the students from Holy Family School, which included a special sung “Alleluia” and a petition prayed by Sister Beatrice in Swahili. The sixth-grade students were taught the unique way Kenyans “dance up” the gifts to the altar.
“After the Mass, they kept singing that ‘Alleluia,’” Knoblach said. “The kids were taking selfies with Sister and enjoying the experience. Those kids were impacted in a way they will always remember. I can’t tell you how the whole community was impacted, but the individual lives that were touched by those who interacted with the delegates is evident.”
When Knoblach asked Melanie Borgerding to consider hosting a delegate, Borgerding thought it would be a wonderful experience. She talked to her husband, Jason, and he agreed. The couple has five boys ranging in age from 2 to 10.
“We sat down with the kids and explained the situation and they unanimously agreed that we should host Ambrose,” Melanie recalled.
On Sept. 21, the Borgerdings traveled to St. Cloud to pick up Ambrose Kauko. At first, they admit, his accent was a little difficult to understand but they quickly moved beyond that obstacle and enjoyed showing Kauko their lifestyle.
“In addition to the busy schedule they had organized through the parish, we went bowling, attended my nephew’s birthday party, went four-wheeling, did some yard work and had a fire,” Melanie said. “We dressed Jack [the couple’s 2-year-old son] up to show him how we have to dress to go outside in the snow.”
And Kauko was equally interested in sharing his life with them. They were especially interested in learning about how they make their houses in Kenya.
“Out of mud and ‘cow dung,’” Melanie said. “I also found their education system very interesting. The children attend school for three months, then one month off all throughout the year. They also can speak several languages. When they are at home they speak their tribal language, then when they begin school at age 5 they begin to learn Ki-Swahili and English. Some students learn additional languages when they get older.”
Though they learned many things from each other in those 10 days, the Borgerdings feel the most valuable lesson they learned was one of faith.
“Ambrose is very bold and strong in his faith, so I feel like he was a great example of being a witness to Christ no matter what situation you are in,” Melanie said. “We all just feel like our lives were so enriched by this experience. … We are so happy to have a friend who lives in Kenya. Even little Jack still talks about Ambrose. We have lots of pictures so we will talk about him often.”
Melanie said she has gained new understanding from the visit.
“I feel like by having Ambrose here with us and learning about how they live and their hardships, it has given us all a new sense of empathy and compassion that we didn’t have before. You can hear and read about life in Kenya, but until you actually speak to someone and get to know them, you don’t have a full sense of compassion,” she said.
A living reminder
The Borgerdings will have a living reminder of their time with Kauko. At the annual Mission Barn Dance Sept. 30 in Wadena, they bid on an Autumn Blaze Maple tree donated to the live auction by Mike and Debbie Pete of Pete’s Nursery and Landscaping.
The Petes are members of St. Ann Parish in Wadena and wanted to support the diocesan partnerships through their donation of the tree. They also invited the delegates hosted by their parish to tour their nursery.
“We decided to buy the tree for many reasons,” Melanie said. “It is a beautiful tree, they delivered and planted it and mostly because it supported the partnership. We decided it would be our ‘Ambrose Tree’ then and there, and he was so honored by that.
“He told me that when I come to Kenya that we will plant a tree at his house,” she shared. “As they were planting the tree, Drew [the couple’s 4-year-old son] came running over and said, ‘Thank you for planting our Ambrose Tree!’ They all know it is his tree when they look at it and is a reminder of our new friendship.”