Editor’s Note: Cindy Adamowsky has worked for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities as the Director of Life Enrichment and Wellness for three years. Spending vacation time doing volunteer work is something she has long committed to because she feels it is important to “give back.”
Along with her visit to the Timau Mission in Kenya, East Africa this past September, Cindy has spent time volunteering in New Delhi, India and several small villages in El Salvador. She is a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Syracuse, N.Y. This account of her trip to Timau is in her own words.
My friend Dorothy Pierce and I traveled to East Africa to volunteer at St. Elizabeth Primary School and St. Clare Technical School for approximately 200 children sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis. These schools are located in the small town of Timau, Kenya, where the sisters have been ministering since 1971.
Most of these children, who are only able to attend school through funding provided by individual benefactors, are disadvantaged, homeless, migrants or orphaned. This is a result of the widespread AIDS epidemic that is prevalent across Africa.
Many people from my church generously donated stuffed animals, suitcases and money to help us get extra supplies to the children. Our collection of “furry friends” was very well received by both the children and Sisters Joanne Gangloff and Bea Leising.
While in Timau, Dorothy and I felt so many of our experiences touched us so very deeply and profoundly. I know we have been transformed in ways that we could not have ever imagined. It was truly an honor and a privilege for us to watch Sisters Joanne and Bea minister so tirelessly to the children, families and staff of St. Elizabeth and St. Clare schools. Their commitment and devotion to the people of Timau was remarkable! They both exemplify what it means to be the heart and hands of Christ in the world, as they reach out to those in need.
The school children with whom we spent time were just precious. Engaging with them and their teachers was such a joy to us, and the sound of their voices will forever remain in our hearts. The younger children loved to be near us and touch us and would fight with one another to be able to hold both Dorothy’s and my hands as we walked together. There were times when Dorothy and I would have multiple children hanging on for dear life to each of our arms! While in the classroom, sometimes we would sit and observe the children from the back, while their teacher was giving a lesson. One by one, the children would turn in their seats and just stare at us. I guess you could say we were a bit of a distraction!
What became very obvious to Dorothy and I was that God was truly at the center of these children’s lives. The depth of their faith was expressed through prayers, songs of worship and praise and dancing. The children were taught to close their eyes while praying. It makes me smile when I bring images to mind of the younger children covering their eyes with their hands in an attempt to keep them closed!
Dorothy and I attended Mass every morning with the older students and sisters. What was noticeably absent from the chapel pews were Bibles, prayer books and hymnals. The children didn’t need them. They had within them all they needed to express their thanks and praise to our Lord. I don’t think Dorothy and I will ever forget the sound of their beautiful singing which drifted out of the open windows as we made our way to the chapel each morning.
In the November issue of my church’s monthly newsletter, there was an article about the importance of song and that “singing our faith, together with fellow Christians is such a joy and privilege.” We are all aware that singing is a beautiful form of prayer and the author wrote, “clearly, God is in song.” Dorothy and I experienced God’s presence through the voices of those children. These were most assuredly, moments of grace.
The children also gathered to pray during morning assembly in the center courtyard and before their noonday meal, which consisted of a hearty soup of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and beans. On some days, this soup would be served over rice. Meat was added to the soup on Wednesdays. The children received a cup of nutritious four grain porridge in the morning and a piece of fruit later in the afternoon. For some, this would be their only food for the rest of the day.
The poverty we witnessed was profound. Most families live in tiny houses constructed of mud or tin, with dirt floors. There is no indoor plumbing or electricity. Cooking is done over a charcoal fire. Many families attempt to get temporary or seasonal work as pickers at surrounding farms, or the women take in wash and perform other menial labor to earn what money they can to purchase food. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I silently thanked God for the bountiful blessings that we all experience in this country, especially for basic necessities such as clean running water, electricity and plentiful food.
A few months ago, the bishop of the Central New York Episcopal Diocese wrote in a letter that “Christ has no borders.” His statement really resonated with me and I have reflected deeply about the meaning this holds for me.
God is at work in each of our lives every day. How we each choose to serve and honor him is different for all of us.
Many of us serve God in our homes, in our families, our neighborhoods, at church, in our own communities and outside of our communities. We minister to those we know and to those we may never have the opportunity to meet personally. We have graciously welcomed the stranger.
Often times, we never know the true impact we have made in someone’s life. God is very grateful to us for however and wherever we choose to reach out and minister to his people in need. For some of us, it could be just beyond our front door, for others it could be at a little mission school in Kenya. It’s all the same to God!