Christmas Memories from East Africa

Christmas Memories from East Africa

by Sr. Genevieve van Waesberghe MMM    Tanzania  27.12.2021

Baby Wau 190322As a missionary, I owe a lot to the Women of Africa.  They have opened my heart to recognize in day-to-day life, God, our Emmanuel who is always coming in often humble and unexpected ways, especially where there is great suffering and poverty.

As we journey to Christmas, three memories rise in my mind. It all happened in East and Central Africa.

One night, I was called to the maternity ward.  A woman brought by her traditional attendant was having difficulty in giving birth.  Women friends were anxiously waiting outside.  Eventually the baby was born, all was well. When the women heard this good news, they burst into joyful ululations to let the world know!

A few days later, it was Christmas eve. Over the mountains, in the dark of night, I saw a procession of lights. The people were walking to the Church, just like Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem. The Mass was solemn and joyful and there was something very special: after the Consecration, instead of the usual Acclamation, women spontaneously burst into ululations just as when a child is born. What a joy! What a testimony of their belief that Jesus indeed is born again to-day, right here, in their lives, in their community. And more, Jesus is truly the Bread of Life.   Then I remembered  ‘Bethlehem’ means ‘House of Bread’. There, Mary laid her babe, the Bread of Life, in a manger!

The Baker woman took the road which led to Bethlehem the house of bread.
To knead the bread she labored through the night, and brought it forth about midnight.                                                                                    
Bake us the bread Mary, Mary, we need to be fed.
Baker woman song translated from the French by Hubert Richards.

One day, I had the privilege to work with women prisoners.  We were in  a room used sometimes as a chapel. It had a small altar.  A friend had volunteered to bring us a meal. While she prepared the food, she left her baby with us, comfortably laid on a blanket at the foot of the altar. The day was blessed.  I was aware that our compassionate God was with us, healing wounds and bringing peace to the women prisoners. Later, I discovered that the baby’s name was  Emmanuel!  I was deeply moved .

On another occasion I was in a country torn by conflicts: soldiers and displaced people were everywhere. I stayed at the Catholic mission. When I stepped outside my room, there were many make-shift tents, busy women and children running around.  A woman was sitting on a mat with a baby on her lap.  I greeted her and we exchanged smiles. She was pregnant when she had to flee a few months ago. She lived in fear.  On the way to her present location, she gave birth to a baby girl.

She was so grateful to God that she named her MERCI (Thank you). Tears filled my eyes. Blessed are the poor, the persecuted.

God indeed is near. Through the gift of this child, God was healing her and giving her hope when all around her was destruction, abandonment, desolation and despair.

As we celebrate the Birth of Jesus in a world darkened by the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty, hunger, migration due to climate change, conflicts and wars, let us open our hearts: God-Emmanuel is coming to heal us, liberate us, unite our human family and to invite us together as one to care for the earth. Then, vibrant with Hope, and with hearts filled with Gratitude, we will also be able to ululate and sing for Joy.

Mary, You are Mother of God, Mother of the Eucharist, Mother of the Church and our Mother!  You are blessed Mary among all women! Pray for us! Merci, Thank You.