by Jo Anne Kelly MMM Ireland 15.11.2021
The sun was just rising, shortly after 6 am when I set off from Ibadan in West Nigeria to attend a formation team meeting in Urua Akpan in the East of the country, a 10-12-hour journey depending on the roads and the traffic. I usually loved this early morning drive but I knew the meeting was going to be a tough one. So much was new about formation after Vatican11 and as team leader I had to try and present it and get things accepted to form a new programme. I did not know enough myself and my mind was quite in turmoil about it all.
About half way on the journey I had to pick up another team member, a Benedictine monk, Fr. Columba, in Eke on the East side of the river Niger. I hoped to reach there before noon. After about two hours I realized something was not right with the car and I was on the highway. I pulled off the road and stopped. When I tried to start again nothing happened, so there I stayed. It was long before the time of mobile phones. I had no way of contacting anyone and I could not leave the car to seek help. So I got out and stood by the car looking helpless! People stopped and tried to help but nothing moved. Then a big lorry came. The passenger got out and then called the driver whom he said was a “bit of a mechanic” He did seem to know what was wrong and told me I needed a mechanic and maybe a new part. He would try and find a roadside mechanic and send him back to me.
Well I waited and waited. By now the sun was high and scorching hot and there wasn’t a tree or bush in site for shade. I decided to have my lunch from my picnic bag. I find hot tea much better for thirst than warm water. So I enjoyed my snack. Just then a young man came along on his bike with a bag of tools on the back. I will call him Isaac. In no time Isaac knew what was wrong and told me what I needed to buy and how much it would cost. There was no chatting, he put his tools back on the bike, took the money, and went off to buy the part.
So again I waited and waited. I could not be sure he would come back. After about one and a half hours a car stopped and out Isaac came, got to work and the car started. He asked if I would give him a ride back to his shop. On the way he told he had just finished his apprenticeship, and the man who taught him had given him this little bag of tools and they were all he had to start his own business. We kept driving. I could not believe how far he had come on his bike in that sweltering sun. Eventually we came to the entrance of a village and there was his shop – four poles stuck in the ground and a roof made of palm fronds and grass. But he was happy. He said I’m just starting but I have my tools and I know my job. He asked me to tell others where to find him if they were in trouble. I was so grateful to Isaac. I gave him a bit extra and asked that God would bless him and his work. And I thought to myself what have I to complain about!
I reached Eke late in the evening, too late to travel on. The monks were new in Nigeria and not properly set up and had not much accommodation and certainly none for a woman!! There was a big parish church in the compound and after Evening Prayer and supper they put a camp bed in the sacristy of the church, gave me a basin of water and towel, a bottle of drinking water and a glass and a candle and matches- all I needed for the night. There was no electricity. I opened the door into the church, a huge, dark empty church, but the sanctuary light was flickering and I knew I was not alone. The Blessed Sacrament was there. I prayed that I would get through these days well and asked Mother Mary to help me.
I did not expect to sleep. I had so much on my mind. I went to bed and did not wake till I heard the church bell ring for Morning Prayer. And I woke with a profound sense of peace, a peace that stayed with me for the rest of the journey and even for the meeting.
When I dropped Fr. Columba back to Eke two days later, one of the monks told me that there was a story in the parish that when Marie Martin as a lay missionary, did her long journey from Calabar to Onitsha to see Bishop Shanahan, during the school break in December 1921, she and her companions stayed overnight in that parish compound in Eke.