Almost 50 years ago Fr. Gerry Kohler began the evangelization of the Sonjo people. He met with the men, women and their children all-together. This new initiative was directed to
“Sonjo communities” as a whole, preparing them to be “Christian Sonjo Communities.” I accompanied Gerry a couple of times and I remember Gerry walking out from his small house carrying the distinctive forked stick of a Sonjo elder and greeting the people in their own language. Gerry was working in Sonjo valley at the same time that Fr. Vince Donovan was making similar efforts in Maasai country. This new initiative of going directly to Maasai and Sonjo communities was the result of Vince Donovan’s insights. His new way of doing mission signaled a dramatic departure from the old ways. Before Vince came along, much mission effort was directed at school children, often with little reference to their families at home.
Now after much time priests are taking up residence in Sonjo. Aside from a visit now and then by the priests of Loliondo, the nearest Maasai mission, little attention has been paid to the people of the Sonjo valley for over forty years. This lack of attention is hard to explain because in contrast, quite a lot of effort and focus has been directed at the Maasai people. Now three African priests of the Augustinian order have arrived to live in Sonjo. This development is long overdue and most welcome. Although Fr. Gerry has had to leave the missions because of health issues, I am sure that he is gratified that the work in Sonjo is now being stabilized and given new impetus, a work that he began so many years ago.
Last week also saw the celebration of 50 years of medical service of Wasso Hospital, located in the area of Loliondo on the Kenya border. Fr. Herbert Watschinger, a diocesan priest and medical doctor from Austria opened the hospital 50 years ago in cooperation with Fr. Tom Tunney and Fr. Dennis During. Fr. Durning later served for thirty years as our first Bishop of Arusha Diocese. Since many years, Fr. Pat Patton and his Flying Medical Service have provided clinics to the outlying areas of Loliondo every two weeks.