(Dec. 1st 2011 – Dec. 1st 2014)
A Report Presented to the Ngorongoro Deanery
We are two missionaries at Olbalbal, Fr. Arkadiusz Nowak and myself. Arkadiusz is an SMA missionary working at Olbalbal for a couple of years to become familiar with the Maasai culture and language. We work with four full time catechists: Matayo OleTajeuo, Yohana Wandai, Yohana Namanjari and Simon Ngeli.
The centers that people gather for services and Teaching.
- Meshili, the home mission (Every Sunday)
- Ngoile, eight kilometers to the West (Every Sunday)
- Maasai-park near the crater (One Sunday per month)
Prayer services with teaching each week by the missionary and Catechist:
- Enkipori (Monday),
- Lengoku (Tuesday),
- Nkoponi (Wednesday)
- Oltepesi (Thursday),,
- Ngolola (Friday)
- Endemua (Saturday)
Another place is Lormunyi high on the mountain behind us, which has a substantial Christian community. We go there less often because the road is mostly impassable. From Time to time Fr. Arkado makes the trip there on foot. It is a six-hour round trip hike and, when he goes, he stays overnight.
“Jumia” communities visited each week by a catechist:
- Mtakatifu Stefano at Ngoinini (Wednesday)
- Mtakatifu Petro at Olkung’u (Thursday)
- Mtakatifu Paulo at Madukani (Thursday)
- Mtakatifu Maria at Entepesi (Saturday)
Our Approach to the Work:
We shape our teaching and liturgy so that the Maasai may experience the church as an outgrowth and completion of their own beliefs and religious practices. This involves incorporating their religious myths into our teaching. Examples would be their stories of Creation and the fall. We also welcome their language, music and religious symbolism into the liturgy.
Our aim is for the Maasai to feel at home in the church, fulfilling and at times correcting their traditional religious beliefs and practices.
In a new area we meet with the elders and explain who we are and where we come from. We explain that the Maasai know God from time immemorial. We come to talk to them of this One God, EnkAi, that they know. We ask them if they would agree that we come regularly to speak to them of EnkAi. If they agree and most do, we go to the place each week for a meeting of prayer and teaching/discussion.
Format of our meetings:
- Prayer led by the missionary in the Maasai form
- Teaching by the catechist and/or missionary
- The Apostles Creed
- “Sadaka” that remains in the community for their needs
- Blessing of the sick with prayer and imposition of hands
- Prayer of the Faithful as at Mass
- The “Our Father”
- Closing Prayer led by the missionary and a closing hymn
We emphasize that we do not bring a new or foreign God. We speak of EnkAi, whom the Maasai know and worship. We remind them of the Maasai legend about the beginning of the world that speaks of the origin of both the good and bad things that they experience. Also, we tell the bible story of creation and our first parents. We emphasize that the explanation of origin of sin and evil found in the bible and that of the Maasai legend have the same meaning.
Humans not God are responsible for the present situation. This initial teaching is key because the Maasai traditionally believe that God directly causes drought, sickness, death etc..
Next 20 or 25 Meetings:
We teach the Circle Bible of Fr. Ralph Poirier
- Birth of Jesus (the light that He brought)
- Raising of Lazarus (the life that Jesus brings)
- Good Samaritan (Our response: mercy and love)
- Prodigal Son (Our response: forgiveness)
- Eucharist (We become one with Jesus)
- Cross (Our response: we bear our cross)
- Resurrection of Jesus (Promise of eternal life)
- Prayer (Praise God, Thanks, Petition, All in Jesus name
- Ascension of Jesus (Sending, we take Good News to world)
- Mystical Body (We are His body in the world)
Our further meetings up to the time of the baptism of the community and beyond are based on the Sunday readings.
Baptism and beyond:
We usually baptize after weekly teachings that last for about two years. After baptism we continue with our weekly meetings based on the Sunday readings.
Some Notes on The Sacraments:Baptism: (We have had 280 baptisms during our 1st three years at Olbalbal)
New fire: The hearth fire is extinguished in all the house of the village to be baptized. During the baptism ceremony a new fire is made with traditional fire sticks and carried to all the houses, a sign of the light of Christ entering the community. Green branches are heaped on the flames and the priest and elders then bless the fire. They bless with“engare-pus”, a gourd of water with a drop of milk and with green grass in the mouth of the gourd:
Stones of the hearth fire blessed with “engare-pus.” We are asking the ancestors of the family to bless us as we make this new beginning as followers of Jesus.
The village is blessed: The priest and elders walk around the village blessing the singing people, the animals and the houses, sprinkling all with “engare-pus”
Sign of the cross on the forehead with chalk: The Maasai use the symbol of marking a person with “endoroto”, chalk, to sign protection from curses and other evils. A Christian is protected from curses by his or her faith in Jesus. Also, as a man’s herd is branded with a unique brand, so also Jesus marks his followers with his unique sign or brand, the cross.
An unblemished cow skin is placed in the center of the cattle enclosure. Each person to be baptized sits on the stool to receive baptism.
After all have been baptized, the priest gives each woman a burning ember from the new fire with a sprig of green leaves to light the new fire in her house.
Black vestments sign the black rain clouds that bring all good things to Maasai country. Black is also the color of the clothing worn by Maasai on their pilgrimages of prayer.
Liturgical music and prayer is the Maasai language and form.
The Prayer of the faithful is in the Maasai prayer form.
We bless the sick in each liturgy. When the first Maasai priests were ordained in mid 70s., they took the decision that following baptism people should not go to the “Laibon.” Certain ailments and conditions seem not to respond to interventions by modern medicine or Maasai healers. Thus people are left without recourse in certain situations. In an effort to fill this lacuna, we have a blessing of the sick at most liturgies that includes anointing, laying on of hands, and the blessing with “engare-pus.”
At the offertory we bless the offertory procession and gifts with “ngare-pus.”
We have communal penance services prior the major feasts.
During our penance service all hold a tuft of green grass. Holding a tuft of green grass is a traditional way of asking for forgiveness.
In addition to the traditional exchange of rings, the groom places the “monorrit” chain around the neck of the bride. The bride places the necklace of blue beads called “onongoi” around the neck of the groom.
The clasped hands of the bride and groom are smeared with sheep fat and blessed by the priest.
The celibate Catholic priesthood presents tremendous challenges to young men who might aspire the ordained priesthood. Celebacy, far from seen as gift of oneself to God and his people, is rather seen as a curse and is totally unintelligible to the Maasai. A man who dies without children has no respect and his name is never mentioned again.
Most Maasai Missionaries have no additional sources of income to support their work in Maasai country. For example, our Sunday collection here at Olbalbal averages 12,000/=. The Maasai missionary must find funds to enable him to do his work. This presents a huge challenge for the missionary that has no outside sources of income. Given the difficulty of supporting himself and his work, it is not surprising that many priests find Maasai ministry unattractive and leave it as soon as they are able. His recurring expenses include the following:
- Salary for a cook
- Various personal expenses and needs
- Salaries for one or more full time catechists
- Upkeep and fuel for the mission vehicle
- The monthly cost of food and other household expenses
Recent history indicates that appointments to Maasai missions are relatively brief. This is evidenced by the very short time people are stationed in out Maasai missions. One would almost get the impression that Maasai missions are seen as stopping off places on the way to more attractive posts and the much sought after assignments to study overseas. There is little continuity. There is clearly no possibility of getting to know the people and their problems and becoming familiar with Maasai language and culture during a two or three year stay in a place.
In the case of the Spiritans, this situation may be changing with the initiative of our provincial, Fr. Amandus Kapele. He has decided to send all new appointments to Maasai country to a Maasai language course before taking up residence at a Maasai mission.
The physical challenges become more limiting, as I grow older. I can no longer walk to places for teaching and meetings with the people. I used to be able to go to two or three places each day. Now my energy level enables me to go to only one place each day. Fr. Arkado is able to walk and goes to our places that can’t be reached by car.
Relating the teaching to the life experience of the Maasai continues to be a tremendous challenge. Fortunately in the last 20 0r 30 years they have come to know cultivation and many parables have this theme.
Most Maasai are not fluent in Kiswahili. Both Arkado and I find expressing ourselves in the Maasai language to be an ever-present challenge that doesn’t seem to become easier with time.