I am thrilled about this new website featuring sisters, not only stories about them, but their own contributions. I remember when I was at the Hilton Fund for Sisters and traveled around the world visiting projects, I often wished there would be some way for others to share in my experiences of sisters’ creativity, energy and commitment to people in need of education, health care and a myriad of other services. Living with them in some of the remote areas of their countries was an education for me and impacted the way I live here in the global north.
One visit in 2006 that stands out in my mind was in a remote area of South Sudan, not long after the war, I traveled from Juba to Kampala, Uganda, where I flew on a missionary six-seater plane to Yambio to visit one of the first indigenous congregations of South Sudan, the Missionary Sisters of Mary of the Presentation.
Yambio, a United Nations outpost, was one of the most isolated places I had ever been, and the sisters lived in fear much of the time because of inter-tribal conflicts over land – the tribes who grazed cattle and those who were farmers. The sisters had a kindergarten and a training program for young women who had left school to learn skills for income generation. Besides isolation, another challenge for the sisters was access to water which they collected from the convent rooftop and stored in plastic barrels inside the house. This experience made me much more concerned my own habits of water conservation here at home.
I was scheduled to be in Yambio a couple of days and would then fly on a United Nations plane to Nairobi, my next stop on the way to Angola. However, the scheduled plane did not show up, and I was told that it might be another month before it did. What were my options? I could wait there or I could travel through the jungle to a place called Yei where I could get a plane in a day or two.
I set off the next day in a Land Rover with 10 men and one other woman – I had the feeling she was my chaperone. We arrived after 12 hours in the rain and stayed overnight in the Catholic Relief Services compound. I was promised that someone would take me to the airport (a small shed under a tree) the following morning. On the dot, a Land Rover came to fetch me. I bought my ticket, but just as I was to board, the agent came running after me to say the plane was full. I had to wait two more days when the plane would make another trip. I was feeling very anxious because no one knew where I was and I had no way to contact the sisters waiting for me in Nairobi.
The driver took me back to the compound, and to my relief, in two days I did fly to Nairobi in time to catch my next flight to Angola. This uncertainty and vulnerability was difficult for me, but for the sisters, it is their daily bread. I hope that as the website develops everyone who reads it will all be drawn into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the realities of sisters’ lives and ministries of the global south.
[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is the international liaison to women religious for Global Sisters Report.]