Sharing new voices from Nigerian sisters

Melanie Lidman talking to the sisters gathered for personal development in advance of taking their final vows. (Joyce Meyer)

On a recent trip to Nigeria for Global Sisters Report in July, I stayed with the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious, who were holding a personal development program for sisters who were about to take their final vows. About 35 sisters lived for nine weeks in the convent on the outskirts of Enugu, one of the major cities of Nigeria, taking part in intensive workshops.

The women were enthusiastic about GSR, but when I asked whether they would write for the website, they shook their heads. “I'm not a writer,” each one said. “I wouldn't know what to write about.”

Writing, like praying, is about allowing the words inside of you to flow out onto paper. So using the story of Jesus and Simon casting out the net on the Sea of Galilee as a literary guide, we ran our first writing workshop, to bring the sisters’ voices straight from rural Nigeria to our readers.

Here are excerpts from the work of four sisters:

Sr. Roseline Heoma, Sisters of Jesus the Good Shephard in the Abakaliki diocese. (Melanie LIdman)

My greatest challenge as a sister:

A challenge I overcame was stage fright. I say this because as a young girl, I was a shy type and I found it very difficult to do anything publicly. Even looking at people's faces was difficult for me. I turned down every opportunity that could bring me into the center of attention, either to give talks to group of people, act in plays, or do anything publicly. But I was able to overcome it.

First, I identified stage fright as a problem and a challenge. I started accepting the opportunity to give talks to people, and I also started reading in church. Presently I belong to the lay readers association, and I make every effort to read in church at least once a week. Since I began accepting these responsibilities, I have really overcome these challenges, and right now I am the opposite of what I used to be.

- Sr. Roseline Heoma, Sisters of Jesus the Good Shephard, Abakaliki diocese

Sr. Lucy Mraji, Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd in the Abakaliki diocese. (Melanie Lidman)

A piece of theology that inspired me:

In a world filled with commotion, war, rivals, fighting and disunity, people are always struggling with how to relate to others. Nobody wants to be known as a weak person, a follower or a servant. Everyone is aspiring for a higher position in the world, but this quest for possession through selfish leadership is part of what is destroying the peace in the world today.

I was inspired by a book by Fr. Eugene Igboaja titled Silenced by Love, which deals with how to achieve peace, serenity, calmness, brotherly affection, compassion and a respect for human life.

In that book, the writer emphasizes that for peace to reign, you must deny yourselves even things you believe are your personal right to own or achieve.

This is a call for humility and emptying yourself, because we are just dust and ashes. If we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to be humiliated for the sake of peace, we shall surely have peace that the world cannot give otherwise. By silencing our offenders with love, we go a long way to convert sinners to Christ. This act of love will make people begin to see Christ living and acting through us.

Two wrongs do not make right. Fire is never quenched with fire, and neither does hot water dilute and cool hot water. Love is really the solution to every problem.

- Sr. Lucy Mraji, Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Abakaliki diocese

Sr. Evelyn Eseigbe, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Benin City. (Melanie Lidman)

My greatest challenge as a sister:

It was late 2009 and I was assigned to work as a teacher in Queen of Apostles Nursery and Primary School in the Catholic diocese of Lafia, in the middle belt of Nigeria. This small populated settlement is dominated by Muslims and the common language is Hausa. It was not a surprise for children born and bred in this environment to learn to speak Hausa as their first language.

My class, kindergarten, was comprised of children between the ages of three and four. My job was to teach these children, who could neither speak nor understand English, to read and recite the alphabet and numbers and parts of the human body in English.

First I had to learn to speak Hausa in order to understand what the children were trying to say to me, especially if they needed to go to the bathroom.

Gradually, I turned parts of the alphabet into short, interesting songs to help them memorize it easily. At other times, I would separate boys from girls and to each group I would beat my chest and say, “I am a boy” or “I am a girl.”

They would repeat this after me, along with a number of other games and methodologies. It was a great joy when at the end of the term, they would raise their hand and say, “Excuse me, Sister, can I go to the bathroom?”

- Sr. Evelyn Eseigbe, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Benin City

Sr. Grace Ohaka, Daughters of the Charity of the Most Precious Blood. (Melanie Lidman)

My greatest joy as a sister:

I love children, so I was thrilled after my profession when I was posted to an orphanage house. Most of the children have lost hope, or their families have no hope of sustaining them after their mothers died at birth. I tried to take care of them, taking them for medical appointments and worrying about their food.

Most of the time they even called me Mummy. Once I was about to leave for a holiday and suddenly two of the children started crying and ran after me, begging me to take them with me.

Most of them don't feel like going back to their biological families because we make them feel like they belong, by taking them out for trips to the playground and parties and sometimes taking them home with us for holidays.

One time when I took one of the children to the hospital the nurses there were amazed and started calling me “sister-mummy.” It was such a joy to see these little children coming back to life and enjoying their lives just like every child should.

- Sr. Grace Ohaka, Daughters of the Charity of the Most Precious Blood

[[Melanie Lidman is Middle East and Africa correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Israel.]

If you’d like to run a writing workshop for your congregation, go to this copy of the lesson plan here or email Melanie (melanie.lidman@gmail.com) for more information.

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