a young boy with severe physical disabilities is in a wheelchair

Picture: Daniel’s first time in a wheelchair.

An open-air church is built into a hillside, still under contruction

Mama Agatha’s Church is growing brick by brick.

JOE FOLEY works in the mission office of the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province.

By: Joe Foley
This story first appeared in Comboni Missions Magazine fall 2021.

Daniel spent the first fourteen years of his life on a mattress. His father left. He has no brothers or sisters, only his mother is there to help him.

There are several pictures of Daniel. Some on the mattress, one in a wheelchair. In the wheelchair, he’s smiling. In fourteen years, no one had before seen that.

In fourteen years, Daniel had never sat in a wheelchair.

The Comboni Missionaries Mission Office is involved in projects around the world. Some big, some small. Some we sponsor directly, some indirectly. We have assisted Mercy House in Johannesburg for many years. It was Mercy House that secured Daniel’s wheelchair.

We fund all manner of water projects from Ethiopia to Malawi. We fund projects for schools, projects for nutrition, projects for evangelization. We build shelters to house livestock in Zambia, erect radio towers in Uganda, and supply emergency oxygen to Peru.

Each and every one of these projects is essential, and each and every one in service to people who are marginalized or working on their behalf.

And yet, even when surrounded by all these needs, a picture can stop us. Or a story such  as Daniel’s. Or a situation we could not have imagined.

Consider Mama Agatha. She lives in Uganda. In earlier times she and her husband were teachers. Civil war broke out. Mama Agatha fled to the desert south, where nomads roam. Once there, she and her husband grazed goats, sheep and a few cows. They fought off the lethal tsetse flies, and opened a primary school. Because there was no church in 1,500 square miles, they started a home-based church. A few families attended, then more. Mama Agatha requested a formal Church presence, and the Church complied. A catechist began to visit.

Later, Mama Agatha’s husband died. He suffered sleeping sickness caused by the bite of the tsetse fly. The school and church became Mama Agatha’s life. The number of Catholics grew from dozens to thousands. Mama Agatha sold her animals and cashed out her savings for three acres of land — to build a church. Brick by brick, despite funds running low, despite sleeping sickness, despite the pandemic, the walls have slowly risen. Now, each morning, at 91 years of age, Mama Agatha asks to be rolled through the desert in her wheelchair, where alone before the church she prays for its completion.

And there is Comboni Brother Gregoire in South Sudan who cares for people with leprosy. Some come to him but many he seeks out. Many have lost fingers and toes. Many have been ostracized. Many live lives not so different from lepers of the Bible. Same affliction, same clothes, same hovels, same loneliness.

And there is Sister Abrehet in Eritrea. She provides food and shelter to elderly men and women cast out from their villages simply because they are old. We are doing our best to help her.

There is a place for thinking big, and doing big. New rooftop water collection systems. New boreholes. New schools. But it’s the small things, the individual-level things, that grip our hearts and tell us we are on the right path. We sometimes call our efforts “Small Projects.” But they are not small. Far from it.

Please know your contributions support these projects and that, one by one, contributions wend their way to individual people in need. They are doing it even as you read this. They will not on their own bring worldwide change, but they will change the worlds of people waiting on a wheelchair, or waiting for a church to be built, or waiting in old age for someone simply to reach out in love. To contribute to one of our “Small Mission” projects, please  visit www.combonimissionaries.org/GIVE.

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