The following is a excerpt from an article written by a friend of mine, David Vryhof, a brother in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist religious order, in the latest edition of the Society's quarterly magazine after he spent some time in Africa:
"The courage and faith Margaret and her husband have shown in the face of opposition and difficulties is not uncommon among the students at St. Philip's Theological College in Maseno, Kenya. It is not unusual for students to have paid a heavy price to train for the ministry. Many have left their families to the care of relatives and neighbors so that they could be away for long periods of time. Finding the money to pay school fees for themselves and for their children at home is a challenge almost every seminarian faces. They worry about how their families are getting along without them, and often find themselves wondering whether their children have had enough to eat that day. Nor can they anticipate a day when they will receive a steady income for their part in God's work. Priests are poorly paid and rely on the meager offerings of their equally-poor congregations to support their families. They are often among the poorest in the village. The demands on ministers are heavy.
"With students carrying such heavy concerns as these, one would think that the mood at St. Philip's would be somber and heavy. But instead one finds joy and gratitude in abundance. The students regularly marvel at God's goodness and praise God for God's faithfulness. They worship with heartfelt zeal. The pray fervently, many rising before the dawn to spend an hour or more praying in the seminary chapel before the day begins. They are eager to learn and they work hard to prepare for the exams which will qualify them for ordination at the end of their studies. There are signs of material poverty. One of the requirements of the seminary is that each student brings a Bible to school. Several do not own their own Bibles and have to borrow one from a relative or neighbor in the village. But in this poverty there is also a great richness: deep faith, impressive commitment, a willingness to make tremendous sacrifices, unyielding dedication to God's call, joy, and thanksgiving in abundance, mutual support."
The contrast of this description and my recollections of life at an American seminary are truly staggering. I wonder how many Americans would even consider getting into the ordination process if that meant they be assured of having a job that would make them some of the poorest in already poor neighborhoods much less be joyful at the process. The only joy I ever remember seeing was when Cosmos were being served at happy hour and the General Ordination Exams were over.
And getting up early to pray for an hour in Chapel? Well, I'll let you be the judge of whether that ever happened.