The Xaverian Missionaries have been working in Sierra Leone, West Africa since the early 1950’s. Today many challenges mark the growing Church in the predominately Muslim nation. Fr. Sudarmanto, one of our Indonesian missionary priests, shares his experience. Like Advent that marks time in faith, so too the rainy season in many countries that mark time to gather food from the farms, feed families, and rejoice in God’s creation.
BY FR. FX SUDARMANTO, SX.
Most people of Mongo Bendugu, including our parishioners, are farmers. There are other jobs, of course, as teacher, police officer, nurse, carpenter, fitter or trader, but they are rather few. Farming is the most common occupation of the people here. I imagine this situation to be like at the time of Jesus, as we read in the Gospel, where he tells many parables about the life of the farmers or farming activity (Mat 13:1-23.24-30.31-32; 20:1-16; 21:33-46; Mr 4:26-29, John 15:1-17). The rainy season is the time when they work with all their heart and soul as farmers. Now is the time of farmers! It is a blessed time when they give themselves totally to farming work, in order not to miss the opportunity to produce a good harvest for the survival of their families and communities.
It is also a good opportunity for me to go around their farms. I take time to visit farms where most of people and parishioners are every day. They are in various places, near and far of the town. Some have to walk hours to reach their farm. I reach the farms either by bicycle or on foot. I visit them to greet and get to know their work. They have mainly ground nuts, rice and millet farms. But among these crops they also have other varieties, like corn and beans or vegetable like cucumber, chilli pepper, eggplants, okra, etc. They are happy for my visit. They are surprised to see me there. I can see how proud they are of their farms. They show me round them from one end to the other. They also confess that, because of the farming work, they cannot come to church for daily prayer. So, before leaving the farm, I pray with them and bless their farm.
While moving around the farms, I come to appreciate their strength. They work hard, with passion, endurance and perseverance. Many make and cultivate huge farms, changing the bush into nice farming fields. They are really strong people, dedicated to their work. Is it because there is no other choice for them? It may be so. However, their work is the source for the survival and progress of the family, of the community, of society. Their work deserves appreciation, indeed. Farming activity is a dignified job, as mentioned in the book of Genesis: “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it.” (Gen 2:15).
I am happy to see that many students enjoy their holiday time in the farm. Their duty is mainly to protect the farm, especially to keep away the monkeys from their ground nut fields. They usually remain in the farm from early morning till late evening, so that monkeys will not spoil the produce. I find it amusing that they have to make noise to keep monkeys away. Some come with their mp3 music played with their mobile phone or radio, so that they also can sing and dance together. Some areas are under network coverage so that they have a chance to call their families and friends, send messages or pictures. Some parents told me that their children are given the responsibility to work in the farm because they, too, have to learn. The crops are necessary to provide food for the family, but also to paying their school fees, to buy the uniform, shoes, books, pens and other school material, when the holiday is over.
Visiting farmers in their farm is just an effort to contact the people in real life. In the light of faith and missionary experience, it is also an opportunity to encounter Jesus in the basic dimension of human life. Instead of just complaining and grumbling because few people go to church during the rainy season, I spend some of my time to visit the farms. This is for me like entering the Garden of Eden, fresh and green. It is the time of farmers! Who dares to rob the joy of farmers!