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    CICM Begins Malawi Mission… But not as Planned!

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    In the frontlineBy Peter Koh, cicm

    The day of my departure for Malawi finally came on October 12, 2020. That day certainly did not come easily. There were many hurdles to overcome to reach that day. The General Government had planned that the confreres of the new Malawi Mission would have a six-week preparatory and team building session in Rome from mid-August to the end of September. The team would then leave together for the new mission at the end of September. On arrival, we would have two to three months of study of the local language before proceeding to the two mission posts that the bishop plans to entrust to CICM.

    Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Countries all over the world closed their borders in response to the virus. The team building session in Rome was canceled. Our departure for Malawi was put on hold until travel would be possible. The four of us assigned to Malawi lived months of uncertainty, unsure if Malawi’s new mission would take off as planned. The pandemic made us realize that while planning is important, we also have to learn from Mary, be open to God’s plan, let go of the plans we have made for ourselves, and live the plans God has for us.

    Malawi finally reopened its borders on September 1, 2020. However, there were still a minimal number of flights going there. There were also many questions even after the reopening of the borders. One of which was whether non-residents could enter Malawi. Finally, the Malawian Immigration clarified that non-residents could enter Malawi if they would apply for an electronic visa online. While there were flights from Rome to Malawi via Addis Ababa, there were no flights yet from Jakarta and Manila to Addis Ababa or Lusaka to Lilongwe.  

    Given the limited number of flights, it was decided that I should proceed to Karonga, Malawi, and wait there for the other confreres, Nazario Caparanga, Yogkim Kraeng Kirang, and Aubrey Sumbukeni. It was not an ideal situation, but we are not living in normal times.

    Before traveling, I had to get a Covid RT-PCR test. Due to the rising number of Covid cases in Italy, the drive-in testing centers were swamped. I had to wait for more than six hours to be tested when I went there on October 8. Then it was nerve-wracking and stressful waiting for the result to be released on time for my trip. The negative results arrived on the evening of October 10, just in time for me to travel. And so, on a wet and rainy night of October 12, with all my documents in order, I left Rome alone from the Casa Generalizia for Malawi. Before leaving, we had some pictures taken in the chapel with a few confreres, Jozef Matton, Jean-Gracia Etienne, Andre De Bleeker, and Jean Kalenga, present in the Casa Generalizia

    I also had a picture taken next to an image of our Founder, Theophile Verbist, on a Chinese scroll that was presented to the Casa Generalizia by the Christians of Xiwanzi a few years ago. I did not realize the symbolism of the picture that evening. It was only later when the photo was sent to me that I realized that my departure for Malawi was in the same spirit as our Founder’s departure for China. Our Founder’s missionary spirit has extended from China to Malawi, from Xiwanzi to Karonga.

    I arrived well in Karonga on October 14 after a long flight via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Lubumbashi, Congo. After an overnight stay in the capital city, Lilongwe, came an eight-hour journey by road.  

    Following Malawian health regulations, I am now in quarantine for fourteen days, living alone in a diocesan house in Karonga. From my experience of more than two months of lockdown in Italy, I knew that the days would fly once you set a routine. So, I made a simple schedule for my days of quarantine. I made sure I could set aside enough time for prayer, self-study of the local language, light physical exercise, meals, rest, cleaning the house, and communications about the new mission. Many confreres, relatives, friends, and benefactors are concerned about me and interested in Malawi’s new mission.

    Respectful of quarantine rules, the Bishop and the Vicar General of the diocese called by phone to welcome me. Other people pass by only if they have to bring me food or things requested by me. 

    Maybe there is no better way to start a new mission than some time (14 days) of solitude and prayer! Jesus, too, started his public ministry with 40 days of prayer and fasting in isolation in the desert. And Jesus reminded his disciples often that the Reign of God begins without fanfare but quietly like yeast in the dough or a germinating seed hidden in the ground. And so CICM’s new mission in Malawi has begun not quite the way we had planned it but with 14 days of quarantine, solitude, and prayer. 

    When will my teammates be able to join me? How long will I be the only CICM in this new mission? What happens if the others are delayed for an even longer time? I can’t answer the many questions that come to mind as I sit in my quarantine house. I will just have to learn to walk by faith and not by meticulous planning. I pray every day that my three teammates will be able to join me soon. In the meantime, God keeps me company. And I believe that God looks after his missionaries, always. ■

    foto articolo Peter Koh

    In the Chapel of the Casa Generalizia CICM: a moment of prayer and silence before the departure of Peter Koh for the new mission of Malawi (from left to right André de Bleeker, Peter Koh, Jozef Matton, Jean-Gracia)