Thursday, September 18, 2014

In San Francisco

It as been a long time since I posted. In UK the blog was blocked for some reason I am not technically savvy enough to sort out, then I was in Papua New Guinea from July 14 til Aug 14, then on holiday with my family. So now I am in San Francisco, with access to a computer (thanks Br. Leo!), and some time...

A high point of my time in Papua New Guinea was a trip from Ukaka to Yapua in Milne Bay Province. We went to celebrate with the people of Yapua on the feast of title of their chapel, The Transfiguration.  It was the kind of trip I love: three hours in the back of a truck with a crowd of people to begin with. One woman got on mid journey and gave me a sharp glance: "Are you Brother Clark?" she asked. I was astounded. Then she pulled out a2009 SSF Intercession booklet and showed me my picture. "I pray for you every day," she said. "I am a member of the Third Order." Her husband gave me a thumbs up sign, indicating he is a member of the Third order too. We made small talk over the roar of the engine and the flapping of the tarpaulin over our heads. Soon my friends got down and we continued on to the end of the road. The whole region is Anglican, so the significant landmarks are the Anglican parishes. At Holy Trinity we got down. "Almost there?" I asked. Smiling enigmatically a young man grabbed my back pack and we set off. we were nowhere near "there." He finally let on it might be five hours or more, depending on how fast I walked. Three hours into it we came to a swollen river choked with mud, trees and other swirling detritus. My companion shrugged of my pack and advising me to stay put, dove in. I watched with my heart in my throat, resolving I would never do that; I do have a shred of common sense. We took shelter in the home of a local person who was stranded on the other side of the river (there were 18 of us, men, women and children). Nobody was fazed. The holiday spirit of a church outing prevailed: we sang hymns, cooked and ate potatoes, napped in the smokey drafts of the cooking fire--which masked somewhat the smell of the pigs who shared our shelter: we'd clambered into a pig sty!  Finally the river subsided enough for us to ford the river, Brother Sebastian and I went first because I wanted to prove a point that I could do it on my own steam--they were proposing to carry me! But the flood spoiled one of my sandals, and after 300 yards it began to flap uselessly around my ankle. I pushed on barefoot for a bit, but my feet cannot cope with the stones and thorns like the local peoples' feet. So I had to stop, rummage around for socks and boots in my backpack; no more rivers on the route anyhow so I wouldn't have to take them on and off over and over. Finally we arrived at Yapua at 1:00 a.m. I was raining we were wet and muddy. So after tea Br. Sebastian and I found a clean stream and managed to wash. I hit the floorboards of our hut and slept stretched out on the planks. In the morning we scrambled around and got to morning prayer. After, while we watched the acolytes light the candles for the Mass, the priest came over and asked if I'd please preach. I should be used to this sort of thing, but I'm always taken aback by these impromptu requests. Nevertheless I managed a few words on the Transfiguration of our Lord.

The day after the feast we headed to the coast and chartered a dinghy to take us to Dogura to see the cathedral. It was built in 1937 and looks like a miniature European cathedral. Termites are destroying the beams, and birds swoop around inside, streaking the walls with droppings; Sebastian and I were both a bit disappointed. The place is legendary: the first Anglican missionaries came there, and from there the Anglican mission spread throughout the country.

I have been thinking about missionaries since that visit. In a way the clash of cultures is still going on. And now I find that even in USA the church needs to rethink how it does mission, we friars sometimes find ourselves out there on slippery slopes and in dangerous spots. The adventure isn't jut Indiana Jones kind of derring-do, but a real opportunity to go beyond our comfort zones, to reimagine what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st Century. Certainly we need to listen closely to the natives as they know better than missionaries the best ways to get around. So here I am in San Francisco, trying to listen, to reimagine our mission, for ways to ground the Gospel and our Franciscan ministry.


VKMcCarty said...

My heart is with you, Clark.

Daniel said...


how was Papue New Guinea. You seem to be very busy :) Nice to read another post from you!