by Fr. Ronie Piamonte Baleli
“Fr. Ronie, where is Fr. Provincial sending you?” “To Nalerigu,” was my humble reply. She exclaimed, “Oh! Really? Nalerigu is far!” Then thoughtlessly I said, “Yes, Sister. But I think nothing is farther than the Philippines.” They all looked at me in amazement. Even our provincial superior smiled at me. This was the conversation I had with a nun days after my arrival in Ghana. NALERIGU
Nalerigu is located at the northeast region of Ghana. It is the largest town in the East Mamprusi Municipal Assembly and was declared regional capital by a 2018 referendum of their government. It is around 656 kms away from Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Our province, SVD Ghana-Liberia Province, accepted the invitation of the Bishop to start the mission here because a lot of things must still be done although the community had already celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago and was elevated to a rectorate last year. The people are still not used to having a resident priest in the community, having been only one of the outstations of St. Paul Parish, Walewale (around 50 kms away from Nalerigu) for many years. NEW MISSIONARY
Being a new missionary to this place has not been easy. The fear of the unknown really haunted me, even before coming here. I was a total stranger to the place. The culture is totally different from my country of origin. The missionary work in general was alien to me. I faced people of different colors, ideologies and backgrounds. I did not know where to start, when and what to do, and how to do things. When I arrived here, the weather disturbed me a lot as the temperature reached 42 degrees celsius last dry season. I got culture shock. The food was not familiar to my stomach. I had lots of questions and doubts in mind. Worse, the rectorate is financially challenged. There is no house (mission house) for priests yet. At the moment, we are still trying to secure the church land and its corresponding outstations. More so, studying or learning the language remains a great challenge for me. There were instances when scratching my head became a personal excuse for not understanding what people were trying to say. The temptation of just hiding myself inside the room was there so as not to struggle with facing the people, talking to them, and suffering under the scorching heat of the sun.
The thought of being far away from home and missing my family became real every single day. But as a missionary, all these things I have had to overcome. The calling to go beyond my fears, expectations, and to go out from my comfort zone is a must. One basic but major struggle that a missionary must face, once assigned outside one’s country, is the problem of distance. Distance here is not just geographical or physical but also spiritual, psychological, emotional and relational. Being a missionary, there is always that “gap” that one has to address: the gap to one’s home, country, culture, language, expectations, way of living, weather, etc. It is only when one can address this “gap” that a missionary can finally immerse oneself into the mission.
Venturing into the unknown is the fundamental task of a missionary. In fact, a missionary’s only choice is to venture into it or overcome one’s fear of it. The response I made to that nun carried me through and sustained me in my months of stay in the mission area. I would like to believe that the conviction of addressing the distance or the gap between myself and the reality of the mission - “nothing is farther than Philippines” - was God-given. Thus, no matter how difficult or tough the mission can become, I will choose to remain. God has brought me this far. There is no going back. Whenever I face the current challenges we have, I know that I am not away from home. God has put me here. In His home. This is His home. And I will not run away from it. I wish to dwell in it for as long as He wants me to. I am home!
About the Author
Fr. Ronie Piamonte Baleli is a priest from the congregation of the Society of the Divine Word. His current mission assignment is at Ghana, Africa.