Witnessing the Gospel: A Missionary Story
By Father Francis Barnes, MAfr
As a kid, I had heard stories about Damien and the lepers. Those stories didn’t prepare me for meeting my first leper on my second day as a missionary in Burkina Faso. It was a shock and it was a startling introduction to the missions. When I was young I thought being a missionary was about converting people, but soon I learned it was about witnessing the Gospel. After two years in Africa, I returned to England to finish my studies. I was ordained in 1981 and was again assigned to Burkina Faso to work, this time in the south, deep in the bush. There I would spend six amazing years working in a parish covering more than 1,100 square miles!
Sickness was rampant: malaria, meningitis, cholera, TB, tetanus, anthrax. In the whole parish, we only had small dispensaries in some villages that were reachable by dirt roads. These dispensaries were usually just served by nurses. As a parish, we worked to set up primary health centers. Older women were sent for basic training as midwives, and young people were trained in basic nursing. We tried to make medicines available to everyone. Our efforts were not dramatic like Father Damien’s, but like him, we served the basic needs of our community.
Looking back 40 plus years later, things have certainly improved, yet Burkina Faso still remains one of the poorest countries in the world. I went on to serve the Society of Missionaries of Africa in Zambia, Kenya, Poland, and Rome in many different roles. No matter the place or role, I can truly say I have always tried to be myself, striving to be spiritually rooted and offering that rootedness to others and to God on my missionary adventure.
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