This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Adorers’ arrival in Tanzania in East Africa, which is now its own “region” or province of the Adorers worldwide. Four sisters from Italy established the first Adorers’ presence there in November 1969. The presence grew to a mission, later a foundation, then eventually a region. And along the way, some U.S. sisters joined the effort. U.S. Sisters JoAnn Mark and Rose Anthony Mathews recently recalled their time in ministry there.
When and where specifically did you serve in Tanzania?
JM: Sister Rose Anthony Mathews and I were in Tanzania from January to December of 2007; we went together. Most of our time was spent at the Central House in Dodoma, the national capital of Tanzania.
How did it come about that you served?
JM: I had finished my time in Regional Leadership in October (of 2006) and was looking for another meaningful ministry. Since I had taught English to various international groups, I felt I could provide the service requested by our sisters in Tanzania as they needed to prepare for English tests that qualified them to enter education beyond secondary school.
RAM: Leadership (in the Adorers community) sent out a request, and I had just moved to Herrin, Illinois, after eight years in Cairo, Illinois, where I was doing money management and nursing home advocacy with the poor and elderly. I would still be able to work with the poor and elderly in southern Illinois, but it would mean more travel which was ok with me. Early on in my life as an Adorer, I had thought about being a missionary, but no one asked me and now it seemed like God via Sister Barbara Jean (then provincial) was saying, “Now is your chance!”
What was your work?
JM: We taught English to temporary professed women who wanted to become Sisters but I also taught English to the teachers at the Precious Blood school; taught the novices Adorers history; facilitated recollection days and organized the library.
RAM: Teaching English to the young women (eight or nine) and two of the Sisters who needed English in order to qualify for high school. I also was invited to give two input sessions to the novices on their monthly day of recollection after they moved to the Novitiate House.
What were your impressions of the country?
JM: It is a beautiful country with special places for the animals such as elephants that are native to the country. At that time, the road to the Central House was not paved and had many deep, deep ruts. In some ways, the country was quite developed, such as in the use of cell phones and solar power. However, in other ways, the country, especially the rural areas, was quite undeveloped. Treatment for malaria, but no prevention, was available. Men in the Precious Blood order had helped develop clinics. They also worked with the people to construct windmills so the people could have clean water.
RAM: Very poor, but folks seemed to make a go of it as best they could. The young women I was most familiar with wanted to be Sisters in order to help their people. For the most part, girls were relegated to do the housework, take care of the men, have the babies. They worked hard doing whatever needed to be done. The convents where we visited were always spotless, neat and conservative. I was most impressed with their ministry at Village of Hope which was an orphanage. There were a series of little cottages on the premises where a couple whose children were usually raised and gone would be given eight or so orphaned children (siblings kept together) and care for them until they were of age to be on their own. There was a school on the premises as well as a church. Very inspiring. So were all of their ministries, for that matter. Most were orphaned because of AIDS.
What were the people like?
JM: The people were soft-spoken, kind and generous. The children at the Adorers’ pre-school were quite taken with our “white” skin. The sisters were eager to learn and worked hard to care for the animals and crops of the Central House. It appeared to us that the women did the field work and the men took the crops to market riding bicycles and balancing the load.
What surprised you the most?
RAM: I had gone with no expectations and had next to no understanding where Tanzania was. I had thought God was thinking of some place for me to go since I had had to leave Cairo, Illinois. Another place to live and really be with the poor. Of course, their poverty exceeded anything I even suspected. Yet, they were the happiest, most-open minded folks I had encountered in my life.
Name a difficulty of the experience that you didn’t expect.
JM: I did not expect that Rose Anthony would have such health problems. The heat at times was oppressive as I would sit still and sweat but I did expect it to be hot.
RAM: My heath became a problem early on. For one thing, I had just had three surgeries on my face for melanoma and the doctor had done the final reconstruction in mid-December and told me to return in January. I told him I would be gone. I had my ticket to leave Jan. 1 and I was determined to do so with a three-day stop in Schaan, Liechtenstein, and then on to Tanzania. I suppose I had not given my 70-year-old system time to adjust. The cold in Schaan really pained the incision on my face and I think I caught a cold which I just could not get rid of. By early March, I had to see a doctor and learned I had bronchitis. However, I was determined to stay the year and I did.
What gave you the most joy?
JM: Interacting with the students that I taught was a great joy.
RAM: Now is when I know the joy. Every now and then, I get an email, and it is so delightful. It seems their access to computers is also more than it was when I was there in 2007. Each and all are very special to me. For example, one time, I read something in the International Newsletter and I sent an email to let them know how much it meant to me. I know from different folks, that many of them still remember me. When the gals I knew made final vows the first five years after I was there, I usually made a special card for each and sent it.
What would you like for followers of the Adorers to know about the country and the women you taught?
JM: They are beautiful people, inside and out. Their culture can teach us much about the values we hold in life. I did love my time in Tanzania and treasure my relations with the people I met. It was a blessed time in my life and probably helped me prepare for my current ministry with asylum seekers from Angola and Congo.
RAM: They are truly the future as is Africa in general. Joy lies in meaningful relationships rather than in accumulating “stuff”!
RAM: Something that really distressed me the most is the feeling I sometimes got that because I was white and educated, I was one class above them. Maybe it was a false assumption. I pray it was. On a lighter note, so often, I would meet one of the little preschoolers who would come and touch my arm, smile, look up and say, “No cola!” It amused me every time!