Running backwards - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2023 newsletter


Megan Hamilton, Kenya

Suzan leads the Port Reitz AA meeting

Suzan leads the Port Reitz AA meeting with Victor to her right. Listening behind her are armed soldiers who’d brought down prisoners from the Shimo La Tewa Prison. They suggested she take a meeting there too.

Editor’s Note: The individuals mentioned here gave their express permission to use their first names and photos. 

After almost a year and a half in Kenya, I fly halfway around the world to home. After the wet heat of Mombasa, the red dust of Kenya, my USA seems nippy cool in the 70s, lush green, oversized, clean, luxe. My Maryknoll lay missioner friend Joanne Miya calls it the “Shiny World.” And indeed, it glitters not just with stuff — hot water, washer/dryers, comfy guest rooms, smooth roads, big cars, real bagels — but with sweet love from family and friends.

Everyone asks about my ministry, my work. I tell them. I tell them that when I first came to Mombasa in April 2022, the city of 1.2 million had one face-to-face Alcoholics Anonymous meeting a week. Now we have six!

The room set up for an AA meeting at the Port Reitz Hospital.

While I am a zillion miles away, our team in Kenya is starting a new meeting in Kiswahili, and is presenting a public information session to 22 teachers and 500 students, sharing the concept of addiction and the resources of Alcoholics Anonymous. Important info in a country where being an alcoholic/addict is seen as either a poor lifestyle choice, being possessed by the devil, or just morally weak.

I smile talking about my buddy Francis, who at 19 is coming up nine months clean and sober; about the deep-thinking Catholic priest I sponsor, who is growing my understanding of the 12 Steps. And over and over again I find myself telling what I call “The White Shirt Story.”

The Port Reitz Mental Health and Substance Addiction Unit is on the industrial side of town. At the end of a pot-holed road, it is the gritty, harsh conclusion of many an addiction and mental health progression. On Wednesdays I take an AA meeting there to a dozen or so chosen patients who may or may not get it — and a sometimes largish gallery of curious medical professionals in training.

Four months ago, as we are about to get rolling, a young man walks in. His pressed white shirt glows in the grayish light of the therapy room. His shoes are new, pants clean. He walks up to me and with a small but joyous smile holds out his hand.

He says, “Do you remember me, Megan?” Being a Megan, I don’t exactly remember, but he does look familiar. As we shake, he says “I’m Victor and I got sober here.” He tells me he plans to come to Port Reitz every week, to share the message that helped him get and stay sober. The minute he starts sharing in Kiswahili — not the English which is all I can use — the crowd sits up a bit more forward and the dark, sometimes desperate eyes lock in.

It is the first time anyone has come back to sit in one of these cracked plastic chairs after getting sober in one. Victor keeps his promise: He comes back every week, sharing his experience, strength and hope — the message of AA — in much-needed Kiswahili to those who’ve followed him here, those sleeping on the same cold cement he used to. Victor is kind, concise and radiant with his Higher Power’s love. He carries the message with grace and simplicity.


Francis – stopped it all at 19, now 20 years old, with over nine months clean and sober.

Then Jeremy starts to come. He sat in those chairs too! Suzan didn’t get sober at Port Reitz, but with her almost three months sober, she felt the power of God there and comes back to adeptly run the meetings. So now I sit and wait to be called on for my small part in English.

As I roll the smooth roads of the Shiny World, I know the Port Reitz meetings are going strong. When I tell the White Shirt Story I tear up. My listeners do too.

For the first time in ages, all three of my sisters and I are together. On the broad, hard, low-tide sands of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, we run backwards. It is supposed to be healthy, says Kate!

I’m struck by how difficult it is. Even though I know the sand is dead flat. Even though I know nothing is in the way. Even though my foot bends ok going that direction. I’m still somehow convinced I’ll fall. I second-guess all that I know, and look behind me as I trot backward, risking my balance, setting up a potential tumble. And that reminds me of being on mission.

Even though I know my God so wants me in Mombasa. Even though every visit to Port Reitz I can feel the Holy Spirit guiding us, lighting that dark place, I still sometimes get the guilts. Why am I so far away from home? Is that crazy? Why haven’t I seen my family in so long? Am I wrong to be here? Am I disappointing people I love?

But … then I tell of my sober buddies, the White Shirt Story. From family and dear friends, without exception comes absolute, unqualified support. They don’t just want me in Mombasa, they believe what I’m doing is important. They have more faith in my mission than I do, and every bit as much passion for it. They know it is what I can do best.

My guilt flies out myriad windows. My world recalibrates. The U.S. and Kenya both become more home than ever before. Trotting backwards, I know I don’t need to look over my shoulder after all. I have so many beloveds manifesting so much God behind me, I couldn’t fall if I tried. In the brisk winds of a Maine summer, I am nothing but gratitude and joy.



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Megan Hamilton
Megan Hamilton works in addiction recovery services in Mombasa, Kenya. She joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in December 2021.