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Lent 2021 newsletter

 

Steve and Loyce Veryser, Tanzania

 

The desks have made it to Loyce’s crowded classroom at Kitangiri Secondary School.

Almost every Lent since I was in high school I have tried to “do something extra,” as opposed to giving something up. I think it may have been my dad, or one of my teachers in Catholic school, that encouraged us to give up “giving things up.”

These times in my life I’ve often done something seemingly simple daily, which has ended up changing my life in an unexpected way. Over one Lent in high school, I committed to sending my hard-earned tips and meager wages — from bussing tables on the weekend — to Catholic Relief Services through their “Operation Rice Bowl” campaign. I guess my attraction to mission started at an early age. 

During the Lent shortly before joining Maryknoll, I committed to attending daily Mass in the early mornings. Providentially, the Mass I ended up going to was at the language school where new Maryknoll Missioners were staying and learning Swahili. It was another time in my life where I was transformed by relationship, as I got to know these new missioners and better understand what Maryknoll was all about — and rekindle my heart for mission!

In some recent years, I gave up Facebook/social media for Lent in an effort to focus on in-person relationships and reclaim time to focus on faith. This year for Lent, I have challenged myself to overcome my self-consciousness and share more of my experience in mission.

Please look forward to my posting something at least each week for the next weeks — on  Facebook or Twitter or in emails. I hope you enjoy these and they can be an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences as we share the 2021 Lenten journey.

The desks for Kitangiri Secondary, where Loyce teaches, are complete and being put to good use in class now. Even with all 67 of them in one class, a few of the students still need to share. I know it looks like a crowded classroom, especially in the midst of a pandemic. 

Making Capoeira music with Amani (right) at St. Justin’s Centre

Many people here feel there’s not much they can do about the pandemic, with the economy being informal and most people living hand to mouth, dependent on a day’s work. People have to navigate crowded public transport, in-person transactions and crowded spaces/neighborhoods, and there is little hope for vaccines becoming available.

Almost all families we know have been directly affected with illness and/or lost family members. The current situation is at least as bad as when I wrote this article for the Catholic Worker in May 2020. Please keep Tanzania in your prayers.

Last year I had shared an experience about meeting a young Tanzanian named Amani, who was teaching at a center for children with disabilities. We connected over a common interest in physical fitness and have been practicing Capoeira together over the past year. Amani is unable to hear, and it’s been no small feat for him to practice a martial art that goes with music. He’s been very persistent, though, and continues to progress in it.

A few months ago, I asked if he would be willing to teach me Tanzanian sign language, and we’ve been meeting a couple of times a week to practice since. I considered it a milestone when we recently were able to have a conversation about such complex topics as racism and classism in societies.

Though still a klutz, I figured I’ve made some good progress since one lesson early on when Amani burst out laughing. Looking down at my hands, I realized the only sign I was making was the universally understood “middle finger.”

 

Steve Veryser Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' regional director for Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania.