PAULA DAVIES meets two Englishwomen—
UKUDUMA and Nnan fuka are the unlikely African names of two attractive English girls who, after spending a few years in Africa, have decided to make missionary work their life's vocation. They don't wish to become nuns, but they do want to be missionaries.
They are just two of a growing band of laymen and laywomen who feel drawn to a vocation which demands as much of them as the religious life but which offers them a chance to be ordinary people leading extra-ordinary lives. Now, thanks to a new organisation, they will get the opportunity.
"Nnanfuka means Of the Monkey Clan'," said Edwina Gateley, shrugging her shoulders as if to say: "Well, what Edwina Gateley can you expect?" At the ripe old age of 25 this small, buzzing dynamo of a person finds herself in the forefront of lay missionary activity.
She talks forcefully and effectively until one starts to feel that there is some form of time-bomb ticking away inside her which you feel will explode at any minute but somehow it never does.
Turned down by Voluntary Service Overseas because she was neither a school-leaver nor a graduate — she is a teacher — Edwina spent a year in Uganda working under the auspices of the White Sisters. "It was too comfortable," she said briskly, "so I asked Bishop Ddungu of Masaka to find me something more challenging."
He did just that, realising perhaps that one could never offer this girl a challenge to which she couldn't rise. She had had to cope with 68 children between the ages of 11 and 18, teaching them everything up to the standard of the Cambridge Overseas Examination Level.
There was one building in which everyone lived, no electricity, no running water, no equipment and not a single European for 20 miles. "Some books we had were more than 100 years old," she said. "The few modern ones were at least 15 years old and invariably American". English books were non-existent.
It is characteristic of her lively, commanding personality that when she returned home it was to find more people as volunteers. "I was staggered at the response-27 people were seriously interested so 1 sent them off to Uganda, Nigeria and the Western Cameroons.
"And when people heard was doing it they seemed to think I was setting up in opposition to official agencies. 'Who the hell does she think she is?' was the attitude.
"I don't blame them," she added. "But then Catholic lay missionaries are always considered odd people. We're looked on as fillers-in because we are not nuns or priests".
The only thing which might be considered odd about Edwina Gateley is her tremendous drive, which lazy people might find considerably disturbing. Add to that a youthful lack of tact and a deeplyfelt desire to get things done her way, and there are bound to be clashes.
If anyone is capable of galvanising people into action it is this slight, pretty girl who is imbued with a determination to see lay missionaries properly trained, effectively used and ultimately become accepted as dedicated followers of a vocation.
Her idea of a lay missionary organisation had been occupying her mind for a long time before she was helped to set up something like it by a Jesuit who continues to run Lamnades Christi. Edwina herself left because she felt that there should be a central organisation for lay missionaries which offered a training
. . "something that had the whole Church behind it, something that would encourage greater service than just a year's stint on the missions.
"You must see," she said firmly. "it is very good for a volunteer to go for a year, but by then he is only just becoming accepted. By the time he leaves he is just getting the hang of the language.
"Stay two, three or four years and the situation is quite different. The need for longterm, committed people is vital on the missions. We're not nuns or priests. We don't want to be, but we do want to
help the backward peoples of the world."
Edwina's conviction and passion, plus a whole load of perseverance, have convinced the six major missionary orders—all male, I might add —that what she says makes sense. It is only four weeks now since the Volunteer Mis sionary Movement was formed, and Edwina herself is
still in the process of setting up a committee to run it.
The Missionary Institute, established to co-ordinate the work of the big missionary orders, has given her a house and running expenses. In October they will hold the first course of missionary work in which lay people will be able to take part.
"They took the initiative after reading a paper of mine and asked me to return from Africa to set it up. And, what's more, they don't seem to mind sponsoring a totally lay organisation."
This is the kind of organisation which may be the answer to Patricia Paul's prayers. Since the age of 13 she has wanted to become a missionary. "I've been asked so often that if 1 feel that strongly about it, then why don't I become a nun?
"In fact I had begun to feel that I might have to do so in order to fulfil my vocation. I have offered my services as a nurse to various missionary orders of nuns, but none of them will have me unless I am a nun."
A shy, gentle person, Pat Paul's African name, Ukuduma, means "Voice of Thunder." And it is only after talking to her for some time that one realises how right those Africans were, for Pat is one of those rare people who possesses a submissive nature allied to remarkable strength of character.
She is a paradox. a kind of gentle steam-roller, for nothing will stop her doing what she believes to be right. Her life is the evidence, There was her struggle towards Catholicism from the most anti-Catholic fundamentalist background. There was her bitter dislike of the way a mission was run in South Africa which prompted her to spend 1 I months living with the pygmies in the African bush. And finally the horrors of her capture in the Congo by the rebel Simbas in 1964.
She witnessed the most revolting tortures and murders. had her nails pulled out and fingers broken when her medical supplies ran out. "1 was no use to them without my medicines."
She smiled sadly, remembering that her experiences resulted in a serious nervous breakdown some 18 months after her rescue.
They have not prevented her loving the African people and wanting to return to work among them.
One couldn't say that Pat has led an uneventful life, but to her a life with no danger and adventure would be boring. Edwina Gateley is not exactly the type of girl one expects to meet every day either. Snug security is not worth a snap of the fingers to people like these two.