EDWINA GATE LEY, a neat young woman with a page-boy fringe, looks the image of quiet secretarial efficiency as she sits behind the desk of her North London office. But Miss Gateley, who at 31 is director of the fast-growing Volunteer Missionary Movement, has had more than her share of adventure, writes MICHAEL DUGGAN.
When she was teaching with the White Sisters in Uganda she narrowly escaped from an earthquake, a stampeding herd of buffalo and a wounded wart-hog, which dropped dead a few feet in front of her after charging 200 yards. In the course of a rebellion, as she was sending a telegram to her mother in Lancaster to say she was safe, a bullet shattered the post office window.
Edwina came home and founded the Volunteer Missionary Movement, a vehicle for lay people to give Christian witness by supplementing the work of missionary priests and nuns for a period of two years. Now, five years later, she supervises 120 missionaries in 14 countries, working as doctors, secretaries, engineers, farmers and teachers. One hundred of the volunteers who come mainly from Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands, have already returned.
This week 25 new volunteers are nearing the end of a fourweek training course at the Missionary Institute in North London, I went there to ask Miss Gateley how the work of the • Volunteer Missionary Movement differed from that of other volunteer organisations.
"It's a question of spirit," she said. "It's a dedicated group who have lived together, worked and prayed together beforehand.
We would be considered as very Catholic:. We have regular group Masses; we have basic theology lectures; we discuss renewal."
Although the VMM introductory booklet says "the Christian Church should be wherever it can be, its task is to raise and perfect every facet of human society and civilisation and to ask nothing in return — even belief" missionary activity has often been associated with colonialism and the export of Western values. In view of the pastoral needs at home, I asked Edwina why she sent volunteers abroad.
"There's an apostolate in every area of the world," she explained, "and there are certain skills which some countries cannot supply. A lot of young people have this tremendous need to serve others in countries which do not have the riches and resources which we have in this country."
She added that the example
of dedicated laymen helped local people to realise that Christian witness was not confined to ordained priests and nuns.
One of the volunteers on the
training course is Patrick Cronin, 23, a mechanical engineer who worked for a firm of crane manufacturers in Killarney. He will be teaching natural science in Malawi, and his family in Dublin thought he was "mad" when he first told them he was going to Africa.
"1 heard about VMM when I was in college," he said. "The idea behind all voluntary work is to help people to help themselves. I thought if I could devote sonic of my time — say two years — to doing that, they might be able to pick up from there.
"In the beginning it was just a
chance I too-k VM-M. But as learnt more about VMM I was glad. It's more like a family than any other organisation."
The movement's community sense also impressed Christine Ott, 21, a secretary from Los Angeles who will be tAaching Kenyan girls to tyrife. She already has some experience of volunteer work and she commented: "I think a sense of community is important when you're in Africa.
"One of the greatest necessities out in the mission is realising that you're not working for yourself or just for other people but for God, especially when you miss milk and your electric hair dryer!"
Maria Gabriel, 29, a Cubanborn accountant from Los Angeles, who has already been to Africa, agreed. "It's a good example of what lay people can do.
"I did have a lot of African people who couldn't get close to nuns, When lay people came they realised commitment was for everyone."
Of her decision to do missionary work abroad she said "I can only express it as a calling — a vocation if you want to call it that. It doesn't mean that what's to be dune at home is not
Peter van den Boomen and his wife Gerry from Eindhoven in the Netherlands are on their way to Kenya. Since they married two years ago they have been looking for a volunteer organisation which would take them together.
Peter, 27, a mechanic, has thought of missionary work since he was a child. "It started when I was six. I read a book about missions and I couldn't forget it. It went away till the day I met Gerry." Gerry, 25, is a nurse who took a course on tropical diseases while she was in Holland. "There I saw there were a lot of people interested in doing missionary work.
"We don't care if we have a house or a car. We want to mean something to other people.
"I think that in Africa people come first. That Must be a fantastic world over there."
Financial support for the Volunteer Missionary Movement, in the form of grants totalling 0,000, comes from the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, the hierarchy, and the Missionary Institute representing seven missionary orders. Edwina Gateley is optimistic about the VMM's future: "I sue it continuing to grow and I see great interest in places such as Holland, Ireland and possibly Malta and Canada.
"Let's say it will continue to thrive for a period of time. All I'm interested in is the present. Looking for the future and for security is something we cannot do in our field.
"But I feel that the Church in this country could still give a lot more recognition to lay missionaries and be more aware and interested in what we're trying to do."
Of 25 volunteers on the current training course only three come from England — a fact which makes one think that Miss Gateley may well, after all, have a point.