We are fast approaching the end of 2016 and I don’t know if you are like me, but I wonder where the year has gone. This time last year I was between Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was an experience – the people of these two countries thought the worst was over when the civil war came to an end. However, nobody could foresee what was to come – it came in the form of the dreaded ebola virus. It had been seen before, far in the interior, small isolated outbreaks that disappeared as fast as they appeared. This time it did not disappear and soon it was on the move from the South of Guinea into Liberia and then into Sierra Leone. A simple look at a map would tell anyone that the movement of people facilitated the spread of the disease and it followed the main roads which were the trading routes. That combined with a great lack of medical knowledge and skill led to huge loss of life and great fear. The outbreak eventually wore itself out having left over 11,000 people dead. It was officially declared over in June 2016.

I was in Sierra Leone and Liberia for a ‘visitation’ of our missions and personnel and projects. These two countries are in very poor shape no matter how you look at them. Most professionals just left. The medical professionals, so badly needed to confront the ebola outbreak, were gone, employed in hospitals in Europe and USA. Sad that poor countries who struggle to train their few medical professionals lose them so quickly to the developed world. Sad too, that developed nations with resources to train their own, are so quick to poach from the underdeveloped nations. But that is an argument for another day. The same applies to education and all areas of commerce and business.

I left Liberia in mid-Jan with fever. On the day I left I was diagnosed with typhoid but I suspected myself that it was malaria. On arriving in Manchester, it was confirmed as malaria. I spent four days in hospital but it took some weeks to get fully back on my feet. My big anxiety at the airport was that all the ebola protocols were still in place. I suspected I had a temperature and a high temperature was enough to prevent one boarding a plane. In any case I passed the temperature tests and got on the plane. Someone must have been looking out for me.

While we are supportive of many social projects, we have to constantly remind ourselves that it is our faith and belief in Jesus Christ and the values of the Kingdom that motivate us in our missionary work. The world admires us for our charitable work but then criticises when we promote the dignity of the human being. I would like to think that we bring more than just a pot of goodies to a poor people.

Because much of my work is in the field of administration, mission visitation, fundraising, finance etc. I constantly feel the need to be involved pastorally. While time is limited, this year I got the opportunity to be part of Worldwide Marriage Encounter. This Movement aims to give couples who are engaged, married, or in long-standing relationships and commitment the opportunity to enrich and refresh their relationships. It also seeks to give priests the chance to reflect on their vocation and enhance their relationship with their parish and community. I have found it to be a great ministry, meeting people who seek to deepen their relationships in a very meaningful way. I have also been involved in some retreat work which can be demanding in terms of my availability to give the retreat as well as the time to reflect in order to have something useful to say. When preparing I am always conscious of a little phrase I once came across: “so much they talked so little said”. Nobody wants to be a noisy empty can.

I was back in Africa for May and early June for the SMA Plenary Council. It’s an annual review of what we do as missionaries. This time the meeting took place in Ghana where I spent one year as a student back in 1980-81. I got to visit my old mission placement there and met some people from my time there. Many had passed away but there were still a few with whom to reminisce. Thinking back they were a great people I met there, so understanding and so full of wisdom. God knows I had a great start in Africa.

It’s been an event filled year for our world. A comment on that would take another letter! However, I have had an eventful year and have been blessed once again to have met so many wonderful people. Blessed to have been a part of so many special and lovely occasions like the marriages I was asked to participate in. Blessed also to have experienced the welcome of so many good people.

I do hope you have a very Happy Christmas and every blessing in 2017

Tom Ryan