Serving God through Carpentry and Art
I am of the conviction that it is not good to always be on the lookout for what is called “soft jobs”. The best of these, as a rule, leads to nowhere, and people who sought for ‘soft jobs” also tend to grow “soft”, These are the words of brother Richard Lukwago, a Ugandan born Comboni Missionary working in Uganda.
Vocation vs Career
There is a very elementary distinction required for an accurate discussion of vocation matters, and yet this distinction is normally almost overlooked by everybody. That distinction is the distinction between Vocation and Career.
Vocation in the proper sense of the word means a calling to marriage life, single life, priesthood or religious life in all purposes for salvation, holiness and service. This is a growth process for all and all Christians are called for the totality of everyday life. A career on the other hand is an occupation, mostly for monetary gains.
The purpose of my vocation to religious life as a brother is to follow Jesus and imitate him and after all, is this not a reasonable demand since man, as the bible says, is made in the image and the likeness of God (Ephesians 5:1).
Many modern ‘realistic’ people would say that this is all nonsense and that vocation should mean career for which people train and in which people expect to earn their living for most of their working years. I entirely agree that a career is part of one’s calling but at the same time, I would also point out that a vocation is a summon from God to live our whole lives for his glory; and a career is part of that but not the whole. I believe the confusion that arises because vocation and career can be combined to a certain extent.
Trained as a Brother-carpenter
Very early in my life, and all through school, I used to delight in thinking that God knew my ways, His hand was upon me and He would lead me and show me what my life is to be under His love and guidance, and that He had big surprises for me. It was no surprise then that I was consecrated a celibate and became a Comboni Missionary, despite the fact that my father was not a Catholic.
Upon taking my vows in 1997, I chose to go to Malawi-Zambia province, though the idea of the mission had never appealed to me; and I became an artisan though my professional training was in carpentry.
The Comboni Missionary training methodology endowed us with great insights in all faculties, abilities and talents and instilled in us a strong sense of the virtue of responsibility besides aspects like evangelisation and human promotion. We received their efforts with great responsiveness.
The Missionaries then embarked on the integral formation of the human person who is not only body or only soul but one reality made up of both. Brothers like Klement Schroer, Peter Poloniato started offering us practical sessions in masonry, carpentry and mechanics. Brother Simeon Fanti was “The Man” for artisans with all the skills he mastered. This was one of the basic differences between the mission schools and the government schools. The mission schools always emphasised practical sessions.
The men and women who volunteered to act as Social Ministers in Tangaza University College in Nairobi played a key role in our ministry and we hope they are well rewarded for their pains. I got trained in leadership, administrative work, and in responsible activities and all these skills have been invaluable. In essence, they have helped me to escape from the land of soft jobs where everything runs on the grooves of routine, and I have begun to breathe the more bracing air of the rougher uplands of life. I am of the conviction that it is not good to be always on the lookout for what are called “soft jobs.” The best of these, as a rule, lead nowhere, and the men who enjoy them grow “soft”. And so one may ask; what has the brotherhood experience meant to me?
Vocation more than a profession
The brotherhood life of being more than a profession has helped me to grow and know myself more. The better I know myself, the greater the value of my life for others. The more I am myself; the better I can be of service to others. I cannot know myself properly without reference to others and I cannot be fully myself unless I am truly for others. The brotherhood is such a transforming experience, such an enriching gift that therein, in its very riches lies its danger. Even an ordinary profession like carpentry or artisan carries with itself the danger that the person who practices it may over-identify with it and thus be eventually limited and inhibited by the very profession that first helped him to grow.
As it is the case in life, worries, anxieties and problems are attached to almost every position of responsibility and that has not been any different for me either. But I have always believed that a religious with a true sense of responsibility will always feel answerable to himself and will therefore take pains to equip himself with the means of carrying out the proposed tasks. For it is the essence of responsibility that I should be true to myself; this is the only way in which I can fulfil my calling and my engagement with others.
You remember how the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) tells us in his Ethical Teaching that: “Blessed is he who has found his work, let him ask no further blessing.” I doubt if more than 20% per cent of people really choose what they are going to do. They most likely leave school, and take the first thing that comes at hand not because they want to, but because they have to. So they find their real life outside their work as opposed to finding it in their work.
Indeed I have been blessed beyond measure as a Comboni Missionary Brother to find my work and I would like to end this article by inviting you to consider sending your children to the Comboni Missionaries. I am doing well too, especially in getting jobs. There is nothing like the rough and tumble of existence to teach the young missionaries the virtues of responsibility.