From Pastoralist to Shepherd in the Church

Growing up in a Comboni-run parish, young Etabo found himself irresistibly drawn to the missionaries. Their close connection with his community inspired Etabo to contemplate joining their ranks. Although, as a member of a pastoralist community, he could have easily continued tending goats like any other boy, his dream of becoming a Comboni missionary priest led him to choose a different path. Thankfully, his parents were supportive enough to allow him to pursue this calling.

By Fr. Etabo Joseph Lopeyok

The name Lopeyok, given to me by my late grandmother upon my birth on 19th January, 1989 in Lokichar, holds significant meaning. At that time, my grandmother had visitors, prompting her to command that I be named Lopeyok, which means “the owner of the visitors or people.” This name played a pivotal role in shaping my vocational journey.

Coming from a converted Catholic family, I am the third born to the late Philip Etabo and Mary Etabo. Initially Protestants and members of the Reformed Church of Eastern Africa (RCEA), my parents later embraced the Catholic faith and blessed their marriage in the Catholic Church. My father even became a catechist. Despite my late father’s subsequent shift to the Orthodox Church, my mother, siblings, and I have remained steadfast in the Catholic Church. My late father went on to marry a second wife, he was blessed with ten children—six with my mother and four with the other wife. We thank God for the unity and love we share as children, and we appreciate our parents for introducing us to the Catholic faith.

The Dream Takes Root

My decision to pursue education was solely fuelled by my desire to become a priest. Hailing from the pastoralist community of Turkana, I was content with looking after goats and initially had no interest in going to school. However, one day, during a Mass service, I was captivated by the preaching of Fr. Aaron Cendejas Ponce, a Mexican-born Comboni missionary. He spoke well in Kiswahili and my language. From that moment, I asked my father to take me to school, expressing my aspiration to be like Fr. Aaron.

This marked the beginning of my academic journey, starting at Lokichar Mixed Primary School. Simultaneously, I actively participated in catechesis classes and served as an altar boy. I completed my primary education in 2005 and proceeded to finish high school in 2009.

During my primary years, the church compound became my favourite place, fostering interactions with other children. My catechist and godfather, Mr. Ebulon Edward Santos, emphasized in his teachings that baptism, first holy communion, and confirmation make one a full member of the Catholic Church and a child of God. These sacramental milestones left a lasting impression on me, reinforcing my sense of belonging to the church. My high school period provided another opportunity for personal development, particularly in my identity as a young Catholic student. Actively participating in the Catholic association and assuming a leadership role, my faith continued to flourish during this phase.

The Comboni Influence

I spent my childhood in the care of the Comboni missionaries, growing up with the belief that all priests, brothers, or sisters were part of the Comboni missionary family. Hailing from the parish run by the Comboni missionaries, Christ the King Parish in Lokichar, my admiration for them deepened as I witnessed their compassionate way of living among the people. Their kindness and attention to all, especially the needy, inspired me to consider following in their footsteps.

Several Comboni missionaries left a lasting impact on me, including the late Fr. Bruno Tinasi, Br. Konfu, the late Fr. Rico, Fr. Aaron, Br. Dario, Fr. Kennedy, and Fr. Teddy. Their selfless service in our parish planted the seed that led me to discern my calling as a Comboni missionary priest. Their actions echoed the words of our founder, St. Daniel Comboni, who believed in equal access to his heart for everyone, regardless of their status in society.

Comboni put it this way; “the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the young and the old, the master and the servant, they always have the same access to my heart. And the happiest day of my life will be the one I can give my life for you”. I am grateful to God for placing these Comboni missionaries on my path.

The Formation Journey

In May 2011, I was invited to a ‘come and see’ seminar in Nairobi. Following that, in August of the same year, I began my pre-postulancy experience in Huruma, Nairobi. This enriching experience involved teaching at St. Martin de Pores primary school while actively participating in the pastoral activities of the Holy Trinity Kariobangi parish. It helped me to identify more with Comboni’s charism of working with the poor and the underprivileged.

I continued my journey in 2012, entering the postulancy in Ong’ata Rongai, Nairobi, where I pursued philosophy studies at the Consolata Institute of Philosophy. This period marked significant growth, not just spiritually but also humanly, fostering self-knowledge and a sense of personal responsibility. In 2015, after completing my philosophy studies, I moved to Lusaka, Zambia, for novitiate formation, followed by community and pastoral experience in Malawi. This time was dedicated to deepening my relationship with Christ and understanding our congregation and its founder, St. Daniel Comboni, through prayer and work.

The Dream Realized

On 6th May 2017, I took my first vows, setting the stage for my theological studies in Lima, Peru. The experience in Peru, immersed in a new culture, surrounded by different people, environments, and community, became a second home where I left a part of my heart. Returning to Kenya after my theology studies, I started my missionary service experience in Utawala, Nairobi. I was asked to help in the office of mission and vocation promotion, assisting Fr. Korir, the coordinator of the office. I also contributed to parish activities, working with youths and visiting small Christian communities, fostering hope and embracing the gift of friendship.

On 10th February 2023, I took my final vows, followed by my ordination as a deacon on 11th February 2023. Joy filled my heart as I fulfilled my desire to offer my life to God for His mission. On 25th August, 2023, I received the grace and gift of priesthood, being ordained in our parish, Christ the King, Lokichar. It was a day that the Lord had planned for me, to tell me, “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruits …” (John 15: 16). I am now ready to share my life as St. Daniel comboni did, to offer my life to serve God’s people.

Now, my first mission takes me to Mexico, and I am filled with happiness. Like our father in faith, Abraham, I trust in the Lord’s guidance and I am ready to go wherever He sends me for His mission of love. My encouragement to young people is to be open and generous to God’s call and join us, Comboni missionaries, in proclaiming the Gospel of love, especially to the poor and most abandoned in society.



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