Every week, when seminarian Samuel Mungai would visit Three Rivers Nursing Home in Windsor, N.C. to lead a praise and worship discussion group, a woman he called “Miss Dorothy” would communicate for him.
He would ask the group a question, and then she would tell her fellow residents what Samuel wanted to know and then share a personal story for about 15 minutes.
Samuel, who professed his first temporary oath in June, is from Nakuru, Kenya. Though he speaks fluent English, he speaks with an accent that some struggle to understand. During his novitiate year, he served at the nursing home, Vidant Hospital, Bertie County Correctional Institute and the local food pantry.
But one week, Miss Dorothy was gone. She contracted pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital. He had lost his translator.
“Miss Dorothy was very active, and without her, the whole session was so quiet,” Samuel said. “It was boring. Others could not understand my accent, but she got all of my words and would be the first to share so that others would get the point I was trying to make.”
Soon after, Samuel visited Vidant Bertie Hospital, where he was the student chaplain. As he checked in for his shift, a nurse approached him. She told him that she knew who he was, because she had heard all about him from her mother. She asked him to pray for her mother who was recovering at the hospital.
“Her mother was Miss Dorothy,” Samuel said. “She had already told the doctors all about me. I didn’t even know she was in that hospital in the ICU.”
When Samuel next visited Three Rivers, he stopped by Miss Dorothy’s room. She was in bed, eyes closed, hooked to an oxygen machine. When they touched hands, she did not even open her eyes and said, “I know who you are.”
Samuel knew that Miss Dorothy’s favorite readings were from the Gospel of John, but Samuel also knew that she was not well enough to leave bed. Yet, she was willing.
“She was so eager and so willing to come, even though she did not feel well and had no energy,” Samuel said. “That week, I did not want to come. Yet, I was full of energy and well. I almost shed a tear when I saw her. It re-energized me, because it was so amazing to see how willing she was to come and pray.”
Samuel’s experiences with nursing home, prison and hospital ministry have made him hunger for more. Before he came to Glenmary, his encounters with people were usually happy. People were celebrating, and his interactions with them were full of life and joy. He had never seen a nursing home when he lived in Kenya. But he feels it is important to tend to the dying and suffering.
“To be a Glenmarian is more than a calling to be a religious,” Samuel said. “It is all about commitment and a total withdrawal from the comfort zone the world would offer. This special calling of being a missioner is not about the self, but about others. By others, I mean the people in a dire need of Glenmary missionary service, the people in a dire need of the Gospel, the people in a dire need of company and people to listen to them, particularly the prison residents, the elderly in nursing homes and the sick.”
Samuel is spending this summer assigned to Glenmary’s Holy Family Mission in Blakely, Ga.