Ariel Tampus, SVD
Ariel is from Cebu City, Philippines. After professing first vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1998, as part of his missionary training he spent two years of supervised ministry in Zimbabwe. Ariel returned to the Philippines to complete his courses in theology. He professed final vows as an SVD in May of this year and was ordained a priest in August. He has returned to Africa to continue his ministry.
When I arrived in Zimbabwe to begin my two-year supervised ministry assignment, my first task was to learn Ndebele, the local language. Each morning I went to school – to first grade. I spent one week in first grade, in the fast lane, and I enjoyed it. First grade goes faster when a person is thirty years old.
Second grade took two weeks. Learning a language can be fun, but it’s humbling. Like a small child I was dependent on my elders and teachers. In first grade even my classmates were my teachers.
I learned the local culture, too. That experience I got by living with a simple Catholic family who welcomed me as a member.
After school, I returned home. There I joined the boys of the village when they went out in the afternoon looking for my family’s goats. I was learning a new profession, too – sheepherding sheep and goats. Our village had a wide-open pasture where all the sheep, goats and cattle from the village roamed freely during the day. Our job was to locate our family’s twenty goats among the hundreds of animals and bring them home for the night. I don’t know how “my brothers” could recognize each goat or how the goats recognized their voices. I looked at every goat and said, “Is that our goat?”
The image of the Good Shepherd came to mean very much to me because of my experience as a seminarian and missionary in Zimbabwe. Those two years made me feel the Jesus was taking good care of me. I understood that he knows me very well and calls me by name. Whenever I was lost or lonely, he led me back to himself.
After supper my new family usually gathered around a fire and told stories. My “mother” instructed the children about prayer and insisted that everyone pray before going to sleep.
After my years of language learning, I was assigned to a Divine Word bush mission in the village of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The road to the nearest town, about 100 kilometers away, was very rough and dusty, and during the rainy season, the roads were often impassable. Our little village had no electricity. The mission had a generator, but we could use it only very sparingly because of the fuel crisis.
Our mission was established in 1995, but there are not many Catholics in the area yet. Sixteen outstations are served by the main chapel in the village. During the week, I went around to the small outstations, making a special point to visit the sick in their homes. Often I traveled by bicycle to the closest outstations and joined Bible services which were led by lay leaders.
As I look back upon my time in Zimbabwe, I have no doubt why God implanted in me a dream to work in Africa. When I returned to my home country of the Philippines to complete my seminary formation, I was not the same person I had been before my journey. I was richer that ever before-richer in experience and, most especially, richer in God’s love. God indeed is my Lord and my Shepherd.