Discovering the meaning of mission in unexpected places

My name is John Nkum. I am an SVD student at the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago. This year my theology and ministry training comes in the form of doing a practical Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) ministerial program. I am assigned to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) parish in San Diego, California. We were asked to choose three places where we’d like to spend our CTP program. I wanted a Spanish-speaking country outside the USA, so I chose Spain, Chile, and Bolivia. But Covid-19 spoiled my chances. I was advised to find a place in the United States. I have to admit that my first U.S. choice was not the West, but more complications intervened creating the detour here. Wonderfully enough, this is perfect.

A cultural education

The church community is multicultural with an emphasis on Spanish. The group of people working and serving at the Church are multicultural, as well. They include my Ghanaian countryman, Frs. Asare, a confrere from Vietnam, Ben Le Quang, and an Indonesian, Raymundus Wea, SVD. I can’t think of a better group of confreres to guide me through the basics of multicultural ministry. This experience will serve as a template for my ministry no matter where I go in the world. I couldn’t feel more welcome and engaged than I do here at OLSH.

I am from Accra, the capital of Ghana, which is also a multicultural hub of many languages and cultural groups. Besides English, I speak two Ghanaian languages, Fante and Twi. I grew up there with my parents and two brothers, went to our SVD high-school seminary and in 2013, I completed school as an agricultural engineer at the state university. Afterward, I taught for a year before entering the seminary and taking vows. From my childhood on, I wanted to be a missionary priest like my SVD pastor at our parish in Accra. As far back as I can remember, and still now, I have always wanted to help people and to serve God and God’s people. So my choice to enter the SVD novitiate was in keeping with my family life and background. Following our novitiate, my class was split up among the theologates in Kenya, Congo and Ghana. But for some reason I was sent to the USA, which was a big surprise because this was not one of the options.

Frt. John Nkum stands in front of altar in a Catholic Church

Mission preparation

As it turns out, I have been very happy with the move. I enjoy my studies at CTU because they educate us for contemporary society and its issues. The courses are not abstract. They make us think of how we might apply Christ’s teachings to different people and situations around the globe. Also, the presence of other religious orders and lay persons, especially women, offers a rich outpouring of ideas, perspectives, and ministerial approaches. This adds a new perspective to my formative journey, which began in Ghana. Bible classes are my favorite because the lectures, readings, and commentaries greatly expand my understanding of scripture and its meaning for our time. These exciting new discoveries offer substance for deep reflection. I do reflections for the Mass and work very hard on them. I know that all of this will help me in my future ministry. Besides all of these important things—apart from those terrible cold days or when someone in the neighborhood is attacked or robbed—I really enjoy the city of Chicago.

Frt. John Nkum with fellow Divine Word Missionaries posing for group photo

In the short time that I have been here at OLSH, I have discovered a lot about myself, including what I don’t know and what I still need to know about ministry. My confreres here have helped me realize the importance of forming a good SVD community. It is necessary for my physical and mental well-being, for my spiritual life, and for an effective ministry to parishioners. As for the future, I don’t know where I will be assigned, but I do know that my CTP experience here at OLSH will form a crucial part of who I am, and what I will do, wherever I go. As a bonus, I also got to fulfill my first choice—being in a Spanish community and learning Spanish. At first, I thought that because they are sending me to a province in the U.S. I wouldn’t have that chance. What a wonderful surprise it was to find that it is so readily available. I have been very busy with online Spanish courses and practicing with my confreres and parishioners. At this rate, I may be fluent by the end of my CTP in eight months. I also hope that I will continue to learn more about myself and get to know a little bit more about where God is directing me in my future ministry. It is all coming together thanks to a great program with great accompaniment by SVD confreres.

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