DAVA member reflects on his missionary work in Kenya; religious to host ‘Mass pilgrimage’

By Greg Darr
Special to The Witness

The following is part of a monthly series on vocation awareness sponsored by the Dubuque Area Vocation Association (DAVA).

One morning, while serving as a Mary­knoll lay missioner in Kenya, I stood at the side of a rural dirt road awaiting a small bus that would take me to a nearby village.  There were no bus schedules.  Like others waiting along this remote stretch, I packed food and water and patiently marked time until I finally heard the putter of a straining motor.  Moments later, a colorful van rounded the bend about a mile distant.  As it approached me, it sputtered to a stop.  I tumbled into an open seat as it lurched onward again.  In doing so, I noticed the floorboard missing in front of me – I had to position my feet on the vehicle’s exposed frame to keep them from dangling through the floor and into the moving road below.

We traveled only about a mile further before the engine made an ominous noise.  The bus then lurched to a sudden stop in the middle of the road. Another rider, who turned out to be the bus conductor, climbed quickly out and pulled himself through the dirt to a position beneath the engine. While passengers murmured around me, the driver dropped various tools to the conductor through holes in the rusted floorboard.

About 10 minutes later, the conductor shouted up to the driver to start the engine. It coughed at first then purred like a sound working motor. As the conductor climbed back into the bus, the driver asked him what had happened. The conductor replied without hesitation, “We were blessed that the engine started once again.” And, that was that. Without another word, the conductor returned to his seat and the driver continued onward. I reached the village safely about an hour later.

This year’s theme of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis was “Blessed, Broken, Given.” Life journeys, much like my rural bus ride in Kenya, can often be summed up by these three words.  What I was “given” in the experience of riding a “broken” bus that was “blessed” to start once again was a new perspective on those moments when we feel “stuck” in life, “broken down” in the middle of our journey. Those who accompany us – sometimes even unknown to us at first – may unexpectedly share gifts, skills, wisdom and insight that empower us once again on our way.  These special people do not draw attention to themselves or their expertise. Rather, they selflessly remind us of blessings and gifts that carry us down the road even when we feel at times stuck or broken.

Such is the presence of religious communities in our archdiocese. Through their diverse ministries of prayer and service they empower us in our individual and communal journeys of faith. And, they welcome you to join them. From Feb.  2 to March 29, the Dubuque Area Vocation Association (DAVA) will host a “Mass pilgrimage.” Several of DAVA’s member religious communities invite you to meet them and to celebrate Eucharist with them.

To learn more about DAVA’s Mass pilgrimage, please visit http://discernyourvocation.org/programs/.


Greg Darr is a Minnesota native and U.S. Army veteran. As a Maryknoll lay missioner in Kenya, Greg worked with a church-sponsored program assisting displaced and refugee communities toward developing local initiatives in reconciliation and peacemaking.  Greg now serves on the Vocation Ministries Team of the Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers and is a member of the Dubuque Area Vocation Association (DAVA).