Taking the Road Less Traveled with Fr. David Uribe, OMI

Last summer I was blessed to visit the ministries of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Zambia. Throughout the trip, the words of the poet Robert Frost kept coming to my mind:

On my first full day in Zambia, I got to experience the “road less traveled” firsthand. It was a nine-hour roundtrip ordeal from our Oblate house in the capital of Lusaka to our missions in Mongu in the Western Province. To call what we drove over roads would be a stretch. It was usually just eroded land and endless potholes. We got delayed for a while by a herd of monkeys who refused to move. A sign warning us of hippos and crocodiles in the area was a bit concerning. But taking the road less traveled was well worth it, as I got to experience one of the most inspirational places I have ever visited.

Mongu is where the Oblates began our Zambian mission. Four Oblates from Texas arrived there in 1984 because it was the poorest and most isolated region of the country. They began to create chapels and outstations in remote areas. These Oblate pioneers traveled by foot, canoes, and slept in tents. They carried no food and ate only what local people would give them. I was blessed to preside at Mass at one of these outstations.

It was a lively, spirit-filled liturgy, my first Mass in the bush that I will never forget.

Over time, the Oblates created two vital ministries to better the lives of the people of Mongu. The Mongu Development Center improves the health and nutrition of thousands of people in the region every year. Radio Liseli broadcasts inspirational and educational programs to an area of Zambia that is larger than the state of New York. I was honored to take part in a Mass at Radio Liseli and felt so grateful that people in humble huts across the country could hear me preach the Word of God over the airwaves.

Another time that I experienced the Oblates taking the road less traveled was when I visited our mission in Kasama. The path to the creation of this mission has been long, winding, and full of potholes.

The Oblates were invited to start a parish in Kasama at the invitation of Paramount Chief Chitimukulu, the leader of the Bemba people, the largest ethnic group in Zambia. Paramount Chief Chitimukulu is a convert to Catholicism and attended the Oblates’ parish of Mary Immaculate in Lusaka. When he returned to his homeland in the northern portion of the country, he asked the Oblates to convert an outpost near his home into a parish.

Today, that parish is truly being built from the ground up. The people have expanded the chapel and are in the process of building a rectory. It is still a primitive house of worship, but one filled with joy and ingenuity. Instead of using a bell to call worshipers to Mass, a parishioner bangs on a hubcap. It’s not a beautiful sound, but it does the job.

One of the Oblates working in the Kasama region is Fr. Mathews Zulu, OMI. Father Mathews and I attended the novitiate together, and he has taken the road less traveled to make a difference in the lives of the poor and abandoned of Zambia.

Growing up with eight sisters and one brother, Fr. Mathews knew from an early age that he wanted to serve the Lord. He thought this service might be through working with the sick. He was a lab assistant for three years at a hospital and also worked with the terminally ill at Mother Teresa Hospice in Lusaka. His work was rewarding but lacked the spiritual aspect that he so desired.

Father Mathews entered the Oblate formation program in Zambia and in 2008 got the surprise of his life. He was invited to spend his novitiate year at our Oblate novitiate in the United States. I was his classmate at the novitiate and was immediately impressed by my brother novice’s passion to serve the poorest of the poor.

When I was there, Fr. Mathews was pastor at St. Michael’s parish in Kalabo. During my visit he took me to one of his outstations in the village of Sihole where I concelebrated a Mass with him. I am proud to say Fr. Mathews is now ministering at our Tekakwitha Indian Missions on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

After a four-hour drive on mostly sandy roads, we were greeted by a multitude of people at the church. Some had walked for hours to be there. When Mass began, the church was filled with music and singing. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. After Mass, everyone wanted to say hello and take a picture. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling while at this special mission.

I experienced so many different aspects of missionary life while in Zambia. But there was one constant everywhere I went, a tremendous amount of gratitude for the support received from benefactors like you. Please know that you are accompanying our Oblate missionaries in Zambia as they journey on the roads less traveled, and that is making all the difference to their ministries.