What leads someone from the American Midwest to relocate to rural Africa, with absolutely no promise of payment, security or comfort?
Sherry Meyer can tell you.
Or maybe she can’t. But she can tell you what happened since the day when she finally did something about a nagging voice inside her head that kept saying, “Go to Africa.”
The Indianapolis native has been working in Uganda since October 1991. She continues to work for the radio station she helped establish at the request of Bishop Frederick Drandua of the Diocese of Arua. The station has been broadcasting news and inspiration since 2004 and has won local and international recognition, including from BBC, which provided some £20,000 worth of equipment and training in 2007.
Meyer knew before she signed on with the Volunteer Missionary Movement that she wouldn’t be paid. In an interview with Aleteia, she explains why she went ahead.
Throughout the last six months of graduate school, she said, she would wake up in the middle of the night with a “feeling you are supposed to go to Africa. It really troubled me and I was thinking, ‘Where is this coming from?’”
“It disturbed me so much that I started arguing with God. I said this is such a crazy idea,” she related. But she decided to run it by a few trusted friends.
“The first person I went to is a Franciscan priest with whom I worked closely” at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Chicago, she recounted. “I said,’Jerry, I keep waking up thinking I am supposed to go to Africa.’ And he said, ‘I think that will be a very good thing for you.’ So I went back to God and I said, ‘You know Jerry, he is wild and crazy.’”
But she got similar affirmations from other colleagues at the chancery, including the sister in charge of missions, who gave her literature on different lay missionary groups. Meyer applied to three of them and was accepted by all three. She decided to try the experience for two years.
The interview with the Volunteer Missionary Movement scared her, especially the talk of malaria, snakes, learning languages. But what really threw her for a loop was the requirement to pay for everything herself.
“I thought I had volunteered for this organization and they would pay for that,” she said. “I assumed my contribution was I was quitting my job.” They told her that selling her car would cover her airfare to Africa, but that she would still need to support her own living expenses.
“And they said, ‘Don’t worry. What you are going to do is to start begging for money.’ I said, ‘That’s it! I am sorry I put you through this. I won’t be going.”
Back at work Monday morning, she had to explain to her coworkers, who were anxious to know what country she’d be going to.
“By lunch time, envelopes of money [from her colleagues] started appearing on my desk,” she recalled. “I kept thinking, God is teaching me something here.” Her colleagues couldn’t go to Africa, but this was their way of participating in mission.
So, she sold her car and flew to Great Britain for training. There, she was told she’d be going to the Diocese of Arua in Uganda, where a Comboni Missionary named Father Tonino Pasolini had requested a lay missionary.
She said she’s learned several lessons over the past 25 years:
- Total dependency on God. “I think Ugandans have helped me to understand that – this thing of being a missionary who is depending on donations from others.”
- Humility. “I am a competent woman and it is too easy to think I could do all things. I think this is exactly why God called me to this to help me understand that everything is a grace from God. I think the Ugandans I have worked with have taught me that. They have a very clear sense of that.”
- A better world view. “I think we Americans have a different worldview from others, a narrow one. We could travel 3,000 miles and still be in the US using the same language. Living here has expanded my understanding.”
And how does she continue to support her mission work?
“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis considers me a missionary of their diocese. So what they do there is something called missionary cooperation,” she explained. “Every parish has to receive two missionaries every summer on two weekends. Usually they give me three parishes where I will be allowed to talk in all the Masses. The money raised is sent to the mission office and later on transferred to Arua Diocese. Some years, the amount is lean and at other times it more. In addition, when I go home, I sometimes sell local crafts from here.
“But, I have learned to do what they told me: ‘You will beg for money.’”