Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy Mother’s Day! And welcome to all of our sons and daughters who join us today to celebrate the great gift of love that we receive from our moms.
This weekend we welcome Fr. Joseph Ehrhardt O.F.M., who preaches on behalf of the Franciscan Missionary Union. The following is taken from HNP Today (our Holy Name Province Newsletter) on the occasion of Fr. Joe’s golden jubilee this year.
Fr. Joseph Ehrhardt O.F.M. who celebrates his golden jubilee this year, first dreamed of the adventures of being a missionary even as a boy growing up in New Jersey. Driving a jeep through the jungle and maybe even flying a small plane are what went through his mind.
After almost 45 years of ministering in Japan and Kenya, Joseph well knows the harsh realities of missionary work, which have included being jailed, heading off thieves face-to-face, and seeing people suffer on two continents. “Of course, those boyhood dreams matured into something more in tune with reality as the years and challenges came and went,” wrote Joe last week from his home base at the Provincial friary at Westlands in Nairobi, Kenya.
Joe, who has been at Westlands doing Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) work for the past two years spent more than 20 years at a parish in the Kenyan countryside, more than 160 miles from the city. There, he was involved in both pastoral and JPIC work.
“Today, I travel 17 miles across the city several times each week to our JPIC office in Africa where I’m the director of activities there,” said Joe, who is in charge of JPICFA. “We go for youth trainings in JPIC, human rights advocacy, and active non-violence in the East African region.” He estimates reaching more than 60 youth groups with the Franciscan JPIC message.
Joe says that JPIC efforts have always been close to his heart. “Seeing our ministry in justice and peace bear fruit in the lives of people who overcame tribal prejudices and division to work in solidarity for genuine peace and reconciliation, especially after 2007 to 2008, is probably the most rewarding aspect of ministry that I’ve witnessed.”
While the rewards of missionary work are great, he said, so are the challenges. “The saddest thing is to see thousands of internally displaced people who were promised by the government to be resettled in good time, still languishing physically and emotionally in badly torn tents almost five years later.” Joe attributes his longevity as a missionary to “confidence in God’s Providence, a bit of nitty-gritty perseverance and a growing sense of gratitude for God’s goodness in every situation.”
Joe was first assigned as a language student in 1968 in Japan where he spent the next 14 years. He said that he has found the Africans, while living in much poorer conditions to be more open to hearing the Gospel than the people of Japan. There are also similarities.
“I’ve found that the Africans’ desire and need for finding consensus in meetings, rather than a Westerner’s tendency to stress the importance of my personal opinion, to be quite similar to the Japanese way of communication.”
In both Joe’s situations, he has kept a lifestyle as close to authentic as possible. “Our life in the country parish was quite simple, even rustic with the bad roads, threat of getting malaria, and little access to any means of communication.”
And while today’s use of cell phones and Internet make it somewhat easier, he recalled having to climb hills — even trees — to find a signal. He recalled spending a day in jail for supposedly trying to overthrow the government and being approached by three thieves invading the friary. “One had a machete, another a club, and the third had an AK47 gun, demanding money.” Joe greeted them with, “Welcome, Brother thieves,” which helped diffuse the situation. They eventually fled with very little and no one was hurt.
Thank you for your generosity to the work of missionaries who share the gospel so faithfully and generously.
In the peace of Christ,