Rev. Vincent Sunguti grew up on the other side of the world in the Republic of Kenya in East Africa.
After serving as a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Wisner, he recently revisited and led a group from across the United States to see what he had left behind.
From January 26 to February 9, 10 Americans from America followed him home, chasing big beasts on safari, riding camels on the beach, and being greeted by school children – 400 in number – who greeted them to the music of drums and tambourines welcomed.
Traveling with Sunguti were Dave and Carol Oligmueller from Pilger; Madonna Servi and LaVonne Johnson, both from Wisner; Rita Eichelberger, Ron and Doris Guenther and Jeanette Lueshen, all Beemers; and Dean and Mary Allen of Kansas City, Missouri.
The plans for the trip were threefold. Sunguti hoped Americans would treat the visit as if they were modern-day missionaries learning about the Catholic faith as practiced by Kenyans in the context of African culture; that they would eventually partner with the schools and churches of Kenya; and as a needs analysis for mutual support.
The visit was a good start for that. In most places they visited, they were greeted by Kenyans with song and dance, food gifts, handmade bracelets and other welcome items. In return, the travelers left gifts: book bags, school supplies and computers for the school children, an organ and sound system for the church, among other donations in kind and money from those who stayed at home.
When guests come to Kenya, they receive gifts to make them part of the community, Sunguti said. “Gifts are part of their joy.”
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Sunguti’s village of Mukhuyu. In 2018, just prior to Sunguti’s arrival in Wisner, Pilger’s Dave and Carol Oligmueller lost their teenage daughter Jayda in a car accident. When they learned that the village of Sunguti had no water supply and the residents carried all the water they used in buckets on their heads from the river several miles away, they paid the lion’s share to have a well installed in St. Charles Lwanga im to have Mukhuyu Village installed in Sunguti.
The Oligmüllers were able to see the fountain, which the village health center staff had decorated with live flowers and lit candles.
“It was overwhelming to see the fountain,” said Carol Oligmüller. They left Jayda’s rosary and two coins, minted in the years of Jayda’s birth and death.
The Nebraska-based group spent several days on safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Many enjoyed a hot air balloon ride in a plane so big it could fit 14 in its gondola. They drove Land Cruisers and spotted lion, cheetah, gazelle, zebra, giraffe, hippo, African water buffalo and the African tobi.
The Land Cruisers left in all directions, explained Madonna Servi. When an animal was sighted, the other drivers were notified and everyone rushed to that location.
They also made a trip from Nairobi to Mombasa City on Kenya’s south coast on a train so slippery they couldn’t tell if they were being stopped or traveling at 50 miles an hour.
In the city of Mombasa, they visited the beautiful and well-preserved 1918 Gothic-style Holy Ghost Cathedral. Security in the cathedral was tight due to terrorist attacks.
To get permission to visit the cathedral, Sunguti had to produce documents proving he was a priest and contact two of his former classmates who could vouch for its authenticity.
They also visited the Fort Jesus Museum, a fort built by the Portuguese in 1593 to serve as a military base to fight the Arabs against the slave trade.
One night camel rides were the order of the day, followed by a mass celebrated by Sunguti and his brother Rev. Henry Sunguti on the Indian Ocean beach. Thirteen were in attendance at the beginning of the service, but many more tourists joined them at the end.
It was an emotional journey for everyone involved and especially for Sunguti. “I feel privileged that so many are visiting my country,” he said. “They sacrificed money and time. I don’t take that for granted.”