16 Oct 2011

On being a Missionary: Getting into Deep Water

On being a Missionary: Getting into Deep Water
by Fr Peter Major MHM

[Fr. Peter Major is a Mill Hill Missionary who comes from Upper New York State. He has spent over thirty years working in the Sudan. He also spent some time working with Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. He is now back working in Malakal, Sudan, doing chaplaincy work in the hospital and the prison, and also helping street children. The following reflections are from a piece that he wrote while on a Sabbatical which were published in the Autumn 2011 "St Joseph's Advocate" - published with permssion]

When I was a boy growing up in Skaneateles, New York State, I used to hear voices, "Go out to the deep water, go out to the deep water." But I was always afraid of deep water. Old logs and seaweed on the bottom of Skaneateles lake (near my home) always frightened me, and yet I felt a strange urge to dive in, as if there was a hidden treasure there. I felt somehow that in the deep water, I would find my own soul, the meaning of my existence.

‘Deep Water’ – Being a Missionary

I think "Deep water" is what being a missionary is all about. For me, the call to the deep water took me to Borneo and Beirut, Cairo, and the Sudan. Now that my hair is getting grey, I realize that deep water is not necessarily far away. Deep water is everywhere, even in Syracuse and Skaneateles, New York. Wherever there is pain, suffering, heartbreak and wounded people, this is the deep water; it is the place we fear to enter, yet it is here in the deep water that we find Christ. "I was hungry, did you give me to eat? I was in prison, did you visit me, I was a refugee, did you welcome me in?"



Deep water is not a one-way street. Mission is a two way street. I remember once in a ‘pagan’ longhouse in Borneo teaching the people about God and Jesus Christ. I told them that "God is the creator of heaven and earth." And they all agreed. Then I told them that Jesus said to "love God and love your neighbour." And they all agreed. Then one old warrior raised his hand and said to me, "Father, we people living here in the rain forest say that not only are people our neighbours, but all of God's creation is our neighbour. The air we breathe is our neighbour. The water is our neighbour. The trees, the forest, the birds and animals in the forest are our neighbours."

I'm a missionary priest. But that day, an old man in a ‘pagan’ Longhouse in Borneo taught me something about "Love your neighbour." It's like Jesus told us: "The Spirit of God blows where it will" - even amongst the ‘pagan’ people in the rain forests of Borneo.

I found myself in very deep water

And yes, even among the Muslim people of the Sudan, the Holy Spirit is alive and well. In August 1998, I was living in Khartoum, the capital city of the Sudan. One evening at around 9 p.m. we heard several loud explosions. "What was that?" After an hour, an announcement came over the radio, "The United States of America has launched a missile attack on the Islamic Republic of the Sudan”. It was true too. President Clinton had ordered a missile attack on an alleged ‘Chemical weapons plant’ located in the city.

Just imagine this situation: I'm the only white person in the whole area. All my neighbours are Muslims. Many of them know that I'm an American priest, whose country just attacked their own country. Get the picture? I'm in very deep water! Any minute there will be a lynch mob banging down my door. I waited and waited. But nothing happened. No one came. They didn't drag me out of the house and cut my throat. In fact even when I got enough courage to go outside the next day nothing happened. Not one person even cursed me!


Everything is upside down

In the deep water everything is upside down. Muslims in a ‘Terrorist country’ teach a Christian the meaning of non­violence. An old ‘pagan’ man teaches a priest about God. Mission is a two way street. We give and we receive. The same Spirit in me is also in them. The Spirit lifts the veil from our eyes to see the stranger as our friend.

Of course, having lived in the Sudan for so many years, I'm not so naive as to believe the Holy Spirit is the only Spirit blowing in the wind. I'm not the only missionary in Africa. The Devil is also preaching there… And many people hear his call and follow him down the wide road to self-destruction.


The countless refugee camps throughout Africa are the fruits of the Devil's labour. In Kakuma Refugee Camp alone there are 86,000 refugees, all innocent victims of civil war and hunger in the Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Congo. For me, these victims, these refugees are the light to the world.

Deep Water – Following God’s Dream

Deep water is when we follow God's dream and not our dream. In God's dream, every child has the right to eat, money or no money. Every child has the right to drink clean water, money or no money. Every child has the right to sleep in a house and not on the street, money or no money.

Deep water is about The Truth. It's about looking deep down inside ourselves to discover the real truth about our faith. As Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." And the truth is that every person, good or bad, black or white, Muslim or Christian, is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That's why we are called to respect every person. That's why we believe every person can change and become a new person. Deep water is believing in the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

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The Mill Hill Missionaries are St. Joseph’s Missionary Society is a missionary Society founded by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan in the late 19th Century. Over the last 160 years, missionaries coming from Europe, and more recently from Africa and Asia, have joined ranks to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. The history of the Mill Hill Missionaries is closely linked to the story of its founder, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan and his vision for a college to train missionaries to go overseas to proclaim the Gospel. From the motherhouse at St. Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, and later on, from various other places, missionaries have continued to live out this vocational calling

To read more about the Mill Hill Missionaries HERE.

To read more Missionary Stories HERE.

St Joseph's Advocate is the magazine of the Irish Mill Hill Missionaries and is published quarterly. It keeps all friends and supporters in touch with the work of the Irish MHM's in the Third World and publishes articles of spiritual, church and general interest.

It is published from the MHM house in Kilkenny, four issues per year with a calendar at Christmas. If you would like to support the work of the MHM and become a member please contact Fr Director, Mill Hill Missionaries, Waterford Road, Kilkeny.

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