Mosquitoes are the enemy of mission. They can deprive missionaries of sleep, make them sick with malaria and dengue fever, and even drive them back to their countries of origin. I have seen a priest laid low with malarial fever, shivering under layers of blankets until the fever subsided. I knew a religious sister, an excellent teacher, who had to leave Pakistan because of the swelling and unbearable itch of mosquito bites that she could bear no longer.
I have had my own battles with these pesky creatures. They have fed on my blood and interfered with my work by taking my attention away from others and focusing it on the itchy spots around my ankles, elbows, neck and any other exposed area.
In spiritual direction sessions, not only have I been distracted myself, but I have also seen those I am working with being obstructed in their sharing and even shortening the time they might otherwise have spent dealing with their spiritual lives. I have been out in villages, sitting on charpoys (fibre-based beds), longing for the moment of departure to escape being eaten alive!
Of course, as with every problem, we seek solutions. There are nets, lotions, coils, fans and plug-in devices. However, each one has its limitations. With a net, you get too hot; with lotions, the effect lasts for only a relatively short time; coils can be a fire hazard; fans and plug-in devices cannot be used outdoors, and only coils can be used when the electricity is cut, which is often.
Perhaps the best solution is a spiritual one. St Paul tells us that he was given a “thorn in the flesh,” and when he asked God to remove it, he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you: my power is at its best in weakness.” Maybe we missionaries, as we try to combat mosquitoes, can, like St Paul, make this “weakness” our special boast, “so that the power of Christ may stay over us.”
Columban Fr Joseph Joyce lives and works in Pakistan.
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