Couple’s married life has been one of service

  • April 13, 2011
Maggie Banga during one of her earlier service missions in Honduras. She and husband Mark are currently in Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy of the Bangas)Toronto missionaries Mark and Maggie Banga arrived in Addis Ababa in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Ethiopia’s capital city where cars and minibuses crowded the streets and waves of the city’s 3.5 million people filled the sidewalks.

“The air is thick with exhaust and smoke. Our first days were really overwhelming, despite the fact that we have visited very poor countries before,” Maggie recalls in a blog post.

The Bangas left their jobs in Toronto to spend the early years of their married life as a missionary couple.

“The walk to our minibus is heart-wrenching. There are forgotten people everywhere, orphans, single moms, cripples, elderly and especially people in desperate need of medical care,” Maggie wrote.

Before heading to Ethiopia last year, the Bangas spoke to The Catholic Register about their call.

“We kind of realized it was a call for us, as a shared vocation. It came together in marriage. It was such a gift to find each other and share this kind of passion,” said Maggie.

Even before they met, each had deepened their faith and had their “hearts and eyes opened up to some of the realities of our world, especially from a social justice point of view,” Mark explained. Mark had volunteered with the Basilians in Colombia while Maggie volunteered for three months in hospitals in Malawi and helped set up a pediatric HIV program there.

Not long after being married, the Bangas began discerning a call to missionary work.

“Just before Christmas time, we arrived at a place of clarity. We felt called to refocus our time and energy, and refocus our lives; to move and work overseas cross-culturally in a mission setting,” said Mark.

The couple, both 31, left their full-time careers — Mark was a director of a software company and Maggie worked as a naturopathic doctor — friends, family, home and parish in Toronto to train for overseas missions in Honduras, then with the Comboni missionaries in Chicago, before their eventual missionary assignment in Ethiopia.

In their blog called “Shoulder to Shoulder: Mark and Maggie in Ethiopia,” the couple shares the experiences of their new ministry in Awassa. Mark works at the Awassa Catholic Secretariat which co-ordinates all the activities of the Catholic Church in the southern diocese, while Maggie volunteers at Bushulo Health Centre in a rural village about seven kilometres outside the city.

There have been the challenges of missing family, friends and the comforts of home, like electricity on some nights. But the Bangas focus on the fruits of their mission.

“We are purposely working to erase some of the lines we tend to draw between ourselves and the people around us,” they explained.

“Where our work begins and personal time ends is blurred and we are thankful for this. This is a consequence of our decision to live as missionaries — where our work is our life, our life is our work and in both we’re trying to give to God.”

On one of their most recent blog entries, on April 3, the Bangas say they visited a remote city in the Borana zone of southern Ethiopia. They accompanied the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and staff to one of the remote health care posts which served as a mobile clinic. The people in Borana are mainly a nomadic people and do not receive regular health care.

“This kind of health care delivery is not without serious challenges, both practical, financial and clinical. Sometimes the sisters and staff end up travelling on very bad roads for up to 90 kilometres, and then work in the heat all day, without proper lunch,” the Bangas explained.

Their time as missionaries has been fulfilling, but there have been some dangerous moments. In 2009, the Bangas were in Guatemala when the military coup broke out. They were volunteering with Mission Honduras International, a U.S.-based Catholic Franciscan charity. They escaped the violence and returned to Toronto for a brief period before starting their missionary training with the Combonis in Chicago.

Call to Service:

A Catholic Register Special Section

April 13, 2011
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