MASERU -- Growing up in Sekoai village in Morija, Thabo Tsaeng had admired the nuns she always saw being smartly dressed at the Motsekuoa Roman Catholic Parish. She vowed to join them in doing God's work. Now a catholic nun heading the Andrew Blair Orphanage in Motsekuoa, Sister Agatha, 42, recently said growing up under the care of her aunt, who was a staunch Catholic, also influenced her decision to join the Motsekuoa Catholic Convent at the age of 15.
The death of her mother, when she was only seven years of age, also contributed significantly to her prayerful nature -- as she sought answers noone could provide. As a result, after completing her standard seven at Letlapeng Primary School, she received God's calling and left her family and joined the convent, where she was taught how to become a nun.
A nun is a member of a Catholic community of women, living under vows of modesty, chastity and obedience. They seek personal perfection by close union with God and a woman who decided to dedicate her life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent.
The term "nun" is applicable to Catholics (Eastern and Western traditions), Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Jains, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus and some other religious traditions. While in common usage the terms "nun" and "sister" are often used interchangeably in different ways of life, a "nun" IS a religious woman who lives a contemplative and cloistered life of meditation and prayer for the salvation of others, while a "religious sister", in religious institutes like Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, lives an active vocation of both prayer and service, often to the needy, sick, poor, and uneducated.
However, Sr Agatha said she went up to Form C at Motsekuoa High School before she started doing apostolic work, which also involved working with different groups of people until at the age of 19. She was ready to start working as a capable nun at the age of 22, a development symbolised by receiving the holy veil. "I chose the handmaids of Christ Solidarity.
"This group comprises nuns who work in various capacities from teaching, nursing, working with children, disabled people and others. I enjoy working with children," Sr Agatha said. She said her perception initially -- that the duty of nuns was nothing else other than attending the mass and praying all the time, was to be proved wrong when she came to stay at the convent.
"I realised being the bride of Christ and staying in a convent made us different in the sense that we chose to serve God and took a celibacy vow. "However, we are women -- biologically created like any other woman. It is not an easy life if you were not called to live and work in the convent and be there for people."
She has seen fellow nuns who had to go against their vows and were forced to leave the church after realising they had misinterpreted God's messages or had joined the convent for the wrong reasons. "There are some who were discharged from the convent on the basis of misconduct or irresponsible behaviour." She explained the doctrines of the church and protocols in the convent demand a lot of discipline from the nuns.
"You can only survive what is expected of you if only you were really called to become a servant of God in this manner," she said. "However, apart from teaching God's work and caring for other people, we also care about what happens around us and outside the church," Sister Agatha said.
She said she follows news on politics in Lesotho and internationally, "Otherwise how else would we know what to pray for. I also voted in last year's national assembly elections," she said. Sr Agatha said she also follows general news and worries about the high prevalence of general crime. She enjoys watching European football and non-pornographic movies.
"I do watch African movies too and prefer comedy.
"I am a great fan of the Nigerian Mr Ibu. I also enjoy our traditional Famo music and only drink mass wine." She said life in the convent is inspired by great devotion to God, Jesus Christ and Holy Mary, the mother of Jesus. "It is this devotion that made me leave my family to join my current family which shares with me a common religious belief.
"We don't expect to get paid for doing God's work but we believe we are already blessed and that there would be an eternal and happy life when we go home to be with our Lord." Sr Agatha said her work as a nun revolves around children. "Although I was not meant to have children of my own, I love working with the young ones. It's my gift from God."
Her love for children took her to St Mark in Mohale's Hoek, soon after her acceptance to serve the church. "I have also worked at St Leo in Maseru, the Samaria Parish in Mafeteng and taught at South African pre-schools at St Peter's in Mamelodi and at St Kizito in Brits." At just 42 years of age, Sr Agatha says God still has a lot of work he wants her to do.
"There are a lot of children in great need of my service in the various communities and I would like to reach out to them and be like a mother, a sister and an aunt to them. "Through God's teachings, I can also help them see this life in a different light - that, they are on a journey, which can be difficult yes, but they would live an eternal life after death. How we all relate to one another and behave determines whether we are going to be doomed to a life of eternal suffering or a happy one with the Lord," she said.