Peter Thompson recently retired as Renewal Ministries’ country coordinator to Kenya, after more than twenty-one years of serving on Renewal Ministries’ mission trips and fifteen years as a country coordinator. Peter is retiring, because he will celebrate his eightieth birthday this year and believes it is time to pass on the reins. Bohumir (Bohus) Zivcak, from Slovakia, has replaced Peter as country coordinator for Kenya. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Peter about his years of service.
How did you come to work with Renewal Ministries?
Africa has been on my heart since I was a child, and I even tested a vocation as a mission priest with the Holy Ghost Fathers. However, I learned that ordained priesthood was not my calling, and I then went straight to compulsory military service. I was then married and had three children. We moved from England to Alberta, Canada, in 1967, when I joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as an assistant display director.
In 1974, I experienced a deep conversion through the Renewal. In fact, I first heard Ralph Martin speak in 1976 at the first major conference for the Renewal in western Canada.
After 1990, when Pope John Paul II called for a decade of evangelization in preparation for the Jubilee Year 200, I was inspired to live out my faith in an even deeper and more radical way. My wife and I returned to England to serve for two years with Sion Catholic Community for evangelization in parish missions with street ministry.
In 1996, I served on mission in the war-torn African country of Eritrea. Then, in 1997, I heard Ralph Martin and Peter Herbeck speak at a Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) conference. Peter spoke about missions, and we spoke afterward. In 1998, I went to Ghana on my first mission with Renewal Ministries. The next year, I went to Uganda, and in 2001, to Tanzania. In 2004, Renewal Ministries made me a country coordinator for Kenya.
I also served in the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) offices for eight years and traveled to different parts of the world, including the Vatican.
Throughout the years, I have supported my ministry through my work as an artist. You can view my work at www.peterthompsonart.ca.
Tell us about the specific work you did as a missionary.
I have gone on twenty-five missions to Africa and fifteen to Kenya as the country coordinator serving in multiple dioceses. I’ve also served in the Caribbean, South Korea, India, Asia, and done teaching and leadership formation in Rome.
I discovered how hungry people are for the Gospel. The word would get out that we were in an area, and people would travel for many miles. I did a lot of apologetics because of the influence of more fundamental Christianity that made inroads in Africa. They would teach people that Catholics worshipped bread and statues, and that Mary had other children. But people were hungry to know their faith and answer these challenging questions. A lot of what I was asked to do was equipping the people.
In one area, we asked a group of catechists how many of them had a catechism. Only three of them did—so we went to a basilica in Nairobi and bought every catechism they had. Everyone left with one.
Please share some of your mission experiences with us.
In 2004, I traveled to Kenya with the previous country coordinators, Lloyd and Nancy Greenhaw. There was a priest who described the areas we were going into as “Satan’s territory.” We traveled 7000 feet up, and on the first day or so, hardly anyone came. However, the word gradually got around, and by the end of our time there, we were ministering to thousands of people gathered on terraces going up the hillsides. There were amazing healings and deliverances that took place, by the grace of God.
Another time, we were in what a priest had described to us as a very pagan area. On the first day, only two or three people came. We thought, “If they won’t come to us, we will go to them.” So we took a loud speaker and rode in the back of a pickup truck. There were no doors to knock on—since the people literally had no doors—so we met people where they were.
And finally, in Lunga Lunga, in Kenya, once I was speaking on Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” At that point, a green mamba—a very dangerous, very venomous snake—began moving toward a group of children, and some men came forward and crushed the head of the serpent. The Gospel was brought alive right in front of us, and it was very powerful.
What have you learned from your years of mission work?
It’s a humbling experience, because I’ve gained so much from being able to travel and to experience the Universal Church in different regions of the world. It has impacted and deepened my love for the Church Christ founded. Few people have had that opportunity, and God’s given that opportunity to me. I have experienced the witness of people who live in extremely difficult situations, and I have seen their faith and courage. It has been a great gift. They have been such a witness to me over the years about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
As someone from Western society, who has experienced all the comforts of life, the experience of serving in missions has allowed me to be able to experience the privations of life, and it has taught me to surrender all of those comforts for the sake of the Gospel. Once in Uganda, I remember having torn mosquito netting, a pail full of hot water to wash—splash—yourself in, and a little hut full of mosquitoes. The toilet was a hole in the ground. We ate boiled bananas morning, noon, and night, by handfuls. I learned that what for me are privations are simply daily life for others. This helps us grow in holiness. We need to embrace that. The people there said, “You are one of the only ones to come and live with us.”
What are your hopes for retirement?
I don’t consider myself retired. I still have my health. I’m still continuing to teach wherever the Lord opens doors. I don’t see myself stopping. In fact, I have been added as a member of Renewal Ministries’ Speakers’ Bureau.
After your years of service, what aspects of Renewal Ministries do you appreciate most?
God called Renewal Ministries into a worldwide apostolate whereby the lay and ministerial priesthood can work together in the four corners of the world—it’s a profound grace God has given Renewal Ministries for our time. The vision of Renewal Ministries stirs the spirit to be a witness, to proclaim the Gospel, and to serve the Church universal.
Renewal Ministries really created a tremendous opportunity for lay people to experience missions in different parts of the world. I am grateful to have been, and to continue to be, a part of that.