Saturday, residents were offered a first-hand account of missionary work by fellow residents who have stepped outside their comfort zones and traveled the world helping those in need.
At Helen Matthes Library, missionaries shared experiences that ranged from volunteering in orphanages in Africa to visiting Catholic churches in Haiti.
Local residents Jill Jones and Tony Munoz work with the organization, Packed with a Purpose, which takes mission trips to Honduras every year to deliver school supplies to the slums of San Pedro.
Local Beecher City High School sophomore Hannah Doedtman had read a magazine article on missionary work, and became interested in the organization after being drawn to the open house Saturday. She hopes to go on a mission trip this summer.
While researching various missionary work, Doedtman has learned about the plight of so many impoverished countries around the world. The research has changed her perspective from wanting things, such as an iPod, to realizing Americans have so much more to be thankful for than those in underdeveloped countries.
“They (Honduran children) need these supplies so much more than we do,” she said.
Munoz, who is from Honduras and has worked as a minister for eight years in the Effingham area, feels there is a lesson to be learned from visiting his home country.
“You learn people have to get along with a lot less than they need,” he said.
Jones, who has gone on dozens of mission trips in her life, said the trips are about “more than praying for people.”
“Kids there can go to school free, but if they don’t have school supplies, they aren’t allowed,” said Jones about the care packages packed in Effingham, then delivered by Effingham missionaries.
Jones said her team shed tears when first arriving in the outskirts of San Pedro, a city Munoz said has spawned into makeshift homes for more than 20,000 people. The poorest members of San Pedro move there when their resources run dry, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and hopelessness.
“Their aspirations and dreams are so far behind,” said Munoz. “Giving them the chance to learn helps them want to be teachers and engineers. There were language barriers between people here and there, but they understood the love and care being offered.”
Munoz said there aren’t social programs to feed the hungry, just the seeds of hope that are planted by visits from organizations, such as Packed with a Purpose.
From helping children in Honduras to those in Africa, resident Debbie Sefton has become a volunteer and coordinator for not-for-profit organization HOW, Helping Orphans and Widows.
The group displayed during the open house jewelry made by women in rural Africa. The organization is raising money to fund mission trips to build better facilities that would allow women to continue creating the homemade jewelry. In turn, they hope to sell more jewelry to give back to the needs in the area.
Sefton said the mission trip inspired her to see the connection between all women, no matter where they live.
“Going to Africa, you realize that we are so much alike,” she said. “Despite the differences, we all like to sit and visit and try to enjoy life.”
Another third world country has been the mission of St. Anthony church as members visited a sister parish in Ferrier, Haiti, — an experience one young missionary described as “very humbling.”
“We all attended mass and Sunday services together,” said Jacki Pickowitz. “All the men had crisp white shirts and the women wore nice dresses. They looked so nice even though they lived in small houses with dirt floors.”
According to St. Anthony church member Dan Woods, the visit to Haiti left him with a lasting impression of respect for the people there.
“It showed a lot of self-respect when they dressed that nice for mass on Sunday,” he said, noting some of the Haitians came to St. Anthony to attend mass recently.
Another booth, run by South African native and current Effingham resident Rob Davies, highlighted volunteer opportunities with Africa Sun Volunteering and Africa Sol Safaris, which provides opportunities to make a difference in the lives of inhabitants and surrounding wildlife.
“These trips are great for animal people,” said Davies.
Animal lovers can volunteer to care for cheetahs, elephants, eagles, giraffes and other animals native to Africa. Volunteers go for several weeks, cleaning and feeding African wildlife. However, there is an opportunity for those who want to help the native residents to volunteer at orphanages as well.
“If you have the heart to work with kids, there can be nothing more rewarding than volunteering in an orphanage,” said Davies, who grew up with Africa Sun Volunteering’s founder.
One organization at the open house offered mentorship for missionary work abroad.
Feed the Crave, represented by Andrew Bloemker and Andrew Bondurant, offers information about what to expect when travelling to a developing country. The organization has seminars through local churches with information about the places to visit, along with some personal experiences from previous trips. Bloemker said Feed the Crave’s program can prepare a missionary for the social and spiritual differences one might encounter.
“Going on these trips is about building relationships with the people you meet,” he said.
Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at email@example.com or on Twitter @Ednthuffman.