Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 4, 2005

Local men travel thousands of miles to deliver equipment for missions

By Teresa Jagodzinski

Two local men have experienced a partial avalanche, spent hours hiking up steep mountains, and traveled to remote areas of the Philippines to help spread Christianity.

Dr. James Neff of Winsted and Harvest Community Church Pastor Tom Starkjohn made a trip in February to deliver equipment that will be used to improve production of Christian movies in the northern part of the Philippines.What's in it for YOU?

The equipment was sponsored by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Howard Lake and Harvest Community Church in Winsted.

“Instead of just sending money to help this cause, we brought the equipment there, and saw it being used and saw how effective it is,” they commented.

The men are on the board of directors of Vernacular Video Mission International (VVMI).

VVMI is a mission in Minnesota that provides equipment for ethnic Christians in the Philippines who serve with Vernacular Video Ministry (VVM) and Vernacular Media Network.

VVM is non-denominational, and was founded by Don Leonard, who lived in Winsted in 1982.

The equipment is used to make Christian movies and to show the movies to the villages to teach the people about Christianity.

“The local villagers are the actors in these films, and it is done in their own language. Many show up to see the movies when they are completed because it is the first movie they have seen in their own language, and they see family members in the movies also,” Neff explained. “It is a very effective way to communicate Christ’s message.”

VVMI raises the funds for the equipment through individuals and churches who sponsor projects for specific VVM evangelists. Sponsors are found by word of mouth.

Neff became friends with Leonard in the 1980s. When Leonard was a missionary in the Philippines, he saw the need to spread the gospel there, and he got people in Minnesota interested and involved.

“All of the trips now are to the Philippines, but we are getting requests to expand to other areas,” Neff said.

“We only go to villages that we are invited to. We are informed as to what we can and can’t do in regards to the customs of the people,” he said.

After the films are made, they are taken to villages to be shown to the people.

“Volunteers take these films, along with donated generators and projection systems to the villages,” Starkjohn said.

“They backpack for hours up steep mountains with all of the equipment to show these films.”

“The villagers were very receptive and treated us like royalty,” Neff said. “They wanted to carry all of our things for us, even though we said it wasn’t necessary.”

The most recent trip was to the most remote area yet.

“In Lebing, we were the first white people to ever go there,” Starkjohn said.

When they made this trip, they also used their special talents to help the local people.

Starkjohn used his preaching skills, and Neff used his dental skills.

“These people had never seen a dentist before,” Neff said. “So the dental work consisted of pulling teeth. They would walk a long way to get to us.”

Starkjohn would preach to the villages with other evangelists, and it would be interpreted into the language of the villagers.

“The people there are very clean people, and there are no overweight people,” he said.

“They eat mainly rice, and they walk everywhere.”

Evangelists work with existing churches, so there is follow up with Bible studies, and eventually a church in villages that don’t have one.

They are currently working in partnership with local churches throughout Luzon to try to get into more of the different languages there.

Would the men make this trip again?

“Yes,” they both replied, “it was very rewarding.”

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