Nov. 27, 2006

Local church group goes on a 'mission' - literally

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

Home grown, local missionaries are making big differences in the lives of the poor in Guatemala.

Three separate mission trips were organized and taken this past year by those in surrounding communities.

The mission groups focused on ministry, spreading the Christian faith, and on dental needs, along with medical and optical needs.

Harvest Community Church of Winsted was started as a “church plant” of the Evangelical Free Church of America about two and a half years ago, explained Pastor Tom Starkjohn of Harvest Community Church.

“Our church is becoming a mission church. Part of how we spread the Word is to go out to areas to bring in the lost,” said Mary Neff of Winsted, a member of the church.

“The main goal is to bring Christ into people’s lives, and one way to do that is to serve so that they want what you have,” she said.

The missions were coordinated with a couple named Michael and Kambria Robertson, who are full-time missionaries in Guatemala City.

Kambria, by the way, is originally from Cokato, and is the daughter of Cokato veterinarian Dr. Jim Kirkpatrick.

The Robertsons started by working “mercy ships,” said Dr. Jim Neff, dentist of Winsted Gentle Dental Care.

“Mercy ships are retired cruise ships that dock at ports (known to have needs) and give out services,” Dr. Neff explained.

The Robertsons host missionary groups, coordinate resources both financial and medical, and they minister to ministries, explained Dr. Neff.

“They get help to people. They know a lot of people, and they know where the needs are,” he said.

The mission trips came about primarily by the effort of Dr. Jim and Mary Neff, Pastor Starkjohn said. “They are friends of the missionaries (the Robertsons), and had gone to church with the Kirkpatricks. Also, they had raised money through our church (for the Robertson’s missionary work),” he said

Dr. Neff designed a portable dental equipment set-up that could be run on a portable generator so that he could perform dentistry on the poor in other countries.

The first mission trip

The first Harvest Community Church mission trip sent a group of local parishioners to Guatemala City in April.

Those people were Dr. Jim and Mary Neff of Winsted, Naomi Behrens of Lester Prairie, who is a dental assistant in Watertown, and Patricia Schmidt of Farmington, who is a message therapist.

The group left Guatemala City, and traveled four hours on paved roads, then headed into the jungle mountains for four hours on twisting, narrow roads to the village of Senahu. From there, the group headed into the mountains for another hour and a half on “very interesting roads,” Dr. Neff said.

The first day, the group went to an orphanage called the Prince of Peace. It is for children up to the age of 16.

Typically, Mary explained, the parents couldn’t afford children, and the children learn skills to live on their own at the orphanage.

The group did dental cleanings that day, and Patricia massaged the children, along with the adult orphanage workers.

“In these ministries, people are giving all their time, and nothing is given to them,” Mary said. “It’s nice to minister to them, and a lot of the time, they don’t know how to receive (the attention),” she said.

Next, the group went to a place called the “House of Hope.” This is a tiny house, explained Dr. Neff, that a couple owns who have four children of their own. But “five days a week, they open their home to street children, who only eat when their parents have the money to feed them.”

“About 40 children come each day for a noon meal, some walk half a mile, and many children carry a baby sister or brother on their back,” he explained.

At the House of Hope, the group cooked and served meals, gave out toothbrushes, showed the children how to brush, and taught them how to floss.

What struck me was “how giving these people are, and they have nothing,” Naomi said. “We see things so different here (in the US) because we have so much. I was learning from kids that are so joyful, and they have nothing,” she continued.

The group noticed a child wrapping up food before throwing it into the garbage. When they asked the child why, he responded, “I know someone (in the city dump) will eat it so this way it will stay clean.”

From then on, the group would also wrap their food garbage before throwing it away.

The group reported that tens of thousands of people live in the city dump, or right next to the dump, and make a living off of the dump, especially since there is 40 percent unemployment.

Because of this, it can be a very dangerous place, and street gangs are prevalent, Dr. Neff explained. “That’s why there’s razor wire around everything, and guards at every business,” he said.

Patricia said, “It’s exciting to get out of your comfort zone and give yourself up to the Lord, and say ‘Here I am.’”

In one village where the group was doing dental cleanings, language needed to be translated from English to Spanish to Kek Chi and back.

“This required many people,” Dr. Neff said.

Those people didn’t know what to expect from us, reported Mary, so they sent in a little girl who was having tooth pain. We pulled some teeth and relieved her pain, then others starting coming in the door.

The villages in the mountains are so remote that a person would need a vehicle and money to travel one or two hours out of the mountains to get medical or dental care.

Because the area is so poor, people usually can’t afford to take a trip out of the mountains for this.

The second mission trip

Another trip was taken in July, and consisted of three adults, Pastor Starkjohn of Harvest Community Church, Betty Rehmann of Winsted, and John Holland of Winsted; and four youth, Tina Gergen of Winsted, Victoria Henderson of Silver Lake, R.J Schmid of Winsted, and a relative from outside the area, Carl Sorg.

The group traveled to Guatemala City for the first two days, and then spent the remaining six days in and around the city of Teculutan, which is about three hours from Guatemala City.

“Our group joined a medical team from Ohio, and some members of the group joined a dental team as well,” explained Pastor Starkjohn.

“We helped with dental cleanings, checked blood pressure, and helped the medical team hand out prescriptions. We did a lot of hands-on work, as well as spent a lot of time getting to know the people (of Guatemala),” Pastor Starkjohn said.

“We handed out balloons and toothbrushes, and played games with the people. We also shared the gospel with groups of people through a translator. We prayed with anyone that would let us pray with them,” he continued.

“We also spent a day at the House of Hope, and helped cook and serve food,” he said.

“The highlight of our trip was being able to share the gospel with the people. It was a scary thing for some people in the group (that weren’t used to this kind of outreach), but we had a lot of positive experiences there, and spent a lot of time in the field,” Pastor Starkjohn said.

“We went (on the mission) for a few reasons. One is to couple with the missionaries we support (the Robertsons). We want to build a relationship with the missionaries, not just send them money.”

Pastor Starkjohn continued, “We also went for exposure to that way of life. Central Minnesota isn’t a typical way of life.”

“And we went for the opportunity to practice what we are learning at the church, such as sharing the gospel, and reaching out to the poor.”

“The effect I’ve seen on some of the people who went on the trip is now, they have a heart for those people,” he continued. “So now, they’re finding ways to support the people of Guatemala through prayers and gifts.”

“Last week, we sent a $10,000 check to the House of Hope to increase their feeding program. We not only served and had exposure to the area, but now we sent them money to support them further. Some people’s hearts wouldn’t have changed if they hadn’t of made the trip,” Pastor Starkjohn said.

The third mission trip

The third group of missionaries traveled to Guatemala in August, and consisted of Dr. Jim and Mary Neff, Justin Rehmann, a youth from Howard Lake, and Lyn Zeppelin of Winsted, who is a loan processor in Waverly, along with her son, Joshua Fasching.

“Our main goal was dentistry and ministry,” Lyn said, “to minister to both adults and children about God so they get to know and talk about God.”

One way to get to know them was to play games like ball with them, explained Lyn.

“I brought my son with to see how others lived, and I wanted him to grow,” she said.

Lyn did dental assistant work there, while Justin and Joshua helped set up and take down dental equipment, along with interacting with the children.

“We learned skills we didn’t have before, it was a lot of fun learning,” Lyn said.

“The kids really connected with Justin and Josh,” she said.

“One day, we did 100 fillings, and relieved a lot of pain. They don’t drink the water either so they drink a lot of soda. We had to pull the front teeth of a 20-year-old,” said Dr. Neff.

“People would come for free dental care, and discover the church,” Lyn said.

The group made time to climb an active volcano. “These little old ladies were passing us while we climbed. They had legs of steel,” Mary laughed.

As the group posed for pictures with their backs facing the hot lava, some of their backpacks started smoking. The heat also melted a water bottle that was mounted to a pack.

However, the pictures turned out fantastic.

The group then visited an orphanage named “Mama Carmen’s.” It is a four-bedroom house that houses at least 50 kids. “God put it on her heart to adopt these kids,” Mary said.

She won’t allow the kids to be adopted out because of the prevalence of prostitution of young girls there, explained Mary.

Carmen has a farm that grows coffee. “They sell the coffee beans to get money for the orphanage,” she said.

Mary has a Bible in which each page has both an English and a Spanish translation. “I would read (the English part) and the kids would read (the Spanish part). It was really neat to hear the Word of God in soft Spanish.”

The group brought many flip-flops on the trip to give out to the children, and their response was unbelievable.

They were so excited to receive the flip-flops, Mary said, that, “One girl washed her feet before she put them on. Some of the children only carried them around as to take very good care of them.”

Lyn said, “I would go back, it was a lot of fun. However, you don’t have to leave the country to minister. Giving to food shelves or Worn-A-Bit, for example, helps those in need.”

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