By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN With America’s evolving farm industry, it’s hard to imagine that farmers across the world in Africa are still using what we would consider garden tools.
Glenn Mork, member of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church of Cokato and executive director of Hope Centers for Children of Africa, is preparing to fill a 40-foot shipping container that will travel from Cokato to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The container will be filled with donated farm machinery and other items to benefit the Bunia Children’s Hope Center, where 600 orphans, who have been placed with host families, are receiving education and training.
AIDS, Africa, orphans
After retiring from a career in law enforcement, Mork had been working for a garage door company, but was looking for more out of life.
“I was praying that the Lord would use me in a way that I could see a significant impact on His kingdom,” Mork said.
Three words AIDS, Africa, and orphans were laid upon his heart.
“It took me three years to figure out what that meant,” Mork said.
It happened, how many things often do, by just falling into place.
Mork’s wife, Sherry, worked for Daystar US, a financial fundraiser for Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya and knew Elsie Scaife, who taught English for the university in Kenya. Scaife and her husband, Fred, started Hope Centers for Children of Africa, a ministry for orphaned children.
Elsie had since passed away unexpectedly, leaving Fred, alone, to coordinate the center’s efforts and Sherry encouraged Glenn to call Fred to get his input on the matter.
At 78 with growing health concerns, Fred had been praying someone would come alongside him.
At the time, the center had 246 orphans, 10 that tested positive for HIV, and it was located right in the heart of Africa.
“Everything started falling into place,” Glenn said, though he admitted to ignoring the call twice.
A large part of the ministry operation is farming projects including raising crops twice a year, raising animals for food, along with selling the surplus to the market to pay for farming expenses and eventually aid the center so that it becomes self-sustaining.
Having grown up on a farm, Glenn just wasn’t sure about getting back into the field, nor did he have the money or the time to travel to Africa.
But when the economy took a downturn and Glenn was laid off from his job in June 2008, he suddenly had the time.
By this point, Fred, who was living in Eden Prairie, was also no longer able to travel to Africa.
In August, Fred gave Glenn the $3,000 it would cost to go visit the operation in Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“When I got there, I knew this was the ministry the Lord wanted me to be involved in,” Glenn said.
Glenn is the only employee, though 90 percent of his work is volunteer. He also works under a board of directors.
The center itself is run by an African couple named Bisoke and Furaha, who, along with 66 employees, operate the school, clinic, and farm.
Glenn’s primary job is fundraising, raising awareness for the center, and collecting supplies for the center.
The Congo endured 10 years of war from 1998 to 2008, and it is estimated that there were 4.5 to 5 million lives lost from war, poverty, and lack of medical care, Glenn explained.
This left “a devastating by-product of 10 years of war” with many wives widowed and even more children orphaned.
In his first year of working for the center, Glenn said that the number of orphans increased from 250 to 500.
Today, there are 600 children that have been placed into 282 homes (245 of which are run by widows) and are enrolled in the center’s school, Baraka Academy.
‘Teach a man to fish . . .’
Like the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” the Hope Center is teaching skills in a variety of fields. Currently, the main skills taught are sewing and weaving, but the center is looking for tools that will allow them to teach in such areas as mechanics, welding, and carpentry.
Glenn explained that the students are excited and motivated to learn because they know the key to their future is through an education.
For example, he shared a story of a 17-year-old orphan who had a goal of someday becoming a farmer and a mechanic.
One day, Glenn taught him how to drive a tractor.
“He was on top of the world,” he said, noting the boy was grinning from ear-to-ear as he drove the tractor around.
Collecting machinery, gently-used shoes
Now through Thursday, May 5, Glenn is collecting donations that will benefit the Hope Center and its ministry.
Last year, the Hope Center was able to purchase a tractor, plow, and disk that greatly assisted the farming effort on the 156 acres of fertile farmland. The crops they grow are maize, soya, an edible local bean; and peanuts.
Glenn wanted to add to the machinery that would assist in the planting process. Since there are two planting seasons in this region of Africa, time is of the essence, Glenn explained. He also mentioned that much of the farm machinery in the area was either stolen or used to make weaponry during the war.
Glenn set forth to find donated farm equipment that would fill a 40-foot shipping container. Shipping of the container alone will cost $22,000 and take 56 days until it reaches its final destination. The container will later be used for storing crops.
His goal was to find a farmer to donate a multipurpose planter in the US, which would have otherwise cost him $14,000 in Africa.
Glenn mentioned this to fellow church member Craig Anderson of Dassel, who joined him in the search to find a used planter and help recondition it, if necessary.
After some searching and spreading the word, they were able to find several farmers willing to donate machinery for Glenn’s effort. Midwest Machinery also offered reduced prices on necessary parts.
Such donated items included:
• a four-row planter from the Borg family of Cokato;
• a field cultivator from Harlan Kotila of Cokato;
• a row cultivator from Brian Danielson of Cokato;
• a corn metering unit donated by Doug Lundeen of Cokato; and,
• a hand-crank corn sheller and steel grain bin donated by Wayne Kozitka of Howard Lake.
Glenn is also looking for donated working garden tillers, carpentry tools, welding supplies, sewing machines, and gently-used shoes.
Shoes Galore shoe drive
A few years ago, there was a shoe drive for the center and many of the orphans and widows are still wearing the same shoes, Glenn explained. He described how one woman was wearing shoes too small for her, and three inches of her heels were sticking over the backs.
Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church is looking to pack any left over space in the shipping container with donated gently-used shoes and is asking the community to participate in its Shoes Galore shoe drive.
For every pair of shoes collected, Good Shepherd’s youth group will hang a cut-out shoe on the wall of the sanctuary. The path of the shoes began at “Cokato” with the goal of ending at “Bunia Children’s Hope Center” on the other side.
The shoes, which were designed by cartoonist and former church member Ray Hanson, each have verse Isaiah 6:8, which reads: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’”
Drop-off sites for shoes in Cokato include: Good Shepherd Free Lutheran, First Baptist, Elim Mission Church, Crossroads, Broadway Hair Fashions, and Assembly of God Church. Sites in Dassel include: Gethsemane, Dassel Covenant, Church of Christ, and Spectralytics.
Jody Danielson, Good Shepherd missions board member, suggests people with left-over shoes that don’t sell during the upcoming city-wide garage sale, donate them to the cause. For pick-up call Danielson at (320) 286-5362.
Shoes will be collected until Wednesday, May 4.
To donate monetarily and assist with shipping costs, send checks to: Hope Centers for Children in Africa (HCCA), 500 Rudy Lane, Buffalo, MN, 55313.
For more information, contact Glenn at (612) 310-2395 or visit www.africanhopecenters.org.