CALLAWAY – NIGERIA – A partnership has been formed that transcends a formidable distance, from Callaway, Nebraska, to Bagrima, Nigeria, and back. Yes this is a partnership based on need, but even more so it is based on a desire to serve.
The Callaway United Methodist Church has a sister church in Bagrima, Nigeria, and through this partnership the village has been able to open a school, a clinic, dug a deep water well, and it has accomplished these goals in less than five years.
It was the end of 2007 when the church made a commitment to enter into mission work. The congregation wanted to pursue this goal not through funds donated, but through building a ‘church to church,’ ‘person to person. relationship.’
They have succeeded.
Three members of the Callaway Church, Ken Pitkin, Jim Jenkins and Ken Riegler, just returned from a two-week mission trip to Bagrima, Nigeria, where they extended their skills, their time and their labor, ‘person to person,’ and realized how far this relationship has come.
“If you can build relationships, you can get stuff done,” said Riegler.
“The people were incredible friendly. They, the minister, the doctor, the translators, stopped their own lives to help us. It is difficult to understand much less explain.”
Pitkin described the mission this way … “It is not so much what you give, it is also what you receive. There is a richness in their lives. The people are so incredibly happy, and they have nothing.”
While there, Pitkin, Riegler and Jenkins, among other goals, laid the foundation for the school. The villagers had already made the blocks (1300 of them) by hand.
Going on the trip wasn’t easy. You have to have a flexible schedule, and you have to have the air fare, said Jenkins. Each person goes as a volunteer and each pays their own way. This was Pitkin’s third trip, and Riegler’s and Jenkin’s first.
Pitkins said he was thrilled with the progress in the education of the children from his first trip to the most current.
When he remarked to one of the villagers that he was sorry the school was just being built, the villager responded back saying that there hadn’t been a school in the village for 1,000 years, what was one more day.
“I decided this (going on mission trips to visit the village) was one way I could contribute,” said Pitkin. The church sends a lot of things on an annual basis.
“There’s no downside to reaching out and building relationships. If we believe in loving one another, in caring for one another, everything is a positive.”
The other two agreed.
“Ken Pitkin has carried the majority of the load,” noted Jenkins. “You have no idea until you sit down and watch. He reaches out and interacts with everyone. I didn’t realize I was going on a business trip,” he added with a smile and then a laugh.
“There were 15 different meetings on wells. One thing I learned is that mission work is difficult and that Ken is doing a lot more than I realized. I didn’t expect it to be quite as intense as it was.”
Pitkins said he was pleased to have the other two church members along, not only as friends to share the experience, but to help make some of the decisions that had to be made.
“People all want the same thing, they want healthcare for their family, they want education, they love their kids. All of us are people walking God’s Green earth,” said Riegler. It was Riegler’s wife who convinced him to make the trip. “You’ve been called,” she told him.”
“The people laugh when there’s not a lot to laugh about. They are subsistence farmers and all they have is a hoe and an occasional ox,” said Jenkins. “Their goal is to create a crop to eat during the dry season.”
The gentlemen talked about the infant mortality rate (30 years ago it was 50 percent, and it is still 25 percent today) and about how difficult it is to get clean water. They talked about how healthy the children looked where there was clean water, and how unhealthy the children looked where there was not.
“And I thought our creek looked bad,” said Jenkins. “On the plus side, there is an abundance of resources. They have great ground water and good soil.”
There are commercial well diggers, but the problem is to get them to the bush where the wells are needed.
It took the three men five hours to get to the village across dry rivers and washouts from the nearest road.
“These children deserve clean water ‘darn it’, “ emphasized Jenkins. “Eighty percent of their illness could be eliminated by clean water.”
The deep water well dug by the church is in constant use, sun-up to sundown.
While there, the three explored the possibilities of helping the villagers develop shallow wells on the river banks. “These could be dug by hand,” said Jenkins. “and maybe they could have 8 or 9 for the same price as a deep water well.”
Jenkins said he was a little chagrined at first that the deep water well wasn’t being taken care of as he thought it should, but hardware stores don’t exist. The three believe they now have someone who will be able to take care of the needed maintenance.
“Our goal is not to do for, but to empower so that the villagers can become leaders. It’s not our school, it is ‘their’ school, ‘their’ clinic,” he said. One of their goals was to identify a few individuals who would realize that the most productive steps should be taken by their own people.
The Callaway Church set out as its goals to help their sister church fix its floors, whitewash the walls, to help with healthcare, and to build a school. The church pays the salary of the teacher. While there the men attended their sister church but did not preach a sermon.
“You serve God by serving others,” said Pitkin.
The commitment to serve is long term, they said. “They are counting on us to work as a team,” said Jenkins.