Monday, October 8, 2012

African Trip About Water, Hope and a Prayer

                               Grant Perryman and his wife, Donita, share a laugh as they describe their experiences on missionary trips to Ghana in Africa.

Ric Small had seen the photographs. He heard the tales of woe. He and his wife even sponsored an orphan.

But when he took the roughly 7,600-mile trek to Uganda for the first time, he couldn't handle the truth.

The extreme poverty. The futile efforts to obtain even a cup of fresh water. Deadly diseases.

"I was not ready emotionally to see that," said Small. "I was just a blubbering mess for two weeks."

That was just last year. Small, under the umbrella of the nonprofit Hope4Kids, recently returned from his second trip to Uganda.

"At least I wasn't crying the whole time," said Small, a Benicia Police Department chaplian. "I felt I was more in tune with what's going on."

Good as gold

It was, said

Small, a lot about the water. A life-sustaining resource for Americans who waste a great deal of it, it's as good as gold in Uganda.

Which is why Small not only participated in a Walk4Water in Benicia that raised $40,000 to build wells in Uganda, he and his wife, Kema, sponsored one $10,000 well by themselves.

"In America, you let water run so it can get warm enough so you can take a shower or shave, or cold enough to drink," Small said. "In Uganda, they don't even understand when they start pumping water out of a well and it comes out clean. They're not sure they can trust it. And they have to be taught not to go back to the original source."

"They have to walk miles to pick up water that looks like coffee with cream in it,"

Small said. "And along the way, young girls would be raped and attacked and that some young children, if they don't come back with water or be on time to school, would be caned. It broke my heart."

Small said he never regretted paying for a well himself.

"To know you a made a difference to 500 or more people so they could have clean water is humbling," he said. "When they dedicated the well, I was just in tears. It was amazing."

Former gangbanger

Small could talk from experience, which he was more than happy to share with two local pastors preparing for their first journeys to Africa. Michael Mau of Benicia Fellowship and René Mitchell and Mike Brown of First Baptist Church are part of a team of 10 heading to Ghana from Oct. 29 to Nov. 16.

Mitchell, Chicago-born and raised as the son of Puerto Rican parents, runs the Hispanic church at First Baptist and is ready for his first trip to Ghana.

"People ask what I'm going to do in Africa. The same thing I do in Vallejo. I bring the gospel to the people," Mitchell said. "I do think it'll be good for some people (on the team) to get out of their comfort zone. You can't shower or eat like you normally eat. You're not able to drink the water and it's hot there and you'll want to drink a lot of water. It's going to be really, really awesome for some people. Hopefully, they can take what they see there and use it in our area."

Mitchell knows about overcoming adversity. A former gang-banger and drug dealer, he was even kicked out of Catholic seminary school despite straight "A's."

"I was a hothead with a chip on my shoulder, raised without a dad, I could go on and on," Mitchell said.

Mitchell was selling drugs via his job working with a well-known delivery service when he became enlightened. His supervisor introduced Mitchell to a colleague who said, "I heard about René Mitchell. We need more people like him."

"At that exact moment, I felt like an ant," Mitchell said. "Nobody should be like me."

He quit drugs. And got to prayer meetings. It was tough to handle.

"These little old ladies would pray for me and I would cry," Mitchell said. "I couldn't figure out what to do."

Church builder

Mitchell, 49, married at 22, worked for Honeywell for 13 years, and helped build two churches.

He said he became a pastor almost by accident.

"I never wanted to work in the ministry. I thought being a pastor was a joke," he said. "You can't make any money, and people hate you."

And here he is, 12 years in Vallejo, where he started feeding the hungry with pastors Brown and Al Marks in the middle of the night.

"I didn't like getting up at that time. I like staying up until that time," Mitchell smiled.

Mitchell met pastor Alfred Akumbie of Ghana 11 years ago during a Vallejo visit to Mitchell's home.

"He ran up my phone bill," Mitchell said. "We laugh about it now."

Akumbie often returned here, but Mitchell never returned the favor. Until now.

"I've had other things to do," Mitchell said. "And when I start stuff, I like to finish it."

Again, Mitchell said, it's the water. He's committed to raising enough money to build one well.

"Every 15 seconds, someone dies there for lack of food. People die from lack of fresh water," Mitchell said.

It's about survival, he noted.

"We're not going to build them Taj Mahals. We're not bringing them washing machines," Mitchell said. "We want them to be healthy and have water."

Mitchell is thrilled to bring others from here.

"I want them to understand how blessed they are to live in Vallejo," he said.

As a rock 'n roll musician in the 1960s and '70s, Mau, 62, would tour in a bus across the United States, Mexico and Europe. Never did he get close to Africa. Or a 20-hour Jeep jungle ride.

"It's going to be an interesting deal," Mau said.

Mau said yes, work needs to be in his own community. Then he cited Scripture, believing help should be expanded "further out and then to the ends of the Earth."

Daily threats

Mau chuckled that in Solano County, "we worry about garbage rates going up" while in other parts of the world there's the daily threat of malaria, typhoid and yellow fever.

The preparation has been challenging, he said.

"I've never had so many shots in my life," Mau said, adding that his wife will remain home in Benicia.

"At least there's someone who has brains in our family," Mau grinned.

Americans, he said, would not be prepared for what Africans deal with daily.

"They send their children off to get water somewhere and come back carrying huge pots of dirty water that's no good," Mau said. "The way these people live, we would not survive in an environment like that."

Mau said he's excited about the trip's final days in the village where his team is headed.

"They're going to get fresh, clean water and it will change their lives and lifestyles," he said.

It's impossible to truly comprehend the threat of malaria or vital efforts to get fresh water unless you're there, Small said.

"You can see it on a TV commercial and say, 'Oh, that's horrible. Those poor kids.' Then the game comes back on," Small said.

Advice to anyone contemplating a trip to help a Third World nation?

"Go," Small said. "If you're any kind of religious person or humanitarian, go. We need to pay more attention. You're not going to change the world. But if you can help one person a day, that's huge."

By Rich

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