By Roy Wenzl
Christian Congolese refugees in Wichita wanted to worship so much after they got here that some of them met for prayer in laundromats.
First Presbyterian Church members from downtown Wichita decided to see what they could do about that.
Starting the first Sunday in December, they gave the refugees Room 204 in their complex on North Broadway. There’s so much room at First Presbyterian that both the Congolese and the U.S. congregations hold worship services in separate rooms at the same hour on Sundays.
“I don’t even know how to explain our gratitude,” said Jacquesbal Kitwanga, a leader in the Congolese refugee community in Wichita. “Everywhere else we looked for help, people closed their doors to us.
“Our congregation was very touched,” Knecht said. “The Congolese are proud people and hesitant to ask for help.”
But it was clear to church members that there were needs, and not only for room, Knecht said.
So the church gave them a large meeting room, as well as providing transportation, clothes, gasoline cards and coats.
“The Congo has a hot climate, so for many of these people, the winter weather was quite a change,” Knecht said.
The church even gave them the means to make music.
“We use pipe organs, violins and cellos, so we knew our worship experience would not be meaningful for them,” Knecht said. “They like to sing and dance and play big fancy drums – which we provided.
“We feel compelled to do this because our Lord was sent out as an immigrant after he was born,” Knecht said.
“Do unto others,” she said.
International Mission: In 2004, First Presbyterian Church adopted the school in the small El Salvadorian community of Rio Los Bueyes as a mission project. e community is located in a very rugged part of El Salvador with humble homes and at first, a school that only allowed students to go to the 6th Grade - many walking through dangerous jungle to get to school. Initially, FPC agreed to furnish a teacher so the students could progress from the 6th grade to 7th & 8th. As soon as the students were ready for the 9th grade, FPC acquired a second teacher, and we have supported that effort since then. Teachers ride in back of a pick-up for 20 miles to get to the school to teach. When the first student graduated from the 9th grade, we developed scholarships to allow students to keep going. Currently FPC contributes approximately $20,000 to the Rio Los Bueyes schools.
There are many unwritten success stories. Several students have progressed into college, and at least one will start teaching at the village school this year. In addition to the education side, FPC has donated funds to build an additional classroom, add a new kitchen and improve the drinking water. We have sent funds to improve the computer rooms and to help install a roof over the auditorium to protect events during the two distinct seasons of rain and sun.
This dance was part of the Mother's Day celebration performed by the students at the school in honor of our visit with them in May of 2014.
El Salvador is a small, mountainous country in Central America with a reputation for hard working citizens. By combining a strong work ethic with near perfect coffee growing conditions, El Salvador’s farms have supported their communities while growing excellent coffee. But current coffee trading practices can come between farmers and you. Each year exporters, brokers, creditors, and processors take a larger share of coffee proceeds, leaving farmers and El Salvador’s communities with less than 10¢ of every dollar. But there is an alternative.
In our hospitality hub, The Well, you will find for sale Don Justo Coffee, which is organic and fairly and directly traded. Coffee sold through Don Justo meets and exceeds internationally recognized fair trade standards; standards that balance inequities found in the conventional coffee trade. Fair trade standards more than triple the income of Salvadoran farmers who grow, harvest, and process this exceptional coffee. This additional income provides access to a host of social services such as education, medical care, public transportation, and recreation facilities. Farm families are also guaranteed adequate housing and access to clean water. Proceeds additionally support the Pastoral Team, which educates, empowers, and shares God's love with the people of Berlín, El Salvador, as they seek to lift themselves out of poverty.
While coffee farming can be particularly trying to the local environment, it doesn’t have to be. Coffee plants need to be grown in high altitudes with warm days and cool nights. This usually means on steep hillsides where erosion and chemical runoff is likely. By using a combination of traditional and modern farming methods, farmers who sell coffee through this project protect their soil and water.
Forty-two hundred feet above sea level, the traditional shade grown method of coffee farming is practiced. Coffee is planted in the shade of fruit trees and taller trees. These trees prevent erosion while providing protection for coffee plants, food and wood for families, and shelter to birds and wildlife.
Farmers also use organic methods to protect the environment. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, they take advantage of the natural fertility of the coffee cherry. Once the beans are extracted from the fruit of the coffee plant, the remaining pulp is used to fertilize plants the following season. This natural process protects the health of the soil as well as neighboring creeks and rivers, while maintaining balance between soil, plants, and animals.
Buying coffee through this project also promotes sustainable community and economic development, with a large portion of proceeds going to projects designed and organized by local residents and the Pastoral Team.
Coffee flavors available are: Regular Roast, Dark Roast, French Roast, Snickeroo and Mocha. Regular and Dark Roasts are also available decaffeinated. Coffee can be packaged whole or ground. To purchase coffee, go to The Well, make your selection, and take your purshcase to the counter. We accept payment by check, cash, and credit/debit card.
The first Saturday of every month, it takes 24 church members to prepare and serve a hot, healthy breakfast for people in the neighborhood– some who are homeless and some who are working but having a hard time making ends meet.
The first shift of volunteers arrives at 6:30 a.m. to begin cooking, the second shift arrives at 7:30 a.m. for final set-up and to serve the food from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (a food handler’s license is not required). The third wave of volunteers arrive at 8:30 a.m. to start washing pots and pans and to help with clean-up in the dining room.
The cost to feed the 150-200 neighbors is about $300 per Saturday. Financial gifts can be left at the church office and new volunteers are always welcome. There is a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board outside the East Dining Room. Right now, we are particularly looking for three people who can be "team leaders" for the clean-up process (with five people on each cleaning crew). They would rotate months. Email Stephanie Bird-Hutchison if you would like to help with this rewarding, hands-on project.
Pastoral House- Berlin, El Salvador; Presbytery of Des Moines co worker; Rev. Katherine Pater
Kristi Van Nostran: Mission worker in El Salvador
Serving as the Presbyterian Hunger Program's Joining Hands
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