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Pastor's missed opportunity becomes lesson for future

The Rev. George Abrams of Cheney United Methodist Church sat with his Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team on church pews and choir chairs in Cayes, Haiti, a town of 8,000 about 150 miles west of Port au Prince.

Haitian workers

George Abrams works with Haitians.

They ate their lunch. Behind the team sat Haitian construction workers, waiting for their chance to eat.

The team had not packed enough lunch, so the plan was to feed the VIM team first and let the other construction workers finish the rest of the food.
George saw a woman, sitting on the end of one of the front pews.  She was about 40 years old, and clothed nicely in a simple, flowered dress. 

“She sat straight and stoically with an immobile expression on her face as she watched us eat,” he continued.  “Without checking with the team leader, someone had told her she could eat with us.  Her presence reminded me of the story about Jesus and the woman at the well.

“A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water at noon, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink,’” George told the story. “Jesus saw this woman was in need, because drawing water from the community well was a morning or evening task, and not normally done at noon. 

Jesus used the request for a drink as a way to open a conversation with her.  In the course of their talking, Jesus saw not just her immediate need for a smoother relationship with the other women of her village, but also her deeper need for the ‘water of eternal life,’” he continued.

As George sat and munched on his crackers and peanut butter, he also thought about St. Paul’s words from Hebrews 13:  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, because by doing that you may have entertained angels without knowing it.”

He realized how often, when people meet people in need, it is easier to see the need than to figure out a loving response. 

“I wanted to take some of the leftover food and give it to the woman, but I knew that if I did I would be taking food from the construction workers who had worked side by side with us all morning, pouring concrete on the third floor of the school in the 95 degree heat,” he said.  “I was unhappy with the person who told her to come and share our food without checking to see if we had enough food to go around.”

George wishes he had realized sooner a way to respond to her need.  He went to the team leader, who also did not know how to respond, given the arrangements made for the food. 

After they and the Haitian construction workers finished their lunch, the food was gone.  The woman gracefully walked out of the church. 

“I felt I had failed her,” George said.

Later he learned that one of the team members did respond, using Jesus’ example of feeding the 5,000.

“Leonard Ellis, our Haitian interpreter, gave half of his lunch rations to the woman.  It was such a simple response,” said George.

“To respond to hunger or other needs, we first must see the problem,” he said.  “Unfortunately, many of us never see the need.

After we see a problem, we need to discover a graceful, sensitive response.  Then we must act in time,” George said.  “It is easier said than done.  While I did not respond this time to this woman’s needs, I learned from the situation what to do next time.

“If the woman was a messenger—an angel—from God, with Leonard’s help, I heard the message.”

George encourages members of his congregation to participate in the United Methodist Church’s Volunteers in Mission programs, where they may experience encounters and moments with “angels” as they put Christian love into action.

Some teams go abroad to build churches, hospitals, camps, parsonages, houses or barns, which may be needed because of fires, floods, hurricanes or poverty. 

Others share skills as dentists, doctors, teachers or mechanics. Individual opportunities are longer term than the team visits of 10 to 14 days, designed to instill interest in global connections.

The January trip was George’s third visit to Haiti.  He has been to more than 25 other countries—including England, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Singapore, Russia, Estonia, Finland and Brazil—with VIM and other programs.  He plans to go to Haiti again next year.

Three other mission teams went from Cheney UMC this winter and spring. 
Ronda Cordill went with a medical mission team to help for three weeks in March at a hospital in Liberia, along with some people from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Cheney.

Chuck Kreigh took a group of 15 to Chihuahua, Mexico, in April.

The Rev. Jeff Wallace, the student intern, took about seven college students to work on a Habitat for Humanity house in Edmonds during spring break.
George said Chuck introduced him to VIM. 

“His trips help our congregation connect with Mexicans.  We help with building, but trips are more about establishing relationships, reaching out in love, making personal connections with people who live elsewhere.”

Many trips involve youth, George said, because they “are life-changing.”

“The mission trips are not about bricks and mortar.  They are about people and relationships.  They are about loving our neighbors.  They are about learning and changing our lives and actions, as happened to me in January in Haiti,” George said.

People coming back are more alert to problems in the community, he finds, and are “good supporters” for Cheney Outreach, Cheney Food Bank and Cheney Clothing Bank.

“We become more sensitive to the poor and marginalized in our community,” he said.

For information, call 235-4600.

Daughter inspires father’s desire to build homes in Mexico

Participation in Volunteers in Mission building teams in Chihuahua, Mexico, has stretched Chuck Kriegh’s friendships, family ties and gratitude.

After his daughter returned from a project, she said, “You should have gone.  You have building skills and love children.”

“I said I didn’t have the time, money or desire to go,” Chuck said.
About six months later, he woke up one morning and felt compelled to go—called.

Chuck has worked 30 years as a counselor with the State of Washington at Lakeland Village since moving to Cheney in 1959.  He became involved in a Methodist church during junior high years in Southern Idaho, but for years, he said, he worked on Sundays to avoid going to church.

Chuck Kriegh

Chuck Kreigh with Mexican boy.

Now he attends Cheney United Methodist Church every Sunday, sometimes twice—especially when he gives a presentation on his experiences with a Volunteers in Mission  (VIM) team.

Chuck has gone eight times with VIM teams.  The congregation has been involved about 10 years, often connecting with joint teams in the United Methodist District.

He has gone to Mexico with people from Lewiston, Olympia, Rosalia, Moscow, Sandpoint, Spokane, Bonners Ferry and Orofino.  Those people have become part of his family, as much as the people in Chihuahua.  Ron Finch of the United Methodist Church in Bonners Ferry has also led and joined VIM teams for about 10 years.

Chuck has been a team leader five times, including one in April.

The experiences have made me less oriented to want the finer things of life. Helping other people is my priority now,” Chuck said. 

He finds that Mexican people seem happier even though they may have fewer material possessions and homes with dirt floors. 

“They have more love and appreciate more what little they have than we who have $200,000 houses, boats and cars,” he said, repeating:  “They genuinely appreciate what they have, while we take for granted we will have three meals a day, flush toilets and electrical power.  They do without running water or power parts of the day.”

What little building goes on for a house, church or facility, pales to him in contrast with what he finds has happened to “my relationship with myself, my God, Americans on the team and people there.  They are family,” Chuck said.

People don’t know what it’s like until they have gone.  While someone may talk about a vacation in the Bahamas, I talk of going and eating taquitas and salsa with people who have little, but share it out of the goodness of their hearts because we are there doing something for them,” he said.

People young and old come back home aware of how people in Chihuahua appreciate what they have.  He finds that the experience changes people in a short time, whether they were close to God before they went or have never been in a church.

It’s phenomenal to see people’s eyes, ears and hearts opened to feel they are part of the wider world,” said Chuck, whose goal is to take every member of his family, including his three-year-old grandchild.

All it takes is the kind of connection Chuck said he made “with another bald man” on his first trip.  Despite the minimal amount of English and Spanish—each of the other’s language—they attempted to speak, they concluded that they were on the “same team.”  They also discovered their first grandchildren were both born on August 3.

Last summer, Jorge Carillo called from Colorado, where he and his wife were visiting their son, who was extremely sick and in the hospital.  Eventually, the son died and the Carillos returned to Chihuahua, where Chuck saw him in April.

“Jorge had thought he would move to Colorado, but he found no work,” Chuck said.  “He called me, because we said if ever he needed anything, we wanted to provide it.  He called to ask us to pray for his son.

“I can’t imagine being in a foreign country, having my son dying and not knowing the language.  Who would you reach out to?  He reached out to us,” said Chuck.

Friendships and connection have motivated both to improve language skills and keep seeing each other each year.

Chuck picked up building skills from his son, who is a contractor, and his father-in-law, also a contractor—and by figuring things out on his own.

“When you go to a another country you do things at their speed with their tools in their ways of doing things,” he said.  “I go there to build something and end up building relationships with myself, my God and people around me.”

Once when shopping for cowboy boots, he conversed with the clerk about his jewelry and told why he was there.  That shop did not have the boots, but a clerk went up and down the street to find them for him.  When Chuck paid for the boots, the man gave him his wristwatch as a gift because of the gift he was giving to his country.  Chuck goes back to the store every year.

“It’s awesome to have those things happen,” he said.  “The interconnection is beyond words.”

Each time he returns to Cheney, he gives a presentation, so his church community can share in his experience.

For information, call 235-6943.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © June 2005